Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Case Study 4

Help Wanted:  “I’m looking for a Vice President of Sales with the potential to succeed me.”

Company:       Green Home Design/Build
Position:         Vice President of Sales & Marketing/CEO Successor
Search Start:  October 2011
Search End:   January 2012

The Challenge:  The Company had been hiring steadily for about a year and had done a great job building a team through networking and internal referrals.  Discussions around what leadership position to hire for next boiled down to a basic issue of need and resources.  Clearly, a senior Marketing executive would be instrumental in developing a campaign to grab more mind and market share.  But you can’t run a company forever on investment dollars.  They needed to start selling more aggressively and building homes. 

After outlining the basics of the search, the Founder/CEO called me one afternoon several weeks into the search and added one more piece to the challenging profile of this new hire.  He was looking for a succession plan; someone who was capable of running the company in the next two years.  As an entrepreneur and visionary, he knew it wouldn’t be long before the next venture came calling, and being able to hand the reins over was a critical aspect to his short-term plans.  Finding a Senior Sales Executive with the operational chops to take over a start up was certainly going to be an unusual combination, but not impossible. 

The Search:  The Company was successful at hiring really smart, capable people who were able to strategize and execute on a wide variety of technical and operational challenges.  It was going to be about 2-3 years until the new VP of Sales and Marketing transitioned into the CEO role, but the primary objectives the first year included developing a sales plan, hiring a sales team, and driving revenues up as quickly as possible.  They needed a sharp shooter with laser focus, an extensive network to hire sales reps nationally, and the experience selling a technically complex, expensive, and emotionally compelling product.  This person was going to carry their own personal sales goals as well as managing a team of quota-carrying reps.   And, they needed a strong and influential presence that could quickly gain credibility with the sales, operations, technical and management team, as well as the board. 

This was a really critical hire and time was not on my side.  Targeting the right background meant identifying sales leaders from the top local Fortune 500 companies.  Someone who was used to earning into the mid-six figures and could see the great potential of this opportunity would be a challenge in any economic environment.  Asking someone to roll the dice on a green home-building start up during the height of the recession, and the worst real estate market of our times, might seem like a fool’s errand.  But the Company had encountered few problems raising capital, and had few competitors.  The opportunity for an ambitious executive to get on a very fast track to CEO for a Company dominating a growing market, with a large equity stake as part of the compensation package created a dynamic argument for a top executive to consider.   

I began by targeting top sales talent from Enterprise Software companies in the area.  This strategy would ensure identification of candidates with a more sophisticated approach marketing high dollar products/services, and accustomed to a longer sales cycle.   But they couldn’t just be a good sales person, they had to be highly visible within the organization and great at team building.

The Solution:  I have cultivated a deep network of enterprise sales leaders over the years.  Quite a few were selectively looking at the time, but were reasonably concerned about leaving a sure thing for a high-risk venture.  When you properly position an opportunity, you’ll find there is no shortage of interest from people motivated by high risk/reward positions.  We were committed, however, to attracting that one great talent who had the attitude, energy and verve to become CEO.  A commanding presence and an accessibility that showed genuine leadership, influence, determination and raw talent.

Five candidates stood out from the pack of nine competitors, and I knew two of the five would make it to final rounds.  During the first week or two of the search, a timely call to the VP of Business Development of a nearby multi-billion dollar enterprise software company produced a remarkable result.  Not only had this person been the Company’s sales lead, he was also their CEO’s top gun and likely successor.  The problem was he didn’t want to wait another 10 years to grab the ring and had been entertaining the possibility of starting his own venture, or finding a startup positioned for success and driving it into a leading market position.

It was during the first meeting between the Candidate and Co-Founders that a strong match was determined and a mutual interest compelling enough to pursue to the next level.  Weeks between meetings were spent on due diligence, research, and revealing conversations of personal and professional details shared from both sides with the potential to either fortify or derail the process.  Fortunately, this soul searching and sharing only served to increase interest, from which a true sense of partnership began to form between the Co-Founders and their new potential hire.

The offer was exceptional.  After only a day or so of review, the Candidate happily executed on the offer and the search process closed out.  The new VP of Sales & Marketing on-boarded within four weeks.

Today:  The Company has since raised more capital and continues to grow both mind and market share in the green building space.  Recent explosion of growth on the west coast has called for an increase in the Company’s presence there, but the Corporate headquarters remains in Massachusetts with the VP of Sales & Marketing steadily gaining more rein as he transitions into the CEO position.   With over $60M in capital raises and a growing revenue base, the Company is positioned for explosive growth as the new home-building market recovers from its backward slide and inventory of existing homes remains low.  Homebuyers whose value systems have shifted toward zero carbon foot print living are passionate about these state-of-the-art homes and the recent increase in the Company’s sales are testimony to their interest and enthusiasm.


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