Podcast: Using An Executive Search Firm To Find the Right Talent in this Age of Online Marketplaces with Bob Damon

January 16, 2020

James Thomson

James Thomson

Partner at Buy Box Experts

Listen to the podcast

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [01:44] What do executive search organizations do?
  • [03:30] Where are brands getting digital & e-commerce talent?
  • [05:50] Bob’s work as an advisor & board member
  • [07:09] Selling on Amazon vs other retail channels
  • [09:33] Changes in executive search due to e-commerce 
  • [11:53] The role of the board & management teams on online market places
  • [13:33] Bob’s biggest turning points as a board member and advisor
  • [17:41] Bob’s biggest accomplishments
  • [21:31] Bob’s best advice received from mentors
  • [23:19] Bob’s advice to brands on using an executive search team

Resources Mentioned on this episode

Sponsor for this episode

Buy Box Experts applies decades of e-commerce experience to successfully manage clients’ marketplace accounts. The Buy Box account managers specialize in combining an understanding of clients’ business fundamentals and an in-depth expertise in the Amazon Marketplace.

The team works with marketplace technicians using a system of processes, proprietary software, and extensive channel experience to ensure your Amazon presence captures the opportunity on the marketplace, not only producing greater revenue and profits, but also reducing or eliminating your business’ workload.

Buy Box Experts prides itself on being one of the few agencies with an SMB (small to medium-sized business) division and an Enterprise division. Buy Box does not commingle clients among divisions as each has unique needs and requirements for proper account management.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:17
Welcome to the Buy Box Experts Podcast with your host, Joseph Hansen. We bring to light the unique opportunities brands face and today’s e-commerce world. And now here’s your host, Joseph Hansen.

James Thomson 0:33
Hi, I’m James Thompson, one of the hosts of the Buy Box Experts Podcast. I’m a partner at Buy Box Experts and formerly the business head of selling on Amazon team at Amazon, as well as the first account manager for the Fulfillment by Amazon program. I’m the co-author of The Amazon Marketplace Dilemma and co-founder of The Prosper Show, one of the largest continuing education conferences for Amazon sellers in North America. Today’s episode is brought to you Buy Box Experts. Buy Box Experts Podcast takes ambitious brands and makes them unbeatable. And you hire Buy Box Experts you receive the strategy, optimization and marketing performance to succeed on Amazon Buy Box Experts is the only agency that combines executive-level advisory services with expert performance management and execution of your Amazon channel strategy. Today, our guest is Bob Damon, partner at Venture Partners an executive search firm specializing in placement of very senior executives and board members. Bob has helped to place dozens of CEOs and senior e commerce executives in major brands that are well known to consumers. So welcome, Bob. And thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts Podcast.

Bob Damon 1:40
Thank you, James. My pleasure.

James Thomson 1:44
So I think for us to get started, it would be a great question. For those who are listening. They’re not familiar with your industry. Please help us understand what do executive search organizations like yours do?

Bob Damon 1:57
Sure. I think the best way describe our, our organization as you think about the CIA for the business world. So, we are retained by companies. We work mostly with small and mid cap businesses. And we are retained to find senior leaders across basically the C suite CIO CEO, coo direct reports head of E comm head of digital etc etc. And so, you know, we are retained so we are paid the way you would pay a law firm on a retainer on a monthly basis while we go through a search. And basically we will sit down with with the hiring leader and discuss what they want in the role what the what the success profile looks like, what they want the person to accomplish the first year or two. We develop a spec which we use as the road map to screen candidates against and then we actively go out and recruit passive job people. So these are people that are never necessarily looking for a job, but we’re after the best and brightest talent, who are who are actively employed engaged. And it’s our job to convince them that making a career move is a good thing for them. So it’s a very proactive approach. You know, we have a large database, we maintain files on, you know, the best and brightest across mostly the consumer industries. And that’s how we do our job.

James Thomson 3:29
So you talked about some of these roles being digital or e commerce in nature. Over the past 10 years, certainly brands have had to become more adaptive and think about e commerce in more of a strategic manner. Whereas all this new talent coming from at brands that folks that actually understand how e commerce works, how online marketplaces work, what what are some of the challenges you’re seeing and how do you how do you meet those challenges?

Bob Damon 3:55
Yeah, you know what, James? That’s a great question. And I would say to any of you our listeners today that it is a great time to be in the digital e commerce business. Because the supply the supply demand curve for talented, you know digital e commerce experts is way out of whack. There’s way more demand and supply. And if you look at you know, we call it the omni channel environment there’s two kinds of marketing people today there’s kind of a legacy people that started as classically trained consumer practic packaged goods brand people, and then they had to learn you know, and over the last five to eight years, the digital world and then you’ve got and they tend to be a little older. Then you’ve got the the younger crowd which is you know, the the the marketing types that grew up in native digital companies. And, you know, then they learn how to store retail and the brand side along the way. So, the markets pretty bifurcated, and it’s important to to really understand where the leverage is do you want someone that’s, that’s strong and digital and less on brand or strong on brand and brand management and less on digital, and it really depends on, you know, the needs of the business, but it is a great time, salaries, compensation for proven people that can migrate this on the channel. And because if you think about it on the channel means you have to have a product strategy. And you then you have a channel strategy, and the two have to be integrated, and they’re different because you’re going to be selling different products on different channels. So, you know, the demand for the people that have worked through that is just incredible. And compensation is, is is going up geometrically for these people.

James Thomson 5:50
A part of your role as being an advisor or board member to some of your clients. How does your experience dealing with and finding talent help you become a better advisor to this firms

Unknown Speaker 6:01
Well, if you look at

Unknown Speaker 6:06
I think sitting on a board

Bob Damon 6:09
it gives you a great perspective because traditionally, boards have had financial experts on them, manufacturing experts on them you know, and and, and and the Human Resources side of boards has been neglected. But in the last five years, a lot of companies have realized that they’ll have no matter how good your strategy is, and no matter how much money you have to grow your business, if you haven’t got the talent, it will work. So so you know, boards are becoming more aware that having a talent management expert on the board is helpful for operations. And I would say that, you know, having been in business, myself being a strategy consultant for three years as well as a marketeer. I’ve been in the Share, I know what to look for. And so I understand all of the issues. So that that’s been a real big help for me as well.

James Thomson 7:09
Some of your clients certainly sell products on Amazon, as a board member, how do you look at the Amazon channel differently from other retail channels where your brands might otherwise be selling?

Bob Damon 7:22
Boy, that’s a loaded question, James.

Bob Damon 7:25
So keep in mind, I work with a lot of small and mid cap companies. And, you know, all of them, for the most part are saying, Well, you know, gee, the the revenue growth we can get out of Amazon is great. But she, you know, we’re not going to be able to control a brand as much as Amazon. So I say most small and mid cap companies kind of look at Amazon as as a necessary evil. Yes. The enlightened companies and by the way, a lot of smart Cap companies don’t have the in house expertise to really, you know, game the system, if you will, and figure out how to maximize your exposure on Amazon I think, you know, I got exposure to buy box with three companies where I sit on the board. You know, one is the global leader in music, which is the zildjian company. The second is a fitness company called tr x. And the third is, is a bedding products disruptive bedding product company called sheiks, and all three were virtual, you know, young people in terms of not understanding Amazon. And so, you know, by by utilizing external source, who are really experts, it kind of opened up the black box, if you will of Amazon and has helped these three companies, you know, maximize their ability to To add an additional channel and help grow the businesses, but you know, they do it with, you know, with some trepidation and a little nervousness, I saw recently that Nike just decided to not continue with their experiment on Amazon. And it’s simply because, you know, they, they want to control their brand. So I think it’s a good thing to do for small and mid cap companies you think about they are to get some outside help and expertise to debug all of the myths of doing that and then kind of see how it goes.

James Thomson 9:33
So so as e commerce becomes more important inside brand organizations, how has that changed what you do in executive search? We talked about certainly filling more digital roles. Are there other things that you’ve had to do in the executive search space to to help companies become better ready for e commerce?

Bob Damon 9:53
Yeah, I think it’s being proactive with companies. Insurance have, you know, they haven’t had much experience in the in the budgeting process, you know, for the spend in the on the channels for the kinds of staff that they need and how much that’s going to cost. So I think, you know, in this digital age, you know, helping companies think proactively about, you know, how much resource you’re going to need, what are you going to hire internally where you’re going to hire extra use extra resources, and helping them think through the whole strategic approach to the digital age is is kind of where we are, how it’s changed. I think. I think the other thing is that the backgrounds of digital econ people are very different traditionally, in the old days, James, you know, you wanted to see someone have a resume where they they spent, you know, four or five, six years with one company, then move to another company for three or four. Five years, but but had been with a, you know, a different company so that you could see that they could be successful in different environments. But also were there long enough to kind of live with the issues. What we’re seeing with digital econ people is that, you know, there’s a lot more job movement and and they’ll stay with a company a year or two, you know, get the digital function up and running, build it, and then they get bored and they want to move on to something else. So they almost become serial econ people, and so convincing, you know, more traditional companies look at a resume differently, that you’re going to see much more movement in digital marketing people than you would expect. It has been an interesting challenge, but that’s a big difference.

James Thomson 11:53
So let me ask you, Bob, one of the biggest challenges that our Buy Box Experts organization is face with prospective clients. Lack of willingness by senior executives to evolve the way they go to market. Now that online marketplaces add unique pricing and distribution control pressures, how do you see leadership teams coming to grip? The online marketplaces need to be managed more assertively more aggressively, more actively?

Bob Damon 12:23
I you the role of myself and the board as being educators. And so, you know, you know, we are constantly shooting our clients, you know, papers, articles, you know, what’s going on and digital. Why did this company do why did you know this company do that? And there’s a big educational role with the management teams of these of these companies on the online marketplace, and the benefits and And, you know, so I think there’s a big educational piece that needs to get done by us. And that’s really opening their eyes. But, you know, it’s interesting, James, it’s it’s a much easier sell now than it was five years ago. Because you know, people are seeing the success that you have in the online marketplace. So, but I think it’s just a continual educational process that we we do with our clients to show them the benefits of it.

James Thomson 13:33
So let’s shift gears here. I’d like to think back across your whole career and look at what was one of the biggest turning points for you as a board member or as an advisor, you realize you were bringing a type of value that you felt comfortable doing what you’re doing.

Bob Damon 13:53

James Thomson 13:57
I think that a turning point.

Bob Damon 14:01
For me, and I’ll answer this a little differently was I was a strategy, I was a consultant at Booz Allen and, you know, we’d go into a company and we would we would develop a strategy to help the company grow. And then we would look at the talent pool. Yes, the existing talent pool in the company, and we say, Well, you know, gee, based on the talent that you have, you know, you’re not going to be able to optimize your strategy. And so then that was a turning point in my career. I said, wow, you know, the people are more important than the strategy and that’s kind of what led me to slide over to the people side. I think so that was probably the other big turning point is when, you know, people tend to look at things around Our human behavior is black and white. And it’s not black and white, it’s gray. And there’s no right or wrong answer in a lot of situations. And just, you know, realizing that that you’re dealing with a lot of gray area was a second 30 turning point. Third turning point was I always wondered, most companies traditionally hire based on someone’s resume, right? They they look at their resume, they, you know, they look where they went to school. They look if they were with blue chip companies, and they screen everybody based on the resume. The irony of hiring people just based on their resume is that the vast majority of people get fired because of a bad fit with the organization. Right. So the turning point with for me was realizing that assessing someone’s cultural fit and Operating style fit for a particular company is way more important than the resume. And that was a big turning point.

James Thomson 16:09
Even companies that we may aspire to work for we may not understand as prospective employees that we’re not a good fit. And so it sounds to me like part of your role is actually helping candidates to understand that they’re not a good fit.

Bob Damon 16:22
Sure. I mean, we all there’s all kinds of stories of incredibly successful people in one company that crashed and burned. And another one, I have to be a little careful here, but there’s one fairly public one. The the genius behind Apple’s retail His name is going to escape me now. But you know, he created the Genius Bar, he grew apples retail, you know, to make it the powerhouse of the was he was recruited to become the CEO for JC Penney. And he JC Penney, and it just didn’t work. You know, he was, you know, mutually by mutual agreement. He decided to leave. And so it wasn’t that he wasn’t an incredibly talented leader. It was just that, you know, what it took to be successful at Apple, it took a very different mindset to be successful or not at JC Penney. Now, looking forward, you know, you could probably say, well, gee, could anybody have exceeded succeeded with JC Penney given some of their travails, but, but so that’s an example where just because you’re successful in one company, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful in another.

James Thomson 17:35
Certainly, we’ve all worked with people who have great resumes, who are not good colleagues, and I certainly, yeah. So So tell me a little bit about a moment where you’re especially proud of a big success you had in your career. Talk to me about something that made an important difference to you as as a professional and you said, I’m really glad that I was able to do this. It makes a big difference to me and it’s a major point of success. For me as a national.

Bob Damon 18:03
Okay, I’ll give you two examples one big and one small. I had the privilege to be part of the myself and another partner to lead the search for the commissioner for the National Football League. And it was, you know, one of the most interesting and challenging times in my career because it was very public search. People in this country are way more interested in who leads the sports organizations then who leaves corporate America. And, you know, we had 32, you know, billionaire owners, who, who all had input into what the commissioner should be, and thought that they probably knew more about recruiting than we did. And we had to be very, very secretive in terms of who the candidates were and And every month, we had a goal in front of the owners and an owners meeting and present the progress on the search. So it was highly visible, very pressure oriented. A lot of people weighing in, and it was just an exhilarating experience. The other is, I think what people don’t realize about what we do is, you know, we change people’s lives every day. Because when you think about a person, what are the most, you know, emotionally significant events in someone’s life? Well, you know, buying a house for the first time, getting married, and getting divorced, and getting a new job changing jobs. So when you think about those major for emotional events in someone’s life, you know, we take it very seriously because, again, we’re working with people who are Happily employed where they are. And we’re trying to convince them to change their life, move their family for another opportunity. So, you know, it makes a big difference. And we take that seriously. So when we see a situation where we move someone and it becomes wildly successful, that makes me feel good. So I will, I will mention a second situation. I won’t mention the company but we recruited a person out of a, you know, a fortune 500 company to go in as the CEO of a of a midsize new nutrition company that was backed by a private equity firm. And this individual went in, in the course of 18 months, built a team tweak the strategy, and they were acquired by a strategic buyer 18 months into this new CEO tenure. And, you know, the management team and he, you know, ended up with his equity stake being worth $25 million more than he was when he joined the company. So, you know, that makes me feel good because, you know, we, we, we change someone’s life. So those are the two things,

James Thomson 21:22
but you also put the right person in the role for that to help help drive growth so that that’s we put

Bob Damon 21:27
the right person in the role to help drive growth. Yes, it’s great. So,

James Thomson 21:31
share with share with our listeners today. One of the best pieces of advice that you’ve received from mentors over your career.

Unknown Speaker 21:44
I think that

Unknown Speaker 21:48
that perseverance

Bob Damon 21:52
wins out over anything else. IQ work experience etc. And so I think that especially with entrepreneurs, you know, you know, entrepreneurs have a different chip in them. Because if any, if anybody knew all the obstacles I, one of my colleagues I, I had the opportunity to work with, with Kevin Plank, who founded underarmor in the early days, and Kevin would always say, if I knew what it was gonna was going to take to build a company, I never would have done it. Right. So I think the piece of advice that I would give to people is that, you know, perseverance pays off. And you know that the second thing is that you have to be an optimist because bad things are going to happen throughout your career, and you got to park them. I always I heard a question. Yeah the day there’s a reason why the rearview mirror in an automobile is small, much smaller than the windshield. Because what what what’s what’s going on behind you is not nearly as important as what’s going on in front of you. So I would say the two pieces of advice is persevere and stay optimistic.

James Thomson 23:19
So let me ask you one final question, Bob. A lot of brands are listening today. What What is the single piece of advice that you would give those brands who are looking to use an executive search team today to build their digital organization?

Bob Damon 23:35
There are a lot of firms out there that you know, the tell you the same thing, you know, I mean, you know, we’ve done this, you know, we’ve done this search this search in this search, you know, you know, where the best firm to do that. So I would say a couple of piece of advice, firms don’t fill jobs people do. So the first thing you should be looking at is Who is that search person? Who’s going to be working with you? You know? Do you feel like they can be a partner? Do you feel like you could sit next to them on an airplane for five hours and not be bored? Do you think that they will be a terrific ambassador for your company as they go out into the marketplace? So I think first piece of advice would be to choose a firm based on the person that’s going to be working with you, and not necessarily the reputation of the firm. The second piece of advice I would say is, you know, I want to talk to a client or two of yours where it didn’t work out where the search failed, for whatever reason. And then the third piece of advice is, I would say, when you’re doing a reference on the person, ask them, you know, of all the people that you worked with who would be your biggest critic, I’d like to talk to them So I think if you use those three pieces of advice, you’ll land with a search person that can fill the assignment for you.

James Thomson 25:08
Thank you, Bob. For those of you interested in learning more about Bob’s executive search company, visit Ventura dash partners.com. Bob, many thanks for being on our show today. We appreciate your time and your insights.

Bob Damon 25:21
James, thank you. You guys do great work and and you always make me look good.

James Thomson 25:30
Thank you, Bob.

James Thomson 25:31
Okay, guys. Thanks for listening to the Buy Box Experts Podcast, be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web, and we’ll see you next time.