A Q&A with SPMB Partner Jon Landau
In this discussion, SPMB Partner Jon Landau shares his perspective on the current state of the executive search industry — in particular, the leadership skills that are proving to be most in demand across his search work. With a focus on private equity markets within B2B technology, Jon places CEOs and all functional direct reports across General Management, GTM, Product, Engineering, Operations, and G&A — oftentimes building out comprehensive leadership teams for the same company/client over time. Jon’s exposure to a broad range of industries, operating models, and executive functions provides him with a unique perspective on the key skill sets that clients are prioritizing across their C-suite today — and whether they will persist in the years ahead.
In this post-Covid era, are there hiring trends or executive skills that are more prevalent and in demand within your own practice?
As an executive recruiter focused largely on the private equity markets in B2B tech, we’re experiencing two distinct – but overlapping – macro trends in leadership hiring:
- The first was the hiring frenzy that occurred during the 2+ years immediately following Covid. The intense pace of hiring that occurred from roughly April 2020 to June 2022 was like nothing I’ve seen in my 25 years of recruiting. During this period, we faced a confluence of events that shined a spotlight on leadership capabilities and employee retention. The three outstanding factors were: 1) newly distributed teams learning how to function in a remote environment coupled with 2) a red-hot job market and 3) skyrocketing comp packages. During this period, executives who possessed outstanding communication, high EQ (i.e. the ability to deeply and genuinely connect with their remote teams) and above average team leadership skills were able to stand out from their peers by not only retaining their employees but also providing better efficiency and output from these teams. The successful leaders leveraged a range of tools and techniques, including TONS of virtual communication with their teams, modern tools to stay in touch in real time, and morale-boosting best practices to drive engagement, recognition, and off-cycle market compensation adjustments. These skills remain absolutely critical today, even in our post-Covid / hybrid work environments, and will continue to be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
- The second macro trend in executive hiring stands in stark contrast to the first and is characterized by a dramatic decline in executive hiring combined with a laser focus on three specific roles: CEO, CFO and CRO. Beginning roughly around Q3 of 2022, with the rising interest rates, sinking enterprise valuations, the war in the Ukraine and the broader global economic uncertainty, PE investors made a hard pivot from “growth mode” to “efficiency mode” across their portfolio companies. In doing so, Boards and CEOs shifted their focus to the biggest efficiency levers in each business: who’s driving the bus (CEO), who’s minding the shop (CFO), and who’s selling the goods (CRO). There’s no better way for businesses to drive efficiency than to ensure that 1) they have the most seasoned and best possible executive leading the company; 2) the executive closest to the business finances is proven and trusted; and 3) that your CEO and Board have total faith in the person leading your sales function. As a result, SPMB has received more inbound search inquiries for CEO, CFO and CRO searches in the past year than any other function.
Will hybrid work environments continue to be the norm? How has this trend impacted senior leaders at companies and the traits they need to be successful?
Hybrid work environments are 100% here to stay across the B2B tech world. Pandora’s box has been opened and there’s no going back to a fully in-office structure. As a result:
- Adaptability is crucial as senior leaders must navigate virtual and in-person dynamics seamlessly.
- Emotional intelligence is more important than ever as remote work challenges require increased empathy, personal connection and real time awareness of your teams’ state of mind, engagement and morale.
- Innovation is also key, using technology for everything — from remaining connected with colleagues to prioritizing and implementing cutting edge cybersecurity.
- Effective communication has also become more important than ever. Leaders adept at conveying their vision across digital platforms and face-to-face interactions can keep teams aligned, motivated and productive.
That said, more and more of SPMB’s clients are insisting that their executive teams be willing to meet face-to-face more frequently, travel for team gatherings more often, and whenever possible, that we recruit candidates in time zones that complement the existing executive leadership team.
How are candidates refreshing their skills to succeed in today’s business climate? How can companies assist with this?
In the private equity sector where I spend the bulk of my time, the primary skill that requires ongoing refreshing is leadership. The candidates that SPMB interacts with are already at the top of their game and know their function inside and out. What CANNOT be taken for granted, however, is mastering the art of great people management. No matter your role on the Executive Leadership Team, being able to build, retain and develop great teams are table stakes, and skills that require constant care and feeding. Soft skills that include listening, communicating with empathy, engaging with teams in a meaningful way, speaking thoughtfully and genuinely about diversity and inclusion, meeting people where they are versus where you want them to be…all of these skills require ongoing development and practice. The best executives already know this and have committed to making leadership growth a continuous practice for themselves.
SPMB’s top performing clients know that leadership development is their #1 weapon in building a great company with highly engaged employees. These companies have made it their top priority to support their leaders with ongoing learning & development programs, executive coaching, and a culture of modern inclusion. These are the companies we love to partner with because the CEOs model the culture, empower their teams, and prioritize the People function to be a leading voice around the table.
In just the past 12 months, one new area of professional development has arrived like a tsunami, and that’s AI. Regardless of your role around the executive leadership table, AI is becoming ubiquitous across modern tech enterprises. New AI applications are emerging daily, ranging from AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants handling employee and/or customer inquiries, to predictive analytics forecasting sales and demand, to resume screening tools expediting the recruitment process. Modern executives who wish to stay relevant in their field are choosing to embrace AI in order to understand it and leverage it to the benefit of their teams and company.