The Allure of the U.S.- based VP of Sales – Stardust or Sawdust?

May 31, 2016 at 9:52 AM

We are frequently asked by growing firms to help recruit their VP of Sales. In most instances the hire represents the firm’s second person in the role, the first being either one of the founders or an early employee of the company.

As a general rule the first or founding VP Sales tends to be the firm’s best sales person. They lead fearlessly from the front and are very hands-on tending to be involved in most, if not all major customer pursuits. While these individuals are invaluable to the company’s initial success, as managers they often do not scale. This is because many are administratively ambivalent, process and metrics averse, and plain unable or unwilling to delegate let alone develop or coach a growing team.

When the company begins to ponder its next VP of Sales, all manner of questions percolate around requisite experience, skills, and track record. At some point the discussion turns to whether the successful candidate should or needs to be based at head office in Canada. The idea of a U.S. - based sales leader is raised. And why not since for many firms their largest markets and pool of qualified candidates are south of the border. But not so fast….

Recently I watched a short video clip featuring Robert Herjavec, of tech-sector, Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank fame (http://www.inc.com/robert-herjavec/how-a-shark-tank-host-got-scammed-by-his-own-sales-manager.html). In it he refers to an incident while he was running his first technology firm when a departing employee whispered to him that the firm’s head of sales was operating a competitive business on the side. Mr. Herjavec was incredulous at the mere suggestion and responded, ‘I am far too smart for that to happen to me’. Nonetheless, he prudently investigated the claim and found, sure enough, that the sales manager was funneling a percentage of company sales to an unrelated company with a similar name. While Mr. Herjavec recovered from the setback, other firms have been destroyed by versions of such escapades. For example, there remain a few online accounts of now long gone Canadian software company GeoVision and its experience with a U.S. -based VP Sales, a gentleman who liked to be called ‘Skip’.  The ensuing saga features lavish spending, social security fraud and deception of all manner. In the end shell-shocked employees derisively referred to the executive as ‘Skip Town’ (http://blog.xcski.com/2004/04/03/bad-job-experiences-number-3-in-a-series) and the company never recovered.

While larger companies and seasoned CEOs may have experience mitigating such risks via rigorous process, reporting and other controls, younger companies are often hiring executives to introduce those very things into their companies. How can they be certain that an executive residing half a continent away is in fact doing what they said they were going to do or even working for the company’s best interests? By the time a company determines whether that ‘star’ they hired is as advertised the damage to their business can be significant.

For some young organizations the decision to hire a remotely based VP Sales executive may well prove to be among the best decisions they will make.  For others however it may be more prudent today to resist the allure of the Silicon Valley supernova and go instead for the best executive they can find locally, someone with a good track record of doing the important things in the right way to good effect, and is visible to all concerned.

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