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Ep 72- Balancing Human Values and Business Growth with Jen Sudduth

Ep 72- Balancing Human Values and Business Growth with Jen Sudduth

Balancing Human Values and Business Growth with Jen Sudduth

In this episode of Building Texas Business, I welcomed Jen Sudduth, CEO of Sudduth Search, for an insightful discussion on her journey in the executive search industry. Jen shared her story of transitioning from Taylor Winfield to launching her boutique firm focused on transformative growth companies.

I learned how Sudduth Search crafts a supportive work culture that prioritizes both productivity and well-being. Our dialogue also uncovered nuances around balancing work responsibilities with life’s pleasures.

As we wrapped up, Jen reflected on life lessons from mentorship to her commitment to the Special Olympics community.


Transcripts are generated by machine learning, so typos may be present.

BTB (00:00):

Welcome to the Building Texas Business Podcast, interviews with thought leaders and organizational visionaries from across industry. Join us as we talk about the latest trends, challenges, and growth opportunities to take your business to the next level. The Building Texas Business Podcast is brought to you by BoyarMiller, providing counsel beyond expectations. Find out how we can make a meaningful difference to your business at and by your podcast team where having your own podcast is as easy as being a guest on ours. Discover more at Now. Here’s your host, Chris Hanslik.

Chris (00:42):

In today’s episode, you will meet Jen sut, co-founder and CEO of sut Search, a boutique executive search firm. Jen’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be intentional and purposeful in your business planning and don’t forget to plan for success. Okay, Jim, first off, welcome to Building Texas Business. Thank you. Thanks for being here.

Jen (01:05):

Thank You.

Chris (01:05):

So I’m excited to, to have this conversation with you today. I want to start by just allowing you to introduce yourself and tell us what you company SU search is known for.

Jen (01:15):

Sure. So we are a seven person boutique executive search firm. But I think what we do is, is a little bit unique. We work with the middle market private equity. Probably 75% of our clients are private equity backed. The other are public, private, you name it, individually owned. It doesn’t matter. I think the common denominator with all of ’em is that all of the companies are going through some sort of transformation and most of the time that’s growth. It could have been that they raised capital. That’s a trigger to bring us in and go and replace some of your leadership team. Could be some of our bigger companies of going through some sort of culture change. We did 10 positions for a Blackstone backed company and basically they wanted to pull from outside of their industry and they didn’t know how to do that. And so we helped them come up with a concept of how to do that completely, you know, change their recruiting processes from how they were doing ’em before. And then they brought in a whole new culture and that’s what they wanted. They wanted a different culture than they had before. And so it’s a just a, it doesn’t matter what the trigger is, but it’s usually some sort of change transformation. You need a leader that can drive that change. Right. You need someone that is fearless <laugh> a lot of times that can come in and they’re, you know, they can make things happen. Right. And that’s where we play most of the time.

Chris (02:30):

Well, what, what I find interesting about that is how laser focused it is. What inspired you to kinda start a search firm that was so focused on that kind of niche industry?

Jen (02:42):

So I’ve actually done it for over 20 years and the firm I was with before was called Taylor Winfield. I only bring that up ’cause a lot of people know Taylor Winfield. I started with Taylor Winfield and kind of worked my way up and that’s what they focused on. They were more, you know, that was 2000. So there was a lot of venture money out there. There was Silicon Valley and they worked a lot in California. We did. I was just a lowly junior recruiter back then, but, and that’s where I learned the business. Okay. And, and that’s where I kind of learned, you know, that world. And it’s not for everyone, both as a candidate and as a recruiter. Because, you know, sometimes candidates will go, well, well, when are they gonna sell? Am I gonna still have a job? I’m like, well, you’re really not, you’re not right for this <laugh> because that’s not the mentality that we look for in a candidate.

Jen (03:25):

But, so that’s how I got my start and that’s how I learned it. And then when I started this up my practice five years ago, I kind of, I don’t do a whole lot of venture. I have a few here and there. Usually they’re a little bit more mature as a company. I think as I’ve aged, I’m not as patient with the venture <laugh>. I think they’ve got a great thing going, but it’s just a different world. And I think sometimes those, the people that are willing to go and do something really early stage are not the same people that I’m looking for. The middle market series B series C type folks. So, so that’s how I had got into it was really, that’s kind of what I’ve done my whole career.

Chris (04:01):

Gotcha. Well I know that you started this company set of search around five years ago.

Jen (04:07):


Chris (04:08):

So you had to make some decision to leave and just start fresh on your own. Yep. Let’s talk about that a little bit. What drove that decision?

Jen (04:17):

So the company that I worked for was actually owned by, and I don’t usually say this, but, so you’re getting new, no new information here. Okay. By my stepmother, Connie Adair. And I bring that up ’cause she’s fully retired now. She’s been retired for about two years. But she brought me into the business not as a multi-generational business. I had to earn my keep, earn my way <laugh>. Right. Just like everyone else. She was very big on treating me like everyone else.

Chris (04:41):

The benefit for you that she did that?

Jen (04:44):

Absolutely. And I learned from the best. She was really known as one of the best in the industry. So I kind of got to see that world and that process. But she sold to private equity and it was a private equity roll up. Like some of ’em, it didn’t go really well. The integration piece was a little rough.

Chris (05:02):

<laugh> not unique in that regard. Right, right.

Jen (05:05):

And I got no benefit from it, to be quite honest. It wasn’t, I stuck around to try to support her and, and she did well and then she got another bite of the apple. And I tried for two years, kind of, I wasn’t a big company person. Right. And I realized if I can make this kind of money for someone else, I should be doing it for myself. And so I kind of did it because I could. And she fully supported me. She knew that retirement was on the horizon. And so when I told her, she said, you know, I think you should go for it. So that’s what I did.

Chris (05:33):

That’s great. Well, I mean, good to have that encouragement for someone that you were close with, but con considered to be a trusted mentor.

Jen (05:40):


Chris (05:40):

So gotta be a little bit trepidatious to just start out on your own. Yeah. Even though you know what you’re doing. Yeah. And you’re, and you, I think you can’t do that unless you have confidence that it’s gonna work. Yeah. And confidence that it will work is, doesn’t isn’t a guarantee that it will.

Jen (05:58):


Chris (05:59):

But you know, what were some of the things you did to kind of set yourself up in those early days of starting your own company to try to pave the path towards success?

Jen (06:10):

So, I will start with the fact that I had a very strict non-compete. I did not get any clients from the company or from her. And I’m a devout follower of non-competes <laugh>.

Chris (06:21):

Well, it’s funny you say that. You bring that up. Yeah. You know,

Jen (06:25):


Chris (06:25):

We devised people. I mean, literally every day on both sides of those. Oh yeah. Right. Because, because they exist. And obviously, you know, there’s a lot of buzz recently ’cause the ftc Oh yeah. Came out with a rule to ban them. Uh, which is, you know, probably not gonna take effect because lawsuits have already been filed to challenge it. But it’s gonna be an interesting to see how that plays out Yeah. In the next, over the next few years, I think. Yeah.

Jen (06:48):

And not to say I don’t think some non-competes go overboard. I have heard some ludicrous non-competes as I’m interviewing. So Sure. I do think a lot of them go over ward. I think the FTC is in the, is moving in the right direction with some of them because I think they’re a little too restrictive. But that’s not your question. Yeah. <laugh>

Chris (07:03):

<laugh> and even, well, even as the rule’s written, it doesn’t apply to executive. So That’s right. It wouldn’t change your world.

Jen (07:08):

It wouldn’t have. And I’ve been there a long time that everything I got was under their umbrella. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So what I did do was I planned for a long time, I’ve owned businesses before. And so I had a business plan, I had a marketing plan, I had a strategy, I had, the other advantage I had was that I had been, uh, I’d been asked to be on the board of a CG. And so that was a, I knew that was going to be great pr it’s gonna be great relationships there. And that’s how I met Steve Caston here at the Boyer Miller and a few others. And so I knew that was coming, but it was pretty far out. You know, my tenure had just started. Didn’t know I was gonna be president, but I knew that it was gonna be on the board and I’d have a lot of visibility.

Jen (07:49):

Right. So that helped quite a bit. I think that was one factor. Fun story, unrelated to your question, the day before I quit, the day before my last day, I had, I gave like four months notice and they knew I was leaving. Oh, wow. I was unwinding. I had some really big searches. So I was unwinding those and finishing those up for clients kind of on the bench. But just doing that. So the day bef the, the last day of employment, I get a call from that client that I just mentioned wanted to change their culture. Blackstone back company. He said, I got 10 searches for you, Jim <laugh>. I said, well, I can’t do ’em. I’m leaving. And today’s my last day. And he is, well, I’m not doing ’em without you. And so I called the company and I said, here’s what’s happening.

Jen (08:29):

Would you, would we, can we do a fee split? Didn’t know that was coming, but that was really great cash flow. And they said yes. And so we worked out a, a fee split. I continued, I worked with that client and then they brought in their team. But it was great cash flow right out of the gates. And then I developed brand new clients from that point on. But I knew the industry. I think the industry knew me. So even if it wasn’t somebody I’d worked before, I had a plan and I went after those people.

Chris (08:57):

That’s a really cool story to hear. And, and there’s a lesson, there’s probably many lessons, but there one that just struck me, you know, kind right between the eyes is the lesson in leaving the right way when you leave a company Absolute. Versus leaving the wrong way. And you just laid out a roadmap for the listeners that if you’re thinking about leaving, you left the right way. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> honoring your agreements. And then with the transparency to, to get the slug of business for your new business, for your new company. Because you went to them and said, here’s the deal. ’cause you’ve done everything else. Right? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. It’s good to hear that. I guess they could have not honored that, but they did the right thing in my mind too. Yeah. By saying, yeah, let, it’d be fair to share this. And by the way, we should. Customer comes first. Yeah. That’s what they want. Let’s make them happy. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So, yeah.

Jen (09:46):

And I, I completely agree. And I try to tell people, and I know there’s exceptions. I know there’s bosses that are just difficult. And if they know you’re even looking there, you’re gone. I know that happens. But I, I think majority of the time people are reasonable. And if you come to them, and sometimes I’ll have friends come to me and say, I’m thinking about making a change. Grass is greener. Right. And I’m like, I know they’re gonna a great situation. I’m like, have you had a really difficult conversation with your boss before you leave, before you start thinking about, have you told them that you’re unhappy? You’ve been there 14 years, or you’ve been there seven years? Have you talked about it? And usually the answer’s no. And so I try to encourage them to say, go talk to them first. And then if it’s still, you know, in a month you still feel like it’s just not fulfilling, then talk about leaving. Yeah. You know, but you ha you need to give ’em a chance. It’s

Chris (10:35):

Great advice. Yeah. People unfortunately, right, it’s kinda human nature to avoid

Jen (10:39):

The conversation.

Chris (10:40):

The difficult, uncomfortable conversation. Or at least I’ll say this, the ones we perceive habit that they’re gonna be difficult. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> or uncomfortable. And to your point, I think a lot of times if you actually have the courage to go have it, they usually aren’t as difficult or uncomfortable as you work them up in your mind to be. Absolutely. And you know, I, I can speak, you know, as well as you can if you give your employer where you’ve been otherwise happy for a while Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> the chance to have that conversation. Most people, if there, if there’s a tweak or two that would keep you there, it’s probably gonna save Absolutely. The company a ton of money to consider that. Right.

Jen (11:21):

And I benefit the company. Yeah. Talk to them about, you know, I’d really like to do more sales. You know, I’d really like to take on bigger projects. You know what we’ve been looking for someone that wants to take on bigger projects, you just never know. That’s right. What the company needs.

Chris (11:35):

So we go back, you mentioned, and just for the listeners, a CG Association of Corporate Growth. Yes. Thank you. NDC group, industry and the kind of m and a, a lot of private equity. So sounds like part of that marketing plan was to plug yourself in to the right kind of networking system where you would meet people and build relationships.

Jen (11:55):

That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah. And I eventually was asked to be president. I don’t know if you know that. And so it was a lot of, it was a lot of visibility as well. That’s half the battle <laugh>. Yes. Getting, because there’s a lot of top of mind search firms out there. Yeah. Getting top of mind and helping them see that I understand private equity, I understand what their challenges are. I understand what they’re trying to achieve. I understand how capital’s raised, you know, I’ve got the knowledge base to be able to convey that to candidates and to help find the right one that’s gonna fit that. So I think that helped a lot. And it’s, it was educational for me. You know, going to conferences, hearing panels speak. I know a lot about a lot <laugh>. Yeah. Or a little about a lot. Excuse me. Lemme rephrase that. <laugh>. I, I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s true. That’s

Chris (12:38):

Right. No, well, I mean it,

Jen (12:39):

But it does, it’s real educational to hear those conversations and to hear what’s happening in the market. Yeah. You know, from your peers that are in the organization.

Chris (12:46):

A couple other takeaways from what you said that I, that I hope people listening caught is that you had a plan before you did this. Right? Absolutely. You sat down and put it to paper, A business plan, a marketing plan, str a strategy of look, I think those are so important and can be overlooked. Yeah. When people say, look, I’m just gonna go chase this dream, that’s great. ’cause you need the inspiration, but you also need some substance behind it. Because if you eventually do go to, and most will go to a bank or an investor or something, they’re gonna be asking about that. Yeah. So you better be prepared.

Jen (13:18):


Chris (13:19):

So one of the things, and, and you and I were talking about this, you know, I guess before we got the recording going, and that is, you know, you now have seven employees. Let’s talk a little bit about, you know, I think there’s a few conversations. One is, what was it that triggered you each time to make the decision? Now it’s time to take on a, an employee or another employee? ’cause those are big investments. Yeah. And then how did you go about making sure they were the right fit?

Jen (13:46):

Yeah. So it was growth that predicated, uh, the need. That was the part I didn’t plan was when am I gonna hire what, you know, what at what point do we need to bring on another person? At what point do we need to bring on a junior person, et cetera, et cetera. I didn’t plan that piece of it, and I probably should have, but it, it was really just my bandwidth and being able to do what I needed to do. You know, we were super busy during Covid, which sounds really strange, <laugh>, but I had some, I had that one big client that was still going. I, I had just, so if you think about, I had been in business for about a year. And so that year I had been really busy. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> doing marketing and business development and getting out there and making relationships.

Jen (14:30):

And so it just, it paid off. And I think a, a lot of those people, one of my biggest clients, I don’t know if you know Dave Marky, he’d a good guess <laugh>. He, let’s do it. He, he called me out of the blue in the middle of Covid and we had met like five years prior, but he had seen my posts and my marketing and my emails. And so he said, I can’t go out. I’m not gonna go out and interview five interview candidates and we’re in the, or uh, excuse me, search firms. ’cause we’re in the middle of Covid. So what you got Jen? And so I took it on and we’ve probably done 15 different positions over three or four years for you. Wow. So he’s one of our biggest clients. So there that, I think the prior relationships definitely helped us make it. You asked about employees though. Yes. Uh,

Chris (15:11):

Well, I tell before we go there. Yeah. One of the things you, so interesting you said I didn’t plan for growth. Yeah. Probably should have. Yeah. So looking back, what do you think you could have done in that regard that you might offer as advice to someone that you know is maybe about to do something similar that you did five years ago? Yeah. You know, what have you learned? Looking back to say, I, I would’ve, if I was gonna do it again, I would plan for growth in this way.

Jen (15:37):

Plan for success. I think I was so focused on how am I going to get there that I didn’t say if when I get there, not if when I get there, how am I going to get to the next level? I never did that. I never said, okay, I can handle 12 searches or whatever it is at different, in different phases. So if I get 14, what do I, at what point do I, you know, do I need to start hiring when I get to nine searches? Whatever it is. Yeah. So maybe it was a revenue. I think I should have projected and said, ’cause I’ve been in the business a while, I know how many searches I can do. Right. You know, by myself or with a team. And so I, I think that would’ve been very helpful to, to do kind of like an FB and a analysis, but on the operational side. Right. You know, very

Chris (16:23):

Helpful. That’s very helpful. Okay. So now Yeah. Let’s go back to kind of setta search. You starting to decide, I’ve hit the point. I I can’t do this all I gotta bring someone on. Yeah. You know, how did you go about sourcing? And obviously you probably a lot of contacts, but, you know, just the whole process of how you interviewed to make sure they were gonna be a good fit for your company.

Jen (16:45):

So my first hire, I got really lucky because she was a, a neighbor, a friend who got laid off during Covid. And so we brought her on just to do some of this data pushing type stuff. She made phone calls, she cold calls, she’s fearless. And then she grew into being a really good recruiter. After that first hire, it was, oh my God, I can’t handle this. I just need a body that can help do a professional person that can do all this. After that hire, I was much more purposeful. <laugh>. Yeah. After that it was, we want experience, we want, you know, degree. Now she was degreed, but we want degreed individuals that understand the business world, that understand, you know, I think every time I made another hire, I kind of elevated my expectations. Right. And not to say she, the first hire was, she was a phenomenal employee. But I think every time after that I was much more purposeful about how I, who I wanted to hire and what my expectations of them were.

Chris (17:41):

Yeah, that makes sense to me. And you’re right, it’s not a condemnation of the earlier hires. Right. It’s if you’re doing things right, I believe you’re always learning. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and your processes can always get better. And doesn’t mean you didn’t make bad hires before, but you can get more intentionality around Right. The decisions you’re making. Right. And I think that’s part of growth. Uh,

Jen (18:00):

And when you’re a one person show or two, ’cause my husband did join me about six months in, it’s harder to attract talent, you know? Yeah. Now we we’re doing, we’re about to make an offer to, to a pretty senior person. Uh, and we had a really good slate of people that were interested that were like, yeah, I wanna join a boutique firm. I wanna do what you’re doing. So it changes too.

Chris (18:20):

Hello friends. This is Chris Hansley, your building Texas business host. Did you know that Boyer Miller, the producer of this podcast, is a business law firm that works with entrepreneurs, corporations, and business leaders. Our team of attorneys serve as strategic partners to businesses by providing legal guidance to organizations of all sizes. Get to know the and thanks for listening to the show. Well, that’s validating, right? Yeah. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So, uh, you’ve gone through this process of s sourcing people for your company, right? Yeah. And what have you, what has that process and the learning through that done to help you better advise your clients or vet candidates for them? What, tell us about that.

Jen (19:11):

I’m actually gonna go back to, so I took about five years. I left the executive search world and went to a consultancy. Hmm. And they, um, I was director of talent week, tripled in size in about five years time. And then they sold to Accenture about two years after I left. Okay. When I left, I think oil and gas was zero. The barrel, the barrel was <laugh>. So

Chris (19:30):

I was I remember that. Yeah.

Jen (19:32):

So they made a strong comeback and then eventually sold. But being on the inside, like that was the best education I could get because it was, this is what happens when you make a really bad hire. This is what happens to the entire company when you make a really good hire. And we weren’t huge. I think we ended up being about a hundred. But, but it was really helpful to me to see, I also learned, you know, really short tenures on people’s resume. There’s a reason, you know? Right. I know there’s reasons that people have to leave jobs. Absolutely. There’s good reasons. But when it’s over and over and over and then you hire that person ’cause you’re desperate for a data manager, <laugh> or whatever it is, you’re desperate for that skill. You’re gonna find out why they can’t stay in a job longer. I learned a lot being on the inside, you know, and I think that job is really what taught me kind of the hard knocks of making a mishi.

Chris (20:26):

Right. Well, I think you’re to your point, right? It’s, if you look there are red flags. Yeah. Pay attention to ’em. And, and I know from our, we’re not perfect either in this business that I have and, you know, sometimes you can convince yourself to overlook a red flag here or there. Yeah. And more times than not, you shouldn’t. Right. There’s exceptions to every rule. Yeah. But Right. We don’t want to run a business based on exceptions necessarily. Yeah.

Jen (20:50):

You’ve gotta be purposeful about those hires is really what it taught me. You know, very purposeful.

Chris (20:55):

So just to kind of come back to Sutta search a little bit. So you have seven about, have eight mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And you talked about doing a search for a, a client where you, it was a cultural change. Let’s talk about culture at set of search. What are you as the kind of co-founder and CEO doing to try to cultivate a culture? How would you describe it and what are you doing to kind of, you know, foster it and breathe life into it? Yeah.

Jen (21:20):

It’s hard with seven people, eight people <laugh>, you know, to kind of create that. ’cause you’re like, oh, we’re just eight people. Like, but they need it. Employees need training. They need to be developed. They need to evolve. They need to expand and grow. And so we actually started EOS at the beginning of this year. You’re familiar with entrepreneurial operating system? Yes. I think, I don’t know if Allie was the one that told me about it, but you know, I’ve heard a lot of business owners that have done it. And so we actually started it. And I think it’s been evolutionary <laugh> and I’m not selling it. I don’t sell anything they do, but <laugh>. But it has really helped us be very purposeful about what we are doing for our employees. And so my, one of our other managing directors is she’s in charge of kind of the HR and training.

Jen (22:02):

And so we have a, a weekly training every single week. And it, sometimes it’s heavier than others, but we have a weekly training every week. And one of the employees actually gives it. So they have to go out and learn themselves and then they come and teach the rest of us. I try to, I’m a big advocate and the, the, the old school head, any world is just dog eat dog work. And so when I started my firm, I was like, I’m not gonna, I, I don’t wanna be that way. We’re not working 12 hour days. We’re not working both coasts. We’re we’re gonna, we’re gonna have a great, and I hate to use the words work-life balance ’cause I know it’s overused. That’s right. But we are, we’re going,

Chris (22:37):

We’re gonna edit that part out. <laugh>, I’m kidding. <laugh>.

Jen (22:39):

It’s overused. But I think in some aspects it’s important because you’re a better employee if you take your vacation. Yeah. If you didn’t have to work till 9:00 PM the night before, if your managing director isn’t calling you at six in the morning because, you know, she happens to be on the East Coast. Like that is not the culture that we have. Yeah. I’m always telling them, you’re going on vacation. Who’s taking your emails? You’re going on vacation. Who’s taking your calls? Did you put your out of we, I require out of office messages to be turned on. And I’m just, I’m always preaching that. I really think it’s important to separate yourself and give your brain a break. ’cause what we do is very, it, it’s very repetitive. It’s very, you know, you may, if you have 10 searches that you have four candidates at least on, well we usually have a hundred, but you have four finalists going through to offer. Yeah. You think about the ups and downs every single day. It’s a lot. Well,

Chris (23:30):

I mean, to your point, what what you’re doing, I mean, has to be stressful because you’re affecting people’s lives. Absolutely. Right. You got the four candidates and or maybe see this as a great opportunity and are very hopeful. And you got a client that is needs to fill a hole and every day they don’t have that whole field, they’re losing money. Yep. So I get that. Yeah. To your point, you know, the work life balancing, there’s a whole, we can do a whole podcast on that <laugh>.

Jen (23:53):


Chris (23:53):

But I think what, what my experience has shown, or, or at least what I feel like I’ve learned through that is our work-life balance is different at different times of our career. Yeah. So it’s hard to institutionalize that when everyone’s at different stages. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, we try to use the term more like professional development, developing our people to be great professionals means you tend to your business, but you tend to, you have a life as well. And you gotta figure out how to, you know, manage both Yeah. In a healthy way, knowing that the way it works for me now is totally different than it was 15 years ago. Right. And that’s okay because everything changes. And, and we have new employees here that are going through totally different life stuff than I go through now. That’s right. But how do we help give them the tools, the training, to manage that and still be successful both in the office and in their personal life? Yeah.

Jen (24:46):

And we do, we have different, everybody kind of has a different work methodology. <laugh>, I shouldn’t say hours. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> it’s more like hours, you know, at 20 somethings they like to kind of work late in the day and have their workouts in the morning or whatever. Like everybody’s kind of different. And then Hazel and I are about the same age and we like to not be disturbed until eight 30 or something <laugh> you know, like, we like to go do our thing in the morning and work out and whatever, read the paper. And so everybody’s a little different, but we are very understanding of each other’s different lifestyles. Right. To your point,

Chris (25:15):

The key there comes to communication, right? Yeah, absolutely. And you know, so do you have, you know, what is it that you’re using a set to make sure those conversations are happening? Yeah. So that people understand how each other works differently, but together you can work for success. Yeah.

Jen (25:34):

We talk about it when they’re hired. I say, I’m not going to track your hours unless your productivity is not working. Right. And then we’re gonna talk about it. Do, do you have too much of a workload? Or let’s be honest, are you not working enough? You know? Right. Because last week you didn’t have very many searches this week you’ve got a lot. So if I need you to work till six, you gotta admit that last week you didn’t have to. And they’re very honest with me. A lot of times they’ll say, Hey, not gonna be online till 10 or so, but I’m gonna be working late or whatever. Or I stayed up for four hours last night sourcing so it, you know, I’ll be available on phone, but I’m not online perfectly. Okay. Yeah. And we’re very flexible that way. It’s a little hard sometimes, you know, I’m always like, are you working know? Right. Well, in the back of my brain and then I have to calm myself and go, of course they are. Okay. Because they’re

Chris (26:21):

Producing. So that comes down to Right. Two fundamentals no matter what industry communication. Yeah. And what you’re willing to do is, is have what some people might feel like is the harder conversation or uncomfortable conversation, but you approach it with kind of support and transparency. Yeah. The other thing it comes down to productivity. Yeah. Right. Absolutely. If we’re running a business, yeah. We’re running a for-profit business, we, we have to be productive to make the business go. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So you can’t lose sight of that. Right. Yeah. Some people, I fear at times the extracurriculars overweigh what we do to make our money and, and, and what is our, you know, you go into the, you know, this is what fuels our economic engine. We can’t lose sight of that. Or we, it won’t matter how many outta office policies or, you know, things we do, we won’t have a business to support it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So Yeah, absolutely. It’s finding a balance there. Right? Yeah.

Jen (27:13):

I’d say the common denominator with all my employees is they thrive on success. They thrive on accomplishing things. They’re not gonna just shut things off if they’re not done and they haven’t accomplished what they set out to accomplish. They’re very driven that way. Yeah. That’s a common denominator.

Chris (27:27):

Very good. So we’re a little bit about your business. So you were saying, you know, middle market focused, we’re kind of approaching mid-year or 2024, which is like, this blows my mind that we’re, you know, that far into the year already, <laugh>. But you, there are businesses out there that either use services like yourself or maybe contemplating that. And I know at least in your world there are, there’s at least two different ways to go about it. Retain searches or kind of the contingent fee model. Can you just share maybe a little bit about what each is of the, the differences pros and cons? Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and maybe flow into, you know, what a company should consider going one versus the other.

Jen (28:07):

Yeah. So I wanna make it clear that I’m not pro or con either way. I think there’s a contingency, there’s absolutely a place for it. I have several friends that are in the contingency recruiting world and they say, I will never be in the retained world. <laugh>. Right. So there is a place for it. And I think if you have a large number of hires, you have, you know, a position or a company that is attractive to candidates and you did, you wanna get all the resumes you can get and then choose because they wanna come to you, that’s great. You can use contingency. What we do is a consultancy. So if you’re a middle market working with a, a middle market firm right now, it’s a down hole tool CFO position. This position is critical that they get it right because they have big plans.

Jen (28:51):

Right. And I’m not gonna tell you what those big plans are. No, don’t do. They’re private equity backed and they have big plans and it’s gonna happen. But if they don’t have a financial expert that can devote time and devote, then it’s not gonna happen. And so it’s critical. And in that situation, you absolutely need to find the best person that you can find and you need to interview a lot of people to make sure that you are choosing the right person. And so that’s what we’re do, that’s where we come in. And it doesn’t have to be a CFO role. We can do, we do VPs and we do directors. Sure. But you know, we’re gonna look at 150 people that we know could do this job and then we’re gonna reach out to every one of ’em and then we’re gonna interview the 20 or 30 <laugh>.

Jen (29:34):

I’m gonna interview half of those and then I’m gonna present and rank the top. So it’s not like we’re going out and finding five people that are qualified in handing them to you. We’re going out and finding 10 times that many, maybe not 10 times, but a lot more than that. And then finding you the best and ranking those for you to interview. Right. So if it’s a critical hire for your company to succeed, I would absolutely recommend retained because they should be a retained firm, should be a consultancy. They should help you find that person.

Chris (30:01):

So that’s really helpful. And I, and hearing you describe it makes the difference, you know, very clear for me. Good. I hope for the listeners, and you know, what I hear is you’re doing a lot more upfront work on the retained side. And I guess as a consumer of these services, you should expect that your retained firm will do a lot more upfront work. Right. And in vetting, you know, the the best clients to bring to you.

Jen (30:28):

Yeah, absolutely. And the other thing I think that’s important for my clients to know is our database is completely open, our kimono is open. Is that a bad thing to say? No,

Chris (30:40):

<laugh>, we don’t have video. So we’re good <laugh>,

Jen (30:42):

They can see everything we’re doing when we’re doing how we’re doing. It’s not a we’ll talk to you in a month or two and we’ll give you three great people. There’s no magic thing that happens like that. It’s a database they can go in, they can be like, Ooh, I know that guy and not gonna work. Right. Whatever reason.

Chris (30:59):

So through I guess an online portal that you give ’em access to. That’s right. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>.

Jen (31:03):

Okay. And so it’s a process to get to the fund. We meet once a week and I say, here’s why we chose, here’s why we interview these people. What do you think? And a lot of times they’ll say, you know what? That company doesn’t hire well. Or they might be an acquisition on the horizon with that company. We can’t talk to their people. So we have weekly conversations that get us closer and closer to the best person. Yeah. And, and so it’s a process. It’s a very thorough process that gets us there. But that’s 15, 30 minutes a week from our client. That’s it.

Chris (31:33):

Okay. That’s well they have to be invested if, especially in these that are so critical, the positions to fill. Right. That’s absolutely. The client has to be invested. That’s right. And I, I like the somewhat, maybe it’s not, it sounds innovative to me that you are creating that opportunity for them to, to vet and see what’s going on whenever they want. Right. Yeah. But, but have those weekly check-ins, you know, it sounds like a kind of a white glove service, if you will.

Jen (31:55):

Yeah. And I think a lot of times people are scared of retained. They’re like, well, what if it doesn’t? What if you don’t find someone, I’m like, never happened in the history of like 23 years because we’re talking to you. Right. And if we’re not finding the right people, we’re gonna pivot. We’re gonna, you know, we’re gonna merge. We’re gonna figure out why is that happening? Is it the company reputation? Is it our pitch? Is it the way we’re describing it? I mean, we’re going after the wrong people. Like we will figure it out. We always fill the

Chris (32:21):

Positions. Right. Well always that because you’re invested in it. Right. It’s not which, because

Jen (32:27):

It’s, and it’s not a here’s three resumes, let me know. Right. That’s not how it works.

Chris (32:32):

I got it. That makes sense. Um, so a little bit, I just wanna ask you, you’re obviously, you know, leading this company. What, what would you, or how would you describe your leadership style and how would you say that maybe has evolved over time based on your experience?

Jen (32:49):

So I would describe my leadership style is real, too. Real <laugh>. I like to be pretty open with my employees and I will, I have weekly calls with almost all of, with all of them. I shouldn’t say almost all of them. Yeah. My, my fellow managing director, we talk almost every day. So I don’t have a weekly call with her, but the others who I may not speak with, I have weekly calls. We talk about what’s happening, what’s going well, what is their workload like. Like I ask ’em what was the most challenging? ’cause we all work remote, so that’s the other thing. Okay. We don’t see each other every day. Right. And I’ll say, what was the most challenging thing? And what are you most proud of? And sometimes I, I had no idea. They’re like, oh, well I met that candidate at that event.

Jen (33:30):

I went to, one of my, one of my employees told me that. I’m like, I had no idea. Like you went to this networking event and happened to meet the right guy. So, you know, just things like that. I’m, I try to have the communication very open. Yeah. And they can tell me, listen, I’m just not feeling well today. Or I’m mentally having some issues with home. I’m not gonna tell you what it is, but I’m, I just need to sit back. And I’m like, take the time. Whatever you need to do. So I, I like to think I’m a pretty real manager. Yeah.

Chris (33:57):

Well it sounds like there’s a lot of empathy that comes across in those calls so they feel safe. Yeah. And uh, I think that’s an important thing for a leader to be able to show empathy so that people will be more open and responsive at whatever level your leadership is in the organization is an important quality. Yeah. It’s interesting too, I think that you ask about challenges because I find it to be helpful to your, if you’re kind of forced to reflect on what was really good about the last week Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And maybe what was the challenge? ’cause we, we learned from both. Right. Yeah. Well that’s, that’s really good. Anything that, you mentioned your stepmother earlier as a mentor, did you any learning from her that you kind of feel like you’re implementing today and kind of carrying on some of the things you, you learned along the way from her? Well,

Jen (34:43):

She is my free consultant, so, you know, I call her all the time. I’m like, okay, more frequency. Don’t

Chris (34:48):

Let her listen. She might start charging.

Jen (34:49):

I know she’s fully retired, so she’s like, no problem. No. I think being a peer to your clients and telling them no, sometimes, you know, she’s not a yes man. And I think I, I learned that, you know, you’ve got to push back when, you know, because of your 20 years experience that something’s wrong. You have to call the elephant in the room. Yeah. And you have to say, you, you may not skip this recruiting. You know, a lot of times my, my clients will get very excited about a candidate and they’re like, well, can he just come see me tomorrow? And I’m like, no, he cannot because that’s too fast for the candidate. They need time to process. You look too eager. You’re, I had one client that that said it. He said, I’m not coming to the first date with a diamond ring. You cannot come to the first date with a diamond ring <laugh>. You have to let the process happen. But she was always very good about not being a yes man. And I’ve learned that works. And it pays off for, to help your clients be successful.

Chris (35:42):

It’s funny. That reminds me, there’s an analogy that applies in all kinds of situations, but it’s the cake. Right. So just like you were saying, don’t be too fast. Yeah. You can have all the right ingredients. Mix it up, put it in the oven. If you pull it out too quick Yeah. It’s gonna flop. Yeah. Right. That’s so you gotta let the process, trust the process, let the process play out. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And that applies in so many different aspects of business. Yeah.

Jen (36:04):

And these are humans that we’re dealing with. These are people and they weren’t thinking about a job change most likely. So you’ve gotta let that change management process happen Yeah. In their head, you know, let them go through that as well.

Chris (36:16):

So, so good point to make, and we’ll repeat it that for the what you’re doing with these targeted executive searches, most likely the right person was not looking Right. Right. Yeah. The ones that are looking, you know, that there’s a, there could be one of those red flags there. Not always, right? Not always, but yeah. Uh, so Jen, this has, uh, been a fun conversation. Yeah. Uh, congratulations on your success. Thank you. I want to, uh, ask you just a few things to wrap up. Yep. So, uh, obviously you’ve been in the search world or executive search world for, you said 20 plus years. What was your first job?

Jen (36:48):

I remember you asked somebody else this. Yep. So I actually worked at a daycare for intellectually disabled kids and adults. Oh wow. Not that fun story that you wanted to hear, but it was fun. I absolutely loved it. I worked every several there, had

Chris (37:01):

Summer to be a, a lot of life lessons learned in that.

Jen (37:04):

Very challenging. These were kids that were not accepted at other daycares even for special needs kids. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And so it was, I made $4 and 25 cents an hour. I was just telling this story because now I’m the chairman of the board for Special Olympics. Are you really? I am. And so they asked me my why and I was like, well, I did this for about five years, six years all through college. I did summer camps and stuff. And so those, that, that population has a very soft spot in my heart.

Chris (37:32):

I I love how that’s come full circle in your life. I know, I know. To be able to be doing what you’re doing with Special Olympics as an aside and maybe a, a plug, isn’t Houston hosting the Special Olympics? Yes. This

Jen (37:42):

Year. Nice plug. I did not tell you that

Chris (37:44):

You didn’t, but I just know

Jen (37:45):

We are ri at Rice

Chris (37:47):

And is it 2025? It, yeah. So that’s a big deal. So it’s huge. Those, any listeners in Houston be on the lookout to go support that. What a great cause. Thank you. Thank

Jen (37:57):

You. Appreciate that.

Chris (37:58):

Alright, so my favorite question, Tex-Mex or barbecue?

Jen (38:01):

<laugh>? No. Tex-Mex. I’m not a barbecue fan. My husband loves it, but I don’t,

Chris (38:07):

But I, well, you know, it’s, you had no problem answering that question. Some people struggle, so I love that

Jen (38:13):

In Texas only, probably. Right.

Chris (38:15):

So another question I always, I I get, I travel ideas from. So if you could do a 30 day sabbatical, where would you go and what would you do?

Jen (38:22):

Maine. <laugh>,

Chris (38:23):


Jen (38:24):

We went to Maine last year. Oh my god. It’s beautiful. Okay. We’re empty nesters and so we’re doing two week working vacations. We just got back from Santa Fe and then in the, we’re hoping the next spring we’re gonna do Maine.

Chris (38:38):

Good for you. Yeah.

Jen (38:39):

I like that Kenny Bunk or somewhere around there.

Chris (38:41):

Okay. Well, I mean, you didn’t let me finish the sentence. Oh, sorry. <laugh>. No, so I know you, you meant it right. Some people have to think about it.

Jen (38:48):

Oh, oh, I knew. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we’re thinking about where we want to go now. So we, we’ve had a whole, we’ve got a whole list.

Chris (38:52):

That’s a fun process to go through. Yeah. It’s so Well, Jen, thanks again for coming. Thank you. This has been a great episode. Yeah. And I look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank

Jen (39:00):

You. Appreciate it.

Chris (39:04):

And there we have it. Another great episode. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at and you can find out more about all the ways our firm can help you at That’s it for this episode. Have a great week and we’ll talk to you next time.

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