What does it take to make a great C-Suite hire? You have to know what you’re looking for, choose carefully, and make strategic hires rather than making emotional decisions or impulse hires. When you think you have found what you’re looking for; maybe you have, maybe not.  You might have to dig deep to separate the wheat from the chaff; things are not always as they seem. Below are two tales, very different, but examples of situations executive search professionals see daily.

One of my clients owns a $10MM medical device company. He’s doing OK, but sales and profits are down. In the past, he hired key managers when they showed up. He calls this “opportunistic hiring.” In a dynamic business environment, it may work. It might also feel good. In the challenging business climate, we’re in, it is a missed opportunity to hire a great executive/manager that brings real value to the company. Going forward, what could he do differently to ensure every hire brings greater value to the company?

  • Write a job description that focuses his attention on what he wants to accomplish with the position, and what he wants from the new employee. Be specific:  Increase sales by 10%; Increase gross margins by 15%; Reduce product returns by 25%; increase market share by 5%; reduce manufacturing costs by 12%.   While interviewing, if the candidates do not offer realistic, plausible and common sense ideas on how they will achieve those objectives, don’t hire them. Likewise, if they are unwilling or unable to directly answer such questions, take a pass.
  • If he tends to hire friends, relatives, friends of friends or friends of relatives, establish a process that creates distance from him and the hiring decision.  Create a panel; solicit and include involvement from colleagues who have demonstrated excellence in hiring.  Find an experienced consultant to assist.   Each candidate, whatever their source, is thrown into a pot and interviewed by the panel. He can still hire a friend; but all candidates are vetted in exactly the same way. If his friend sails through the process and is a finalist, that’s great. If not, don’t hire her.
  • Ask the final candidates to write a brief plan of what they would do in their first 90 days of employment. This will give you insight into their writing skills, thought process, and values.


Last year, we were engaged to find a General Manager for a large manufacturing facility in the South Eastern US. While we had many fine candidates, one in particular stood out. He had the demonstrated experience, education and skills set forth in our criteria. There was one problem; he’d been terminated from a previous employer, under uncertain and ambiguous circumstances.

When I interviewed him, I asked him to recount that job and the circumstances that led to his termination. As he described it to me, it was political and complicated; easy to misinterpret and misjudge. We could have walked away. Instead, we dug deep. We spoke with numerous people knowledgeable of the situation. Our conclusion: He was an excellent manager who found himself in a situation beyond his control. His termination, while it may have been warranted, was not pertinent to our job. We utilized a Psychologist to administer a testing regimen measuring his aptitudes, and creating a personality profile. Everyone involved in the hiring decision was privy to all of the information. We hired him.  Our decision proved correct; he’s doing a fantastic job.

Every situation is different, every circumstance unique. It is easy to start a relationship. Getting out, not so much.

Strategic hiring means you know what you’re looking for, you have a process that encourages success, that allows you to deal effectively with ambiguity, and whose results contribute to your success.


Open member Doug Reiter is President of The Douglas Reiter Company, an Executive Talent Firm providing Executive Search, Consultants and Interim Managers for 33 years. Mr. Reiter holds an MA in Organizational Behavior, and is a CMC (Certified Management Consultant/IMC). He lives and works in Lake Oswego, OR, with his wife and Labrador Retriever.