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Executive turnover rising as boards are quicker to make changes

At latest CEO Update forum, executive recruiters give tips to jobseekers on choosing the right opportunities to pursue

Panel
From left, recruiters Julian Ha, Lorraine Lavet, Jim Zaniello and Ivan Adler.

Feb. 19, 2020
By William Ehart

There’s heavy turnover among association CEOs and senior staff, partly because boards are less patient with incumbent chief executives.

Julian Ha, head of the association practice at Heidrick & Struggles, told attendees at the CEO Update LIVE recruiting forum today that many factors are driving turnover.

“Some are retirements coming so some are voluntary, some are involuntary,” he said. “Trade association and professional society CEO roles are so critical these days and boards are even more aware of this. They really want to make sure they have the right leader in place. Heightened scrutiny may be causing turnover to be a little bit more rapid than we’ve seen in recent years.”

Ha was one of four panelists at the event, held at The Fairmont Washington, D.C., hotel in the Georgetown neighborhood. The others were Ivan Adler, president of Ivan Adler Associates, Jim Zaniello, president and founder of Vetted Solutions, and Lorraine Lavet, head of the association practice at Korn Ferry. CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham was the moderator.

Lavet said boards are not waiting as long these days to replace leaders with whom they are dissatisfied.

“They are moving more quickly in their decision to make a change than I've ever seen before. They're quite candid about that. They do it in a dignified way as best possible, but they are doing it more quickly,” Lavet said.

“The caliber of everything is going up,” Ha added.

Graham asked Zaniello how candidates can know whether they are ready for the CEO job, and how they should focus their efforts to maximize their career prospects.

“Be selective,” Zaniello said. “It is exciting to decide that you’re ready to be a CEO. But it doesn't mean that you're ready to be the CEO of every organization.

“Think through what the organization is and who it represents,” he said. “Search committees first and foremost want a talented executive, but they also want somebody who wants to represent them and their industry, their profession.

“We probably all see this,” Zaniello said, gesturing to his fellow panelists, “the candidate who calls or emails and says, ‘Hey, you're doing eight CEO searches, I think I’m a great fit for all of them.’ That leaves a different impression than you want.”

Adler, who specializes in government relations searches, said that although such experience is in high demand for associations hiring CEOs, not all GR chiefs are ready for the step.

“There's been a trend lately in people moving from the government relations chair into the corner office,” Adler said. “So there's a lot of people who think they're ready to do that, and they're not.

“I tell everybody, ‘Know thyself.’ Know thyself first and be able to talk about yourself. Know your value, what you can do well, where you're a better fit for something. And in that way you can tell us. But (you have to be) able to talk about yourself where it just comes right out with no problem.”

Read more insights from the executive recruiting forum in the Feb. 28 issue of CEO Update.