November 01, 2007
Major Specialty Chem Manufacturer
Velocity Technology Director
Director, Velocity Technology Development (VTD)
Problem: The VP-CTO of a large division of a $30B+ chemicals manufacturing and specialty materials company needed to hire an experienced executive to lead the VTD process for the division. VTD relates to product development. It is a process driven approach to help accelerate the implementation of new product innovations that will better serve the needs of existing and new clients. It is a proven process utilized by many of the world’s largest companies as well as smaller enterprises. VTD creates “stage gates” for the innovations to pass through to assure that the new product solution meets key criteria established by corporate finance, marketing, sales, production, operations, supply chain and regulatory/legal.
The VP-CTO was finding it difficult to attract the right new VTD Director through the normal channels utilized by the Human Resources Department, so he approached us here at KULPER & COMPANY and described his hiring need as well as his sense of urgency. In the meantime, without a leader to spearhead the VTD process, product development for the entire Division was not performing at “peak level”. This was having short and long term effects on Divisional financial performance and customer satisfaction. Something needed to be done quickly or the division would be further exposed to loss of market share and consequent decreases in revenue and net income.
Action: KULPER & COMPANY met with key leaders inside the CTO organization as well as the HR rep who would be involved in supporting the search. A decision was made to retain the services of our firm. We began by taking a fresh approach to the challenge. We asked to meet with the key stake holders in the CTO organization and a representative group from sales, finance & marketing to hear what they had to say about what the new VTD leader needed to accomplish –by when. We tried to steer the conversation away from a listing of job responsibilities or a review of hackneyed platitudes like---“the hired candidate needs to be a self-starter who can work independently” or “ we want the hired candidate to have ‘real energy’ ….”
We have found that by focusing the conversation on the “job deliverables/ by when”--- we end up hearing much more about what the hired candidate really needs to do to succeed in the job. Collectively, they said that they needed to hire a person with solid knowledge of and experience with the “Stage Gate” VTD process; someone who understood and appreciated what it really takes to create a new product solution from start to finish and see it have multi million $ impact---(this is a big company!). Further, they wanted a person who was experienced effectively working with the champions of the product and supporting “gate keepers” at each key stage of the VTD process.
After meeting with a number of leaders inside the company we began to speak with outside professionals knowledgeable about “stage gate” product development and more specifically those who benefitted from effective VTD.
We learned that the creative tension that existed between sales and business development leaders –and the operational and manufacturing people charged with turning client requests into tangible new product lines---could sometimes turn into counter- productive debates or hasty actions that only served to hurt all the constituencies involved.
It would be vital for the new VTD leader to possess the demeanor and patience of a “teacher” and business savvy of a “front line” manager anxious to implement important innovations bubbling up from clients and R&D. Clearly, the VTD leader would need to be a very unique person---which was part of the reason the company was finding it so difficult to develop a slate of candidates who had all the necessary attributes, style and experience they wanted.
We worked hard to develop a Position Spec that would be easy to read---devoid of mind numbing jargon---and highly compelling to the RIGHT candidates. We also structured a very clear project plan that detailed the timeline of the search and necessary steps for successful completion. Busy people can be hard to keep focused on any one project because they are constantly being challenged to respond to not only, the formal goals and objectives of their jobs, but also, the many new and interesting opportunities that are presented. Because a successful search relies on a highly effective search process, the search consultant needs to be at once, highly disciplined relative to follow the approved project plan, but, flexible and resilient to the surprises and set-backs that can occur.
As we presented our first round of candidates we knew that we had a very solid understanding of what it would take for the hired candidate to succeed in his or her new job. This confidence translated into our ability to represent the opportunity to well qualified/sophisticated candidates in a way that anticipated the majority of the questions they had about the job. Of course, there were some candidates who we presented that we felt were excellent but who the client felt did not measure up. This is part of any search process. We never want to rush candidates into an interview who are not “right”. We listen, suck it up and avoid too much debate because we have learned over the years that once a client decides a candidate isn’t right, the decision invariably stands. Calibration is necessary even when the SPEC is perfect. We remained flexible and open to feedback so we could make the course corrections needed to lead us to just the right candidates.
Result Within several weeks of the official start date we met and interviewed with a candidate who clearly seemed to have the necessary experience, style and attributes to do the job. Importantly, he was motivated to move on from his current position. He wanted to be with a bigger organization with more long term opportunity and stay in his current residence. We introduced him to the client within a week’s time and he was an instant hit. After several more interviews and due diligence that included detailed reference checking he was hired. Since joining the company the hired candidate has succeeded in implementing VTD across all the profit centers of the Division. After several years he accepted a promotion to head of Technology Development for the largest divisional operation. We subsequently have gone on to develop more business with this client ---and remain in regular contact with the hiring executive and hired candidate.