Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer for an engineering firm

The Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer role is new within our client’s structure and encompasses strategy, sales, mergers & acquisitions (M&A), and organic growth. While it was challenging to find candidates who were strong in all of these areas, working closely with the organization’s leadership, we attracted and secured an executive who has a 20+ year proven track record of financial management, corporate strategy development, and M&A activities. Though his technical skill set is impressive, he was selected for his engaging and collaborative leadership style, which complements our client’s structure and internal culture.

Helbling was contacted by an executive we placed many years ago who is now the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and President of a prominent engineering and construction management firm in the Northeast. The company, owned by a global private equity group, had recently created an Executive Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) role to reach its aggressive growth goals. The CEO contacted us to gather our insight of the market and talent pool, and our team’s capabilities to conduct an executive search. After having several candid conversations, as well as a meeting with the leadership team, we were retained to perform the assignment.   

Working alongside the CEO, the CSO identifies and implements critical strategies to maintain the company’s leadership position. The position holds ultimate responsibility for reaching organic and acquisitive growth objectives through having a solid M&A plan, from the identification of opportunities and negotiations to organizational structure, integration of business models, and market approach. The CSO also works to enhance communication among the disparate groups within the company’s portfolio to take advantage of regional strengths and apply them effectively across the entire organization.

For this level of accountability, our client sought a senior executive who had experience and success in driving similar programs, and who had a deep understanding of the various markets and geographies that provided the most opportunities for the organization, both in terms of its current portfolio of companies and potential targets for acquisition.
To ensure that all relevant internal knowledge and expertise would be leveraged for the assignment, we assembled a team of three consultants to work in collaboration with the CEO, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Director of Human Resources, and key members of the private equity firm. Together, we determined the organizations with potential candidates. While initial targets were engineering firms that were similar in size, we wanted to generate as deep a talent bench as we could and opened search parameters to include larger entities and organizations that have strong M&A practices focused on the engineering sector. We performed direct outreach to CSOs and other corporate, regional, and market sector leaders within these companies who would have similar responsibilities to our client’s role. To uncover all possible candidates, we also initiated conversations with individuals in Chief Executive Officer- and Chief Operating Officer-level positions within smaller organizations, with the theory that those roles would have a focus parallel to that of the CSO role within a larger organization. 

When we began having discussions with candidates, many were attracted to the fact that our client was focused on growth and had substantial financial backing and other resources in place to achieve that growth. These senior industry executives were especially intrigued by the opportunity to help a significant and successful organization reach the next stage in its development.  

We expected certain challenges that come with this type of assignment, including the extremely limited talent pool, and the potential difficulty of capturing the attention of executives who are likely entrenched in their roles and organizations, passive to new opportunities, and risk-averse. An additional concern was the geography of our client. The company’s portfolio is predominately east of the Mississippi. Although there were several location options in which this person could be based, they were all in the Eastern half of the U.S. Therefore, qualified candidates with strong ties to the West Coast were not finding the role attractive. 

Not surprisingly, because the position encompasses strategy, sales, M&A activities, and organic growth, it proved challenging to find candidates who had strengths in all areas. However, by working closely with our client and openly discussing the market and candidate pool, we were able to nimbly adapt and realign our search process as it unfolded.  
Together with our client’s leadership team, we attracted and secured an executive with a 20+ year track record of strong financial management, corporate strategy development, and M&A experience who was most recently with a top-20 ranked engineering, consulting, and construction management company. For 12 years, he served in senior roles and on advising boards, in which he successfully designed and executed organic and acquisitive growth strategies and process improvements that resulted in enhanced enterprise and shareholder value. Beyond that, he has proven experience in taking a larger industry organization through a similar growth trajectory. 

While the professional’s technical skills and achievements were highly attractive, he was ultimately selected for his style and cultural fit. He understands private-equity ownership, and is familiar with the pace and rigor within that type of environment. At the same time, he has an engaging and collaborative leadership style that will enable him to be successful in a company that has a highly experienced and well-established team. His innovative approach to growth will help the company step outside of its comfort zone in a calculated manner to expand and strengthen the entire organization. All of these characteristics make him an ideal candidate for our client, a successful organization that needs to infuse a more strategic approach for continued growth and profitability.

Learn about Helbling's search process