By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO.
Business inherently involves a lot of transactions in one form or another. B2C transactions take place all day everyday – we buy a cup of coffee, or purchase something at a store or online. In B2B environments, transactions take place constantly as well – we purchase telecom and internet for our offices, we buy paper and supplies, we subscribe to payroll services, we incur professional services fees from attorneys and accountants, and engage with several “vendors” to run even the most simple business operation. We invest capital in software, technology, supplies, services and other elements in order to generate significantly more capital to pay ourselves, our employees, and ownership, as well as reinvest back into the business for even larger growth gains. That’s a lot of business dealings.
Yes, I realize what I’ve just described is painfully obvious, however not all business transactions should be transactional. Therein lies the disconnect where so many people – sellers and buyers, consumers and professionals, networkers and facilitators, vendors and service providers – miss the boat.
Twelve years ago, and only two years into my career in executive search, I was introduced to a tech company and it’s Founder/CEO by one of his board members at Battery Ventures. This CEO was looking to hire his first COO, a position he’d never personally hired for and a role that would have a major impact on his growing startup. The right hire could help propel the business, however, the wrong hire could undermine all the momentum and positive culture already built. It was also a significant opportunity for GM Ryan to perform well for a Battery Ventures portfolio company and build a reputation within the VC. It was an opportunity to work on a true C-level role, something we hadn’t done as much of at that time anyway. And it was an opportunity to help build a company. This was a tough search in multiple ways and I won’t bore you with all of the details, but I will never forget how that CEO made me “feel” throughout the process and his behavior has had a significant impact on my business relationships ever since. This CEO had incredibly high expectations, after all this was a critical leadership role, however, he was also reasonable. He wanted my perspective – not as someone trying to make a placement, but as someone trying to help build a company. I was a colleague, not a vendor. When he learned I was on vacation during one of our weekly status calls he told me to “get off the grid” and quickly ended the conversation so I could enjoy time with my family. He was the client yet he put me first. When we consummated the hire, he was excited to pay our remaining fees (yes, he was actually excited for me). What I came to realize is that this CEO’s priority was certainly to build his own company, but he was also very pleased to help build my company. It was a win-win-won mentality. That was important to him and it was authentic. He unselfishly made a choice of building a partnership with me for that “transaction”, but we both got a lot more out of it. That COO was with the company for the next 7 years and made many contributions. I’ve had the good fortune to represent this client on several other searches and the CEO has peace of mind knowing someone he can trust is looking out for his best interests. I’ve made many introductions and market insights to him which have absolutely no transactional value to GM Ryan. I do so because I genuinely like this CEO both personally and professionally, I want to see him and his company win, and I’ll always advocate for his interests. You can call it loyalty, but it’s more than that – it’s simply doing business the right way ALWAYS pays future dividends. Ironically, it’s persistent unselfish behavior that ultimately comes back to serve our own interests.
Fast forward a year, I was working with the President of another client on a couple of roles when he mentioned he wanted us to work on an EVP/GM role for their new product. It was a high profile role and I was excited to get moving on it and I had an ideal candidate in mind right away. I sent our contract addendum for the new role to the President and after I qualified interest with my candidate, I discussed his background with my client in good faith. We arranged an interview in short order and they hit it off in a big way. Seemingly in perfect sequence, we also hit some contract turbulence. Unbeknownst to the President, the CEO had engaged another firm on this very same EVP/GM role and the contract was already executed. This had never happened to me prior nor since, but it was a sticky situation despite no malice intended by anyone involved. I could have dug my heels in defense of what GM Ryan was entitled to, but that could have hurt the candidate’s pursuit of the opportunity and career. I want to help build companies and I want to help build careers so I stepped to the side of the process. The client did in fact hire my candidate for the role and the other recruiter did in fact get paid a significant fee. Did that sting at the time? Yes, yes it did! However, following that “transaction” and the way I handled it, I gained a lot of exposure with the CEO and became a go-to recruiting resource for all of their high profile roles. The President also soon referred me to another company where I ended up earning the two highest fees in GM Ryan’s history. And additionally, that candidate whose best interest I had in mind, I placed again years later and he has also hired me for recruiting projects multiple times. So what did I lose in doing the right thing? I didn’t lose anything; I earned trust and gained long-term advocates.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes we’re simply focused on our own interests as a matter of urgency. And sadly, sometimes people are quite comfortable and even intentional in screwing us over. The thing is that will ALWAYS catch up to those people who may “win a transaction”, but they’ll never win the relationship, they’ll never win an endorsement, they’ll never win a good reputation, and they’ll never win decent character. We all experience pressure and it doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire CEO or Founder of a fledgling startup, we’ve all made errant choices in our business relationships at times. That said, making an effort to seek out people and scenarios where win-win-won outcomes can actualize starts within ourselves first. It’s funny that by simply being a decent person and looking out for everyone’s interest PAYS HUGE DIVIDENDS in the long run….and the lesson learned is that the most selfish thing we can do for ourselves is to be unselfish.