Headhunters in the News

May 16, 2012

It is said that success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. Headhunters rarely find themselves lauded in the press for their roles in fathering great hires though they are often named in nasty paternity suits over poor ones. Sometimes such notoriety is well deserved, at other times it is not.

Consider the recent kerfuffle over the extra degree that somehow came to be attached to Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s biography. Befuddled by the discovery of a degree he never earned, Mr. Thompson eventually turned an accusatory eye towards the headhunters who placed him into a previous job more than 7 years ago. Thompson noted that while he had submitted a resume as part of the search he had not examined the final biography submitted on his behalf by the search firm (the role in question was at PayPal). Was it possible that the search firm somehow inserted the gratuitous Computer Science degree and was it this resume that had become the de facto bio used by his previous and current employers? Inconveniently for poor Sherlock Thompson, on learning of the supposition, the search firm in question (Heidrick and Struggles) dug through its records to find the original resume submitted by Mr. Thompson, inclusive of the unearned degree, which they promptly directed to the Yahoo Board of Directors. A day later Mr. Thompson agreed to step down (see WSJ, May 15 th, p. B5 for the whole story). While Heidrick and Struggles can certainly be accused of failing to vet Mr. Thompson’s academic credentials at the time, suggesting that they fabricated credentials, perhaps to puff up Mr. Thompson’s candidacy, is a fanciful and desperate act.

A headhunter also features prominently in a recent Fortune Magazine article (May 21, 2012) chronicling the hiring and firing of Hewlett Packard CEO, Leo Apotheker. After the contentious departure of Mark Hurd from the company’s helm, HP’s Board of Directors retained Spencer Stuart headhunter James Citrin to find his replacement.  The article describes Citrin as “smooth, gregarious, wired into the C-suites of the world’s biggest companies….with a network that few could match”. Though such a description reduces headhunting competence to a matter of contacts rather than acuity, Citron produces a short-list at the top of which was former SAP CEO Apotheker. The recommendation was contentious (Apotheker is European rather than American, had no hardware experience and had been fired from SAP) though Citrin insisted that his hiring would be a “bold choice…and if (the board) picks him, they will be remembered for making one of the “best CEO picks ever””. Such a brazen endorsement is breathtaking given the complexities of taking over one of the world’s largest, most iconic American technology companies. The board agreed with the recommendation, hired Apotheker and then fired him ten months later. Among the many unflattering due diligence lapses pointed out by the article was Citrin’s failure to properly assess Apotheker’s “leadership deficits that undid him at SAP- the same faults that would undermine him at HP: his negativity, his nastiness and his unwillingness to be coached”. Ouch!! Unless there is an alternative narrative to this tale of hiring misadventure, Mr. Citrin’s DNA is all over this baby.

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