Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The "What", the "Why" and the "How"

It’s funny how sometimes you really don't think about some things until someone asks you a specific question and when you come out with an answer you are sort of surprised by what you say.

I had a moment like that some months ago when I was doing a "live" interview on a local radio show called Greenwich Entrepreneurs. I think part of the reason that these "truths" pop out in these situations is that the program was "live" and unscripted so when the question is asked, you just say what you think.

The program was hosted by Greg Skidmore who is the President & Chief Investment Officer at Belray Asset Management and the program is really focused on talking with people who have started a venture and having them talk about what it is, why they did it, and how they made it work.

With regard to ExecuNet, I have been asked the "what" question many times over the years, and while I have yet to come up a nice, crisp, definition, at least I am able to give people a general idea.

The why (did you do it) and the (how did you do it) pieces were a bit more challenging, and as I stumbled through my responses and worse after the show (as we all do) I kept thinking about how I wished I had expressed myself better.

Of course I wanted to say that getting to this place in my life could be directly attributed to a fanatical dedication and strategically driven approach to the management of my career, but as much as I would like to point to such things, for good or ill, the more descriptive and truthful answer was that the "why" began as it does with many, an event which forced me to react - the company where I was working was acquired and the job "restructured."

The result, to put it in current vernacular: "the op­portunity to explore other options." Said differently, I was parachuted into the market at age 48 to look for the next job at a time when I didn't have one. It was 1988 and we were well on our way into a recession.

Like most of us, I had made a job changes prior to this, but it had always been because I was (a) recruited and (b) I was working at the time. Not so this time around.

Indeed, it was literally a matter of days before I realized that my "A" list contacts might be fine for business stuff but when it came to trying to find a job, it was more like a lot of long and uncomfortable pauses. My recruiter "A" list was pretty much the same if and when I even got a return call.

The more time went by the more I wondered why this was and what could be done to change it. The whole thing felt very much like a "win/lose" proposition, and in many cases coupled with a real adversarial feeling.

I also have to admit, the more time that went by the madder I got. The whole thing seemed very unfair to say the least. For 25+ years while I certainly didn't ever think I was Time's Man of the Year material, I had been reasonably successful. So why now all of a sudden was I being made to feel like I had some sort of a communicable disease.

In a far longer time than it should have taken, I finally realized that rather than directing my anger outside, that maybe I ought to think about how I could bring the outside in and that was how the notion of ExecuNet started to take shape.

I tried to put myself in the mindset of the recruiter and as simply as I could, write down what I would want. The answer that came back was:

1. Quality candidates in a timely fashion.
2. Confidentiality when necessary.
3. Not having to defend my judgment on who was qualified and who wasn't.

Having done a fair amount of recruiting in former lives, the list did not seem unreasonable.

I then went through the same thought process for someone making a career change, and the answer that came back was also pretty straight forward:

1. The opportunity to compete for real jobs at a time when it was meaningful.
2. To be treated with professional courtesy and respect.
3. Confidentiality when I needed it.

The more I thought about it, it seemed like what was needed was a place, a destination if you will, where both sides could "meet" and where it was "safe" for both and where they could come in confidence and with confidence.

So, at the end of the interview and after I had tried to explain the "what" and "why" of ExecuNet, Greg wanted to know "how" we were able to actually translate what started as a perceived need and actually build the "destination"?

The answer that jumped from my throat spontaneously felt right then and still does.

It was a one word answer: TRUST. I believed then and have always believed that this is the foundation of every relationship be it between individuals or between companies, customers or nations.