Headhunters can provide competitive edge

Search firms provide industry insight, qualified applicants


Photo by Lance Henderson

Eric Freedman, local headhunter with Martin Alexander Executive Search, hits the phones on the hunt for a potential candidate for one of his clients.


Eric Freedman is a headhunter.

While the title sounds menacing, Freedman is actually co-owner of Martin Alexander Executive Search, a niche employee search firm that specializes in the commercial electronic security and fire safety industry.

Freedman said his company practices active recruiting — which can sometimes be a little tricky. It’s a process of assessing the needs of his clients, identifying the competition and actively engaging those competitors in discussions about another job opportunity, which has led to some tense discussions in the past.

“Most of the time, people are pretty savvy,” Freedman said. “If you get a call from a headhunter or a recruiter, the smart people are going to engage in discussions, because everybody wants an option. It never hurts to know a recruiter that focuses in your field because you just never know.”

When a city needs a new finance director or a company needs a new senior vice president, a qualified candidate isn’t always just around the corner. So companies and large organizations seek out a professional — someone who specializes in recognizing talent and selling opportunities.

Angela Beatty, a human resource analyst for the city of Bellingham, said the city uses an executive search firm only as executive positions come available. She said the real benefit is the firm’s professional expertise.

“They have the ability to quickly generate a qualified pool of candidates because of their extensive network of connections in the public sector,” Beatty said.

She said search firms are able to probe into the candidate’s interpersonal skills and assess personality traits.

“They can do in-depth screening and behavioral evaluations, which are very helpful,” Beatty said. “They also have the resources to work with print and Web marketing and to better reach qualified candidates.”

Beatty said the best results come from working with a firm that understands an organization’s goals.

“Then they can tailor a recruit to meet our specific needs,” she said.


On the hunt in the public sector

Right now, Bellingham is in need of a new public works director, and to find a candidate, they are working with Dallas-based Waters-Oldani Executive Recruitment, which specializes in executive searches for municipalities and nonprofits.

Beatty said Bellingham worked with Waters-Oldani eight years ago to recruit outgoing Public Works Director Dick McKinley.

“It really helps with retention rates,” Beatty said.

Jerry Oldani, senior vice president at the Waters-Oldani Executive Recruitment branch office in Bellevue, said he is currently on the hunt to fill two positions in Bellingham: city public works director and director of the new Bellingham Public Development Authority.

“We are looking for someone who has worked at the senior level in real estate and economic development and has 10-plus years of executive level senior management experience and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in real estate, construction management, finance or economic development,” Oldani said of the PDA director job.

In other words, not your average Joe.

Oldani said when he begins a search for someone like this, there are a number of professional organizations, such as the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, the Urban Land Institute and the International Downtown Association, where he could mine for talent.

“These are logical places to start,” Oldani said.

He said he would also look at possible candidates working with the competition, which in this case would be comparable communities.

“I would look at communities of similar size that are also waterfront and university-oriented communities,” Oldani said.


Transferable skills

Most executive search firms tend to be specialized, working only a certain niche in the business community. Often, these niche headhunters worked in the same field themselves and use their insight into the business to help companies find talent.

Freedman said he came out of college and got a job in Southern California with an electronic security provider where he learned to design and sell security systems, such as access control, DTV surveillance and fire alarms. Soon he was managing a team of salespeople.

Then his company was purchased by electronic security giant Tyco (ADT), and Freedman found himself looking for a new beginning. One of Freedman’s friends in the industry started Martin Alexander and invited him to join his company.

“I had never done recruiting in my life aside from my management experience, but I had an aptitude for it, I guess,” Freedman said. “Three years later I bought in as an equity partner.”

Now, Martin Alexander has offices in Southern California, Arizona and Bellingham, which cover the tech-heavy markets in Seattle, Silicon Valley, Arizona and Colorado, although the company performs searches in all 50 states.

Freedman said his work in the electronic security industry is critical to his firm’s ability to find qualified talent.

“We have all been-there done-that, so it gives us that unique perspective because I can talk the same language as both my clients and my candidates,” he said.

Oldani also said his previous experience has been vital to his success in recruiting.

After serving in the Marines during Vietnam, Oldani got into corporate human resources, where he served as a vice president for 17 years. When his company was bought by an international concern, he was asked to become senior vice president of North American personnel, which would have required a move to the East Coast and doubling of his salary.

However, Oldani said the job would have required too much travel.

He finally settled in Bellevue in 1974, where he began working with the Pacific Northwest Personnel Management Association and the Society for Human Resource Management. He said he also became deeply involved in community service in Bellevue and King County.

“I took those connections and parlayed it into some consulting working in 1980,” Oldani said.

Soon after, Oldani started his own executive recruitment firm and he said his private sector experience helped him greatly.

“Having been a vice president of human resources, I had involvement in the full spectrum of labor relations, contract negotiations, and training, which is all very transferable to this business,” Oldani said.


‘A refined technique, methodology’

Freedman said his first meeting with a client is all about needs assessment.

“We want to know, where are they taking their team? What are they building? Why are they looking for this type of individual?” Freedman said. “Sometimes I will ask, ‘What is your reputation in the market? What is unique about your company or your branch office?’ Because at the end of the day, we have to sell this opportunity to the candidate.”

Freedman said hiring and human resources managers at individual companies and organizations often work long hours and don’t have the time to perform a lengthy nationwide search.

“They are going to spend time and money putting ads in the paper and trolling the Internet for candidates,” Freedman said. “We are going to expedite that process dramatically.”

Oldani said most companies don’t have the time to dedicate 275 hours to an executive search.

“But that is what it takes,” he said.

Oldani added that his firm does have a two-year guarantee: If the candidate is terminated for cause or voluntarily, he will come back to conduct another search for free, if it’s within a year, or 50 percent off if it’s within two years.

Oldani said his search firm is able to administer management profile testing, access background checks and generate advertising content, which are all hidden costs of hiring, but are rolled into a search firm’s fee.

“We do this day in and day out,” Oldani said. “We have a refined technique and methodology.”

Related Stories