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What Executives & Tom Cruise will have in common: an Agent

By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Management Consultants

In September 2002, an ex-Heidrick & Struggles Partner that INC Magazine once called ‘The MatchMaker’, launched Canal Street Talent. The firm was built on the concept that business executives would soon feel the need to retain ‘Talent Agents’ in the same way as entertainment stars and pro-athletes have done for years. Amazingly, while the post-bubble market has forced most search firms to either downsize or close shop entirely, Canal Street Talent has been quietly expanding – even earning a feature spot on CNBC earlier this month. Angel Mehta met with Canal Street’s founder & CEO Jeff Hyman to find out more about why so many happily employed executives are signing on for his counsel.

Where did the concept for Canal Street’s business model come from?

It just made sense. Top performing executives have a lot in common - just in terms of career needs –with athletes and entertainers…the very best people don’t have the bandwidth to worry about their careers because they’re busy making their companies successful.

How is a Talent Agent‚ or a Talent Management firm‚ any different from a regular outplacement firm or a job-seeker’s advisory service?

For one thing, outplacement firms are typically retained by an employer to assist executives in transition…usually those being laid off. It’s the same thing with job-seeker’s advisory services…they’re designed for the executive who is actively looking for a job…all they do is mass mail campaigns. Canal Street Talent is totally different…we’re retained by executives that are currently working and highly-successful in their career, but don’t want the headache of having to keep track of opportunities that might represent the next step up. Our clients know how important it is to be strategic about managing their careers, but they’re too busy to do it well. Plus, confidentiality is a major concern. We help star players identify and build their personal brands, so this is truly about long-term career management.

So do you have certain criteria that an executive needs to meet before your firm will accept them as a client?

Definitely. Our clients are at the top of the game…we might agree to represent about 10% of the executives we speak with. Again, these are successful people who don’t need help actually finding a job. But the reality is, they can’t be as good at managing their own careers as we can – because that’s what we focus on. Our clients are Directors, Vice Presidents, and C-Level types… the minimum compensation is $150K annually – below that, we won’t even do a meeting.

What do you promise to deliver in return?

The specifics depend on objectives that we come up with together. Some of what we do is giving them the “tough love” that nobody else will. But the bottom line is, we’ll make them drop-dead successful or drop dead trying. We’ll book them into speaking engagements, identify new opportunities, position them with search firms and venture partners…a number of things that are absolutely necessary, but that the best executives have no time to do themselves.

What role do you play in a world class executive’s life that an executive search firm doesn’t? Are you essentially competing with me?! Would I have to negotiate with you to close one of the executives you represent for my client?

Executive search firms serve a valuable purpose…We think of them as allies, not competitors. Headhunters are retained by an employer to help fill a vacancy…We represent the talent that can fill that vacancy – so it’s a totally different dynamic. Two real estate agents work together to consummate a transaction…it’s the same thing here. We also invest time to package and position our client, benchmark their compensation, coach them…and scout out the next role. Search firms are only interested in an executive up until the point a client says ‘NO’ – after that, you fall off a search firm’s radar. And yes, we absolutely get involved in negotiating compensation packages – but only to the extent our clients wants us to be.


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