Tim Conti – Co-Founder of ON Search Partners

[quote style=”boxed”]As a service business, our brilliant ideas tend to be about how we execute. Seems to me, whether it is culture or ethics or process, intangibles spread best by example.[/quote]

In 2006, Tim Conti co-founded ON Search Partners, a quickly rising star in the retained executive search industry bringing a new client-centric business model to recruiting talent globally for high growth companies. ON Search Partners is a hybrid, offering the nimbleness and attention of a boutique search firm with the support and resources of a mega-firm. The company has grown to include offices based in Silicon Valley, Cleveland, Dallas and Washington, D.C. and specializes in high tech, cleantech and life sciences sectors.

Concentrating his practice on CXO, Vice President and Board level searches, Tim has built management teams across a broad swath of industries, particularly focused on the intersection of technology, energy and industry. He works closely with companies of all sizes to drive success through the identification and recruitment of key talent. Fascinated with the evolution of leadership and its impact on business development, he most enjoys the consultative aspect of his job, maneuvering clients through every step of building a viable team. Tim leverages his background as an intellectual property litigator and a certified public accountant in his role as a strategic advisor, helping clients assess potential candidates and negotiate the hiring process.

Where did the idea for ON Search Partners come from?

My partners and I were all previously at very large global executive search firms, but felt we could significantly improve the standard business model. Typically these mega-firms have partners whose main emphasis is selling, while junior associates, who may never meet a client execute the majority of the search. It’s well known that the completion rate for most of these mega-firms hovers somewhere around 60%. That means that more than a third of all jobs they take on are a complete waste of time for everyone involved, which is unacceptable by my personal standards and, honestly, also for our industry going forward. As we assessed the best practices in the industry, it seemed clear to us that we could create a hybrid model that offered clients the personal attention and consultation they deserved, coupled with a deep, highly specialized resources.

Our theory was this: If partners were freed from focusing only on business development and actually used their industry expertise to lead all aspects of execution, the speed and quality of a search would exponentially improve. Our statistics speak for themselves—ON Search Partners has a 95% search completion rate and an average time of 100 days to search completion with over a third completed in less than 75 days.

The model works because it drives meaningful results for our clients. And that means that we tend to develop long term relationships with our clients enabling us to focus on them, rather than new client development.

What are you working on right now?

The searches we do are always confidential, but I can say I consider myself to be seriously lucky to be able to immerse myself in the landscape of high growth sectors like big data, smart grid, mobile development, etc. These areas tend to attract some of the sharpest minds in the world, which means I’m constantly interacting with people significantly smarter than me which is a thrill.

As a firm, right now we are working on strategically expanding with a small number of like-minded search professionals — true consultants who buy into our client centric philosophy. It’s critical for us to manage our growth in a way that avoids eroding the value proposition that has made us uniquely successful in the first place. I think this is a struggle many businesses face.

What does your typical day look like?

My typical day is spent on a mix of working with clients, interviewing potential candidates, and following through on internal firm projects. I might do this from my office in Cleveland, or on the plane, or wherever I might be consulting clients or interviewing candidates. Every action is geared to ensuring my clients make great hiring decisions.

As a firm, this consultative aspect of our business model is the foundation of our search process – so we strive to not only be experts in our chosen industries of practice, but to constantly improve all aspects of our business employee by employee. Every internal project is geared to ensuring we recognize and adopt best practices for every process. Hard to be a plausible consultant if you don’t live up to your own advice.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As a service business, our brilliant ideas tend to be about how we execute. Seems to me, whether it is culture or ethics or process, intangibles spread best by example. A good leader doesn’t just sit around and tell people what to do, but demonstrates the value of an action by demonstrating it within their own execution. My team is more likely to buy into a needed approach or improvement by seeing the benefits I am realizing or process I’m modeling.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would bring subject matter experts (ie., marketing, finance, etc.) in earlier to really drive our development. In the early days we tried to do everything ourselves and execute our services exceptionally. Something has to give and typically it’s those things you aren’t most drawn to do. We would have operated more efficiently if we had brought in talent to execute those business functions while the partners concentrated on what we did best.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The impact that technology has on business and its structure fascinates me. The thought leadership about how to get business done that’s coming out of the IT department these days is driving more and more companies to move towards incorporating the cloud and virtualization into their products, services, even their internal functions, causing them to build out their infrastructure. It’s stating the obvious, but it’s still exciting…the face of business as usual will be completely different in a few years.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The first several years of my career I spent as an attorney. While I appreciate the need that we served, the job itself was not a good fit for me. I struggled to accept the time to resolution that many of my cases faced. Having said that, being an attorney taught me many valuable skills – preparation, organization, interviewing techniques – which I now apply on a daily basis. It also brought home to me that passion is a key element to whether a job suits you and you suit a job — a lesson I apply every day when looking for the best candidate for a client’s open position.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do it?

Stay plugged in with other entrepreneurs. You need to recognize that you don’t know everything. You can learn so much from other entrepreneurs as they have or are developing their businesses through similar stages. Even if your industries are miles apart, there are still synergies to be benefited from. Don’t think you know it all ever.

What is the one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think it is always hard to make time to step away and look at your business as a business, especially when you are instrumental in the day to day execution of the service/product. Ensuring that clients are happy is key, but so too is ensuring that your business is healthy, employees are motivated and feel valued, and that your value proposition is not being threatened by your growth.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Don’t assume that there’s a client or customer too big for you to serve. Don’t be afraid to go elephant hunting if you truly believe in the product or service you are offering.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

The cost of a college education is an obstacle for so many very talented folks. Costs are simply rising out of control. So as a market, we are losing great leaders, technologists, inventors, because they never move past that hurdle. Virtualization is the key to driving down those costs. But it’s not going to be enough. Somewhere the public and private sectors have to put their heads together and, as a nation, embrace the fact that without a highly-educated workforce to lead global technological innovation, our economic decline is guaranteed.

Tell us a secret.

No one cares about your objective. It’s the most useless information on a resume. In order to have any value, resumes should focus on tangible accomplishments. Ok…you have/had a job, some education and/or awards and, that’s nice, but tell us…what have you done with all that? Why are you a superstar that’s going to drive my bottom line/propel my start-up/take my company to the next level?

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Greentech Media, Hoovers and GigaOm are the three resources I look at everyday to keep my finger on the pulse of my markets.

What is the one book that you recommend our community read and why? ?

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is important in my world. It includes great ideas on how businesses should approach innovation. Its relevance is further increased since the book comes up frequently in discussions I have with candidates.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Efficiency is important when you wear multiple hats in your life…so my three favorite follows aren’t individual people, but compilations:

@techstartups – Technology, venture capital, entrepreneurship, and investing are all discussed on this feed.
@CleanTechies – It covers green technology, alternative energy, and other sustainable innovative resource usage news.
@ManagementTip – HarvardBusiness.org shares management tips that can improve your business’ financial success .

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning …my kids…they are a constant source of fun.

Who are your heroes?

My grandfathers are both my heroes. Both were wounded in WWII, came back and excelled at their passions. One was a successful entrepreneur; the other a respected politician. I couldn’t do any better than to follow their examples.

What is the biggest mistake a company can make when hiring senior leaders?

It happens all the time – someone’s resume gets him hired, but his inability to fit within the business’ culture gets him fired. Companies regularly fail to focus enough on whether a particular candidate will fit within their cultural structure. Paying close attention to whether someone will be able to navigate the waters before you hire him saves money, frustration and time. Skill sets and accomplishments are one thing, but if you don’t fit in at a company, you won’t be successful there.

What do you hope to see, but doubt you will, in your lifetime?

A championship for a Cleveland sports team – Cavs, Indians, Browns – I really don’t care which!


Tim Conti on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/tim-conti/0/8bb/1b6
Tim Conti Email: [email protected]
ON Search Partners website: www.onpartners.com
ON Search Partners on Facebook:
ON Search Partners on Twitter: @ONSearchPartner