The StoneWood Blog

"Tales from a Headhunter Deep in the Bush"

The StoneWood Blog is one of Canada’s largest executive search blogs dedicated to the latest executive search news and technology sector issues. Follow the postings from Robert Hebert, PHD - a Headhunter Deep in the Bush.


So you want to hire the subordinate before the boss…Not such a good idea

May 26, 2016 at 10:08 AM

After 30 plus years in executive search you would think I would learn…

Last year we were retained by a Board of Directors looking to hire a CEO as well as a key functional leader for a technology company. While both roles were critical to the company’s future the VP vacancy presented immediate problems and thus we were asked to expedite the VP search while conducting the CEO search as per our normal protocol and timelines.

The common sense view in these matters is to hire the subordinate after, not before, the leader. The new CEO will invariably want to assemble his or her own team while VP candidates will rightfully be anxious about accepting a new job reporting to a boss yet to be hired. We discussed this issue and its risks at length with the board but they had genuine concerns about leaving the VP position open one minute longer than absolutely necessary. They decided to deal with the issue through transparency and process. They would be totally open with the prospective VP candidates and involve whoever they hired in the final selection of the CEO. They would also assure VP candidates that the values and corporate culture they espoused would be shared by whoever they selected to be their new CEO.

The searches went as planned with the VP being hired quickly and the new CEO some two months later. The Board was ecstatic as the new VP effectively dealt with the crisis at hand while setting a new course for the function which seemed promising and achievable. He was respected and well-liked by all. Meanwhile the new CEO was a known entity to the board and brought an impeccable track record of success. So far so good…

What happened next depends on who you ask. The result however was the new ‘star’ VP resigned less than a month after the new CEO started. And while fingers of blame were pointed in every direction, all parties agreed upon that ‘miscommunication’ and ‘misalignment of values’ played roles in the debacle. We were told to start all over again. 

Like I said, you would think I would learn.

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements. 

Contact Robert by email at rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 Ext. 777