C. William Guy Position: Founder and managing director, Cornerstone International Group Born: March 23, 1945, Dayton, Ohio. Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, CSUN. Most Admired Person: Mahatma Gandhi Personal: Married with two grown children By CHRISTOPHER WOODARD Staff Reporter When William Guy started out in the retained executive search business in the ’70s, the large firms wouldn’t give him the time of day. “I was well under 30, and most the people in the business were in their gray-haired period,” he says. “The majors wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” But then, some upstarts broke away from the stodgy mold and created Korn/Ferry International. Guy soon rose to the position of senior associate, later leaving to join New York-based Ward Howell International as senior partner and board member. Today, Guy, is managing director of Cornerstone International Group, a consortium of retained executive search firms he started in 1985. In the last two years, the consortium has seen a 500 percent increase in revenue growth thanks to increased corporate hiring. And Guy’s business plan calls for expanding the Glendale-based company’s network of firms to 75 within the next six months. Guy has longtime roots in the San Fernando Valley. He attended school in the area, and his dad, rocket scientist Charles William Guy, was a co-founder of Rocketdyne and one of the founders of Independence Bank, a now-defunct institution that was once the largest independent bank in the Valley. Question: What attracted you to the search business? Answer: I was doing general business consulting (after college), and in those days I had enough humility to know I didn’t have all the answers. So I would listen to the client’s needs and bring in people who were really good. Someone finally pulled me aside and said, “You know, you’re really doing executive search, you’re matching people to situations.” They suggested I try the business. I did, and it turned out I had a passion for it. I think that’s what has brought me success over the years. Q: You said your firm has seen a 500 percent jump in revenue in the past 24 months. What’s driving that growth? A: During the recession, everything dried up. Companies went into survival mode. Even if a company had an opening for an important position, they wouldn’t fill it. Also during the recession, they downsized. Sometimes two or three rounds. Many of our clients got rid of their bench strength, got rid of their middle management. As we came out of the recession, most of the companies began to increase their confidence level. As confidence increased, they were ready to grow, only they didn’t have the bench. So all of a sudden they were playing catch-up. And the search industry has just taken off. As much as it had imploded during the recession, now it’s exploding. The search industry now is seeing phenomenal growth at the local, national and international level. Q: How would you describe the differences between a retained executive search firm and a contingency search firm? A: The two are very different. A retained search firm does not market people at all. We’re hired by companies as evaluators. We’re paid up front. Our fees are not dependent on a placement, so there’s no incentive to force a wedding. We can look beyond the wedding to the marriage. Contingency search firms can, and will if they like you market you. But their fees are based on a placement. Consciously or unconsciously, they tend to force fit, to create a wedding, because if there’s no wedding there’s no fee. Contingency firms recruit and refer, we recruit and evaluate. They can argue all they want, but they’re really recruiters and we’re evaluators. Q: How should an executive go about looking for a job if she wants to do so discretely, without her employer finding out? A: They have to be careful. I do not recommend contingency firms if you’re quietly looking. Retained firms are a safer bet. We’re not pure but we’re closer to being pure. We don’t market people. Conversely, contingency firms some not all tend to be sloppy. And if you write to a whole bunch of contingency firms, you’re running a higher risk it will leak back to your employer. Q: What advice do you have for companies worried about getting their talent picked off by executive search firms? A: Many employers make my job easy because they don’t treat their employees properly. Many employers don’t keep checking the marketplace to see if they’re competitive. And it’s not always who pays the most money. Years ago, it was difficult to get people from Marriott because the people weren’t overpaid but they were over-loved. Willard Marriott treated people exceptionally well, so it was hard to recruit from there. Today, companies have lost that attitude. Conversely, if you buy somebody, ultimately somebody is going to buy him or her from you. If you compensate people with genuine appreciation, and you help them grow professionally, you have a better chance of retaining them. Q: What are major corporations looking for in terms of executives these days? A: If a person has a sterling background, better schooling or higher level of education and a brand-name employer, they’re probably more desirable from our client’s perspective and more desirable from the search firm’s perspective. We’re paid to figure out who are the A-plus people and come up with the A-plus match. If someone is that good, invariably they’re employed and in good jobs. So the search firms have to pry them out. Q: What can an executive expect in the way of compensation in a new job? A: Historically, if someone is currently employed, they have leverage. Employers will typically offer some incentive for them to come, typically 10, 15 or 20 percent. Conversely, if an employer has lots of choices, and a lot of people are hungry for the job, they may just take the lowest bid of the people on the short list. If someone is unemployed, the company will likely offer what the person had been making because the person has no leverage. If you are unemployed, like it or not, form a business. If you’re self-employed, even if it’s an interim step, you have some leverage. Q: Do executives face age bias out there? A: I wish I could say it didn’t exist, but it does. There is a bias and it has gotten tighter. When I started 30 years ago, the age bias was probably 30 to 55. At 52 or 53 you’d be discriminated against. Whether they told you to your face or made an excuse, you wouldn’t have very good luck getting a job. Today, because of merger mania, we’ve probably moved down five clicks. Now they’re looking for someone 30 to 50 with an MBA. So the guy who is 47, 48 is starting to run into discrimination. Q: What should older executives do to compete? A: I would suggest they go back and get their MBA if they don’t have one. They should also dramatically increase their computer knowledge if they’re not already computer literate. Otherwise, they’ll be dinosaurs. Even if they’re only 45, they may be competing with a 35-year-old who already has a 10-year track record and a master’s. There’s too much importance placed on education. But that’s a fact of life, like it or not. So go back and improve your education. There are plenty of excellent MBA programs in the area, at UCLA and USC and Pepperdine that are designed for mid-career people. Q: What are the prospects for women and minorities advancing in the corporate world? A: I’d say they’re excellent. I do a lot of diversity search for women and minorities. When I started out it was hard to find good people. Some of the people out there were there because of their gender or race. Today, there are a lot of people out there who are good, who happen to be minority or female. Also, the precedent has been established. There’s still a lot of chauvinism out there, but it’s far less than it was 10 years ago. Q: What’s the pay scale for executives you place, and how much does your company receive for its evaluation? A: In retained executive search, if you charted it out on a bell curve, salaries start at about $75,000 and peak at about $125,000 to $150,000. Occasionally, you get one that’s $1 million. We get a third of annual compensation. If someone is paid $300,000, our fee would be $100,000. That’s a lot of money, but companies are willing to pay that for the assurance they’re getting the right person. Q: What do you need in terms of attributes to do your job well? A: Having a passion for the marriage rather than the wedding. Most people in executive search are good wedding makers and not good marriage makers. Also, we try to treat people with dignity and courtesy. We’re very guilty in the search business with treating job seekers very poorly. These are people who are out of work, they’re frightened and often they’re treated without dignity. Well, that’s not the way I was raised, so I always try to treat people with dignity.