Archive for the ‘Executive recruiting’ Category

Almost or recently public? Recruiting diversified, independent directors critical to investors, analysts, and performance

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Independent-Directors-150x150Strong governance smooths rough patches and cultivates confidence.

According to EY, some investors may give a new IPO company time for their governance practices to evolve – particularly during periods of strong financial performance.  However, sustaining valuation during a post-IPO rough patch can be more challenging unless the company is perceived as being well run with accountable and transparent governance in place.  Demonstrating good governance practices promotes confidence among investors and equity analysts alike.

Diversified, independent directors critical to strong governance.

Adding independent board leadership is critical to strong governance. Trends reflect this conviction. In 2002, just 8% of the S&P 500 company boards had independent board leadership. In 2013, 71% did.

Our own research reveals that of all the tech companies that went public last year and this year to date, 62% added, on average, 1.8 independent directors in 12-month period leading up to their IPOs.  Here are some examples:


Independent Directors
Added In Year Prior to IPO









And, with good reason, investors have become increasingly vocal about adding ethnic and gender diversity to boards. Credit Suisse Research revealed that companies with women on their boards showed higher than average growth and a higher return on equity. According to EY, boards that add women directors gain a more diverse perspective and tap into a large and growing talent pool.

Summative’s independent directors search practice.

Summative works with IPO-bound and public tech companies to expand and diversify their boards. We leverage our extensive network of candidates with our understanding of board composition and governance to place independent directors that will:

  1. Diversify your board
  2. Build analysts’ and investors’ confidence
  3. Incrementally improve the performance of the company

We welcome the chance to discuss expanding and diversifying your board.

Summative Welcomes Boston’s George Hotter as Advisor

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

George HotterSummative welcomed George Hotter as an advisor this month. He was born in New York and has spent the last 20+ years leading human resources and talent acquisition for fast growing technology companies. He has interviewed and hired thousands of candidates around the world and completed more than 50 successful executive placements. I sat down with George and asked him a few questions about himself, his experience in executive recruiting, and what he hopes to deliver to Summative and our clients.

Hannah: Hi George, welcome to team Summative! Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?

George: I’m a native New Yorker and began my career working at the United Sates Military Academy at West Point.  In the mid-1990s I moved to the high tech mecca of Boston and eventually joined BBN Technologies in Cambridge. BBN was a fascinating company, essentially an R&D “think tank” for the government that helped create what we know now as the Internet.  After GTE acquired BBN, I left and went to a small private venture start up. We hired 500+ people and acquired two European companies in three years.

As with most high flying tech companies at the time, the dot com bubble began to burst. I could see it was “beginning of the end” as market opportunities quickly vanished. I decided to join BBN’s former VP of Sales, Mike Duffy, who had stepped in as CEO at OpenPages.  OpenPages was a mid-sized software company that needed to evolve from a point product into an enterprise solution, and all that entails.  There were many challenges along that journey that gave me valuable insight into the types of executives required to re-launch, scale, and even position a company for exit. Ultimately, we built OpenPages into a valuable business that was acquired by IBM.  Since the acquisition, I’ve played a key role in recruiting global sales, product development, and services talent into IBM’s cloud, security, big data, and analytics businesses.

(While George is too modest to say so, his executive leadership skills were crucial to the successful re-launch of OpenPages. When the bubble burst and their target market evaporated, it was through the hard work of the executive team—including George—that OpenPages was able to identify a new market opportunity that they defined and dominated, until their successful acquisition by IBM.)

Hannah: What brought you to Summative?

George: I’ve worked with Peggy, as her client, for 10+ years. I have always found her focus and ability to hone in on exactly what a company needs, along with her intuition and ability to engage top candidates, to be very effective. I also found the resulting hires to be better “fits” for the organization. Summative truly understands the type of people needed to help companies grow and evolve.

Boxing Gloves shutterstock_248542996Hannah: Summative believes integrity, straightforwardness, and trustworthiness are essential to recruiting competitive executive candidates. What do you think?

George: These values are absolutely critical. There’s a fine line between selling an opportunity as opposed to presenting a compelling one. At the executive level, the risk is high for both candidate and company. If there is a mismatch it’s detrimental to both sides. Building rapport and trust is critical for both the candidate and for the client. You must be candid and trustworthy to convince a candidate to have a conversation about an opportunity or to have a CEO listen to your feedback. To me, it’s all about matching the right candidate with the right opportunity at the right time. For an effective two-way conversation, integrity and honesty are the foundation for a successful relationship.

Hannah: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing fast growing technology companies today in their quest to attract executives that can make a material impact?

George: When you find the right person, everyone needs to move quickly and decisively to get that person on board. It’s not just about process or numbers. It’s about moving fast to drive to closure, shutting out competing opportunities in the process.

Hannah: How would you advise Summative’s clients to address this?

George: It’s all about building trust.  The client needs to trust that they have identified an A+ player and they need to trust themselves to move fast.

Hannah: What’s the most common misconception people have on first meeting you?

George: I can be very intense and focused, but people quickly discover I’m also very open and collaborative. While I want to succeed and achieve my goals, I can also laugh at myself and have fun in the process.

Hannah: What do you like to do for fun?

George: I find work to be fun and engaging. I also have two active teenage sons that keep me busy with school and sports. Between community events, ski trips, 5Ks, and fun with friends and family, I try to spend as much time as I can with my boys. Earlier in my life, I earned a black belt degree in one style of martial arts and a brown belt in another. But, when I started my family, I got away from that. On my 40th birthday, I decided to go into a boxing gym and learn something new. Boxing reinforced the need to be confident, relaxed, and, at the same time, incredibly focused and intense. Family, friends, and boxing keep me grounded.

Hannah: I’m sensing a very competitive theme here—in work and in the things you do for fun. Can you comment on that?

George: People find out how goal oriented I am and how dedicated I am to achieving those goals. I know how to win—recruitment and talent acquisition is about setting and achieving a goal.  You must have the belief, confidence, and competitive drive to be successful. Coupled with my competitive drive is a level of sincerity of truly wanting to help and meet expectations. In the end, I’m here because I care and enjoy putting people into roles in which they will thrive and have an ability to make a material impact on a business.

Hannah: If you could interview one person, who would it be?

George: Stephen Hawking. He’s one of the most interesting minds of our generation. What intrigues me about him is the way he is able to think so differently from you and me. He thinks about things that are beyond normal comprehension, yet has the confidence to devise a theory to solve that problem. Here’s someone with a debilitating disease but never gave up on his quest. I’m fascinated by people who never let anything prevent them from accomplishing their goals.




Time to move HR to inner circle: Chief People Officers deliver competitive edge in building culture that attracts great talent

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

It’s all about the people.

More than 80% of the S&P 500 market value is attributed to people-driven, intangible assets like patents, intellectual property, brands, and R&D.  Given the value and competitive edge people can deliver, attracting, engaging, and retaining exceptional talent just makes sense.

Jack and Suzy Welch summed it up well in their LinkedIn blog post:  “What could possibly be more important than who gets hired, developed, promoted, or moved out the door?  Business is a game, and as with all games, the team that puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together wins. It’s that simple.”


Great cultures field winning teams.

A great culture – one that perfectly balances employee performance and employee engagement – empowers companies to attract and retain the best talent.  Think Hubspot (IPO October 9, 2014; market cap $1.73B).   According to Forbes, Hubspot’s culture fosters creativity that enables people to perform at their best.  The article goes on to say that retaining rockstar talent depends on a company’s culture.

Chief People Officers build winning cultures.

Great tech companies like LinkedIn (see “We Just Hired a Chief People Officer (Why You Should, Too”) and eBay elevate employee management to the inner circle of the executive management team.  Smart CEOs know that HR should no longer be confined to the office of the CFO, managing payroll and performance reviews (or, as one VP HR put it to Summative, “benefits, birthdays, and bereavement”).  HR now plays a strategic role in building a winning culture that drives an irresistible employment brand.

Summative knows the nation’s top CPO candidates.

Summative understands the strategic value and competitive edge great CPOs deliver.  We recently completed a national CPO search for Kareo, the nation’s 5th fastest growing private company with revenues $20M-$50M. Our rolodex of the nation’s top CPO candidates is current and extensive. We welcome the chance to discuss the benefits of recruiting a CPO and elevating HR to the inner circle of your executive team.

A Challenging CEO Can be a Positive Leading Indicator for Success: Comparing Behavioral Traits of Private Venture Technology CEOs to CEOs Across all Industries

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

direct-manEverything We’ve Heard and Seen Suggests that CEOs of Fast Growing Technology Companies are Different

We’ve all heard private venture technology boards and executive teams grouse about CEOs with comments like, “He’s too maniacally focused.”  Or, “It’s hard to sway her once she’s put a stake in the ground.”

Think about Steve Jobs (and it’s easy to forget that for a few halcyon years beginning in 1976 Jobs was the co-founding CEO of a fast-growing, private venture technology company bringing disruptive technology to market).   It was no secret that he was a challenge with his “join or get out of the way” style. (1)  Mike Elgan, respected journalist, blogger, columnist, and podcaster, attributed Jobs’ success partly to his “mastery of the art of being a prick.”(2) One can say that Jobs took things to the extreme, but no one can argue that he wasn’t successful.

Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, says that Jeff Bezos (another garage entrepreneur who founded Amazon in 1995) thrives on confrontation and can also take things to the extreme with comments like, “Are you lazy or just incompetent?”(3) Bezos, driven by his total commitment to improving both customer service and Amazon’s performance, says that one of the things “about entrepreneurs is that they are inherently stubborn individuals.  They’re the natural leaders who like to take charge and have things done their way.”(4)

Jobs’ and Bezos’ behavioral traits are almost diametrically opposed to those esteemed in CEOs across other industries leading larger, older companies.  In a study of the leadership of a particular kind of successful Fortune 500 company (those that transitioned over time from being “good” to “great”), humility was identified as an important CEO behavioral trait.   Psychology Today goes on to say that “while self-centered arrogance and disregard for others may lead to some short-term success, it is quite plausible to think that humility in one’s…approach to leadership is crucial for long-term success as a leader….”(5)

Clearly, founding and leading a fast growing technology company to short term success (i.e., a great exit for its stakeholders) requires a different set of behavioral traits in its CEO than those possessed by a CEO of a larger Fortune 500 company.   While those of us in private venture technology may find CEOs irksome, if not downright maddening, their behavioral traits, like those of Jobs and Bezos, may actually be requisites to founding and quickly building successful technology companies.

ProfileXT Validates that CEOs of Private Venture Technology Companies are Unique

While we in private venture have either observed or heard how difficult it can be to work with CEOs.  Profiles International’s ProfileXT has confirmed and objectively measured the behavioral traits that set private venture CEOs apart.   (See Summative’s White Paper, Improving the Candidate Evaluation & Selection Process for more details.)  The seven behavioral traits assessed by the ProfileXT are below. Underscored in yellow are those that distinguish venture-backed CEOs, by the greatest margins, from CEOs across all industries.

CEO comparison chart












Profiles International defines and interprets these behavioral traits and the variances observed between private venture CEOs and CEOs across all industries, in part, as follows:

  • Manageability – Lower scores reflect a working style that emphasizes individualized thinking and a willingness to question inefficient practices. This kind of person is not usually willing to blindly do the accepted thing.
  • Accommodating – The high Accommodating person holds group harmony and compromise as important guidelines for behavior.  On the other hand, the low Accommodating individual is willing to express disagreement and defend priorities without compromise when necessary.
  • Objective Judgment – High scores describe an individual who will trust observable facts in his or her problem-solving processes.  Low Objective Judgment describes a person who is willing to follow a hunch or listen to their intuition before acting.
  • Numerical Ability – High numerical ability is often associated with being confident when calculating numerical data. Often, decisions may be made quickly based on such data without having to refer to calculation tools since the work is often done mentally.  Alternatively, low scorers will often rely on calculators or other aids and may not be comfortable with positions that routinely use numerical calculations.
  • Attitude – Lower scorers are willing to question the intentions of others and the feasibility of outcomes. They tend to avoid appearing naïve.  High scorers tend to have a positive and accepting outlook regarding people and outcomes.
  • Decisiveness – A person with a high score will make decisions with the information currently available so processes do not become to mired in deliberation. This also reflects their willingness to risk failure or misjudgment for the sake of timelines. Someone with a low Decisiveness score will require as much information as possible before making a decision.
  • Independence – A person with high Independence prefers to take responsibility for accomplishing goals autonomously. Someone with low Independence prefers to turn to others to guide their performance.

It is no surprise that private venture CEOs display a more independent streak when compared to their peers in other industries.  It is in their nature to speak their minds and take calculated risks.  Looking for low scores in Manageability, Attitude, and Accommodating may seem counter-intuitive, but Profiles International’s ProfileXT now empirically validates that low scores in these behavioral traits are highly desirable for private venture CEOs.

Peggy Thompson, Summative’s Managing Partner and Founder, knows that CEOs with low Accommodating scores are better able to focus on priorities vital to success when making decisions. “CEOs do not have the luxury of accommodating and validating every idea and suggestion. They only have a short window to get the right product or service to the right market.  If they take the time to accommodate and explore everyone’s ideas and suggestions, they could miss that window.”

Instead of focusing on maintaining a hopeful outlook and creating a harmonic environment, a good CEO has to quickly question and accurately assess everything in their fast moving world.  A high Attitude CEO will, for example, trust the pipeline reports of a newly hired Vice Presidents of Sales before that trust is merited, where a low Attitude CEO has a healthy amount of vigilant skepticism that is imperative in order to ask the tough questions about the pipeline.  Otherwise they risk forecasting numbers that they cannot deliver.

Summative has seen the benefits of high Objective Judgment scores in private venture CEOs since they have to quickly make decisions using, in part, intuition to position a company correctly in the market place, bet on the right go-to-market strategies, grow revenues, and outperform competitors without the benefit of a lot of time or historical data.  When working with a company that is defining or entering new markets and seeking to outperform competitors, a low scorer on Objective Judgment will struggle because (s)he doesn’t have the ability to include observable facts and past history in the decision making process.

Peggy has found that Numerical Ability is a reflection of intelligence.   “CEOs who score high on Numerical Ability are smart leaders with an aptitude for working the numbers.   They are quick on their feet and can quickly analyze numbers.   This is essential in an environment that often lacks a deep accounting and finance bench.”

The Unique Behavioral Traits of Private Venture CEOs Can Make Great Things Happen

ProfileXT can be used in the recruiting process to validate that CEO candidates possess the unique behavioral traits required to grow successful private venture technology companies – even if those behavioral traits may, at times, present difficulties for boards and executive teams.   Although Peggy’s heard countless stories about how difficult private venture CEOs can be to work with, she has personally seen the benefits these CEOs deliver to fast-growing technology companies.

“In my first few years recruiting for private venture technology companies, some of the stories I heard about early-stage CEOs made me cringe.  Now, I just smile and reassure stakeholders that CEOs’ ‘unique’ behavioral traits – which are very different than those of big-company CEOs – are likely what will drive the success of the company.  When those traits are channeled with a high degree of intellectual and emotional integrity to the benefit of the company, great things can happen.”

(1)     Austin, Ben, “The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale?” WIRED, July 23, 2012, .

(2)     Elgan, Mike, “In Defense of Steve Jobs,” Cult of Mac, October 29, 2011,

(3)     Anderson, George, “Is Jeff Bezos a Horrible Boss And Is That Good?” Forbes, October 22, 2013,

(4)     Bulygo, Zach, “12 Business Lessons You Can Learn from Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos,” KISSmetrics,

(5)     Austin, Michael, “Ethics for Everyone,” Psychology Today, July 2, 2013,


Update: Executive Recruiting Strategies In the Midst of Private Venture’s Growing “Perfect Storm”

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

In last year’s “Rules of the Game Changing in Search for Private Venture Executive Talent,” Summative concluded that that private venture is in the midst of a “perfect storm” when it comes to recruiting top talent to lead venture-backed technology companies.  Over the past year, the storm has grown in size and strength, creating an even more challenging executive recruiting environment.  Summative’s recent observations and our analysis of newly published industry data (see For Our Time-Constrained Clients:  Highlights and Analysis of Venture Capital Trends 2014) provide insight into the underlying causes.

Funding events continue to far exceed exits across all industries, including software.

Number of Deals – All Industries

2014 updated graph 2

Number of Deals – Software

2014 updated graph 1

IPOs were up in 2013 (81 venture-backed IPOs).   But, the big increase in the time to exit via IPO suggests that many were mature companies that had been waiting their turn at the public market for months, if not years. 

While the average timeline to exit via acquisition has improved for venture-backed firms, 2013 M&A activity was down 20% from 2013.

Timeline to Exit
2014 updated graph 3

(NOTE:  Discrepancies between the data in the tables found in Summative’s Rules of the Game Changing for Private Venture Executive Search and the above tables are the result of revisions made to historical numbers by the NVCA.)

The trend of more private-venture technology companies being funded than exiting (injecting fewer “easy decision” executive candidates into the supply pool than required to meet demand) and longer timelines to exit (keeping top operating executives locked in place) continues.  “Easy decision” candidates rolling out of recent successful exits, if they are indeed willing to step back into another private venture company at all, are in high demand, pursued by the hottest, most competitive companies in the industry.

New in 2013 was the capital that flowed back to investors thanks to the improved IPO market.   This resulted in an increase in seed and early stage investments.   In 2013, the number of early stages deals funded was 2,031, up from 1,738 in 2012 and 800 (the 10-year low) in 2003.   According to the NVCA, “In 2013, 56 percent of the financing rounds went to seed and early stage companies, compared with a more typical range of 33 percent, reflecting increased investor confidence in growth trajectory of emerging companies.”

Some speculate that this increase in seed and early stage investments will lead to a Series B crunch:  too many pre-B companies chasing after too few Series B dollars.   While others in the industry believe this may be overblown (see WilmerHale 2014 VC Report), it is safe to say that recruiting for pre-B companies will be more challenging than ever when astute, non-founding executives recognize the increased risk of raising a B-round.

Based on these updates, here are just a few of Summative’s recommendations (with more to follow in subsequent posts) to maximize recruiting results in 2014 and beyond.

The Pursuit of “Easy Decision” Candidates

“Easy decision” candidates are being inundated by calls from recruiters and pursued by the industry’s top “easy decision” companies.   “Easy decision” companies are those that:

    • anticipate an IPO in the next three or so years
    • have delivered disruptive, differentiated technology to a hot market
    • are backed by proven, tier one investors
    • are led by a CEO with at least one previous great exit

Recruiting an “easy decision” candidate is a highly competitive war – even if the hiring company is an “easy decision” company.  Prepare for battle by targeting “easy decision” candidates early and aggressively with a high-touch, personalized campaign to engage and interest them.   While it’s important for “easy decision” candidates to know that the hiring Board or CEO is highly interested in pursuing them as a candidate, it’s also important that they understand the search process will engage a number of top candidates – like them – from across the country.

Continue to Widen the Top of the Candidate Funnel

As discussed in Rules of the Game Changing for Private Venture Executive Search and Improving the Candidate Evaluation & Selection Process, the top of the candidate funnel must continue to be widened to include up-and-coming talent and candidates with profiles not typically contemplated in recent years (e.g., executives on the forward trajectory of their career with no prior early stage experience).   Leverage a knowledgeable private venture recruiter with the intuition honed by years of experience to quickly identify the real gems among the larger volume of candidates entering the funnel.  Accurately assess non-“easy decision” candidates by using smart interviewing techniques, completing multiple back-door references, and having finalist candidates take Profiles International’s ProfileXT, an online assessment tool that reveals how a candidate’s aptitude, behavioral styles, and interests compare to some of the top performing executives in private venture.

Customize the Recruiting Process for Each Stage, Each Profile

Recruiting is different at every stage of a company’s life cycle.   The candidate profile for each functional area of a company is different at every stage of a company’s life cycle.  Therefore, there is no such thing as a “one recruiting methodology fits all” in private venture.   Customize the recruiting process for each search in relation to the stage of the company and the profile of the candidate.  For example, candidate objections and their due diligence on the hiring organization vary by the stage of company.   With the anticipated Series B crunch, if a hiring Board must go outside of its own network to recruit an executive to a pre-B company, be prepared to diffuse the question, “How will the company raise its Series B?” early in the process.

More to follow in subsequent posts…



Growth Hacker Marketing, John Price, Vast, and Trilogy Knew Then What We Need Now

Friday, December 6th, 2013

I had a great meeting with John Price, CEO, Monday.   John retained me way back in 1996 to recruit for Trilogy Software, the magazine cover darling of Texas high tech at the time.  It was my first shot at recruiting for an early stage, fast growing technology company.  As detailed in this WSJ article, John and Trilogy understood the value of great, smart talent.   They also understood what it took to attract great talent in a highly competitive market. 

As detailed in our white paper, “Rules of the Game Changing in Search for Private Venture Executive Talent,” we in private venture are once again in the same position Trilogy found itself in the late 1990’s.   There is a greater demand for smart, proven talent than there are proven, “easy decision” candidates available.   While the dynamics of this lack of supply today differ from the 1990’s, the implications are the same.   We must widen the top of the candidate funnel and do a better job of attracting, assessing, and selecting high potential executive talent.

During Monday’s meeting, John also introduced me to a great eBook/audio book, Growth Hacker Marketing:  A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, by Ryan Holiday.   It’s an easy, must read or listen for every private venture executive and investor.  Ryan Holiday expands on the earlier notion of guerilla marketing by emphasizing the value of getting the product right from the beginning, and the important role great marketers, with a strong sense of product, play in that process.  Ryan uses many b2c start-up examples in Growth Hacker Marketing, but with creativity and imagination the principles can be applied to b2b companies – perhaps even b2b companies going to market through an indirect channel to IT decision makers. 

I welcome your thoughts.

Thanks, John.  And, congrats on your incredible success to date and to come with Vast things! 


 Growth Hacker Marketing

Recruiting the Right Executive is More Important than the Product, Market

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Some Stool Legs Carry More Weight

Carpenters build three-legged stools knowing that each leg is essential to the stool’s success.  If each of the three legs isn’t equally strong, the stool will crumble under load-bearing weight.

Most investors and CEOs believe that the success of a private-venture technology company is also built on three equal, load-bearing legs:  1) viable, clearly differentiated products or services; 2) a large, well-timed market; and 3) strong, smart executive leadership.   They believe that if all three legs aren’t equally strong, the company could fail under the weight of unanticipated challenges (e.g., the product doesn’t scale; the targeted market’s adoption rate is slower than planned; an essential VP Marketing leaves the company to step into his first CEO role).  

Summative’s experience and observations suggest otherwise.  We believe it’s the executive leadership that is the most important factor to the success of a private-venture technology company.  

Over the years, we’ve seen clients launch complex technologies that initially failed.   We’ve seen others work to define new markets that never materialized.  But, instead of crashing under the weight of these failures, these clients went on to become hugely successful.

Their secret?   Great executive leadership.

One Case in Point:  OpenPages’ Executive Leadership Overcame Disintegration of Market

When Summative recruited Michael J. Duffy to lead OpenPages in 2000, the peak of the dot-com bubble, the company was in the then hot content management space.   Within months of Mike joining the company, the bubble burst and most of OpenPages’ targeted market evaporated.  At that point, many companies would have failed.   Many companies did fail. 

Not OpenPages.

Instead, Mike worked closely with the Board and his executive team to identify a new market opportunity for OpenPages’ existing IP.   In 2002, they re-launched OpenPages in the nascent Sarbanes-Oxley compliance market and then went on to become the leading vendor in the much broader GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) market. 

Thanks to his leadership, Mike, playing the role of strong war-time general, successfully led the company from a disintegrated market to a much bigger market that they were able to define and dominate.  This culminated in a great exit via acquisition by IBM in 2010.   

Products can fail.   Markets can evaporate.   But, exceptional CEOs like Mike can compensate for market and technology weaknesses by bearing a greater weight of the company’s ultimate success.