EXECUTIVE HIRING IN THE AEROSPACE + DEFENSE, TECH AND INDUSTRIAL SECTORS: INSIGHTS FROM ALEX PELAK

Jun 13, 2022

  • Consolidation across several large mature industries makes them ripe for disruption through automation and streamlined processes.

  • Tech and operations talent is in especially high demand, with much of that talent coming from Fortune 200 companies.

  • In this dynamic environment, it is critical to make hiring matches that align in terms of culture as well as skillset, capabilities, and the ability to problem-solve. 

Meet Alex Pelak


A partner with ON Partners, Alex Pelak is focused on the technology, aerospace and defense, and industrial sectors. His recent work includes CXO- and VP-level placements for technology providers including lidar, optoelectronics, semiconductor, advanced materials, and consumer electronics clients.

Pelak shares his insights on the evolution of these mature industries, executive positions in demand, and the biggest opportunities for executives within these sectors.

What executive roles are in demand right now?

Consolidation is happening in more mature industries including semiconductor, aerospace and defense, and photonics. AI and machine learning and robotics and automation are having a massive impact so these markets are ripe for disruption through better technology, improved automation, and more streamlined processes that can better serve clients and their business needs.

With that in mind, tech and operations talent, in particular, is in high demand. Some of the biggest opportunities and challenges we’re seeing with clients are in tech and operations – including COO to SVP of operations, VP engineering/R&D, as well as technical experts in very specific categories where companies haven’t yet been able to build out that muscle.

When you consider we’re operating in a market in which so many companies are constrained by fractured supply chains and operational infrastructure challenges, many organizations are desperate for better solutions. What we’re finding is that in many ways, clients are often coming to us with unbelievably disruptive technologies and need our help bringing in the right leaders with the experience and skill set needed to further develop, commercialize, and scale them.

Legacy industries are really primed for disruption with better technology through automation and more streamlined processes to better do business with their clients.

Where are these executives coming from?

With a good portion of our work being with PE firms and small to midcap public companies, often candidates are coming from larger F200, more bureaucratic environments where they have either hit a ceiling or believe their talents are being underutilized.

Many of our roles give them the opportunity to use their experience, knowledge, and skillset to be highly impactful in accelerating the growth of a business that frequently has great technology and untapped potential. They’re able to roll up their sleeves and build, grow and scale to move at a much faster pace.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for these companies and for these executives?

For executive candidates, the biggest opportunity is effectively navigating and dissecting the multiple potential suitors that are pursuing them. This includes digging deep into a company’s culture, innovation, roadmap strategy, and impact potential in order to fully understand what is the best, next right move for this future career path.

In current market conditions, executives in these industries, at this level, are in very high demand and being actively pursued. Executives are having to sift through a ton of inbound interest to truly identify and understand what suitors have the right culture, scale, impact, and leadership team for them.

From a client standpoint, they should be asking what top-tier talent looks like in this market, what is affordable and attainable, and what will ultimately be the right fit for their organization.

The content and culture fit of a candidate should be prioritized far more than the shiny logo that they are coming from. Sometimes it’s the non-obvious that turns out to be the best fit – it’s the executive at a company under that radar that has the right experience, without necessarily having the F50 cache. In this dynamic environment, it is far more critical to make matches that align not only from a cultural standpoint but also in terms of skillset, capabilities, and ultimately problem-solving ability.

Are there any trends or things you find interesting for your practice areas in this market?

There has been some overlap where in many ways a lot of the AI, optoelectronics, machine learning, and advanced robotics pieces are impacting the more mature legacy industries. It’s been nice to be able to leverage our network and technology expertise to be increasingly impactful in working with companies across several of these industries that are looking for better options.

Within aerospace and defense, clients are seeking deeper system-level integration and end-to-end solutions to more effectively deliver products, services, and platforms that yield better results.

Within AI, optoelectronics, and machine learning, we’re certainly seeing continued investment and growth in hyper-scale and data center solutions, which continue to be in high demand.

If you were writing to future clients about what they need to know to get the right executive talent in the door, what would be your key message to them?

You have to be flexible on some level because this is a rapidly evolving environment. As search consultants, the better job we do of keeping our finger on the pulse of the market and communicating real-time data to our clients and candidates, the better prepared we are to help guide our clients to navigate this hot market for top-tier talent. So, when we provide that data, react and respond to it.

Timely responses and timely decision-making can make or break a process. When candidates have multiple suitors, weeks, let alone months, cannot go by without making next-step decisions on candidates. Momentum is the single biggest killer of any search process and in a market where demand is still outpacing supply for good talent, it can be fatal.

The more we can be flexible, the better likelihood that together we’re going to attract A++ talent.

What have been some of your favorite search assignments and why? 

A few of my favorite assignments over the past year have been with Steel Partners. We placed an awesome president for one of their portfolio companies, MTI, then had the opportunity to help them bring in some terrific talent to the leadership team: Head of Quality, Head of Operations, and Head of Sales & BD.

Others for which we have done extensive work across their portfolios include AEA Investors with APITech, Excelitas, and Traeger, among others. For AdeptAG, we did the CFO and VP of Sales searches backed by LLR Partners.

The common thread across these searches is that when you get to work with investors, CEOs, and other senior leaders to help build a great team, throughout that process you expand on those relationships and get to know these people better, and that’s why I love this business. When you do a great job, they want to do more, so little by little these clients become friends and part of your professional family.

See more of Alex Pelak’s executive search work here.

Meet Alex Pelak

About ON Partners

Since 2006, ON Partners is the only pure-play executive search firm building diverse C-level and board leadership teams. We rebuilt the institution of executive search for the way you work. Our approach includes present partners who engage with their clients from the first brief to the final decision, individually crafted solutions that are unique to each client, and an easier experience all around. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists eight times, ON Partners is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S.

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