Survival Guide: Bob Brudno, managing director of Savoy Partners Ltd.

Bob Brudno, managing director of Savoy Partners Ltd.

Savoy Partners LTD.

When Science Applications International Corp. in November named Ken Dahlberg as its new chief executive officer, no one was more pleased than Bob Brudno. As managing director of executive search firm Savoy Partners Ltd., Brudno personally led the effort that identified Dahlberg and recruited him to San Diego-based SAIC.

Brudno does not cringe when called a headhunter, but he emphasized that Savoy Partners of Washington is a "retained executive search firm," and its fees are not contingent on making placements. "We typically recruit CEOs or people who report to the CEO, and we commit to stay with a search no matter how long it takes or how difficult it becomes," he said.

As an executive recruiter for more than two decades, Brudno is intimately acquainted with top executives and companies in the government and high-tech markets. Editor Steve LeSueur asked Brudno to share his insights.

WT: Why can't companies search for candidates on their own?

Brudno: They can't get to the people we get to. People talk to us who wouldn't talk directly with a competitor. We understand the industry, and people can trust us not to divulge these conversations. Frequently, they will open up to us about their frustrations or about wishes that are not being met where they're working. You just can't have someone in human resources at one company calling a senior executive at another company and have that kind of conversation.

WT: Why do high-level executives change jobs?

Brudno: People say, "I didn't know that so-and-so was unhappy." The kinds of candidates we typically recruit are not unhappy at all. The trick is to get them to open up and find out if something is bothering them or help them see opportunities they couldn't find on their own. It's usually about more than just money. It could be a desire for advancement or more responsibility. Equity also could be a factor, or even relocation.

WT: What makes the best executives tick?

Brudno: We look for a track record of accomplishment as opposed to stories about how "things didn't work because the market turned against us." The really good performers seem to be successful no matter what. We look for people who have shown resiliency, honesty, integrity and good people skills. And I always look for a good sense of humor.

WT: Why?

Brudno: There's a connection between sense of humor and honesty. If you look at some of the most accomplished people, you'll find they're at ease with themselves. The ones you have to watch out for are the insecure people, because the insecure don't represent themselves honestly in many cases and have broken glass in their background.

WT: What's the best way to get useful information when checking references?

Brudno: Ask very open-ended questions, and be quiet. We aren't looking for good or bad. We usually don't find smoking guns. What we're trying to find is who they are, how they like to be managed and how they manage others. Sometimes the most constructive reference checks are those with subordinates.

WT:What did you learn doing the SAIC search?

Brudno: We got a chance to look at the next generation of leaders throughout the entire country. There was a very short list of people who truly were qualified to run SAIC. The aerospace and defense industry hasn't created the next generation of leaders. It's not like the commercial sector, where they have boundless optimism, so they're going to start developing their leaders for tomorrow because they expect to be 10 to 15 times bigger.

The defense and aerospace companies tend to be cautious, and so they don't necessarily invest as much in talent, because they don't know how long this thing is going to go on. We didn't find a lot of depth in the 45-year-old to 55-year-old range.

WT: Your firm also helps companies explore new areas for growth. What can you tell us about the government market?

Brudno: We've had commercial companies that wanted to get in the government space, and we've had government clients that wanted to get in the commercial space. What surprised a lot of people with homeland security was how hard it was for commercial companies to get into that business. Even established companies found it more difficult than they originally thought to find their way in.

WT: What's your advice to small firms trying to break into this market?

Brudno: Find an integrator that already has the contracts with government, because they are looking for a total systems solution, not just a box. Try to piggyback in as a subcontractor. The big guys are looking for new ideas, and they have people who vet these ideas.

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