Our Internal Executive Search Function Made Us a True Business Partner

money spentMy company, Lockton, is a sales-led company that has a very intriguing setup.  Salespeople at Lockton are very well-regarded, and an office can be built around a highly successful one.

Our model is a high-risk, high-reward type of opportunity that offers great financial success once you reach a certain level. Traditionally HR has not been involved at all in the sourcing and recruitment of these individuals. That all changed when in fall 2008 Lockton engaged in a sales recruiting experiment that I was fortunate enough to get involved with.

Senior management selected five markets to target to find successful C-Level B2B salespeople. Basically, we were going to hire some great top-level salespeople and teach them our industry. The types of backgrounds were fairly stringent with regard to minimum amounts of experience, documented exceptional levels of success in sales at the C-level, amounts of revenue produced per deal, community involvement, and other factors. They then partnered with two search firms that varied greatly in their approaches. One of the search firms was very research-based and very selective in who they contacted and targeted and ultimately presented to my company. The other firm was much more industry-specific and took a “smile-and-dial” type of approach that has had some good success with several of our locations. My supervisor got me in front of management as an internal option to see if I could have any success. I was the litmus test and was given the smallest market to try to develop some candidates.

We spent $60,000 with the two firms in four markets that produced one live interview and phone interview. I set up six interviews in my initial market that resulted in one hire and was then quickly put on to two other markets that resulted in four hires out of the eight total hired across the country.

What led to being successful in this initial search, when the firms that do this for a living were not?

crl_mastheadThere are a variety of reasons for this, and I’m writing about them in more detail in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, but it boils down to several main ones.

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First of all, I know my company very well. I have studied our industry extensively and have asked a lot of questions about the various pieces of it. I am able to effectively communicate what it is that makes our company unique and what type of person it appeals to. Second, I asked a lot of questions on the front end. When I first got involved in this project I met with four of our successful salespeople and asked them why they joined my company, what obstacles they had building up their business, and a whole lot of other questions in order to gain a good understanding of the value proposition. I wanted to know what type of person this opportunity would appeal to and who it would not. I wanted to know the toughest thing about it, as well as the best things about being in sales at Lockton.

Finally, I physically traveled to the office I was working with and got their buy-in by showing I was working with them and in their best interests. This was most likely the biggest reason why this project worked: that I traveled to the office I was working with and got an understanding from them of what would work in their office. It is one thing if senior management wants to do something, but another to get the buy-in from the office that it is actually affecting. By doing this I was able to find out what would work there and what wouldn’t. The senior folks in that office were very candid about who they would (and would not) take a chance on hiring.

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t believe search firms can do a good job. They can. It has been my experience from being on both sides of the fence that the right group can be a true partner with a corporate company. If they do many of the same things discussed here, such as getting to know the business very well, than they can and should be successful.


Take Your Time

High achievers want to get results now. If you decide this is something that is worth pursuing and would be of value to you and your company, realize it will take time. You have to think of it as building a search practice within your company. To build any well-regarded practice, you need to start with an initial successful search and build on it. Make sure you have a supervisor who is in your corner and believes in your abilities. If you work with someone like this, they will do their best to get you in front of the decision-makers when the opportunity presents itself. When you do have a chance to get involved with a senior-level search, jump on it with enthusiasm and a well-thought-out plan. Once you are able to show that you can be successful in this role, the word will get out and more people in your company will want your assistance on the next search. And the next one. And we all know you can’t beat a great referral built on a previous success.

Mat Apodaca is a Recruiting Manager with AssuredPartners, the fastest growing insurance broker in the states.  He is assisting AssuredPartners in building a world-class recruiting function for a $1B and growing company. His experience in the agency and corporate world has enabled him to develop his networking and relationship building skills to connect impactful talent with great opportunity at all levels.  He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Missouri-Columbia and is an ongoing student of AIRS University.  One of his biggest thrills is making a “love connection” between a high impact player and a great role with an organization. 

Mat is also the founder of Rent The Recruiter, an innovative and price perfect recruitment outsourcing model.  To find out more visit https://renttherecruiter.com/.

Always interested in learning and networking, feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn. 


7 Comments on “Our Internal Executive Search Function Made Us a True Business Partner

  1. Lockton was voted #1 place to work in Insurance by the industry standard publication “Business Insurance”.

  2. Mat,

    Sounds like your internal group did a good job, but it also sounds like the external groups you used were not so great.

    I like the rationale you used that led to your success. I do the same things in almost every search I do.

    It is unfortunate that more search consultants don’t take the time to really understand their client and the real work that they do. Putting in this upfront work would make a substantial difference in the long-term results of any search.

    Keep up the good work!

    Dan Ryan

  3. Having worked both sides of the desk, I believe that candidates take your approaches more genuninely when you are an employee of the firm.
    We have a large internal recruitment team which we run like an agency and our KPIs and strike rates are better than any agency. Our candidate experience could always be better but I will bet it is better than agency/search firms.
    It is expensive to have a dedicated team and you have to have reasonable recruiting volumes to get ROI but it works!

  4. Great concept Matt, it is good to see TPR headhunting strategies being used effective internally. Lockon has been a client of our organization since 2000. In fact your advice is spot on especially to TPR because it is exactly the same approach that we used to supply talent to Lockton and others in the employee benefits market. Here is the article that we posted back in 2001.


  5. Bravo – at SmartSearch we have long been advocates of building an executive search level function in corporate HR, for all the reasons in your article. Not necessarily to replace search firms, but to do a more effective job of branding, sourcing, research & active recruiting rather than waiting for candidates to apply for a job or resumes to magically materialize in an email. We’re seeing more studies on how effective “best fit” (as opposed to “most qualified”) hiring improves the bottom line, and hopefully HR is building a better business case to follow Lockton’s excellent example.

  6. The points regarding “Take Your Time” are absolutely spot on, based on my experience. It’s not a sprint where you hire one new employee and then move onto another company. It’s about “repeat” business, being able to produce results over time, and only then can you become a reliable asset to your organization. You are absolutely building a search practice, albeit internal to one corporation, and developing business with multiple clients ie. hiring managers. This takes time to win their trust and support, and to demonstrate the value you can produce. Often the challenge is not having clients that understand the “search” business, they only understand their business, but building upon one successful search after another should win the respect and support of the company.

  7. Mat,

    I agree with your perpective. As a niche search firm, we have taken the approach of truly partnering with our clients in their efforts to recruit talent. We want to get to know them well – look inside and see what makes them tick; get to know the culture; what makes them unique; why should someone want to work for them, etc. Afterall, how can I promote them, if I don’t know them? And as such, we strive to partner with BOTH Human Resources and the Hiring Manager/Team.

    Over the years, we have learned that the companies that do not know how to partner with a search firm and are unwilling to allow the search firm access to decision makers, are usually disappointed in the results. In order for a search firm to really get to know the company, the company has to enable open communication.

    Your company, Lockton, is a unique player in both the insurance brokerage world and in its corporate design. While not one of the firms you mentioned, we have successfully worked with Lockton in a few locations because we made the effort to get to know the “make up” of the specific office we were recruiting for and they were willing to provide information. Unfortunately, some locations are not so willing.

    Point being, while I feel it is imperative for the search firm to get to know their clients, it is also important for the client to allow them “in”. Communication is key. How else can you have a recruiting partnership?

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