Search Entrepreneurs: Who Sits On Your Board of Directors?

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Most of you answered "No one."

Should that really be your answer?

This Saturday I met with my Board of Directors in Chicago for the first of three meetings we will have this year. I was exhausted after our day of hard work together, which of course was followed by margaritas and Mexican cuisine. I have already begun thinking about and working to get ready for my next meeting with them which will take place May 7th, in Baltimore. This group makes me think, and think hard. They don’t let me off the hook for much.

Now some of you are asking yourselves, “Jeff, I thought you were a search entrepreneur? How and why do you have a Board of Directors?”

Fair question, let me explain.

Even back when I worked a placement desk before I struck out on my own with Jefferson Group Search, I always met a few times a year with a group of trusted advisors to help me manage my desk. See, I never really found the management at the company where I learned my craft to be particularly helpful in pushing me to new levels of success. I was their top producer, and that was good enough for them, despite the mediocrity I would later learn was my “top performing” success. Apparently, enough mediocrity in one place makes for a good living if you own the place.

If I was going to get the important critical feedback to help me grow and build the skills that would make me into the recruiting professional I wanted to become, I was going to have to get that advice from someplace other than my management team. But from who?

I don’t recall which trainer it was, but somewhere along the way it was suggested to me that I create my own board of directors from my clients, candidates, professional peers and training mentors. That is exactly what I did. Boy did it ever make a difference to get their input.

When I began working with my first board of directors I was in my mid/late 20’s, and though I understood recruiting and clerical placement well, I really knew nothing about being a successful business professional. Though it took awhile for a candid relationship develop with those I initially picked for this personal board of directors, once the trusting relationship was cultivated, and they realized I really DID want the critical feedback to become a better sales and business professional, they poured it on.

And then they poured it on even more, as I had a lot to learn.

I was a sponge. It served me well.

Before I was promoted into management, this arrangement educated me, resulted in my first ever letters of testimonial, introduced me to new prospects that would become incredible clients, referred to me some amazing candidates I would place, offered incredible suggestions for process improvement (one of my BOD members worked for one of the most exclusive retained executive search firms in the nation where I placed executive assistants for their executive search practitioners), helped me get accepted to an MBA program, and they helped me grow up quite a bit.

What did they get out of it? A recruiting partner that worked hard for them year after year to continuously improve so I could do better recruiting and placement for them and their companies. And I did just that for them, which made them very happy clients!

Then, because they began to take a rather vested interest in my success, I cultured some exclusive and very loyal clients that worked for me to succeed, and let me know if they felt or heard I wasn’t.

Sure, there was a bit of pressure with this arrangement, but the kind that makes you better. The kind that top performers thrive on.

Doing this was one of the best bits of training advice I ever took back to my desk. Yet, as I was promoted into management, stopped working a desk, opened a new business segment, and then began my own search practice in 1996, I let this group disband: One of the most unwise moves of my career.

As well as that worked for me, I was never wise enough to put a group like this back in place as I struggled to get my business started, worked hard to close each and every search. I was simply so busy working in my business that I failed to see how working on my business would continue to be important for my business. Things were going well enough. Add to that my training business for other search and recruiting professionals which got wings of it's own, and suddenly balancing my two businesses, a new wife and young family, and my multiple other interests (marathon running, MLB ballparks, Cubs baseball, Shakespeare Theater, birding), meant I was always too busy to get back to this great feedback formula.

Years passed.

Business had its many ups, and, yes, a down or two (can you say DotCom bust). Still, I remained busy, happy and prosperous.

Then in 2006, almost as if the past was reaching out to remind me how I once found the input of others to be one of the most important means for me to push myself to new levels of achievement and success, I got a call from a peer and trusted advisor. He was part of a group of search entrepreneurs that met a couple of times a year to serve as a board of directors for one another. Would I be interested in learning more about the group?

Let me think? How soon?

I passed my "audition/induction vote" and my first meeting was in the fall of 2006 in Chicago. I have now met with this group of peers 2-3 times a year ever since. They challenge me, prod me, hold me accountable, and open my eyes to new ways of thinking about both my businesses; and me theirs. I have come to think of them as one of the most influential groups of peers I can count on for candor, creativity and brass knuckle ass kicking’s when necessary.

How did I manage to go for more than a decade without a personal board of directors?

And so, Search Entrepreneurs; "How do you go without a board of directors?"

It doesn’t matter if you work a desk in a large recruiting organization with multiple offices worldwide, or if you work for a search entrepreneur like me, you can build your own personal BOD with clients, candidates and/or peers. If you are a search entrepreneur who owns your own business and you are ready to hold yourself accountable to what you never quiet seem able to achieve, when you KNOW you have the potential, such an arrangement might just what the doctor ordered for you, and building a peer BOD might be something you may seriously want to consider for yourself.

It won't be easy, as finding others who are like minded non-competitive peers isn't a snap. Getting a peer BOD set up might not be the easiest thing to do, but it is so worth the effort.

I was lucky; I didn’t have anything to do with beginning the group I am in now. They had been meeting for three years before I joined them. They came together as an offshoot of a Top Echelon Big Biller advisory panel; it was a natural progression for them to move into peer review with one another to grow their own businesses as peer advisors for each other. I had the good fortune that they invited me to join their group in their year three.

But despite the initial challenges that one might face organizing a group such as ours; which we call the RoundTable Leadership Forum, those difficulties are worth every bit of payback that one gets as a result of the candid input from a trusted peer BOD. It has just been over three years since I first joined their group, and over the years we have had some owners leave us, and some new ones revitalize the group as replacements. Now, I can’t imagine running my business now without their input three times a year.

It is an arrangement every serious and growing search entrepreneur should be part of with 6-8 trusted peers.

It is not always easy, and I may not always like everything they have to say as I present my business plan, or as they hold me accountable for progress I have failed to make on an initiative I shared with them. Still, they are always the first to congratulate me when I push myself to new levels of success, and often have a great bottle of single malt scotch there to celebrate those achievements with me and the rest of my peer BOD team because more often than not, we deserve it.

You do too.

Interested in learning more about how to build your own peer BOD? Feel free to shoot me an email at I would be glad to share what perspective I have.

Jeff Skrentny, CERS, had an inauspicious start in the recruiting profession as his first placement quit after 93 days. Then he was sued by his client. Despite that start, Jeff has been a thriving executive search entrepreneur for the last 23 years; and has also been a trainer, author and motivator for his profession for the last 15 years, as well as a business consultant and advisor for its producers, managers & owners for the last 10 years; all while still running his search business, Jefferson Group Search, in Chicago.

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