Tapping the Talent Pool

Tapping the Talent Pool

As co-leader of the global e-business practice at Heidrick & Struggles, Lauren Doliva spends all of her time recruiting for e-business positions. She knows, more than most, which qualities will help an e-business executive land his or her next job.

WebBusiness: A few years ago e-business experience was not a requirement for most executive level e-business positions because the field was so young. As the field matures, is e-business experience becoming mandatory for executive e-business positions?

Doliva: E-business experience isn't mandatory, but every senior executive needs to be Internet savvy. He or she needs to understand that Internet technology is driving new business models, and that because of this, the strategic and the tactical implications for running a business are different these days.

How do CEOs come by that understanding?

Many have schooled themselves by reading, by exposing themselves to other companies, by having conversations with other executives in e-businesses, and by experimenting within their own organisations. The most successful e-business executives are open to continuous learning about what's going out there in the marketplace. They are able to anticipate trends for their own businesses as well as for their own careers.

Years ago, VPs would stay with their companies for a good couple of years. These days, it seems as though the turnover rate is much more rapid. Is the Internet economy shortening the shelf life of the senior level executive?

We are seeing a lot more turnover among the vice president ranks, because those people are being recruited to CEO and COO positions much more quickly than they were 10 years ago.

Talent is very difficult to find and attract these days. So many employers are more likely to take a risk on an individual executive who may not have a lot of experience, but does have some of the fundamental qualities--flexibility, an understanding of the force of the Internet, openness to change, ability to anticipate trends--that are so important to any e-business. While successful candidates must still have a grasp of the basics of operating a business, these other qualities will help them to move more quickly to CEO.

Do traditional companies looking to move into e-business have different standards for their CEOs than dotcoms?

Dotcoms are often looking for a CEO who has an understanding of the way Internet technology drives business but who can also offer senior management some perspective on running a business, recruiting and building a team, working with Wall Street, and driving a business forward. They might want someone who has had more traditional experience than the dotcom's own founder has.

A large Fortune 500 company, on the other hand, might prefer a CEO who has actually been an entrepreneur. They often want to bring the entrepreneur inside and help them to create some culture change there.

The tricky part there is that when you're bringing an entrepreneur into a traditional company, he or she has to have enough wisdom to help transform an organisation that has done business one way for many years. He or she has to value the things that the organisation has perfected over their years in business and be able to integrate that tradition with new ways of doing things. For all of these reasons, the new CEO responsible for moving a large traditional company into e-business has one of the most challenging roles out there in today's economy.

What about the Fortune 500 executives who sign on with a dotcom? What kind of culture shock do they experience?

Many of them find the experience completely freeing and energizing. They're building something new, and it's very exciting. The right person absolutely thrives in a dotcom environment and loves it. The dotcom CEO doesn't have the responsibility of confronting all of the existing cultures and systems that exist in larger, more traditional companies. Dotcoms present the right person with the opportunity to create new cultures and new ways of doing things.

The traditional executive world has been in large part the province of white men. Has e-business has changed that?

What's changed is that everyone is desperate for great people and great talent. With talent as the key issue, many people are becoming blind to anything other than getting the right person in the right position. I don't think talent is judged by its cover. People are judging candidates by their capabilities, their competencies, and the kind of qualities that will make an e-business successful.

How has the dearth of talented e-business executives changed the recruiting industry?

As recruiters, we have to be faster, better, and smarter. We have to understand better the needs, not only of our clients, but of the talent as well. We have to be appreciative of the fact that candidates are getting bombarded with many opportunities and that they personally may have a number of career goals that they want to achieve. So it's important for us to help them manage those options and alternatives in the best way we can as we help our clients find the best people for them.

How much time do you spend recruiting for executive e-business positions?

Right now, I am doing 100 per cent of my work in e-business, as is nearly every person in this firm, certainly in North America, and we have at least 200 consultants. That's because e-business really is business. Everyone is using the term "e-business" right now because we are only just transitioning to it. But at some point the impact of Internet technology will have integrated itself into business enough that we probably won't differentiate between "e-business" and "business" at all.

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