Why startups look for cheap thoroughbred plow horses

July 7, 2014 at 9:04 AM

We are occasionally asked by clients to find candidates best described as thoroughbred plow horses. It usually starts innocently enough as with the following example…

A small, promising tech firm was growing and it was clear to the founder/CEO that a fulltime finance executive was needed. When we met to discuss the requirements, the CEO described a generalist who could manage and guard the firm’s precious cash while attending to a range of administrative, reporting, HR, and contractual responsibilities. Though the title ‘VP Finance’ was selected, the role was very hands-on, short on resources with navigational challenges in the journey from shoe boxes to sophistication. Compensation was pegged relative to the other executive team members. The search seemed straightforward enough.

What came next is what often comes next. As candidates moved through the process the requirements began to expand. The CEO questioned whether the role of the finance executive should include fund-raising. And given the possibility of an acquisition in the not too distant future, perhaps M&A experience might also be useful. While it was acknowledged that the role remained operational in spirit, a purely operational VP of finance might no longer suffice. In a way the role morphed from a plough horse into a plough horse/racehorse hybrid. While the CEO acknowledged that the compensation may need to be adjusted with the expanding responsibilities of the role, he expected the ‘right’ candidate to respect the importance of maintaining some measure of internal equity with the existing executive team.

With few exceptions the shoe-box organizing, attention to detail oriented finance professional is rarely also the outward-facing, M&A-savvy, strategic finance executive. Individuals tend to skew to one end of that spectrum. It is not unlike the spectrum of engineering executives vary from CTO/lateral thinking/innovation types to administration/execution/management types.  Yet organizations will argue that they simply cannot afford anything but excellence in all of these functions. And speaking of afford if one stumble upon one of those superfast plough horses, it is not reasonable to expect to pay more for that unusual versatility…at least that is what you would think.. 
 
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