The Recruiter Thomas Neff: 'We recognized a growing need for our services to recruit directors.'.

Author:Kristie, James
Position:A Life in Governance

"WHEN I GOT INTO executive search, I wouldn't say that it was in its infant stage but it was certainly in the early stages of development. Booz-Allen was one of the original firms in the business and had spawned the founders of several other search firms. Spencer Stuart, Gardner Heidrick, and John Struggles were some of the ones who came out of Booz-Allen.

At least the way I look at the search business, what appealed to me was the consulting nature of it, the variety of things you can do, the entrepreneurial aspects of it, clearly the people nature of it, and also how your performance is very measurable, both in the short term and on a longer-term basis. And I saw that this was an emerging service that was going to penetrate more and more companies.

In 1976, when I joined Spencer Stuart to run the New York office, the firm only had two offices in the United States -- New York and Chicago. Two-thirds of its business was outside the U.S. The firm had introduced executive search outside the U.S. in the late '50s -- it was the first, or one of the earliest, in a number of markets -- but the U.S. part of Spencer Stuart had not developed at the same rate as the rest of the world. Part of my charter was to get the U.S. business's size and relative importance up with the international operation. We went from two to nine offices in about a half-dozen years, and ever since the early to mid-'80s the U.S. has represented half of our business

I was doing executive searches for a while before I recruited my first director. It was probably about 20 years ago that I had my first board client, which was Dayton-Hudson. I was flying back from Minneapolis after visiting a client there and I ended up sitting next to a Dayton-Hudson director. She was just returning from a board meeting in which they had concluded that they needed to add a director. They had their criteria of who the new board member should be, and they were wondering how to go about it. The director introduced me to Ken Dayton, who was then the CEO of the company and someone who I put right up there as one of the early thought leaders on proper corporate governance, and I ended up doing several board searches for the company. That was an important initial board client to have.

Our board searches for the first 10 years or so were for the multibillion-dollar companies. In those early days, a board that might be willing to use a search firm would be quiet about it. Now it's widely accepted. We have...

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