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With economy's growth, CEOs are in high demand

With economy's growth, CEOs are in high demand

George L. Davis Jr., US Comanaging Partner Egon Zehnder International| On the Hot Seat

July 22, 2007

George L. Davis Jr. , 45, is managing partner for the Boston office and comanaging partner for US operations at Egon Zehnder International, the world's largest privately held executive search firm. Before joining Egon Zehnder, Davis held senior management positions at Manufacturers Hanover Trust, A.T. Kearney, Time Inc., and Walt Disney Co. He spoke with Globe business reporter Robert Weisman on a visit to the newspaper's offices last week.

Q How goes the search for executives these days?

A It's a very active market for executives right now. We've had strong economic growth across multiple industries over the last two to three years, and the demand for talent is very strong.

Q What types of jobs are in greatest demand ?

A Well, CEOs. [Chief executive] tenure used to be 8 1/2 years. Now it's down to 4 1/2 years. So there's been high turnover. There's been a lot of investment from private equity guys, and they want new leadership for their companies. Chief legal officers and chief financial officers are also in high demand.

Q Are the demands of those jobs different now because of Sarbanes-Oxley, the antifraud law, and more stringent financial regulation?

A Absolutely. I think the effort and time and capital required to comply with these new regulations for a public company have changed a lot of the landscape. And companies are asking for new skills.

Q So who are the ideal candidates for these jobs? When you're paging through resumes, what kind of background are you looking for?

A Academic background is always a starter, but it's not the be-all or end-all. Someone who's had a significant track record of performance is always the most important.

That's absolutely paramount. And success at different stages of a company's growth is also highly sought after.

If someone could grow an early-stage company but then show success at growing a large-cap company, that shows another degree of complexity.

Q Why would someone want to be a CEO today, given the short tenures and the intensified scrutiny and regulations they're seeing?

A It's a chance to build, a chance to show what they can contribute. It's less about economic wealth, about personal economic wealth. It's more about building something. And people like to have that sense of accomplishment.

Q How does Boston compare with other markets where you recruit?

A Boston is a unique market with high academic achievement, with strong private equity and venture-backed funding. So there's a huge entrepreneurial and managerial base here that I've seen, compared with other regions of the country.

Q But sometimes you hear venture capitalists say they have a hard time finding people to run certain types of companies here, like Internet companies. Are there deficits you see in the Boston area?

A I think every search is almost a national search now. You can't just be hunting in your local pond for talent. We've brought the best local people to multinational companies based here. And we've brought the best national talent to entrepreneurial companies here.

Q Is it tough to attract out-of-state talent to Boston because of the high cost of living?

A You know, that's a rumor. You hear it a lot in the marketplace. Yes, housing has been an issue. But people will come to good opportunities.

Q What about the shrinking number of home-based corporations in Boston today? Is that an inhibitor in luring executives here?

A That's a very valid point. It is a concern that we should, as a community, embrace to grow our local companies to a national and international scale. You have to have a national and global mindset.

Q How flexible are Boston candidates about moving to other areas?

A When we talk about being geographically flexible, you need to think about bringing people in from everywhere or hiring people from Boston in San Antonio or Palo Alto [California]. People think we're too parochial. Some will say, "We'll go from Exit 26 on the Mass. Pike to Exit 32."

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