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Executive Search Case Study: Chief Administrative Officer

Executive Search Case Study: Chief Administrative Officer

A consistently ranked top 10, multi-billion dollar contractor, and longstanding partner of Helbling, sought to secure a Chief Administrative Officer who would provide additional depth to their C-suite, create a unified corporate service culture, and develop a long-term operational strategy. This newly created position has corporate oversight of human resources, information technology, safety, risk management, legal services, and compliance. With more than 25 years of leadership experience in the construction management industry, the chosen candidate has the ideal combination of operational, strategic leadership, profit/loss management, and corporate service experience and knowledge that our client was looking for and a personality that compliments the senior leadership team.

 

Challenge

 

Our client was at the onset of significant growth, both organically and through acquisitions. With retirements looming from an aging executive team, they needed to build leadership depth to achieve their long-term goals. Their plan was to combine six corporate service areas – Human Resources, Information Technology, Safety, Risk Management, Legal, and Compliance – into a single unit. These six areas had established executives reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Therefore, creating the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) role would provide structural relief to the CEO’s reporting structure and allow a new leader to dedicate themselves full-time to those six areas. 

With any newly created position, there is the challenge of defining the position well enough so that it has a strong foundation of expectations and goals when beginning recruitment, while also leaving it somewhat open-ended to adjust the position around the strengths and abilities of an ideal candidate. We collaborated with our client early in the process to develop a plan that addressed this natural ambiguity, and it allowed us to explore a wide variety of candidates with different experiences, abilities, and expertise. Ultimately, even though the CAO would oversee corporate services, the vision of the CEO was that the ideal candidate would need to possess strong operational and leadership experience to build internal trust with existing business unit leaders, and ultimately drive change and lead through influence.

Having operations and leadership as the foundation of the role, we were also tasked to find someone with previous direct ownership of corporate service areas and experience working for a large and geographically dispersed business. Our client also strived for someone with experience integrating acquired companies to support the company’s plans for ongoing inorganic growth. Fortunately, our client understood the challenging and broad parameters that they were setting, and it allowed us to be creative with our search strategy and truly collaborate on defining the position as the search progressed.

In addition, the new CAO would have a degree of freedom and autonomy to shape the position over time, so they would also need to possess patience in the short-term while not losing sight of the big picture and future opportunities. They would be stepping into a new role within a well-established company culture with many long-tenured employees so they would need to possess an uncommon balance of humility and confidence to integrate themselves effectively with the support of the CEO and other leadership.

Strategy

Knowing there would be a shallow talent pool to source from, we widened our scope to a national search, looking across a variety of layers within the construction industry while remaining vigilant with regards to confidentiality and visibility. Working closely with the CEO and Senior Vice President of Human Resources, we focused on building a narrative around the drivers for the creation of the CAO position, and opportunities to shape the role over time, including succession opportunities. Our multi-faceted approach had us exploring peer organizations, as well as large engineering firms, EPC conglomerates, construction risk/surety companies, and law firms with construction divisions.

Due to the strength of our client relationship, we were able to educate candidates on the client’s culture, growth trajectory, short- and long-term initiatives, and the collective upside. Frequently targeting executive-level professionals in Chief Operating Officer, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrative Officer capacities, we recognize that a title is not always indicative of duties or abilities. In keeping an open mind to explore all options, we spent time speaking with Chief Financial Officers, partners in construction law firms, and other high-level professionals within the industry for networking purposes, as well as for referrals.

Results

The selected candidate was formerly the regional Chief Operating Officer of a premier construction firm running a multi-billion dollar business across the East Coast. Having spent significant time navigating operations, P&L, and corporate services, this executive always looked toward the long-term impacts of decision making and provided solutions that stood the test of time. His approach to professional development, both his own and his teams’, showed our client the great lengths he’d go to develop leadership skills and create a positive culture. As a “lead by example” professional, the selected candidate’s demeanor and personality compliments our client’s senior leadership team and, during the interview process, he built confidence that he’d garner the respect of employees and vendors alike.

Since joining our client, the new CAO has been executing a plan to integrate himself effectively, build relationships across the business, understand the culture, and find gaps and opportunities, all while playing an active role in ongoing mergers/acquisitions opportunities. With the CAO position being newly created, there was a collective expectation that a 6- to 12-month transition period was appropriate and to be expected, and having that time to evaluate, integrate, and explore will prove valuable down the road. That said, the new CAO’s multi-faceted skillset provides him a unique position to add value in many different ways. He is actively engaged in finding opportunities that support the business today, as well as in the future.