Recruiting can be difficult — but finding the right partner can make the process a lot smoother. Photo via Getty Images

I’ve been in the retained recruiting industry for nearly two decades, with a four-year stint in the middle as an internal director of talent at a management consulting firm, so my knowledge is primarily based on the point of view of an outsourced recruiter. What’s more, my professional advice is relevant to most companies, but not all.

At Sudduth Search, our clients are generally investor-backed companies in the lower and middle market. Most are startups— both early-stage and large but all are growing rapidly—and we mainly search for director to C-level executives. And just like not all companies are the same, not all recruiters are either. I don’t believe there is a “plug and play” one size fits all recruiter; you need to find one that works for you and your culture. That being said, there are indeed ways to ensure you ARE getting the most out of the recruiter with whom you engage.

Ok, now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, let’s get into some real talk. How should you choose a firm and launch your search?

Get on the same page

First and foremost, make sure the recruiter you choose is the right cultural fit (a.k.a. emotionally intelligent and not a jerk). Will the recruiter represent your company and ethos well? If you’re put off by the recruiter’s sales tactics, or the recruiter regularly isn’t prepared, they’ll likely treat your search the same way. If YOU wouldn’t hang out with your recruiter outside of work, chances are your best candidates won’t want to talk with them either.

Expertise is key

Can the recruiter explain the process they follow, step-by-step? Recruiting isn’t luck. The best results come from following a proven process, being diligent, and detail-oriented. If your recruiter is “winging it,” and pushing candidates they already know, that’s not what you need. Heck, you could do that yourself and save a lot on fees. Have them walk you through their specific strategy so you know they aren’t just hoping to find the resume you’ll like.

Know your niche

Let’s also touch on recruiters with a specialty focus, something I get asked about more often than anything. Here’s what some of my prospective clients say: “We want someone who specializes in purple unicorns from the rainbow ranch industry.” For comparison sake, when you hire a lawyer, do you limit your search to ONLY those who work with purple unicorns from said industry? No, because we all know there could be a conflict of interest with competitors. Plus, if an attorney knows the law and how to apply it, it shouldn’t matter if they have a narrow focus. Similarly, if a recruiter specializes in exactly what your company does, or what the related position is for, their focus will be very narrow, making it difficult not to trip over past (or current) clients during the process. And it’s always possible your recruiter will be looking to poach from your team when they’re done with you. If a recruiter knows how to recruit for a multitude of positions within various industries, their methodology is probably what makes them successful; they’re not just spinning a rolodex, hoping it lands on the right candidate (and yes, I know I just aged myself).

Once you’ve chosen your recruiting firm, let’s talk about how to maximize their value:

  • Your recruiter should provide you more than just fodder and a resume for the recommended candidates. An important part of the process needs to include the recruiter giving you a thorough overview, analysis and opinion of the candidate. Answers to questions such as: What is their motivation for changing jobs? Why are they interested in your position? Why have they had a short tenure? How much revenue do they manage? You need to understand the candidate’s motivation for entertaining a new position and any gaps between jobs or questionable moves should be addressed. My hope is that my clients can forgo the boring interview questions and get straight to the meat of whether they like the person, and believe that particular candidate will be successful in the role and an asset to the team.
  • Your recruiter should scour the market without just focusing on people looking for a job, but also passive candidates. Most of our searches have a minimum of 50 candidates, and some have 300+. As a client, you should have the ability to see all of the candidates being considered. You’re paying for the search; you need to know that the recruiter has completed their due diligence and pursued as many leads as possible.
  • Passive candidates take longer to decide if they’re interested in your open position. Give them time to go through that thought process of deciding if they are interested. If you rush the recruiter, and the candidate feels pressured, you’re probably going to miss out on some stellar talent.
  • Your recruiter should be talking to the candidate all along the way, to keep them engaged and better ascertain whether the candidate is still interested and will accept an offer if given one. Nowadays, the market is a bit crazy, so you’ll never know whether the candidate is being recruited elsewhere. However, if the recruiter is doing their job, they should have a good idea whether the candidate will make it to the finish line and accept your offer.
  • Weekly calls: I know, I know, you don’t need another meeting on your calendar. But trust me, this is the best way to execute a successful, efficient search. The recruiter should provide weekly updates, including challenges, feedback and progress with particular candidates that look favorable. You, as the client, should be open and communicative with your concerns, questions or otherwise.
  • The recruiter should help you through the offer negotiation process to ensure there are no surprises. The last thing you want is to make an offer and then find out the candidate is entertaining three other offers. Ok, even with 20 years of experience, I sometimes get surprised. But I do everything possible to prevent that from happening. You should know exactly why the candidate wants or is willing to make a job change, from the first time you talk to them. While salary expectations can vary, you should never get to the point of offer and be shocked by the amount it will take to secure their commitment.
  • So what if you are a start up, does all of this advice apply? Absolutely, because with fewer people, early leadership hires are even more critical to your ability to succeed and raise capital.Startups and early-stage companies need to think creatively when making offers. If someone is prepared to take a risk on you, they deserve to at least make the same money they did before.Or maybe you can you offer them success-based compensation, like equity or tracking stock? If the person you are hiring is not motivated by success-based compensation, then they are probably not cut out to be at a scaling company. It takes someone who is self-driven, who can see the end result and figure out how to get there. They must be willing to put their own “skin in the game” in order to see the whole company succeed. They are the type that thrives on being challenged. If they don’t, then let them go as they will likely bolt if the going gets tough and you are better off knowing that ahead of time.

I think that covers most of it. I’m probably going to make a lot of recruiters mad because I just made their jobs harder. But I believe it’s a recruiter’s responsibility to bring as much value to their clients and the recruiting process as possible, and to ultimately attract the best talent possible. And if you do need a purple unicorn from a rainbow ranch, please call Sudduth Search, we’ll find you one.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

Hiring an executive at a pivotal time — specifically amid The Great Resignation — can be overwhelming. This Houstonian has tips from her decades in the business. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Houston expert weighs in on how to identify the right transformational leader

guest column

In my 20 years of working in executive search, I’m not sure there has ever been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team. I don’t have to tell you that chronic stressors are impacting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have been for a few years.

Transformational Leadership is not just about leading high-growth companies; it’s about leading through change, and driving change when it’s needed. Right now, the Transformational Leadership that’s needed is directly tied to the pandemic, returning to work, and now “The Great Resignation and Reckoning.” Transformational Leaders must foster a culture where workers WANT to be loyal and want to help the company succeed.

How do you identify leaders who will create the conditions for which employees are rightfully asking, and who will encourage resilience, both personally and professionally?

Here are some of the attributes Sudduth Search seeks when hiring Transformational Leaders:

Collaboration in the conversation. Even in an interview, if the person is not listening as much as they are talking, or is even talking over the interviewer, it’s a red flag. Possessing enough social awareness to know when it’s time to talk is critical for effective leaders.

Leaders who display openness and humility. Leaders who convey that they are “all knowing” no matter how obvious it is that no one has all the answers is a risky hire. Be on the lookout for candidates who admit when they don’t know things and talk about how they solved the situation regardless.

Courageous leaders who prioritize ethics and principles. Good leaders are trusted and respected for the decisions they make when they prioritize ethics. Ask them about difficult situations they’ve been in, and how they prioritized their beliefs.

Transformational Leaders are healthy and happy. I’m not going to tell you that every leader is healthy and happy 100% of the time, but strong leaders have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of themselves and self-regulate.

Intellectual bravery. Transformational Leaders disagree or challenge the status quo in a proactive way. They might challenge something that has been said in a setting where everyone just accepts the statement as a given or they might state something that isn’t popular. Transformational Leaders spur this kind of communication, they encourage employees to think outside of the box, and they dare to be wrong. Bureaucracy hinders creativity. Transformational Leaders set the tone and decide the norms.

They encourage difficult, but important conversations. Transformational Leaders encourage people to think beyond their roles, and think about the company as a whole. These kinds of leaders include employees in important conversations, they admit when they don’t know something, and they are not afraid to ask for feedback.

Authenticity. As mental health experts warned it would, the pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic. But even though most everyone is online, working more than they are maintaining active social lives, they feel equally isolated in their professional lives. Employees miss the camaraderie of the office. Celebrations, light hearted get togethers, spontaneous lunches with the whole team. What’s more, they miss feeling connected and having colleagues know where they’re at. Transformational Leaders haven’t been shy to implement alternatives, and they won’t forget to bring back team outings and office lore when it’s safe to do so.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when hiring leaders is cultural fit, which means you can work with them, you feel comfortable communicating with them, and you are aligned on ethics and values. Dig into any question marks or topic where you might be misaligned.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Deadline extended: InnovationMap, HX open nominations for new combined awards gala

calling all innovators

Update: The deadline for nominations have been extended to midnight on Sunday, October 2.

InnovationMap is back to honor local startups and innovators — and this time, we've upped the ante.

Houston Exponential and InnovationMap have teamed up to combine their annual awards and event efforts to premiere a brand new program. The Houston Innovation Awards Gala on Wednesday, November 9, at The Ion will be a comprehensive event honoring Houston founders, innovators, investors, and more. InnovationMap and HX, which was acquired earlier this year, are in the same network of ownership.

Nominations are open online until midnight October 2, and nominees will have until October 11 to complete an additional application that will be emailed to nominees directly. A group of industry experts and Houston innovation leaders will review those submissions and determine finalists and winners across 11 categories. The categories for this year's awards are:

  • BIPOC-Owned Business honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation
  • Female-Owned Business honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman
  • Hardtech Business honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond
  • B2B Software Business honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector
  • Green Impact Business honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond
  • Smart City Business honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond
  • New to Hou honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years
  • DEI Champion honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization
  • Investor of the Year honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing
  • Mentor of the Year honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs
  • People's Choice: Startup of the Year selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event
Nominees can be submitted to multiple categories.

Additionally, the awards gala will honor an innovator who's made a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community. While you may nominate an individual for the Trailblazer Award via the online form, the judging committee will not require applications or nominations for this category and will be considering potential honorees from the ecosystem at large. If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please reach out to cbuckner@houstonexponential.org.

Last year, InnovationMap introduced its awards program and named 28 finalists and honored the nine winners on September 8. Click here to see more from last year's event.

Tickets for the November 9 event are available online. Early bird tickets will be $60 per person and startup founders will be able to attend for $25.

Click here to submit a nomination or see form below.


Major corporation opens hub for global decarbonization in Houston

seeing green

Management consulting giant McKinsey & Co. plans to spend $100 million over the next decade to pump up Houston’s decarbonization economy.

McKinsey says the initiative will, among other things, focus on:

  • Promoting innovations like carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and green hydrogen
  • Revamping business models for carbon-heavy companies
  • Ramping up the community of local startups involved in energy transition
  • Developing talent to work on decarbonization

As part of this program, McKinsey has set up a decarbonization hub in its Houston office, at 609 Main St.

“Decarbonization will lead to a new chapter of economic development, while also addressing a critical problem of climate change,” McKinsey partner Nikhil Ati says.

Global decarbonization efforts over the next three decades will require a $100 trillion investment, according to Utility Dive. Houston, home to 40 percent of publicly traded oil and gas companies, stands to gain a substantial share of that opportunity.

McKinsey’s Houston office has worked for several years on Houston’s energy transition initiatives. For instance, the firm helped produce a study and a whitepaper on energy transition here. The whitepaper outlines Houston’s future as the “epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub.”

“Texas is the nation’s largest renewable energy producer, home to half of the nation’s hydrogen pipelines, and its companies have unparalleled capabilities in building and operating complex projects,” McKinsey senior partner Filipe Barbosa says. “This is Houston’s moment in time on the global stage.”

McKinsey estimates a Houston-based global hub for clean hydrogen that’s in place by 2050 could generate 180,000 jobs and create an economic impact of $100 billion.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from photonics to robotics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship

Brad Burke joins this week's Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via alliance.rice.edu

Collaboration has made a world of a difference for growing Houston's innovation ecosystem, according to Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship.

"I think Houston has this culture of collaboration that I suspect that some other major cities don't have in the same way," Burke says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And while we're a big city, the entrepreneurial ecosystem feels like a small network of a lot of people who work really well together."

Burke has played a major role in the collaboration of Houston for the past 20 years leading the Rice Alliance, which coordinates many event programs and accelerators — including the Rice Business Plan Competition, energy and life science forums, the Clean Energy Accelerator, Owl Spark, Blue Launch, and more. Click here to read more.

Trevor Best, CEO and co-founder of Syzygy Plasmonics

A new partnership for Houston-based Syzygy will generate 1.2 million tons of clean hydrogen each year in South Korea by 2030. Image via Syzygy

Houston-area energy tech startup Syzygy Plasmonics is part of a new partnership that will develop a fully electric chemical reactor for production of clean hydrogen in South Korea.

The reactor will be installed in the second half of 2023 at Lotte Fine Chemical’s facilities in Ulsan, South Korea. Lotte Fine Chemical, Lotte Chemical, and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas are Syzygy’s partners in this venture.

“Simply improving existing tech isn’t enough to reach the world’s decarbonization goals. Stopping climate change will require industries to reimagine what is possible,” Syzygy co-founder and CEO Trevor Best says in a news release. “Our technology expands the accepted paradigms of chemical engineering. We have demonstrated the ability to replace heat from combustion with renewable electricity in the manufacture of foundational chemicals like hydrogen.” Click here to read more.

Nicolaus Radford, CEO and founder of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics has hit the public market. Image via LinkedIn

Fresh off its September 13 debut as a publicly traded company, Webster-based Nauticus Robotics Inc. is aiming for $90 million in revenue next year as it dives deeper into the ocean economy.

The stock of Nauticus now trades on the NASDAQ market under the ticker symbol KITT. Nauticus went public following its SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger with New York City-based CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” company that went public in July 2021 through a $150 million IPO. The SPAC deal was valued at $560 million when it was announced in December.

Nauticus continues to be led by CEO Nicolaus Radford and the current executive team.

“The closing of this business combination represents a pivotal milestone in our company’s history as we take public our pursuit of transforming the ocean robotics industry with autonomous systems,” says Radford, who founded what was known as Houston Mechatronics in 2014. “Not only is the ocean a tremendous economic engine, but it is also the epicenter for building a sustainable future.” Click here to read more.