Becoming Search Consultants – Jeff Black & Stu Leibach

McDermott & Bull’s Jeff Black, Partner, and Stu Leibach, Principal Consultant, sit down to discuss their respective experiences as members of the Executive Network…and how those experiences contributed to them pursuing careers in Executive Search.

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M&B: How did you get involved in the Executive Network?

JB: Rod McDermott came to talk to a group of executives in-transition at an outplacement firm, and recommended that we become part of the Executive Network. It sounded like a good idea – probably similar to the way most folks get involved! I participated in some events and made many valuable connections. It was over 13 years ago, but it wasn’t much different than it is today! Just a lot more people involved.

SL: I was in-transition and looking to network. Networking was a challenge for me, and it was suggested that I attend a McDermott & Bull Mixer. I walked into the room and it was full! I thought, “Wow. I’ve never met this many people in one room.” It turned out to be a wonderful experience, and I’ve been thankful for it ever since.

M&B: In what ways did the Executive Network impact your life?

SL: The biggest impact the Executive Network had on my life is in terms of my confidence. It has been a huge confidence boost for me. Sitting down with people you’ve never met before and exchanging ideas in a very short amount of time is a challenge. Once you master it, you feel like you have the confidence to be able to make connections anytime, anywhere.

JB: The Executive Network, to me, felt like the beginning of what has become a 13.5 year family experience. To be part of the Executive Network is to be part of something where people belong and know each other. I found that it was a really good precursor to what it would be like for me to be part of the McDermott & Bull family.

M&B: What are some important lessons you learned during your time in-transition?

JB: One of the most important lessons that I took away from my experience was that everything I was able to do in-transition was an opportunity to learn and grow. It wasn’t just about finding a job, it was about moving from where I was to where I was going. What I encourage everyone in-transition to think about is that this is an opportunity to realize what the future is going to look like, as opposed to holding onto the past.

SL: Transition was taking the time to understand what my values were. I was in an executive role for many years, and I was working so hard that I never really thought of doing anything different. I urge people who are going through transition to take the time to self-improve, to really discover who they are, and figure out what they really love to do.

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M&B: What surprised you about being in-transition?

SL: I think the biggest surprise was how busy I was. I couldn’t imagine doing the things that I was doing while working. I took advantage of that. The other thing that really surprised me was how helpful people were. I’m not someone who typically asks for help, and I learned how to do that. People were extremely helpful in areas that I never thought they could be.

JB: I realized while in-transition how much I was looking for something special, something that mattered. I quickly realized that I was interested in finding out how I could contribute. I had time available, and the opportunity to contribute to society. What I’ve seen over the years is that same pattern in others. I see a lot of people saying, “Now that I don’t have the chance to give at my job every day, I need to find a way to fill that void.” It’s quite a wonderful thing to experience, because even after transition, there is a way to carry that on. Find a way to have an impact, be positive, and make a difference.

M&B: How did you come to the decision that a search consultant role was best for you?

JB: It came as a surprise to me! I was a member of the Executive Network and attended a Mixer. Shortly thereafter, I was in the office talking with Rod McDermott and realized he was interested in me. The idea of becoming a consultant and not having a regular paycheck and the normal job that I’d always had caused me to do some serious reflection. I spent a lot of time doing due diligence on the role, on Rod McDermott, on the firm, on the nature of what I’d be doing, as well as reflecting with friends and family. After a while, I came to realize that I didn’t want a regular job anymore. I wanted to use my skills and talents in a very different way. This firm was willing to believe in me and teach me how to do this work. After thinking hard, I came to the decision that becoming a search consultant sounded like something that would be fun and fascinating.

SL: I had a similar experience. I had been in-transition for some time, and as part of the process, was thinking about what I was good at and what I wanted to do. I knew I loved building successful teams and connecting talent with great companies. I met Matt Spooner, Director of the Executive Network, at a Mixer and we kept in touch. Over the course of a couple months, I met with Rod and he thought I may have some skills that would work here. The same energy that I put forth in building my business in my prior life, I apply at McDermott & Bull. I’m connecting the dots between fantastic companies and superb talent, and I’m doing what I’ve always done, but doing it my way.

M&B: What do you bring from your previous executive roles that can help as you build your practice?

SL: I’ve always been extremely interested in different kinds of businesses. Working in this practice has given me a glimpse of so many different companies in a short amount of time. In my past roles, it was extremely important to be able to assess talent and build successful teams. I use the same criteria with candidates for clients as I did to select for my own company. That experience definitely helped me a great deal and applies to this role.

JB: My experience is that it’s all about relationships. It’s about being able to influence, trust, and assess. When I look back on my past career, having led businesses, I realized I learned a lot about how to be successful. It’s EQ vs. IQ. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is probably the center of success in this work. Everything I ever learned about how to work effectively with people in my past life is highly valuable here. I have clients with problems needing to be solved, and candidates who need to be served as well. It’s important that both get the support and service they need to make the big life decisions that they make. Everything we do is about people, relationships, doing things right, and supporting people the right way.

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M&B: What about McDermott & Bull was appealing to you?

JB: I didn’t have a lot of experience with Executive Search, besides using Executive Search firms when I was a senior leader in my corporate life. I didn’t know a lot of firms. What I did know is that I needed to see the potential for a great family to be a part of. Even 13.5 years later, we’ve grown so much in many great ways. When I met Rod and Chris in the early days of the firm, it was already something special. The whole existence of the Executive Network is an example of what’s special about the firm. Search firms don’t typically care enough to create such a great tool. I saw myself wanting to have a fascinating life, I wanted to be in a place where I could learn and grow. I wanted to be in a place where I was going to be around people that would make me better. McDermott & Bull was a special place and it was a special family, and it’s gotten even better over the years.

SL: For me, it stemmed from being a part of the Executive Network. I spent quite a bit of time at events, where I was able to meet several Partners and Principal Consultants, and really got to know how they treated people. Transition is a very difficult time, and you need to go somewhere to get fed positive energy. I understood who the company was from being on the other side. The team here was extraordinary to interview with, and that is what convinced me that it was the right place for me. That spirit has really held true for me.

M&B: How does your experience as a formerly in-transition executive help you to build your Executive Search practice?

SL: Being in-transition is a humbling experience, and having the Executive Network really helped me build my confidence. When you’re in-transition, you’re the same person you were before you were in-transition, and you deserve the respect and thoughtfulness that goes along with being who you are. One thing that I learned was how to take a thoughtful approach with the candidates that I work with, as well as how we represent our clients. Having been on the other side, I really became fully aware of the way to treat those around me.

JB: The thing that is central to me and my practice is empathy. I remember being uncertain about where I was going. What am I going to find? What is it going to be like? What is out there? I needed people to understand me. Now what I find, having had that experience, when I meet a client who has a problem needing solving, they’re struggling. They don’t know how to do it. They’re not looking for recruiting help – they’re looking for consulting, for counseling guidance. I have to test my own empathy skills, always. And then there is dealing with candidates, who are potential people to fill searches for clients, they’ve been asked to have their lives turned upside down. There are a lot of big decisions. If I’m not able to be sensitive and pay attention and care, I’m not going to be able to be effective in my work. My experience in-transition helped me to understand how powerful it can be to demonstrate that you care.