Tindall Sewell, partner at ON Partners, shares five key insights into the state of the operating partner role in 2021
Tindall Sewell, a partner with ON Partners who builds executive leadership teams at growth equity, private equity, and Fortune 500 companies, offers insights on the state of the operating partner (OP) role, its relationship to the CEO, and how OPs can help to build more diverse boards. She also shares how she made her way into executive search, her favorite engagements, and what she learned in 2020. Sewell’s work in the last year has included executive search engagements for growth and private equity organizations such as Marlin Equity Partners, Tailwind Capital, Littlejohn, Francisco Partners, and Sunstone Capital.
Following are key observations from Sewell while working with a range of leading organizations, OPs, and CEOs over the past year.
Insight 01: While the OP role is typically a step before retirement given the needed experience, the OP’s I’ve been talking to and working with say they’re working harder now than ever before, balancing the role of coach with being deep in the weeds of three or four companies.
Insight 02: Operating partners can be an interesting way to build more diverse boards: When a PE firm hires an OP, that person will likely serve on as many as four boards because it’s a full-time role. Hiring a diverse candidate as an OP therefore automatically creates several more diverse boards.
Insight 03: PE firms are typically backing management teams, not companies, so putting the most experienced and talented candidates in place is key. An OP must balance being trusted by the portfolio company while also serving as an advocate for the investor and acting as a liaison between them.
Insight 04: When an OP is a former CEO with multiple exits, it can potentially give more leeway to a first-time CEO, who is typically not coming in with his or her own playbook and can learn from the OP’s experience. This creates a nice balance when you need to recruit a first-time CEO with specific industry knowledge or drive to get his/her first exit.
Insight 05: Investors kept CEOs in place through COVID to lead through the pandemic so expect the market for CEOs to heat up during 2021. For example, just in Q1 2021, I’ve placed two CEOs and one operating partner.
Meet Tindall Sewell – Q&A Session
What have been some of your favorite engagements at ON Partners as an executive recruiter?
I love affecting change at the Board/Operating Partner and CEO level. The work I’ve done in the first quarter of 2021 has actually been some of my favorite engagements. I helped recruit the CEO of ArrowStream (Tailwind Capital), Operating Partner for Marlin Equity Partners, and CEO and Board Member of Nexa (Sunstone Capital).
What did you learn from 2020 and what do you expect in 2021?
Technology recruiting is in high demand right now. Private equity firms are deploying capital as we’ve never seen before, and the need for key executives to lead these companies is crucial. 2020 was a year of “not rocking the boat.” The pace of executive searches has also picked up given the use of video.
For me personally, 2020 was a year of learning how to prioritize and spend time where it’s needed in my life when routine habits are stripped away (and I thrive off of process and order).
How did you get into executive search?
After graduating from Davidson with a double major in Political Science and Spanish, I realized my true passion stemmed from what I learned as a captain of the volleyball team – leadership, building teams, mentoring younger players, and competing together.
I joined World 50, which was a membership-only community of Fortune 500 C-Suite executives. I first sold the memberships for the CMO group, and then I transitioned to organizing events and connected members for Global 50, which was made up of CEOs and divisional presidents. I loved being a fly on the wall during the conversations and facilitating the connections for executives around succession planning, boards, and global leadership. Talent was the heart of every conversation, so I wanted to build a career around it.
Executive search is the perfect balance of solving problems with people. I love being the matchmaker and enjoy continuing to build relationships on a deeper level. ON Partners fits with my personal values since we’re built on building an experience with transparency and collaboration.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ON developed a series of experience-driven tools designed to help clients and candidates, including an executive assessment and onboarding guide; tips on how to interview virtually; and a collective forecast from ON consultants about what to expect post-pandemic across several industries, including supply chain, eCommerce, private equity, telecom and telemedicine, software and life sciences.
ON Partners propels an organization’s mission by building C-level and board leadership teams. Founded in 2006 by like-minded consultants as a values-driven alternative to the multi-service global firms they were leaving behind, ON delivers a better executive search experience. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists seven times, the firm is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S. For more information, see our results here.
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