In 2019, I wrote about changes in the workplace during the past 20 years. Little did any of us know two years ago of the dramatic changes ahead of us in 2020. I wrote last November of our new normal of no business travel, remote work policies, and how the pandemic widened the gender inequality gap. Now that we are vaccinated (hopefully), my road warrior colleagues and I are gradually traveling and returning to in-person meetings with our clients. We are heeding the awkward cues of individual preferences for shaking hands, waving, fist bumps, masks, or no masks. Thankfully, the humor in the awkwardness is a nice ice breaker.

As John F. Kennedy said, “There is nothing more uncertain and changing than uncertainty and change.” The permanence of the following pandemic-related workplace changes remains uncertain.

Working remotely

As companies continue to bring employees back to the office, permanent workforce policies are taking shape in various formats: employees who will continue to work full-time from home, hybrid in-office and remote work arrangements, and back to the office full-time. Companies continue to grapple with policies that best support their business, culture, and employees.

A 2021 list of remote working statistic reports:

  • 4.3 million people in the U.S. currently work remotely
  • 16% of the world’s companies are 100% remote
  • 44% of companies do not permit remote work
  • 74% of workers say that having the option to work remotely would make them less likely to leave a company

TAG colleague Jean Lenzner recently wrote that many employees working remotely do not want to return to the office, and one-third would look for a new job if they were required to return to the office full-time. While employees will undoubtedly dig in their heels (er slippers) to continue to work from home, many executives are bringing employees back into the office. The Managing Partner of a large Midwest law firm required all of the firm’s attorneys and staff to return to the firm’s offices. He said that his firm’s collaborative, team-oriented culture was bruised by the pandemic and that he considered in-person interaction invaluable to the success and growth of the firm: “we walk the halls, pop in offices when we have thoughts and ideas; the spontaneity and collaboration are not the same when you have to send someone a calendar invite with a Zoom link to talk to them.”

Working nine to five is no longer the way to make a living

Standard office hours may become a thing of the past and, as a recent Robert Half survey reported, nearly 70 percent of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends, and 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before. I frequently receive emails from clients and colleagues at all hours who have changed their sleeping and waking hours – some hoot with the owls, and others are soaring with the eagles. I regularly find several emails in my inbox when I get up in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning. The convenience of working from home also makes working convenient at any time. Perhaps it’s a blurring of home and office time, and although I find it essential to be responsive, I try not to respond with an incoherent message while half asleep at three in the morning.

The death of the suit and birth of ‘workleisure.’

When I packed for my first business trip earlier this year, I had to dust off and shine a pair of dress shoes and make sure that my suits still fit – they did, albeit they were snug. At the client’s office, I was overdressed and noted that many in the office were in comfortable casual attire. I would have been better served to take note that popular ‘workleisure’ dress for Zoom meetings is also acceptable in-office attire for many companies. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that more than two-thirds of American consumers plan to change their wardrobe from pre-pandemic styles as they return to the office to wear more comfortable clothes.

Video killed the radio star and is coming after business travel

As companies adapted to remote working, so did they to virtual meetings and conferences. A Deloitte survey reports that corporate travel is expected to reach 25 to 35 percent of 2019 levels this year but may increase to 65 to 80 percent next year. Although some believe that nothing beats in-person meetings, many companies are eager to reduce their travel expenses, and executives who previously traveled 80 to 100 percent of the time have adjusted to being home more than on the road. My partner John Lamar, who regularly traveled 300,000 miles a year pre-pandemic, is one of those people. He states, “One silver lining of the pandemic is that I realize I can maintain my client relationships by not being on the road four days a week plus I like being at home and the sense of normalcy it offers.”

Those of us in the executive search industry have mostly been strong advocates of in-person client meetings and candidate interviews. With more than a year of quarantine, we too have had to adapt and determine the best way to conduct virtual interviews while achieving the same results our clients expect.

Quite honestly, video meetings are not as effective as in-person meetings, and it is not as easy to form a long-term client relationship by video, but now that our industry has proven it can be done and our clients have a choice—and that is a good thing for everyone. Alex & Red and The Alexander Group will officially return to the office at the first of the year, though some of us are starting to work in the office on a part-time basis. Like many, I have missed seeing my colleagues, many of whom I have worked with for two decades, on a regular basis. I appreciate the routine, comradery, and sense of normalcy our offices offer.

9 Nightly Habits of Highly Successful People

Several years ago, we wrote about the importance of morning routines and how successful leaders-both today and from the past-start their day. Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum: nighttime routines.

Why is it important? Generally speaking, success starts and ends with mental and physical health which is highly dependent upon getting enough sleep. It can be tempting to pour a glass of wine, turn on the TV, and pore over social media or clear your in-box right before bed, but the most successful people recognize that those final hours can be just as crucial as any other.

While everyone is different and has different routines, we find the following practices are common among successful leaders.

Make a to-do list

Clearing the mind for a good night sleep is critical for a lot of successful people,” Michael Kerr says. “Often they will take this time to write down a list of any unattended items to address the following day, so these thoughts don’t end up invading their head space during the night.”

For example, Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, writes down three things he wants to accomplish the next day.

On Sundays, The Alexander Group’s Managing Director Jeff Early looks at his calendar and prepares for the upcoming week. “If any prep can be done Sunday evening, I try to get it done prior to Monday morning so I can hit the ground running.”

Disconnect from work

Studies have found that if you associate your bed with work, it’ll be harder to relax there, so it’s essential you reserve your bed for sleep and, er, other extracurricular activities only. Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author, says that “truly successful people do anything but work right before bed. They don’t obsessively check their email and they try not to dwell on work-related issues.”

Give yourself a buffer period of at least a half hour between the time you read your last email and the time you go to bed.

In fact, unplug completely

You shouldn’t just disconnect from work. You should unplug completely-including social media and games on your phone. Researchers agree that any kind of screen time before bed does you more harm than good.

The blue light from your phone mimics the brightness of the sun, which tells your brain to stop producing melatonin, an essential hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm and tells your body when it’s time to wake and when it’s time to sleep. This could lead not only to poor sleep, but also to vision problems, cancer and depression.

If the research isn’t convincing enough, take it from Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post’s Cofounder, President, and Editor-in-chief. After collapsing from exhaustion, Huffington revamped her approach to sleep. As she details in her book, “Thrive,” she has banned iPads, Kindles, laptops, and any other electronics from the bedroom.


While it’s a popular belief that exercise before bed can prevent sleep, the National Sleep Foundation actually found in a 2013 study that exercising at any time of the day, even at night, leads to better sleep. Numerous studies have also found that walking reduces stress and anxiety.

Joel Gascoigne, Cofounder and CEO of Buffer, takes a 20-minute walk every evening before bed. “This is a wind-down period, and allows me to evaluate the day’s work, think about the greater challenges, gradually stop thinking about work, and reach a state of tiredness.”

John Lamar, Managing Director, The Alexander Group, says that he usually “hits the elliptical for 30 minutes-a great way to de-stress and wind down.”


If exercise doesn’t sound appealing, then find another way to unwind and decompress before bed, such as taking a warm bath, listening to calming music or meditation. Dale Kurow, a New York-based executive coach, says meditation is a great way to relax your body and quiet your mind. Apps like Headspace, Calm and The Mindfullness App offer guided meditations and reminders to incorporate meditation into your daily routine.

Plan out sleep

Much has been written around the dangers busy people face running chronic sleep deficits. Plan ahead for a good night’s sleep just as you would any other priority. Decide when you want to wake up, count back by the number of hours you need to sleep, and then plan to be in bed, ready to sleep, by that time. iPhone users: Take advantage of the “Bedtime” feature of your Clock app. It allows you to set a bedtime, wake up at the same time and stay consistent with your routine. There’s even an option to set a bedtime reminder.

Skip the wine

When researching her sleep manifesto, “Thrive,” Arianna Huffington consulted a number of sleep specialists for tips. One of her favorites is avoiding alcohol right before bedtime.

While alcohol can certainly help you fall asleep, the National Institute of Health finds that it robs you of quality sleep. Alcohol keeps people in the lighter stages of sleep from which they can be awakened easily and prevents them from falling into deeper, more restorative stages of sleep, the institute finds.


One study by the University of Sussex found that just six minutes of reading a day is enough to reduce stress by 68 percent-“an excellent excuse to start curling up with a good book before you turn in for the evening,” points out Fast Company magazine. And you’d be in good company: Former US President Barack Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are known to read for at least a half hour before bed.

This isn’t reserved just for business reading or inspirational reading. Many successful people find value in information from a variety of sources, believing it helps fuel greater creativity and passion in their lives.

Sarah Mitchell, a Director in our San Francisco office, agrees: “I almost always read for 30 minutes before bed-typically fiction or, if it’s nonfiction, something not related to business. If I’ve got a big day or I’m feeling the stress, I will spend part of my evening preparing for the next day and then, 30 minutes before lights out, I put down my phone, shut down the laptop, and relax my brain with a book. This helps me sleep better and gives my brain a needed timeout so I can wake up fresh in the morning.”

Reflect on the good things from the day

It’s easy to fall into the trap of replaying negative situations that you wish you had handled differently. Instead, take time just before bed to reflect on or write down three good things that happened during the day. Focus on the positive moments and celebrate the successes, even if they were few and far between.

Jennifer Hill, Startup Advisory and Venture Lawyer at Gunderson Dettmer LLP, says she takes “two minutes to stretch, align my posture and think of the three things that I am grateful for and proud of today. (Yes, I really do this.) It sends me off to sleep peacefully and with positive thoughts.”

Benjamin Franklin famously asked himself the same self-improvement question every night: “What good have I done today?”

Regardless of how the day went, successful people avoid that pessimistic spiral of negative self-talk, knowing that it will only create more stress. Taking a few moments to think about what went right over the course of the day can put you in a positive, grateful mood-which leads to better sleep, giving you the energy and clarity to face whatever the next day holds.

What are your nighttime success secrets? Share them on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Looking Outside the Box for Your Inner Circle

“We want someone who can think outside the box.”

As a well-worn business cliché, this phrase elicits groans from hiring executives and recruiters alike. But considering the competitiveness of the executive talent market, driven by the lowest unemployment rate since 1969—along with increasing awareness of the need for diverse perspectives in the workplace—looking outside the industry for leading candidates is on the rise. A non-traditional hire with different perspectives can inject sorely needed energy and creativity into the mix, and prevent “group think”—one of the root causes of the 2008 financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“The upside for an organization can be huge,” says Margaret Neale, a professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who has studied the effect of diversity on companies. “When you increase the diversity of a group, you increase the probability that the group can have the necessary perspective to create the next big thing. People with different backgrounds ask different sets of questions. You ultimately get more information.”

A non-traditional hire with different perspectives can inject sorely needed energy and creativity into the mix, and prevent ‘group think’

Hiring an executive from outside your industry, at least at the highest levels, has been a popular way to accomplish thought diversity for a while. In 1983, John Sculley left Pepsi for Apple. As PepsiCo’s youngest-ever President, he’d had considerable success and Apple had faith that his marketing prowess was just what they needed to sell personal computers.

In 1993, IBM brought in former Nabisco CEO Louis V. Gerstner Jr. as their new CEO. He knew nothing about technology, and though shares in IBM dropped considerably when his appointment was announced, he was a seasoned executive with a strong history of organizational leadership, and he was thus able to successfully deal with the internal problems affecting a company with a solid product.

In 2002, United Airlines recruited a ChevronTexaco and Dynegy executive to be their Chairman, CEO and President. Though he had little experience outside oil and gas, they believed that someone from outside the industry could revitalize the struggling airline.

Beyond the CEO role

What’s changing about this long-established hiring strategy? It’s moving beyond the chief executive role.

As consultants, we’re starting to see clients open up to the idea that the best person for a number of C-suite positions, as well as VPs and regional level positions, may not be waiting in the most obvious places. Boards and hiring executives are finding that the most important skills for someone on the front lines of management aren’t necessarily tied to knowledge of the company’s product or sector.

Depending on what the new individual is being brought on board to do, cultural leadership and functional skills may be more important than direct industry experience. And, “an external hire, with experience in different competitive landscapes and unburdened by a long history and tangled relationships within the company, can have an easier time driving major changes,” writes the Harvard Business Review.

It’s as much about chemistry as credentials.

Recently, The Alexander Group conducted a CFO search for a law firm where the successful candidate came not from another law firm, but from Playboy. Similarly, we identified and recruited the CTO for an Am Law 100 firm from a global marketing communications company. In both cases, the successful candidate came from a different industry but with a similarly sophisticated and complex operations environment.

“It’s as much about chemistry as credentials,” says Managing Director John Lamar. “There are times that an outside-the-box, outside-the-industry thinker may better serve the role.”

For example, a manufacturing client looking for a Regional Vice President of Human Resources isn’t nearly as concerned with the candidate’s experience in heavy industry as they are with his or her previous work history with companies known for their outstanding human resources practices. And a law firm looking for a Global Operations Director would rather see candidates with strong experience managing multiple global offices in a corporate environment versus those with a direct competitor who may not have the international leadership background.

Skills that span industries

We recently looked at the background and careers of Fortune 500 CEOs. We found that, while there is no cookie-cutter pedigree, there are some commonalities in career paths: The typical chief executive holds a general management position that allows her or him to demonstrate measurable success in directly driving top line and/or bottom-line revenue or profits. Financial experience is important, but the largest share of Fortune 500 CEOs is selected from the positions of COO or President. These positions give executives a platform to prove their ability to set strategic vision, be an effective leader of people and interact with the board and key stakeholders. And these positions also typically weed out those who are unable to handle the pressure of managing a large organization.

Top- and bottom-line results, strategic vision, leader of people, ability to withstand pressure—none of these skills are industry-specific, but rather span industries. Successful leaders know how to transfer and apply these core strengths to any new role, organization or industry.

Turn outsiders into insiders

Experienced and savvy leaders also know how to get up to speed quickly and approach a new role with an open mind. We recently interviewed executives who had been in their roles less than a year for their approach to on-boarding. “I spent my first few weeks meeting all of the leaders from the business, asking questions to understand the culture and the history, developing my opinions and testing my thinking,” said the strategy officer for an Am Law 100 firm. “Because of this, I built credibility as someone who was looking to come in, understand and ‘get it’—not someone looking to shake things up unnecessarily.”

The Chief Technology Officer for another law firm agrees: “There’s no shortcut for learning and adjusting to a new culture. I spent my first month getting to know people.”

Wharton Management Professor Matthew Bidwell found that external hires who get beyond the two-year milestone often get promoted more quickly (a positive indication). “So hire outsiders as successors in waiting,” recommends Ben Fanning, consultant and bestselling author of “The Quit Alternative“. “Give them time to learn the ropes before they are needed to step up.”

A deeper candidate pool

Obviously, hiring outsiders won’t work for all functions, and some companies or sectors haven’t been able to jump on this trend. In particular, positions in life sciences, energy and engineering require specific technical knowledge and skills, and the company could actually be hindered by someone without contextual knowledge and an understanding of the industry.

Coming from outside our industry, he looks at what we do with a different set of eyes.

Moreover, you have to be comfortable with a certain level of risk. It can feel chancy to hire someone who isn’t from a similar environment and you have to know if your company can afford to take that chance. Ultimately, the hiring manager has to make the time commitment to help fill in the gaps for the outsider coming on board.

However, if you’re willing to have a little faith, this strategy can breathe fresh air into a team at every level of management and allow for the best possible candidates to be found by broadening the candidate pool.

As one of our clients said, “Our new VP of HR brought many best practices to us that our industry has not yet embraced. Coming from outside our industry, he looks at what we do with a different set of eyes. We realized it would be a risky move for both him and us but we have been richly rewarded with a visionary executive who has had significant impact.”

A few years ago, we received an email from an internal candidate we’d interviewed for a client:

“John, you and I met over a year ago during the course of my firm’s Chief Financial Officer search, where I was the internal candidate. While I was not chosen for the position, you communicated often during the course of the search and told me that, regardless of whether I was selected, I was a valuable asset. When I was not selected, you also told me that it would clearly become evident why someone else was chosen. You were spot-on in your assessment. I have learned so much from [the successful candidate] because of her many years in our industry … Thank you for your professionalism.”

All of us in the search business have conducted searches where the client recommends an employee of the company for the position. Many times, this happens because the client wants to conduct a broad search and believes that the candidate is good but wants to cover the marketplace. Sometimes, the client questions whether the internal candidate is appropriate, but wants the assessment of the search firm.

Here is what two executives have said about their experience as an internal candidate:

President of a midwestern bank who was considered for a position in the bank’s holding company:

Bob, the internal candidate, commented that his inclusion as an internal candidate seemed like an afterthought. The search firm (not The Alexander Group) never provided him with a position description and did not communicate. “While the search firm spent 90 minutes interviewing me, they had not studied my resume to determine whether or not I would be a fit with the position. It was clear they had made their mind up before the process started. The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you choose Notre Dame for college?’ This is not a question you ask a 57-year-old man.” He never heard from the search firm again, even after an external candidate was selected for the position. Bob believes neither the holding company nor search firm treated him well.

Vice President of Compliance with a Fortune 50 company:

Paula learned about the internal opportunity directly from the hiring manager. The hiring manager responded back very positively that he would be happy to have her added to the candidate slate and that she would be contacted by the search firm handling the search. Paula was interviewed in person by the search firm and was pleased with the time spent to assess her potential candidacy. She applauded the search firm’s efforts to understand the newly created role within the company. While Paula was not selected for the role, she remains extremely supportive of the hiring manager and believes that being included in the interview process has only improved her visibility in the company for other positions.


There are several things that a search firm can do to improve the internal candidate’s experience:

  • Communicate often and clearly, and do not assume that the client will communicate the progress and process of the search with the candidate;
  • Submit internal candidates to the same process as external candidates (i.e., if you are traveling to see external candidates, you should travel to see internal candidates);
  • Spend time objectively assessing the internal candidate’s resume in line with the position and communicate to them that you are looking for the best candidate—internal or external; and
  • Make the internal candidate feel “special” to be selected as an internal candidate and treat them accordingly.

An internal candidate who has gone through a rigorous, unbiased interview process—and is selected—will enter the role with confidence that they are indeed the most qualified person for the position. If they don’t get the role, then they know they played on a level playing field and, from a career development perspective, will be even more prepared for the next opportunity.

At The Alexander Group, we are paid for the process, not the person. If the client recommends an internal candidate, she or he is just as much our candidate as any external talent we identify. Ignore the internal candidate and you run the risk of missing out on a great talent, and possibly, a future client.

Article updated January 16, 2019.


Interviewing is a skill, and not an easy one to master. There’s something new to learn every time you sit down across a desk, share a cup of coffee or connect across an ocean via FaceTime or Skype for an interview.

In my 13 years in TV news, I have had the opportunity to interview thousands of people from all walks of life—politicians, celebrities, criminals, grieving families, heroic first responders—and no two interviews were the same. Even so, there are methods, models, techniques and tips that can be applied to bring out the best, or, in some cases, to (necessarily) discover the worst, in people.

Executive search involves interviewing a different set of people than TV news, of course; and the individuals we interview are generally happy to speak with us, seeing us as the gatekeepers to their next career move. But we still need that focus: bring out the best; weed out the worst.

Here are a few interview techniques I’ve perfected as a journalist:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask offbeat questions and catch your interviewee off guard.

Everyone comes to an interview with a script, rehearsed answers, and a determination to make the interview follow the direction that best suits them. Get them off script.

In my previous life, celebrities were the worst offenders. Having conducted hundreds of red-carpet interviews, every actor or director comes with a handful of sound bites that they’ve been given by their handlers. So instead of starting off with, “Tell me about your role” or “how difficult is it to transform into that kind of monster?” I would often ask something they weren’t expecting driven by the headlines of the day: “Is the #metoo movement changing Hollywood quickly enough?” or “Where do you stand on equal pay?”

In executive search, that translates to questions, such as “What has been the hardest time in your career?” or “What is a lesson you’ve learned in the past year?” I had one client who asked candidates how much sleep they got or the last book they had read.

I had a client who asked candidates how much sleep they got or the last book they had read.

By starting with something completely out of the blue you can shock your interviewee out of the script they have in their minds. Don’t be afraid to throw them off.

2. Be empathetic; realize that your subject is often under stress.

While some people need to be challenged, others need to be drawn out. As a journalist, I would invest more time with families who just lost someone to a terrible accident or crime, or families who’d lost everything in a wildfire or hurricane.

Some candidates also have great potential, but need more time to calm their nerves and reveal their best selves. As an interviewer, it is our job to accurately assess a candidate, even if that requires patience and some extra time.

3. Make it a conversation, not an interrogation.

Early in my news career, I covered the bust of a large marijuana-growing operation in a small town in Arkansas. We knew that the grower had been released on bail, and I wanted to see if we could get him to explain his side of the story. After knocking on dozens of doors in the neighborhood, we found our subject. We approached him conversationally and—to our utter surprise—he invited us to the back yard to show us where the police had been. It was quite the operation: The entire backyard was equipped with rows and rows of planters and hydroponic systems; the scent of marijuana was still in the air. I asked him what he had been growing, and he emphatically replied, “I thought they were tomato plants!” It made for some of the most entertaining TV I have ever produced.

I asked him what he had been growing, and he emphatically replied, “I thought they were tomato plants!”

Had I adopted the more aggressive approach, chasing this man into his home with a camera and a microphone, he would have slammed the door, and we never would have had that exchange (which later helped the police in their investigation).

In the interview process, whether it’s with an alleged illegal drug dealer or an executive, engaging your candidate in conversation and making them feel comfortable from the beginning is crucial. The more at ease your candidate is—even if they’re lying, as I believe my ‘tomato plant’ interviewee was—the more authentic the individual is going to be.

4. Short and to-the-Point.

Long-winded questions, with sub-clauses that meander this way and that, and pose one question while over-riding it with another slightly tangential point (think last week’s Congressional hearing with special counsel Robert Mueller), while trying to circle back to the original thought, leaves everyone confused and muddled. Just ask the question. One at a time.

5. Not everyone wants to tell the truth. We have to find it.

Have you ever met a politician who wanted to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Neither have I. As a TV reporter, I couldn’t call any of the countless politicians I interviewed—Republican or Democrat—a liar on-air. But it was my duty to push them as much as I could, to put them on the spot, to call them out in a polite and probing way. It’s a balance of rephrasing the question and, if the subject tries to divert attention, re-directing the focus back to the initial point (even saying outright ‘that’s not the question I asked’ if necessary).

We all know candidates interviewing for high-level positions sometimes shade the truth, pad a résumé, highlight their strengths while trying to bury their weaknesses, demur over gaps in their resumes, etc. Everyone is a politician, to some extent, in an interview, selling themselves above all else. It’s our job to probe; it’s our job to get to the true character behind the facade.

6. Trust your intuition.

All good reporters have a sixth sense that tells them when something is amiss in a story. Good recruiters are no different. If an answer does not ‘feel correct’, follow your instincts and probe a little more.

From time to time, we interview candidates who have had a short stint in a position. Did the candidate leave because it was an uneasy fit or a bad experience, or was the company in financial trouble?

I follow up with questions, such as ‘What would your manager say about you, given your short tenure?’

My colleague Jane Howze, Managing Director at The Alexander Group, says, “I usually have a sixth sense about whether the person was asked to leave, or whether he or she left on their own accord. I follow up with questions, such as ‘What would your manager say about you, given your short tenure?’”

Her advice? “Follow your gut.”

Many companies today have introduced behavioral interviewing processes where the interviewer asks specific questions that test how a candidate behaves in a certain situation. In our opinion, this process, while beneficial, can rob the interviewer of the opportunity to pop a surprise question (as in tip #1 above) or to rely on the intuition that steers questions in a more relevant way.

Instead, the next time you interview, think like a journalist, and get the full story.


Much has been written lately about emotional intelligence and the role it plays in a successful career. But what is emotional intelligence? I suppose I could take the position that the U.S. Supreme Court took with pornography: “I can’t define what [it] is…but I know it when I see it.”

Let me start by saying what emotional intelligence is NOT.

  • Emotional intelligence has nothing to do with your intellect or IQ. We all have seen many executives who are incredibly intelligent but don’t have a modicum of common sense. Recently, I interviewed one of the top software executives in the country. He arrived at the interview late with no apology and, after ordering a glass of wine at 3 p.m., continued to take call after call. And he really wanted the position for this start-up technology company.
  • Emotional intelligence is not friendliness or empathy. While solid interpersonal skills play a role in emotional intelligence, all recruiters have stories of candidates who overstep boundaries by being overly familiar and talkative. My colleague Bill recalls an executive who sends him birthday and Easter greetings every year despite the fact he met her once eight years ago. While Bill enjoys the shout out and it makes for a good story, he is not sure that the candidate has appropriately sized up their relationship or lack thereof.
  • Emotional intelligence has nothing to do with honesty and integrity. Actually, I believe that some of the best con artists, embezzlers, and self-promoters have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which makes them effective at their dubious profession.
  • Emotional intelligence is not equivalent to good judgment, though they overlap. Good judgment is synonymous with making solid business decisions and choices. While someone who has emotional intelligence often has good judgment, many make sound judgments from facts but miss the unspoken cues that someone with emotional intelligence gets.

There is substantial disagreement over what emotional intelligence is, how it is measured, and whether it can be taught. Emotional intelligence starts with reading the environment, listening to your audience, and assessing the appropriate response based on spoken and unspoken prompts. Here are five ways that it or the lack thereof has played out in the interview process.

  • You have a meeting scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. Evidence of poor emotional intelligence is arriving at 4:10 p.m. or taking 45 minutes to address the first question of “tell me a little about your firm or background.”
  • Your meeting is at a hotel restaurant at 10 a.m. Your host orders black coffee. You, on the other hand, notice there is a lavish breakfast buffet and excuse yourself before it closes, so you order a custom-made omelet and pile your plate with an assortment of pastries.
  • For your meeting with a top recruiter for a CMO position, you think the best way to show why you could work from Frankfurt rather than move to London is by bringing your newest squeeze to the interview. You fail to notice the look of horror on the recruiter’s face as your companion orders snacks for the table and monopolizes the conversation.
  • You are meeting the CEO of a company and, granted, it is a sunny day outside, but did you really have to don a red dress and heels when on your prior meetings you noticed that navy suits were the order of the day?
  • You meet with executives for a company for which you want to work or do work. The executives disagree among themselves about the position or project. While it would be easy to spout off a quick response and jump into the fray, the better tack is to pause, listen and ask more questions so that you are not jumping in on an internal political issue or have not misread the underlying communication that was taking place.

These are obviously bury-your-face-in-your-hands kinds of blunders. But the news is not all bad. Many executives have a highly developed emotional intelligence.


Well, some have the Masters, and others have the Super Bowl but for me, the true bucket list item is the Kentucky Derby.

So, after many years watching the “greatest 2 minutes in the history of sports” on television, and happening to be a third generation Kentucky boy myself, there I was this past Saturday, up close and in person at Churchill Downs for the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby.

What made it even more surreal, was that I was fortunate enough to be there with the Mayor of Louisville — the honorable, Greg Fischer — in his motorcade and on the red carpet, with the the world’s paparazzi in tow. It was an experience any attention-loving Leo would covet.

We arrived on Thursday to an airport abuzz with live ragtime music, pretty “ladies” dressed in clothes of a bygone era handing out bourbon balls, and enormous urns of long stemmed red roses that lined the walkways for yards. Louisville is not shy about their Derby weekend, the prices are jacked up beyond all recognition. “Thurby” –as they call it– is part of the show, so a brief, 5-minute cab ride can set you back $25.00, with a whiskey-throated, chuckling driver visiting from Ohio, taking your money with guiltless glee.

Swiftly, bourbon becomes the perfect solution to part with pain.

Kentucky folk love their bourbon, and supply about 95% percent of the world. The problem is the best labels cannot leave the state. Rather than go to the Kentucky Oaks on Friday-the locals favorite day of racing– we opted to do a little bourbon tasting and found some extremely hard-to-find labels. Now, we had our final challenge…smuggling them home!

After a welcome gala at the Mayor’s building, a gorgeous turn of the century colonial, followed by the Vanity Fair party where we spotted Lindsey Vonn and Bob Baffert, it was time for the Saturday spectacle.

And, spectacle it truly was. A mostly crisp and sunny morning, around 72 degrees, with one hundred and sixty thousand people wearing everything from a double-breasted suit covered in Tito’s Vodka logos, to almost transparent dresses—all with hats to match. TV does not do justice to the famous Twin Spires and perfectly manicured grounds of Churchill Downs. It is an all-day affair. At 8 am the doors open, and the mint juleps start flowing in preparation for the races that start around ten am.

Now, if you have a chance to go, expect the lines to run around 90 minutes to get seated, but you needn’t catch the first race. Thousands of cars are parked on home owners’ front yards, where many of the residents prepare barbecue as an additional income generator to their parking services. Yes, the whole town participates in this Derby Day circus!

Now, luckily for us, we arrived by a police escorted motorcade, whisking by the traffic to the front door, or should I say red carpet, and were requisitely handed a mint julep. That same mint julep was magically full for the entire day. One of the perks of knowing the Mayor.

While everyone else was peering from the outside of the paddock, we were some of the few who walked through the horse’s paddock and into the winner’s circle. An unbelievable experience: the beauty and grace of the horses, the seriousness of the trainers and jockeys, the over hundred years of tradition, the array of colors and hundreds upon hundreds of glorious hats.

The tradition of the Derby really can be summed up in three words: horses, juleps and hats. At times between races, the main event was to roam around, people watch and snap hat shots instead of checking the odds for the next race. Enormous rainbow colored, plumed hats; over-sized floral hats; hats with brims so expansive there was no way you could find a face below; hats that resembled mini movie sets with horses and buildings and dollar bills.

The pride of the spectators is palpable, and the gracious southern manners are never overlooked. Our host family has sat in the same box for 40 years, a little outdoor area with six folding chairs where the family of about 20 ensure that they all have their julep ready to huddle in for the 6:34pm post.

We were fortunate in that we could watch the races from the box, or Turf Club, an indoor area with many screens, open bar, and eye candy galore. Not to mention the likes of Kate Upton, Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz. Not found all together, of course. (I’m resisting comment on the luminaries.)

When it was time to bet on the big race, my phone started pinging like crazy. Friends from all over the country called and texted wanting to place bets. Exactas, trifectas, win place show. Lucky for me, I travel with my lucky girlfriend who with no homework seems to sniff winning horses by name. We had already banked $750.00 on a $20.00 bet on winning horse Camelot Kitten and were smugly watching the pros feign enthusiasm for our amateur accomplishments.

As the big race neared, people moved into the stands in throngs, the crowds roared, the classic “My Old Kentucky Home” was sung in unison, and with the ring of a bell they were off! The tough part for gamblers was that Nyquist, the favorite by a landslide, had little upside on the odds so we had no option but to bet on Exaggerator to win place and show. We did just fine. Exaggerator came in second. The best two minutes in sports had come to an end.

A beautiful buffet awaited us in a Louisville penthouse with all the trimmings: Smithfield ham and biscuits, mini hot browns – a real family favorite –and classic Derby pie. As we stared out onto the drizzly Louisville skyline, we raised a last glass of bourbon to the evening, toasting a day that neither Nyquist, nor I, will forget.

It’s time to raise the flag and celebrate our country’s independence. Although I write our annual Thanksgiving gratitude column, I also look forward to the Fourth of July. There is no holiday shopping frenzy, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire (seriously, we do need some new Christmas carols) or a mad rush to complete business travel. The Fourth of July has a casual, relaxed vibe. Think bare feet, shorts, burgers, beer and barbecue, warm weather evenings and fireworks. I have a lot of great Fourth of July memories, but will first yield the stage to my colleagues.

Bob Freeman
My favorite July 4th memory is from 1991. My brother was a Marine and was one of the first soldiers deployed to Kuwait for the First Gulf War. He was expected home in August. On the Fourth of July, we answered a knock on our door only to find my brother who was released early and had a friend pick him up at the airport and deliver him to our home in Lake Jackson, Texas. There were so many tears of happiness that day. It was both an emotional and symbolic moment.

Kyle Robinson

My daughter, Isobel, was born on July 4, 2015. The day before, my wife and I had spent the day walking around The Galleria trying to bring on labor. My wife, with her Ph.D. in US History, kept telling our yet-to-be-born child how cool it would be to share a birthday with the country. We decided to head to the hospital to get assessed. After a quick exam, the doctor determined it wouldn’t be long. Sure enough on July 4th at 3:03 am we had our baby girl! Later that evening, in our room on the 14th floor of the hospital, we could see fireworks shows from different areas of the city. Of course, it was in celebration of Independence Day, but I told Isobel it was to celebrate her arrival. We are excited to celebrate our little firecracker’s 2nd birthday, again with fireworks next Tuesday.

Jane Howze
My experience covered last July 4th weekend, and it mostly took place outside of the US. I am a huge concert fan. On a business trip to London last March, I learned that one of my idols, legendary singer/songwriter Carole King would be performing her landmark album “Tapestry” for the first time on July 3rd and that Don Henley would open for her. I quickly snagged front row tickets.

Don Henley gave one of his first performances since Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey died earlier in 2016. He thanked the audience for their cards, calls, and sympathy and talked about how difficult the year had been. With his voice breaking, he dedicated “Desperado” (the first song he and Frey co-wrote) to Glenn. You could hear a pin drop and also more than a few sniffles.

As the sun set and cast a heavenly glow on her baby grand piano, 75-year-old Carole King took the stage. As she started the first track of Tapestry “I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet.” the cheers of the 90,000 fans did indeed make me feel like the earth was trembling. The audience sang so loudly, passionately that I thought I saw a tear roll down King’s face (and certainly down mine). King had not performed in London for 27 years. Who knows if she will ever perform again? I didn’t want this performance to end. It was an experience for the ages, which I wrote about for Culturemap Houston. The best part – after the concert itself — was that we flew back to the United States on the 4th of July. As we descended into Salt Lake City shortly after sundown, we were treated to dozens of firework displays. Another song came to mind: “and the fireworks bursting in air…..”

Bill Lepiesza
Ten years ago this summer, my wife Claire (originally from England) received her US citizenship. It was a long process, with multiple interviews, a mountain of paperwork, but all worth it when two weeks after raising her right hand and swearing allegiance to the USA, we celebrated her first Fourth of July as an American. We live in San Diego, a Navy town at its core, and the Fourth here is a major patriotic event, replete with marching bands, parades, anthems, flags, and – of course – fireworks lighting up the city as far as the eye can see. While I, and many of my friends and colleagues, have had the good fortune to have been born in this country, those that undertake the process to become a naturalized citizen are even more passionate about the opportunities and values that we hold dear as a nation. I will never forget watching the celebration of our country’s birth through the eyes of a new citizen.

My turn: Uncle Sam speaks and the video that continues to play

I’m not sure I can top those experiences, but I do remember The Alexander Group’s Fourth of July video in 2015. We have always been ahead of the curve – we created holiday videocards before they were a dime a dozen and made donations to charities long before it was de rigeur. Frankly, the genre has gotten too crowded with overly commercial, sappy and well, boring holiday cards. We decided it was time for a change.

Why not focus on our country’s birthday to show our creativity and sense of humor with a video? We hired leading digital media agency, Jaded Palate Productions, who came up with costumes, an old VW bus, and a plan. It was and is (as you will see) a great video that allowed us to take a break from work and be film stars for a day. And for me, a Leo, what could be better than playing Uncle Sam?

However, the best-laid plans started to go wrong when the technology platform sending the video card failed. And I mean failed. Some of our clients got the video four of five times-daily for more than a week. Other clients did not get the video at all. We got responses ranging from “I loved the video on Monday, thought it was great on Tuesday but enough already” to emails from our CIO placements offering to come fix our system.

We compounded the issue by trying to send out individual emails with the video to those who did not get the video, but that resulted in the video being sent to everyone again. One client said it was the best example of Groundhog Day he had ever seen. One email response said only “please….stop.” Another UK client got the card ten times, and I am proud to say they are still a client. I saved all the questioning, frustrated and comical responses which make me hang my head in embarrassment as I reread them. They would, by themselves, make a good video.

But until next year, everyone have a happy Fourth of July, and if you don’t let me know what you think of my Uncle Sam costume, the video will keep coming.


Over the course of our firm’s 35-year history, we have conducted nearly 800 operational, financial and administrative leadership searches for law firms—large and small, regional and global. During this time, law firms’ top business leadership position has become increasingly more strategic and global.

The Chief Operating Officer (or Executive Director, as the firm may title its top business leader) is responsible for managing the business operations of the firm. Interestingly, we have recruited a Chief Operating Officer for the same client three times in the past three decades. While the position description hasn’t changed significantly, the position requirements have changed dramatically.

With that backdrop, I thought it would be interesting to examine the experience and background of the COOs and Executive Directors of Am Law 100 firms. The results of our inquiry were mostly predictable, with a few surprises thrown in.

Does every law firm have a COO or ED?

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the number of Am Law 100 firms that do not have a Chief Operating Officer or Executive Director. Of the 100 top-grossing law firms, 87 have a COO or Executive Director (this is including current vacancies), with the trend decidedly toward calling the position Chief Operating Officer. Conversely, 13 firms do not have a COO/ED position. The largest firms currently not having the title (if not the role) are global giants Kirkland & Ellis (2,300+ lawyers) and Jones Day (2,500+ lawyers), which have long-time, highly respected veterans Brigitte Wooster and Bonnie Shute, respectively, as firmwide Chief Administrative Officers.

Long tenures are common

Of those in the COO or Executive Director role, 49 have been in their role for at least ten years and 35 have been in their role or at their firm for more than 15 years. Chuck Woodhouse at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LeeAnn Black at Latham & Watkins, and Mark Langdon at Ballard Spahr win the prize for the longest tenure at 30+ years, though like many in the top role, all three joined their firm in financial roles. Of the Am Law 20, eight COOs and Executive Directors have been in their role or at their firm longer than 15 years. And let’s face it, no one will probably reach Earle Yaffa’s of Skadden Arps tenure. He joined the firm nearly 40 years ago and is retiring as a senior advisor at year end.

But there is turnover

Currently there are five active COO/Executive Director searches of Am Law 100 firms. Usually vacancies occur when long-standing COO/Executive Directors retire, while occasionally a COO/ED moves to a competitor or out of the industry.

The biggest surprise? Attorneys in the position

Almost one-fourth of all Chief Operating Officers or Executive Directors have law degrees. They fall into two categories: One group is comprised of partners in their firm who have been moved to an administrative leadership role. Others have law degrees, but have never practiced at their current firm.

What is the background of today’s COO?

A large number of Am Law 100 executive leaders hail from accounting or consulting firms. Most typically join law firms in a financial role and are promoted into the COO/ED role. There are at least nine COO/Executive Directors from Bain, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey. Some were in financial/administrative management but others came from the consulting–specifically the strategy consulting practice of their firms.

There are interesting exceptions to the consulting and public accounting firm backgrounds that we see so often. Barnes & Thornburg’s Steven Merkel was formerly Chief of Operations at United States Military Academy at West Point and Mike Caplan at Goodwin Proctor successfully ran legal departments at Goldman Sachs and Marsh & McLennan. In keeping with its Bay Area roots, ten years ago, Morrison & Forrester tapped Pat Cavaney—who ran business operations at HP—for their COO role. At the time, it was seen as an innovative, out-of-the-box hire, but success and a broadening view of the role has changed that.

Future trends

It is an exciting time to be in law firm management. Global expansion, increasing complexity and, of course, compensation are attracting many non-law firm executives to the industry. At one time, law firms were somewhat reluctant to recruit from outside the legal profession, but no more. The success of those who have made the transition—coupled with the recognition that strategy, leadership and administrative talent are transferrable skills—will continue to broaden the talent pool for this role.

Last month we wrote about the explosive changes that have occurred in law firms over the past decade. Perhaps no non-practicing lawyer position has changed as dramatically as that of the leading marketing professional, which bears no resemblance to the position in the 1990s.

The Bigger Picture

An increasing number of law firms have become complex global organizations. They have grown both internally and by acquisition, mirroring the combinations so frequent in American business. Clients have changed, too, and can no longer be counted on to remain with a law firm for generations, to be passed on from senior to junior partners. So, marketing which was considered undignified and proscribed by rules of professional conduct, has gone from the activity no one wanted—or thought they needed—to a virtual must-have function.

Firms recognize that they can no longer wait for the phone to ring to get business. Simply stated, there are too many law firms chasing too few business opportunities and they must compete rigorously for corporate clients.

The Good Old Days

The Alexander Group conducted its first marketing search 25 years ago. At that time, we were asked to recruit an individual who could put together brochures and operate a collating machine. One retired Am Law 100 CMO recalls joining his firm in 1990, when partners were wondering what the “world wide web” was and if it had anything to do with them. Back then, this manager’s responsibilities included preparing seating charts for client and partner functions. Yep, it’s a different world today.

Business Development: A Critical Part of Marketing

The role of the law firm’s CMO has evolved dramatically and taken on increasing importance as firms adapt to globalization and define their markets, and implement a go-to-market strategy to remain competitive. Not only is the CMO viewed as a business partner with the firm’s lawyers in defining and communicating a firm’s brand, but a growing number of CMOs are charged with helping the firm secure and expand client relationships. And it goes without saying that today’s marketing leader has to recruit, retain and develop a cohesive and often geographically dispersed team.

An outstanding CMO can move into the COO/ED role, as Karen Braun formerly CMO of Kirkland and now Executive Director of Sullivan & Cromwell, has successfully done, because the CMO must understand all aspects of client relationships, firm strategy and pricing.

Chief marketing leaders charged with the business development function are recruiting senior business development professionals embedded in practice groups this requires search firms to broaden their recruiting targets to organizations outside the legal industry that have proven business development functions.

Law Firm Marketing and Business Development Continues to Evolve

Because the role of a law firm’s marketing leader has grown, the necessary skill set required has also evolved. As they seek talented and effective marketing and business development leaders, law firms are increasingly open to recruiting marketing leaders outside of the legal industry. Some of the early recruits to law firm marketing were from public accounting and consulting firms that had established a global brand at least a decade ahead of law firms. Others were lawyers who saw marketing as a better and more desirable fit for their talents. Later hires have come from financial service firms and businesses that serve the legal industry.

In the early 1990s, Howrey & Simon (since dissolved but which at its peak had 700 attorneys in locations worldwide), made a distinctive statement by recruiting Mary K Young, a consumer products marketing manager, to lead its global marketing efforts. The firm’s Chairman, an antitrust lawyer, had worked extensively with consumer companies and believed they were a great source of marketing talent. Interestingly the firm’s prior marketing leader was a brand manager from General Mills.

Our research found that about 25 percent of Am Law 100 firms have hired their CMOs from outside the legal industry. Recent external hires include marketing executives from PwC, Thomson Reuters, and Alvarez & Marshal to name a few. The incorporation of business development into the purview of CMO responsibilities is reflected in new titles including Chief Business Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Client Services Officer. Of the 40 Am Law firms that have hired or promoted a new CMO in the last three years, 15 have “business development” included in the title, as do 35 of the Am Law 100 overall.

What Are Future Trends in Law Firm Marketing Executives?

Law firms and their marketing functions will continue to evolve at breakneck speed. One trend we’re seeing now is business development professionals embedded in global practice groups, working in tandem with the practice management function. Some firms will be charging one individual with oversight of both business development and practice management functions within a practice group, opening up career-broadening opportunities for both marketing and business development and practice management professionals.