Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Help Wanted:  “How will you find us a brilliant Chemical Process Engineer to commission and run our anaerobic digestion power plant…in California?”

Company:                  Anaerobic Digestion/Alternative Energy Start Up
Position:                    Chemical Process Engineer with MBA
Search Start:             December 2011
Search End:               March 2012

The Challenge:  A four person start up based in Boston had just landed the next-to-impossible; a multi-billion dollar, multi-year contract with one of the nations largest grocery chains.  With the first pilot plant build out in progress and an enthusiastic client, the team had one critical problem they needed to solve immediately…find a multi-talented engineer to commission and run the plant in Southern California.  The problem wasn’t finding a chemical engineer, it was finding a licensed chemical engineer who also had an MBA, experience running or managing a plant, and an entrepreneurial mindset.  More important, this rare person had to quickly earn the trust of a team sitting 3,000 miles away.  This person would need to work independently on a new technology, trouble shoot any issues that arose during the commissioning process, act as the main point of contact for the client, and perform all this under a tight deadline.  In short, hold all the keys to the success of the entire project.  Everything this team had worked on for the past four years would be won or lost by this essential hire.  GAME ON!!

The Search:  Once we carved out a profile, discussions around geography began out of the gate.  While ideally this person would have a West Coast presence, the team preferred to hire an East Coast person thereby ensuring regular face-to-face meetings, and more opportunity to get to know them.  However, this would require more coast to coast flights, driving up the company’s operating costs, leaning on an already tight budget.  It didn’t make sense.  We would have to find a way to vet this person beyond shadows of doubt, and right size the ideals to the realities of the search.  Further, we would have less of a hill to climb if we hired a local presence who was already accustomed to living in Southern California and has an established network of professionals to call in when the time comes to grow the team.  Hiring a relo often means a flight risk if the individual becomes unhappy with the quality of their life.  If they have a family, you've just increased those odds by 50%. 

The complexities of a search like this are doubled when additional requirements such as a PE license and MBA are put on the list of “must have’s”.  And while experience with alternative energy technologies wasn’t a requirement, I felt this would be the game changer if I found a candidate with some exposure or interest in the green space.  I knew this was literally a needle in a haystack search.  So I focused on top-flight schools in California and targeted engineering associations, networks and other alumni programs. 

The first few candidates we talked to held 75% of the qualifications, but the chemistry (between the founders and the candidates) was lacking.  Some came across as purely academic, while others lacked the seriousness of personality we needed…especially as a client-facing representative.

The Solution:  A boat-load of focused research, multiple calls and many turned-over stones later, the answer came with an unexpected twist.  A potential candidate I had identified, and who took personal interest in the technology, mentioned a fellow classmate in his MBA program.  While he had already accepted a position for himself, he couldn’t help but think his colleague would be a very interesting match.  They were into the last few weeks of the program and the soon-to-be graduates were all seeking their next career move.  Needless to say we were on the phone the next day.

The referral turned out to be an exact match of my and the client’s ideals.   He is a Chemical Engineer, PE with an MBA and 10 years of professional experience, with almost four years of recent experience building out, commissioning and running a power plant…an alternative energy plant in Las Vegas. 

A few days after receipt of his CV we booked phone interviews.  About a week later we booked his flight to Boston and took the next steps to solidifying his candidacy.  Less than six weeks after we launched the search, we had all we needed to move forward on this stellar candidate.  The offer process was a bit rigorous…this was a candidate who was accustomed to earning almost $50K more than what my client budgeted for the position.  What we couldn’t pay him in salary, we had to make up for in equity.  And that, as it turns out, was the magic word for our new Director of Engineering.  The offer was tendered and accepted.

Today:  Upon hire, my candidate exceeded the Founder’s expectations and expertly executed the commissioning process, passing with flying colors.  The plant has been running under his capable hands for the past 13 months.  He still loves his job and is enjoying the day-to-day challenges that come with working on a new green technology.  After flying under the radar for the past six years, my client was finally “forced” into the spotlight by their client in California.  News of the Company, and the anaerobic digester plant, has recently reached the eyes and ears of green technology enthusiasts and professionals from the left coast to the right coast.  To read more about their success, refer to my prior blog below; “Waste Not, Want Not”

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