NXT: You took over Integis in 2011, and in 2015 you made the Inc5000 list. Could you walk me through what you did in-between those few years to grow the company?
Integis used to be more of a generalist search firm, so the first thing I did was to aggressively identify and settle on one niche. Now, we recruit exclusively C-level executives for private equity-backed middle-market companies and we won’t consider any other type of search work.
Diversification into other areas could bring us more clients but we would lose our identity and our value-add would risk becoming watered down. Having a disciplined niche helps build your subject matter expertise and gives you a distinct identity. Our expertise and ability to add value is the key to our growth. Private equity firms recognize what we can do for them which keeps us busy.
The second thing I did was to never set revenue or growth goals. Because I’ve always wanted our culture and ultimate goal to be around delivering the most exceptional service possible. Our clients are very demanding and challenging. So I felt that if we could execute at a high level and exceeded their expectations, the firm would grow naturally.
Third thing is that we aim to be the single, most informed expert in our narrow field. When it comes to finding CEOs, I’ve tirelessly worked to build myself into the nation’s leading expert on that subject. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that will feed this – lots of reading, reflection, analysis, and problem solving. The goal to be the best is a journey, not a destination.
We’ve endeavoured to take on almost a quasi-physician approach. Rather than simply taking an order from our clients about what they’re looking for in a candidate, we listen to their company’s issues, we diagnose the issue and then prescribe the solution in collaboration with them.
NXT: Why settle in this particular niche?
Any niche can be powerful, but for me Private equity is a world where executives face very specific types of challenges. Having that discipline on that niche has enabled us to have name recognition, organic referrals, brand awareness, and incredible competitive advantage in the approach we take with our clients. Our competitors may spend a little bit of time in our niche, so they will never reach our level of expertise.
My number one advice is:
- find a niche,
- dominate it with your expertise and – most importantly – value-add, and
- build brand awareness with thought leadership.
NXT: What type of marketing do you do?
Besides referrals, we do outbound requests for in-person meetings. We’ve found that it’s important to leave a more personal impression with potential clients, so that when a need arises they will come back to us.
But our best ‘salesperson’ is the quality of the work that we do. Working with clients in an industry known for its rigour and speed, I want them to be thrilled with our results, which means working around the clock with exceptional responsiveness.
NXT: Before you started dominating your niche, how did they find executives?
I would never go as far to say we are dominating but we believe we are uniquely positioned to solve private equity’s value creation challenges. Private equity firms can use any number of search firms or look within their own networks. However, we believe our approach pays divided for clients with improves their IRR and Cash-on-Cash performance.
NXT: But do you see other firms like yours popping up?
No, and here’s why. It’s too difficult for many entrepreneurs to resist any work that comes their way. It’s natural for a company to go as broad as possible and take whatever comes in through the door. It takes a lot of discipline to say “No” to work that’s outside your niche.
Every single assignment we take on not only has a solid economic proposition, but by definition it’s seeding the ground for our future.
NXT: So you don’t have direct competition and you deliver superior results… does that mean you can charge a premium?
Actually, no. Our industry has very standardized pricing schemes. So we’re a market-rate firm but we just get more than our share of work.
NXT: How many open assignments do you have at any given time?
Around 6-8 assignments across the firm. We serve several industries including software, healthcare, consumer, manufacturing and business services. Our clients are generalist investors and they buy companies across different sectors so they need us to be adaptable.
NXT: Where are you focusing on for the future? What will keep you in the Inc5000, and how will you continue to grow?
We’re laser-focused on two things:
- Our own internal recruitment, which is particularly challenging due to the high level of service we want to keep delivering to our clients, and
- Developing systems, so that we’re continuously more process-dependent and less people-dependent.
Everything we do has a process that is documented and executed over and over again. This makes our training and future transitions easier because you want individuals executing on a process that’s more powerful than the pieces parts of the individual.
NXT: Favourite business book of yours?
I’ve been influenced by a number of books but two that come immediately to mind are “Blue Ocean Strategy” for business discipline, and “The Alchemist” for the pursuit of your personal legend! In fact, I’m actually writing a book right now called “Leverage Leadership” which will explore the 7 traits that enable the world’s best private equity CEO’s in their quest for value creation.
A huge thanks to Rob Huxtable for his insights. In his 15+ years in retained search, Rob has successfully led more than 250 assignments for more than two dozen private equity firms!
Prior to his career in executive search, Rob worked in the consumer products and industrial services sectors. Take a look at Integis’ blog for more insights.