MAY 18, 2020 ─ All of us at ON Partners are excited to celebrate the firm’s 15th anniversary this month! First, we want to thank our ON community of executive leaders for the partnership and trust throughout the years. Since the very beginning in 2006, we have always been focused on the executive search experience, with the goal of designing a values-driven firm from the ground up that delivers a collaborative, accessible, and transparent experience for clients and candidates alike.
To honor this 15th-anniversary milestone and the experience we have delivered over the years, several members of the ON team weigh in on how the market has evolved, opportunities, challenges, and surprises along the way. There’s some well-deserved reminiscing, but more importantly, they offer insights about the industry, its evolution, and the importance of a better executive search experience. Read on to hear from our executive search consultants.
A scrappy startup
Bryan Buck, Partner: “We started off focused on semiconductors and optics. There were 1,000 companies between those two industries. Now there are 20. Fortunately, the technology innovation and application expansion, and the strong relationships we’ve built over time, have allowed us to be incredibly relevant in following the market trends – be it solar and LED lighting, IoT/connected devices, AI/ML, autonomous vehicles/everything, consumer marketplaces, gig economy, biotech innovations, non-tech companies needing to become tech companies, and others. Our technology backbone has continued to put us at the intersection of highly relevant and planet-impacting trends.”
“I joined in October 2008, about two weeks before the “crash.” With few exceptions, it may have been the worst time to join a boutique retained executive search firm. But we were scrappy. In a lot of ways, our firm – and our ‘no mahogany walls’ business model – was designed to withstand it. We made it through ’08 – ’09 by doing great execution. Most other firms our size didn’t make it. We came out stronger – adding Suzanne (Zebedee), Andy (Hickman), and a few others shortly thereafter that absolutely changed our scale, trajectory and momentum. Now fast forward to March 2020 and again, we were scrappy. And we came out of it with unparalleled momentum.”
Tim Conti, Managing Partner: “Brand building was the biggest challenge particularly in the early days. Each individual partner had a solid practice and set of client relationships, but the ON brand was not well known, so it made winning work with new clients difficult.”
Nina McMaster, Consultant: “When I joined ON Partners, we were a 20-person firm. Coming from a larger firm, the initial challenge I encountered was around a lack of resources. Since that time, we’ve evolved to a very user-friendly database with great client-facing features, and we have access to some of the best data and research platforms out there to be successful. And our industry focus is much broader, including consumer, healthcare IT, and optics, among other areas.”
Shifts in the firm & the market
Tim Conti: “There have been dramatic changes. Our elevation amongst industry peers is at the top of the list. The brand recognition is a close second. With the addition of new partners has come the diversification of our practice areas. Our origins were in technology, but we’ve since expanded into areas such as consumer, life sciences, and industrial, while building functional expertise in the areas of finance, IT, supply chain, and digital.”
Nina McMaster: “We have expanded our reach in terms of industries and functions that we recruit for. We now have a dedicated board services practice. Talent is more educated and informed about the market, and advanced platforms have allowed for people to stay very connected and aware of what is happening in the market.”
Matt Mooney, Partner: “We have gone through the typical growing pains in many ways. Most important has been maintaining our entrepreneurial spirit while implementing overall business processes around technology, HR and other corporate functions. When I joined in 2015 we did not have much of an external brand and we were just learning how to collaborate internally.”
“Sectors have expanded significantly in the last six years. The breadth of experience has shifted dramatically beyond core tech, while at the same time, the definition of technology has expanded as well. We now have very credible stories in life sciences, consumer, industrial, supply chain and a number of other sectors.”
“Our talent has continued to upgrade to match our growth. The caliber and trajectory of our younger talent far exceeds most of our old partners like me, and in conjunction, we have a much better platform and brand for them to continue to build their careers. We have created an ideal model for established partners and for rising talent to make a major impact in this industry.”
On a growth path
Tim Conti: “In reflection, the 2008-2009 great recession proved to be an incredible growth opportunity for us. In the few years that followed, we added several key partners from other global firms as they had become disenchanted with the bigger firms during the downturn due largely to the lack of voice they had in the firm. We were able to offer them a more nimble and client-centric platform, a voice in decision-making, a transparent compensation plan, and the most collaborative partnership in the industry.”
Matt Mooney: “This place just buzzed with energy when the Class of 2015 arrived. In some ways, I’m not sure if this crowd knew how good they could be and what they were starting to build. It was clearly the best-kept secret in the industry and just needed a match to start the fire. The simple compensation plan, lack of drama internally, and openness to new ideas fueled some of the most legitimate, sustainable growth in the industry.”
“The biggest surprise to me is how fast it took off when everything started to click. Intuitively, we knew that if we did great search work, maintained a great culture, and started to do a better job telling our story, the market would respond positively, but the last four years have been a pleasant shock to see.”
Bryan Buck: “We’ve gone from seven to 60 people since I’ve been here. It was a bit surreal sitting in our last companywide offsite, looking around, and seeing just how far we’ve come. Most companies don’t make it past five years, and even fewer past 10. Through a lot of hard work – and luck – we’ve been able to build something really special and resilient around great people.”
Nina McMaster: “The firm has grown tremendously in the seven and a half years that I have been with ON. From a business perspective, we have expanded our reach in terms of industries we recruit in. From an employee perspective, we’ve grown 3X in size and expanded our diversity footprint. We’ve rebranded ourselves to focus on the areas of collaboration, transparency, and accessibility. While those have always been the values we operate by, the rebranding has reinforced our strengths in those areas. We’ve always strived to deliver the best experience, but now have additional data to measure and reinforce this.”
Josh Nathanson, Partner: “The kind of work has changed, from Venture to PE and public companies. And we’ve seen a big increase in high-profile projects. In 2007, we never would have gotten the CFO search at a public company. Venture-backed work to public company work at the board and c-suite level has been an incredible shift.”
Matt Mooney: “The biggest change is this continued gain in confidence and swagger. We understand that we have something special here and for ON employees, our clients, and our candidates, this is a differentiated experience that benefits everyone. We still have a ways to go but just seeing the whole team start to believe that we are building something unique is rewarding.”
Bryan Buck: “One of our biggest opportunities if not the biggest is creating the next generation of excellent, execution-oriented retained executive search partners. Our ‘partner you see is the partner you get’ search philosophy has been a differentiator since day one. As others continue to broaden their portfolio offerings well beyond retained executive search, we have an opportunity to perfect our (search) craft and develop the next wave of outstanding partners. We’ve never been an ‘all things to all people’ type of firm. But we are – and will continue to be – the best top-down executors in the industry.”
About ON Partners
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.
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