Leadership Amidst Rapid Change


In our new audio series, Leaders on Leaders, Karen Greenbaum talks with Witt/Kieffer’s Chairman and CEO, Charles W.B. "Chuck" Wardell III, and Andrew Chastain, Managing Partner and Healthcare Practice Chair. 

KAREN: Welcome to the new Leaders on Leaders Series from the Global Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants. I’m Karen Greenbaum, AESC President and CEO. In Leaders on Leaders, we’ll be exploring today’s top trends impacting global leadership with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms. Today, we’ll be discussing leadership amidst rapid change. I’m joined by Witt/Kieffer’s Chairman and CEO, Chuck Wardell, and Andrew Chastain, Managing Partner and Healthcare Practice Chair. Gentlemen, welcome. 

Chuck, why don’t we begin with you telling us about Witt/Kieffer?

CHUCK: Thank you, Karen. I’d be delighted. I’m very, very proud of the firm’s progress over the last six years. We’ve outgrown the industry. We’ve developed leadership positions in all our practices. We’ve become a very well-known specialty firm. As our revenue has grown, we’ve been able to expand around the world, recruit different people, and add a product line that is in line with our core businesses. We’re now in life sciences, have been in education and healthcare, also have developed WK Advisors which is a vice president, directory level business, and we’re beginning to stick our toe in the international waters. 

Also, I’m delighted to announce that Andrew Chastain will be our next CEO. I will complete my six-year stint at Witt/Kieffer in July, although I plan to stay on in a strategic and succession planning role. So all in all, I think the firm has done very, very well. I’m very proud of it. We’re certainly taking our place as one of the major search firms in the world. 

KAREN: Thank you, Chuck. With that overview on the industries you serve, what are the most important challenges that you see in those industries? 

ANDREW: Karen, great question. This is Andrew. I think that the greatest challenges with all of our industries, with healthcare or higher education, life sciences . . . in healthcare, unlike any time in the nation’s history, it’s in the national spotlight politically, socially, and economically. As the nation puts pressure – you can just turn on the news any day, it’s putting pressure on our healthcare industry to reform. Our clients will be responsible for implementing the national healthcare agenda. 

As the landscape changes, it’s putting pressure on our clients. It’s also creating emerging roles and establishing an opening for specialization. Particularly, it’s increasing the consolidation and creating mega systems which is creating new roles. It’s creating system CEOs who are over organizations that are 50,000 or 60,000 or 70,000 employees, which didn’t exist 10 years ago. It’s also creating executive roles and positions that might not have been in the executive space in the past. It’s also requiring health systems, physicians, and payers to integrate which is changing and impacting the expectations of leadership. 

That’s really the three or four big things going on in the healthcare industry, all of which are causing rapid changes in growth for us in that space. In higher education, there’s two or three kind of main challenges for our clients, one being the fragility of the economic model and the increasing constraints on tuition and public funding growth. Secondly is the rapidly changing demographic challenges which are putting the institutions in specific challenges to meet the changing needs of the differently prepared students. 

In life sciences, which Chuck mentioned is a relatively new industry for us but one where we’ve seen significant growth over the last few years, the major challenge is how do we, and our clients, foster innovation while meeting the needs of the investors and the implied social missions of the products. That’s just a brief summary, Karen, of some of the challenges that we believe our clients are facing today.

KAREN: That’s really interesting to see the rapid change in each of the industries you specialize in. How do you identify the future leaders who can really navigate through a time of rapid change?

ANDREW: Well, Karen, I believe there’s no better time to be a leader than today. The best leaders run to challenges like firemen run to fire. The true leaders we believe are energized by the complexities and ambiguities of the current environment. So they find optimism in the challenges. I’ll give you an example. I had a board of a large health system that we were looking for a CEO. The board chairman said something I had not heard before in a search committee, which was “I want to find a CEO who can solve problems that we don’t even know we have now.” 

So that was pretty new for us. They were not looking for a CEO who would basically transport solutions from one organization to another through their hiring but instead, they were looking for a CEO who had an importable process for solving future problems. So they didn’t want to go replicate what the CEO had done in their current market but instead, they wanted to access that person’s creative instincts about how do they solve problems knowing that the future problems would be very different than the current ones or the ones in the past. 

KAREN: So rapid change, new models for leaders. Chuck, how do you see our profession evolving over the next 10 years?

CHUCK: Well, it’s actually changing on two different levels. It’s changing what our customers’ expectations are and it’s changing in our candidate pool. To begin with, technology has radically changed how we go to market for candidates, new things like artificial intelligence are coming in, and new ways to probe people’s abilities through Hogan and other aspects and testing that we do which we’ll continue. Also, we find people may not be as ambitious as they have been in the past. More and more families work, it’s harder to get people to move. Their willingness to take risk, enter new jobs, in many cases, isn’t what it used to be. 

So we have a candidate pool that’s evolving into this century, new ways of measuring their ability, and new technical means to judge how they’ll do in the long term. Also, our clients are beginning to look at recruiting a little differently. They’re bringing, in many cases, more in-house recruiting. They’re beginning to hire specialists on their own. They’re certainly demanding in our profession now that the recruiter have the same level of expertise as the client does, so we have two professionals talking about the same market and each has known the market for many, many years. 

So I think what we find is a basic relationship business is still very much intact, a business that’s being changed by technology, being changed by a different culture of the replacement generation, and demanding more and more expertise on both sides of the desk about the challenges we face together. 

ANDREW: Karen, if I can add, I think that our challenges match the growing challenges of our clients. I’m very optimistic about the future of our firm and the profession. I think solving complex leadership challenges will not go extinct. The question is how will it change in the future and how will we anticipate the changing needs of our clients both strategically and operationally, and how will that change their expectations of search professionals.

As Chuck mentioned, there’s a race to digitize aspects of our work but we must embrace and empower the data to augment our judgment and expertise. There’s no substitute for the judgment and expertise that we’ve built on the experiences that we’ve had in leading complex searches. 

KAREN: Chuck and Andrew, I want to thank you for your participation. Listeners, thank you for joining us for Leaders on Leaders. For our next Leaders on Leaders discussion, stay tuned to the AESC website at www.aesc.org. Thank you and have a great day.

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