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October 30, 2008



Association executive recruiters are working now more than ever, some of them say, as baby-boomers retire and others in the food chain look to advance. Associations are also looking for new leaders with special skills and connections to guide organizations through tough economic times, and a changeover in Congress and the White House.


Our camera caught Jim Zaniello of Association Strategies Inc.(Alexandria, Va.) leaving the Mayflower on Connecticut after a clandestine meeting with a top executive (not really, just coffee with us). Jim says every day he connects an organization to talent is like “solving a puzzle.” The key, he’s learned after eight years and over 175 executive searches, is to make certain the association’s message resonates on a personal level with the candidate. Other points he looks for in a candidate: Will they be a partner with the board of directors? Will they move the organization forward? And do they have their finger on the pulse of the community (Washington, DC, the industry, the profession)?


In a more formal settingcranberry juice and all—Jim told us he’s noticing more associations using interim CEOs during transitional periods instead of leaving the spot vacant or splitting the tasks among top officers. He says now is one of those times as associations wait to see who moves into 1600 Penn. Although any successful candidate will have to be highly regarded on both sides of the aisle, inside connections to high-level staff at an Obama or McCain White House will give them an edge. Jim hopes to have a running edge on Thanksgiving when he does the Trot for Hunger 5K at West Potomac Park to benefit “So Others Might Eat.”


Senior client partner Lorraine Lavet met us at Korn/Ferry International’s D.C. office at 1700 K St. to talk about the experiences she’s had recruiting more than 75 nonprofit CEOs in nearly five years. Teaming with her partner Nels Olson, head of the firm's Eastern Region, Lorraine’s recent catches include placing Cal Dooley at The American Chemistry Council, and Tom Gibson at the American Iron and Steel Institute. Lorraine does not believe the elections are changing recruiting behavior dramatically because many associations have already been building bi-partisan lobbying teams for some time. But she adds that in an increasingly green-conscious world, many groups are looking for executives who can defend them from attacks by environmentalists and increased legislation and regulation.


We told Lorraine she couldn’t have any water until she answered all our questions, so she gave us some really good info, like how CEOs have to keep their ego in check and understand that the board sets policy and they implement it. She also has a knack for seeing a candidate’s true colors, saying last year a client withdrew an offer during salary negotiation because the candidate changed their demeanor from all previous meetings. “You’re not sure if you can trust that candidate who changes so much during negotiations,” she said, and since Korn/ Ferry guarantees its work for a full year after placement, any hunch is taken seriously. When she’s not reaching for water, Lorraine likes to take a dip in it—preferably at her beach house in Bethany Beach, Delaware with husband Rob and daughter Jen. She recommends Dewey and Rehobeth.

Arent Fox
Cardinal Bank
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