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Now Is the Time to Build Your Leadership Bench

Now Is the Time to Build Your Leadership Bench

Podcast: https://soundcloud.com/middle-market-growth/build-your-leadership-bench

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has led many businesses to focus on challenges related to working capital, supply chain, or the accelerated shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce. Yet alongside these urgent priorities, talent planning continues to be important, particularly as companies position themselves for the post-pandemic future.

Bob Ryan, a partner at Shields Meneley Partners, and Keith Goudy, the managing partner at Vantage Leadership Consulting, return to the podcast to discuss the pressing issues related to talent management and hiring that business leaders and private equity owners are grappling with today.

Drawing on their experience working with clients, Ryan and Goudy describe how the COVID crisis has changed what companies are looking for in their leaders, and how to lead effectively when employees are working from home. They offer actionable tips for advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives in a virtual work environment, and they explain why succession planning is now more important than ever.

Ryan and Goudy first appeared on the Middle Market Growth Conversations podcast last year, in an episode titled “How to Get Hired at a Private Equity-Owned Company,” available here.

Link(s) to Article:

Work-from-Home Can’t Work Forever: Blackstone CEO

Work-from-Home Can’t Work Forever: Blackstone CEO

The massive work-from-home experiment that businesses globally have adopted in response to coronavirus-related travel lockdowns has fueled a great debate on the future of offices: Will the practice become a permanent feature for employees? For Steve Schwarzman, CEO and chairman at Blackstone Group, the answer is not likely.

“This working from home is on one hand very efficient,” he said last week during a Sanford C. Bernstein investor conference. “At one of our meetings, somebody said, ‘Well, why don’t we do this all the time?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, one reason is you can’t train new people like this.’”

Working from home appears to function well for existing employees, Schwarzman said. The crux is in the difficulty for new employees to absorb a company’s culture without personal interaction, he added.

“To run a great organization, you have to keep hiring people,” he said. “Particularly if you as a business are growing, you need more people. And those people have to learn your culture.”

Culture entails many aspects that require picking up cues from the more experienced, established members of a team on how the company does business, Schwarzman said.

“They have to know not just the mechanics of how you do a piece of work, but how do we think about it?” he said. “How do we think about risk? What do we believe is the right and wrong approach to be doing things from an ethical perspective?”

Communications over video can’t easily replicate those informal and formal discussions a team would have in an office setting, Schwarzman said.

“That’s really hard to do on television,” he said. “You have to have people sitting around talking about situations. It’s much more iterative.”

But some human capital experts say while new employee training is indeed a likely snag, it’s not impossible to maintain and build a corporate culture through remote technology.

Onboarding is clearly one of the challenges, says Bob Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners, an executive coaching consultancy, and managing partner at the Sierra Institute, a coalition of chief human resource officers.

“There are things that can’t be done as well virtually, and it’s very difficult to build a culture when people are not together,” he says. “Senior management helps to define the culture of an organization… and that’s hard to understand when you don’t see them day to day.”

Onboarding new employees virtually would be a challenge, Ryan says.

“Important training could be lost unless the new employee puts in a concerted effort to meeting all of their peers and stakeholders,” he says. “One of the most important groups that you need to learn from is your peers.”

Onboarding in a virtual environment is indeed “suboptimal,” says Laura Queen, CEO at 29Bison, a human capital consultancy.

“Video cannot replace face-to-face human contact,” she says.

But there are many ways that companies can still build and maintain culture via remote technology, and even increase productivity using such tools, Queen says.

“You don’t have to have face-to-face contact all of the time,” she adds.

Corporate culture often entails values, beliefs, and assumptions about the work experience transmitted through language and storytelling, Queen says. It’s possible to find new mechanisms to do that via technology, especially through tools that support learning and assimilation, she says.

One tool her team uses is Nuclino, an internal wiki platform where individuals can share intelligence on particular topics, a concept that also can work on communication systems such as Slack. Queen recently posted information about an arcane defined benefit pension question that sometimes comes up with the firm’s clients, so that other colleagues can tap it as a resource in the future, she says.

Ryan says his team has built a customized, confidential customer relationship management platform to similarly share internal information, specifically in response to the recent work-from-home shift.

Ongoing regular training and development can even be more effective in virtual settings, because many professionals have proven their willingness to participate and shown the ability to focus even better in video meetings, Ryan says. Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams are all effective for such gatherings.

“What I am hearing over and over again is that virtual meetings are going to become a more consistent part of the future,” he says.

A bigger question that companies face is whether their embrace of working from home capabilities will define their identity to the marketplace, Queen says.

“If your viewpoint is that culture can’t be transmitted virtually, then it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she says. “Long term it may be that a firm attracts people who are more willing to work face-to-face and less willing to work in a virtual environment. And that says to people who want a work-from-home opportunity, that this firm is not a place for you.”

That may become an important distinction, she adds, because working from home has gotten a big stage to showcase its utility.

“I think the horse has left the barn for knowledge workers with regard to the work-from-home situation,” she says. “There is an expectation that if you’re going to be a credible competitive attractive employer you’re going to have to provide some level of remote work capabilities.”

Link(s) to Article:

Work-from-Home Can’t Work Forever: Blackstone CEO

COVID-19 Forces Work Culture Shifts for Private Equity Firms

COVID-19 Forces Work Culture Shifts for Private Equity Firms
April 13, 2020

The private equity industry, historically hesitant to accommodate flexible working arrangements, has had to embrace work culture shifts as the coronavirus pandemic forces employees to stay home.

Before Covid-19, flexible working in private markets was not indulged very often, according to a survey conducted by eVestment Private Markets and MJ Hudson of 311 employees from across the global private markets industry, including GPs, LPs, and outsourced practitioners of core functions. The survey found that prior to COVID-19, just 7% of private markets respondents regularly worked from home. Of the individuals who regularly worked from home 80% were executives or senior staff while not a single junior staff member reported regularly working from home.

“Hierarchy is important in private equity,” says Dale Rose, president of 3D Group, a consulting firm that works with private equity firms. “It’s harder to hold a hierarchy when working remotely.”

Working from home will be particularly difficult for junior members of the workforce, since they may have a less-established personal network, which is hard to expand and develop via digital channels as opposed to the “trust-factor and comfort” that accompanies in-person interaction, Rose adds.

On the other hand, this may be an opportunity many people have long been hoping for. “I think there is a lot of desire from people in the industry for flexible working,” says Graeme Faulds, director of private market solutions at eVestment.

Prior to COVID-19, working hours for employees of private equity and credit managers were already long. According to eVestment’s survey, 53% of respondents work more than 48 hours at the office per week on a regular basis, the upper limit of the European Working Hours Directive.
Nine percent of respondents say they regularly work more than 58 hours per week, and five individuals report regularly clocking more than 68 hours in the office each week.

While many workers may welcome the shift to flexible working, it’s not without potential negative side effects. In an industry where long hours are already the norm, and where many struggle to put work away, remote work could lead to an increase in overall work hours. That could  boost productivity in the short-term, but it also increases the risk of burnout, Rose says.

“It could be detrimental to the psychological health of these individuals who now can work harder and more,” says Rose. “They may be working in their sweatpants and their suit tops but they’re working 20% more time.”

In addition to working long hours, the survey found that many people in private markets already had a hard time putting down their work prior to COVID-19.

The natural pauses that were built into the workday, such as commuting, meals and weekends have eroded under lockdown, says Robert Ryan, executive advisor at Shields Meneley Partners, a consulting firm working with private equity firms.

“You can work all day, you can work every minute of the day. You can stay busy for 60 hours a week,” says Ryan.


Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Today’s hiring landscape is a tough one. The 2008 recession eliminated half of the publicly-traded companies, and the frothy private equity market means that the PE partners are constantly seeking executives to run their portfolio companies. This demand has made negotiations much more fluid for executives and they hold a stronger hand than they have held in the last decade.

Many benefits typically included in executive compensation packages were eliminated during that time, but today’s war for talent has put many of them back on the table. Executives who seek CEO roles in PE are primarily attracted by having an equity stake that could result in a big pay day, but greater cash compensation certainly sweetens the deal.

Candidates for these roles now need a new set of negotiating skills. That is why we built a customized team of exceptional people to support and guide clients so they can negotiate the best possible compensation packages. The team typically includes an Advisor who has helped negotiate hundreds of contracts for our clients as well as an employment lawyer who knows the legal ins and outs. But that’s not all. We also have a senior research analyst who conducts a compensation study to compare a dozen peer companies and roles to ensure that our client’s offer it at or above market value.

We find that business leaders known for hard-nosed negotiations when it comes to their companies often find it challenging to negotiate their own employment terms. More often than not, they don’t realize that they are leaving money and benefits on the table. We know the points of leverage in an offer that make the difference in a below average or a generous compensation package. And these negotiations are handled in a way that protects the relationship going forward.

Believe it or not, companies want senior executives to push back because it demonstrates that you will also negotiate aggressively on behalf of the company. These back-and-forth discussions become part of the interview process and instill confidence about the new leader before you even walk in the door.

Not to state the obvious, but although markets are strong today there will be a tipping point. There are things you can control, but every executive and company is buffeted by outside forces. Negotiate aggressively while the good times last.

Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Navigating Ups and Downs of the C-Suite – Part 3

Part III: Your Next, Next

Now that we have reviewed the current state of leadership for today’s C-Suite and highlighted the exciting options that may be available to clients, I share some of my favorite questions and strategies for helping clients figure out what is to come.

Key to this process is that while so many clients are focused on what he or she is going to next, not enough attention is paid to what is going to happen after that. We call this your next, next.

While the portfolio lifestyle is gaining momentum with a number of our clients, we coach many others who want to engage in one more corporate gig before slowing down a bit. As a 52-year-old executive, the odds are you will continue in the structured corporate world for more than a few years, but what are you going to do when you’re 59 or when this job goes away for whatever reason? Planning for that time before it arrives will allow for a seamless and smooth transition into whatever it is you are going to do when the time comes.

Traditional retirement does not mean the end of the road. In fact, with life expectancies increasing we tell our clients to anticipate doing their next, next for as many as 25 years. Planning for that time sooner than later is advisable.

Be Great

One of my favorite questions to ask our clients is whether or not they have accomplished their greatest feat yet. Some of society’s greatest accomplishments have come by women and men who were older than 60. Your next, next can also include the greatest thing that you’re going to do and your legacy on the planet.

If you look back at your career and you say “yup, I’ve done my greatest thing,” and you’re going to coast the rest of the way, that might not be the greatest outcome. Playing golf or reading by the fire everyday for the next 30 years really is not that great of an option when you really think about it. Instead, we urge our clients to consider other pathways. For instance, you may want to take all of that institutional knowledge and experience you have earned during your career and teach it to other people, put it down in writing or speak about it. Rather than running a company, perhaps you can find joy and passion in guiding a company as a member of its board.

Let’s Do This

If you know exactly what you want to do next and you’re talking with one of us at Shields Meneley Partners, we will take a disciplined approach to expanding your mind in thinking about other options. I’ll say to the CEO that’s come in that wants to do another CEO role, “humor me for one hour and let’s talk about your dreams and what you could do that would actually fulfill that desire.” After an hour or two, if that person still wants to do the next CEO role, we’ll help him or her find it. If you want a portfolio life or want to do something else, we will help get you there as well.

Link(s) to Article:


Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Navigating Ups and Downs of the C-Suite – Part 2

Part II: Portfolio Career

For the last five years, we have been guiding a number of our high-powered clients toward the “portfolio life,” where doing a multitude of things is actually more flexible than doing one big thing. When you’re in the corporate role and you’ve got that one big job, you dedicate up to 70 hours a week, plus travel, plus all those other things that end up taking up all of your time. On the other hand, if you’re doing five things, each one of those things is satisfying a different need and together bringing a newfound work and life satisfaction. I am working with a client right now who has developed a portfolio that includes writing, consulting, teaching, and a couple of other activities. He thinks of himself as the CEO of his own work-life ecosystem. He has these five verticals and truly enjoys this new life, which includes a level of flexibility he never had before. When you’re managing five smaller jobs, you can actually turn some of those off while focusing on others.

One of those multiples in the portfolio life often includes board work, whether that be not-for-profit or for-profit work. This is an impactful way for our clients to flex their industry-specific muscles and know-how, without the added pressure of being responsible for the day-to-day performance of the company.

Help is Here

Generally speaking, as a society we really are not very good at self-reflection. That is exactly why it is beneficial to have a coach who can make you aware of the possibilities that exist. After all, it is understandable when the vision for career options for executives and those in the C-Suite narrows as a result of spending so many years focused on a singular type of job. You’ve been really busy in your role for the last 35 years and you haven’t had time to really open your eyes to what the possibilities are and that’s something that a coach can help you do.

Our clients come to realize pretty quickly that while they seemingly had all of the answers when it came to running their companies in the corporate world, when it comes to considering the options available and how they intersect on a personal level, having a good coach who is going to be able to tell you that’s a good idea, maybe it’s a bad idea or you better consider other possibilities when it comes to what that next role is. For instance, a lot of executives that have been in large companies find themselves in transition in their mid-50s and think that it would be a great idea to do one private equity gig before they move onto the final stop in their career track. Becoming private equity portfolio company CEO, for example, sounds great because you can run a manageable sized enterprise for two-to-five years, s potentially making a boat-load of money in the process, but what our clients come to realize quickly is that they really do need somebody to look them in the eye and say this is a good idea or a bad idea for you based on your skills and experience. There are always risks, not to mention the toll on your personal life at a time when you should be reaping the benefits of your successful career.

When it comes to engaging with our clients, our process involves an in-depth assessment that includes straightforward, honest and actionable feedback. What is more, together, we take a deep dive into your personal life as well as your work life, and how the two intersect. This often involves getting our clients’ partners involved at the start of the journey.

Please stop by next week, when I write about some of my favorite strategies to helping clients figure out where they want to take their career paths. Hint: The next job may not be all that important.

Now that we have reviewed the current state of leadership for today’s C-Suite and highlighted the exciting options that may be available to clients, I share some of my favorite questions and strategies for helping clients figure out what is to come.


Link(s) to Article:


Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Navigating Ups and Downs of the C-Suite – Part 1

The landscape for today’s C-Suite has changed dramatically compared with previous generations. No longer do leaders stay with the same company for their entire careers with the confidence they will be taken care of during their retirement years as a reward. Instead, tenure in these positions has been compressed to only a handful of years. Executives who are very good at managing companies and divisions in his or her lanes find out quickly they usually do not have the skill set to find that new job when the time comes.

Part I: Prepare to be Fired When Hired

When a senior executive is in the flow of his or her job it just about occupies all of that person’s brain space and energy to keep all the plates spinning, all the balls in the air and any other saying to connote the simple truth that leaders today are busier than ever. At the same time, the tenure of a C- Level executive is relatively short at a little more than three years on average. When the executive is focused solely on the bottom line and performance of the company, certain aspects of his or her personal life fall by the wayside. While that may not be a long time in terms of a person’s overall career, it is a lifetime when it comes to networking. When they are let go, it is usually sudden and unexpected for the leader, whom is unprepared to navigate the rough waters ahead.

It does not have to be this way.

Generally speaking, the mind of the senior executive today thinks “I’m okay because I’ve been getting called by recruiters for the last few years, I know I can do this again someplace else.” The leader puts that thought to bed with a sense of comfort, but the fact is once you’re out, those calls are not as regular as they used to be. In fact, they dry up very quickly and then panic sets in for the bewildered individual who always had direction in his or her march toward the top job, but suddenly has no place to go.

Same Old, Same Old?

The good news is you have more options than you think. To start, ask yourself if you are going to do the same thing now, just someplace else. You do not have to. In fact, you may be burned out and not even know it.

If you have made it to the C-Suite, odds are you are financially secure to take time to figure out your next step. This time of discovery can be incredibly liberating and valuable because you realize there are far more options than you may have considered. The key to unlocking this newfound freedom is having the right guide to help you pilot the journey.

When I first meet a client, I look her or him in the eye and I ask: “do you really want to do what you’ve done, again?” If the answer is yes, I ask the client to humor me and let us explore some other options for an hour or two because we may find that in fact there is something else that you want to do. I have been successfully coaching C-Suite members for five years and nearly every time I suggest a doing something different to a client there is a sea change in personality and I can see a wave of relief, wonderment and excitement wash over them because they never even considered doing something else for work, much less, something he or she will enjoy.

Retirement is probably not one of those options. You might be able to “retire” in your 50’s, but you’re still going to be on the planet for another 35 years, so the thought of just golfing for the next three decades doesn’t have an appeal anymore. Instead, you probably want to do something that adds value, keeps you interested, keeps you vibrant. Perhaps doing something in the not-for-profit sector, where your skills would be very valued, is an option. You may want to do something in private equity as an operating partner or portfolio CEO, which could be a short stint but could be very interesting because the chance to roll up your sleeves and do all of the things that you’ve learned throughout your career and be rewarded at the time of exit.

Please check back to my feed next week when I discuss the options that are available to leaders today in determining next steps.

Link(s) to Article:


Negotiation Strategies for PE Portfolio Company CEOs

Love your Job? Prepare to be Fired

As an equity stakeholder in Shields Meneley Partners, a career transition and coaching firm dedicated to the C-Suite; as well as the managing partner to the Sierra Institute, an invitation-only group of 50 CHROs, one of the most frequently-asked questions is what a person should do when he or she is perfectly happy in their job.

The simple answer is to be prudent and prepare for the inevitable.

Most clients are incredulous with that answer, but the time to prepare for unemployment is when you are employed. Managing the emotional toll of losing your job is difficult enough, but if you don’t have the “what if” pieces in place, it makes the search process much more difficult. The “life” of a C-Suite executive averages three years.

Here are four easy steps to prepare for that transition:


The first step is to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and that it reflects who you are. This may not be a primary source for your next role, but it has become the No. 1 source that people turn to when they want to know more about you. Take the time to build a creative, straightforward profile. The picture should be up-to-date and professionally done, under your name is the most important real estate because it should reflect “who you are” rather than “Where I am.” This is the best online networking platform in existence. With 400 million users, it is essential. Do not ignore LinkedIn!


As a coach to C-Suite executives, the most common mistake I see with clients is not having their resume up-to-date. Many clients don’t think they need to have their resumes ready when they are happily ensconced in their current jobs, but situations change unexpectedly and you want to have your credentials ready to show right away. Your resume doesn’t have to be up to the minute, but at least have the basics done, especially the last 10 years, so you could respond quickly to requests.

Although the resume is becoming less-and-less important in terms of hiring, it still serves an important function. Think of it as a placeholder or ticket with your name on it that will sit on someone’s desk until it is needed.


You are sitting in your office and thinking about how much you love your job. The phone rings and breaks your concentration. It is a recruiter trying to get in touch with you about another job. Your first response is to ignore it because you love where you are. That is exactly what you shouldn’t do. 

At the very least, take the time to respond even only to politely explain that you are not in the market but appreciate their reaching out to you. More importantly, refer other suitable candidates. This lays the groundwork for a positive future relationship with someone you will likely need to call on in the future.


Many of my clients claim they are too busy to network. Wrong answer. It may be the single most important use of time in remaining relevant and visible because this group of people will create many opportunities for you. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out this great piece written by one of our clients for none other than CFO Magazine about the power of networking.

Not everyone is comfortable putting him/herself “out there,” but there are simple steps to take even while you are happy in your current role. At a minimum, download Outlook, Google contacts, or your connections from LinkedIn into an Excel spreadsheet. Pick 10 people – the “connectors” – with whom you should stay in touch. Make a point of seeing, calling, or at least emailing those people a couple of times a year.

If you are happy in your job and you don’t have a plan in place should your circumstances change, you are setting yourself up for a difficult career transition. Termination decisions can be made in an instant and have absolutely nothing to do with your job performance. All it takes is the loss of your biggest customer, the business is sold, or a new boss decides to bring in his/her own team. Be prepared so that your career stays on a successful trajectory.

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Now Is the Time to Build Your Leadership Bench

How to Get Hired at a Private Equity-Owned Company

Working for a private equity-backed business isn’t for everybody. According to Bob Ryan, a partner at Shields Meneley Partners, only 1 in 5 professionals he works with in his firm’s executive transition program is a fit for a leadership role at a PE portfolio company.

In this episode of the podcast, Ryan and Keith Goudy, the managing partner at Vantage Leadership Consulting, discuss what it takes to thrive at a PE-owned company, how compensation is changing, and the strategies companies are using to attract talented leaders and employees alike.


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