Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"I Hate Christian Laettner": Personal rebranding genius

There are a lot of individuals, job seekers, executives, political candidates, etc., who work tirelessly to present themselves in the best potential light. For the most part they can carve out a position in people's minds that leads to a desired outcome over time: A new job, coveted position or winning a race for office. Some take longer than others.

Then there are the brand names, or the individuals who are known generally for one thing. That can be both good and bad, which defines the challenge otherwise known as rebranding, or moving from one position to another. Rebranding is the process; if managed properly, transformation can be the outcome. The process can be extremely tense and difficult especially if the former position is firmly etched in minds and hearts. Think Michael Milken, the late Chuck Colson and Magic Johnson on the positive side; Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney and the latest lion to stir, Al Gore, on the negative side.

Christian Laettner: "Perception is not always reality."
Courtesy Bleacher Report

In the case of former Duke basketball star Christian Laettner, the subject of a new "30 on 30" ESPN special, the tension was between great performance on the court and how he carried himself off the court. This tension defined his brand against the backdrop of Duke basketball, which also had a love/hate dynamic that characterizes all winning teams. Laettner's reputation wasn't always pretty as former teammates attested to in the special titled, "I Hate Christian Laettner." The former Duke star still holds the record for most points scored during March Madness, the annual rite otherwise known as college basketball's playoff (another major branding feat, but that's another story.)

Laettner is captured on old footage stepping on another player during a heated contest against Kentucky in 1992. Anyone else would have been thrown out of the game, according to analyst and fellow Duke alum, Jay Bilas, but because he was "Christian Laettner," it didn't happen. The 6' 11' center/forward would go on to make one of the most memorably shots in NCAA history. Both images, which capture the tension, will be stored and replayed forever.

What stood out at a deeper level was a more subtle point on leadership. Coach K, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, was made better by Laettner, a blue collar and gutsy player from Buffalo, New York, who only K could relate to. According to Coach K's wife, the relationship helped raise her husband's game and the program's championship status. And that's what will be most valued over time. Coach makes players; players make coach. It's difficult to argue with four straight Final Fours and two national championships. Winning defines dynasty; valuable contributions create lasting legacies. The debate over whether you have to be an obnoxious you know what to achieve the highest levels of performance will have to wait for another crowd to argue.

And that may be the whole point: Performance ultimately determines brand whether you're liked, loved or hated by those who may not even know you. Or at least real brand over time. Controversy or drama never hurts. Leaving out the phony exceptions for now; time has a way of revealing the pretenders vs. performers.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Bibi Netanyahu: Leadership POV 101

This week's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "Bibi," was the most fundamental display of resolute geopolitical leadership backed by a point of view (POV) since former President Bush's address to Congress following the September 11th terrorist attacks. It was similar yet different from a speech Bibi gave back in 1996 when passengers could still board airplanes without taking off their shoes. Here are links to both texts:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- courtesy CNN

This is not a political message despite the obvious subject matter. Nor is it a policy statement or endorsement of a candidate for office. Israeli elections are next week, which is why President Obama, observing presidential custom, did not show favor by meeting with the prime minister.

This also is not a shrill rendition of an event reported by either the liberal or Right Wing media. There is no commentary. It's simply a statement of fact-based opinion, and anyone who has watched the speech, will have a difficult time debating the lead statement. Hint: Drop the political indignation and consider events that shaped both the context and purpose behind both the second Netanyahu and Bush speeches.

If you're a leader and have to share POV on a difficult issue calling for action, play the video clip at the link above and take notes. Then call an expert if you're still afraid. Because you should be. Tension sparks creativity. The power, however, is that path can lead to new authentic places -- not endless circular arguments that lead nowhere. To quote Bibi, "the enemy of your enemy is still the enemy." Don't let that enemy be yourself.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

DHR/CT Partners Merger: Who cares?

Generally speaking, when owners of a business form a committee to consider their "strategic options," everyone needs to take cover or head for the exits because it's a clear sign no one knows what they're doing.

Except, of course, if you represent middle market firms active in executive search, or Search as the industry's long-time players like to refer to themselves. Recent news that CT Partners has formed a committee of its own board members to consider options, including a hostile bid from DHR International, is the latest update in a saga that pits two small firms trying to compete against larger players. See an earlier posting here:

To paraphrase one of Search's all-time seminal figures, deals are about personalities just as much (if not more so) than numbers. In CT Partners' case, the personality is CEO and primary owner Brian Sullivan who has been targeted in a sexual harassment case pitting female partners against what they're claiming is rogue behavior and unfair treatment in the workplace -- on Wall Street. Smart, blunt and controversial, Sullivan suffers no fools. DHR International's main personality is actually a Father/Son tag team: Father, or Chairman David and son, CEO Geoff Hoffmann. In previous cycles, Dad was spinning about how complementary the two firms would be in Europe and Chicago where combining the offices would save money. Really? So much so that industry reports now buy into the rationale. Dad even went as far to say to the NY Post that "the lawyers are negotiating non-disclosure agreements" referring to the potential deal.

Brian Sullivan
David Hoffmann
Even if this merger of so called equals were to take place, it doesn't add up to much other than vested interest. And clearly not enough to change the industry. A combined entity wouldn't even equal six months of revenues at Korn/Ferry International (NYSE: KFY), which is now the "industry leader" should that status still even matter. Long-time rumors about Korn Ferry combining with another large firm have remained just that largely because the economics and cultural issues that would arise from merging with another firm don't make sense. Plus the obvious: Going alone seems to be working just fine.

The only merger that would make any difference is if Heidrick & Struggles (NASDAQ: HSII) were to combine with privately held Spencer Stuart. Heidrick's year-over-year earnings, reported earlier this week, remained relatively flat while Spencer Stuart is firmly entrenched in the Fortune 100 CEO and executive suite, where Search has traditionally made its name. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, lay of the land remains the same despite continued need for consolidation. Ironically, the industry that hyped the "War for Talent," now finds itself in one as veteran partners are staying put instead of taking the risk of losing brand name position established by their firms.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dupont: Quote of the year (even though it's early)

Following is a quote from a governance expert commenting on recently disclosed stock sales by Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman, which coincided with activist Nelson Peltz's announcement that he and his firm, Trian, were seeking a split of Dupont's main businesses as well as additional board seats. The Dupont board rejected Peltz's board ideas earlier this week.

"It's either dumb luck or dumb bad luck, depending on how you look at it," said Frank Glassner, chief executive of Veritas Executive Compensation Consultants.

The stock sales, which were pre-arranged through a special program, happened last September and occurred nearly on the same day as the material news was reported, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company went to some lengths to say Kullman still owned more than her fair share of shares as if anyone in the general public understands ownership requirements for a CEO.

Here's what they do understand: When something looks bad, and it involves millions of dollars being rewarded to someone who is already making 400x the average employee, then perception is reality. And vice versa. Pay gaps and lack of #transparency# remain hot button issues. Put them together and you have a cauldron.

While the stock sales were not 'egregious' as another analyst put it, the fact that the transaction coincided so closely with material news obviously raised a few feathers.

Some loyal TGR readers will recall Kullman was responsible for the 2013 quote of the year: "We need certainty so we can plan." Looks like she finally earned some certainty. Read more here:

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Monday, February 09, 2015

#Hash Tag -- you're it#

Note: Following was originally distributed as a client letter on February 6, 2015.
Dear Clients and Colleagues:
Did you know that more than half of the ads in the most watched, highest socially engaged Super Bowl earlier this week contained a hash tag? If you ask, “What’s a hash tag do?” then you’re behind the curve. If you don't care then you're somewhere in the safe middle. Good news is a potential antidote for media saturation follows should you choose to keep reading.
Social media is now a fully developed norm despite generational gaps that are closing pretty quickly. While some continue to compartmentalize lives on Facebook, a majority of business professionals have either used LinkedIn or have instructed someone else to improve their profile and add connections to get a better job. Twitter, a micro-blogging service, gets credit for inventing hash tags, which are generally tag lines set apart by hashes or number signs to describe something product-driven happening in real time. For an easy reference guide, turn on any network show in prime time and look down in the right hand corner of the screen for the tag otherwise known as Hash.
Here are three appropriately tagged issues that are going to define 2015 from (a leadership) POV:
#Transparency# is the most vexing issue facing leaders of major companies and institutions today. In another five years, whether information is conveyed freely, voluntarily and without hesitation will define brand reputations. Private is now public, and the reverse also is sometimes true. This issue can be complex, controversial and challenging to old legacy and new brands alike. Consider the NFL, Sony Corp. and Uber for recent examples. Transparency has a darker side, too, as evidenced by brutal tactics employed by terrorists.
#Authenticity# drives transparency. The opposite of authentic is phony. Space between these two points can create a challenging chasm at times, particularly when crises hit. To re-define an old saying -- you know leadership when you see it – authentic is self evident as long as you’re looking for the right cues. Great example: Chris Kyle played brilliantly by Bradley Cooper in "American Sniper."
#Selflessness# is defined as being able to set aside self-interest long enough to listen to, help and serve the needs of others. Selfless leaders are in short supply and on limited display, which may be intentional. Truett Cathy, the late founder of Chick-fil-A, is difficult to beat for an example of great selfless leadership. Pope Francis is another selfless leader. There are no brand name examples in current domestic political circles -- or at least none that leap to mind. Serve or be served will define #selflessness#.
Look forward to hearing your views on these topics and more -- either on-line or off line. More on these tags in the previously mentioned social networks. No Instagram or YouTube yet so you're safe for now. Exhale,

Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
4060 Peachtree Rd./Suite D-#117
Atlanta, GA, 30319
Phone: 404-606-0637
Web site:
TGR web log: 

Friday, February 06, 2015

DHR and CT Partners: Search Dwarfs in Alley Fight

When you're supposed to be the "highly esteemed, trusted advisor" to major companies and their boards, nothing is more unseemly than when bad hubris breaks out over your own business practices.

Unfortunately, this is the case with this week's reported hostile bid being made by DHR International to acquire CT Partners in a cash offer of $60 million, according to the New York Post's Kevin Dugan. See latest cycle here:

Neither Search firm is worth that much, nor do they even add up to a fraction of the top ranked firms, but that's beside the point. Hostile bids impact prices in ways that are completely irrational, which in this case, could also now describe the transaction's tone.

Deals are as much about ego and personality as numbers with the latest example raising the truth of that statement almost as quickly as a market index.

Consider this choice excerpt from the previously linked story: 'Obviously, we don't have a high opinion of Brian as an executive or as a person,' David Hoffmann, chairman of DHR, told the Post. 'Yeah, we think a big part of the problem is him.' 

(Side note: According to DHR's web site, Hoffmann's son, Geoff, the firm's CEO, appeared earlier today on CNBC and Bloomberg to discuss "hot jobs in the CEO suite."

Now, back to Dad for a minute. Why would anyone in a leadership capacity say something that personally disparaging in a public statement that risks legal suit? Especially when they're the ones who are trying to acquire the other firm? That's not leverage. Hostile or not, lawyers or no lawyers, this lack of decorum leaves a lot to be desired. Each side needs to work through the process professionally and with discretion. Set the personal aside even if the accusations may turn out to be true from your own point of view.

No matter what these players think is at stake, there's something larger here that needs to be observed. If you need help figuring out what that is, then chances are it's a good time to take a step back yourself. Transactions at all costs rarely add up to anything resembling long-term value.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Say that again a different way

Note: This originally appeared as a client e-letter.

December 23, 2014

Dear Clients and Colleagues:

The subject line that you just read was a request made during a meeting in late November. It wasn't coincidence that the request came from one of my most admired figures. After putting the words to the test both through my own usage and discussion with others, here are some short burst takeaways that may be worth application in your world:

1.) First, note the language. This person didn't say, "Give me an example," or "Sorry, could you restate what you just said?" He said, "say that again -- a different way." The command was refreshing during a time of over-pleasing, equivocation and political correctness. It's almost as if we have forgotten how to speak to each other without watering down substance out of fear that someone may misinterpret what's being said. Or worse yet expose publicly. Perish the thought! Everything is public now in case you haven't noticed.

2.) When you read the statement, "say that again, a different way" aloud, does it convict you to respond differently without pausing? Of course not. It takes all of us a minute to collect our thoughts. During my experience with this command, no matter how a response was rephrased, it fell short in my mind and heart. What this rhetorical device does require is being able to think on your feet, which in this case, were literally dangling underneath the chair.

3.) Last point from a leadership point of view. Are you willing to answer the same question directly with conviction without equivocation? The easiest way to lose credibility is to repeat the same response when given this command so don't do that. Practice makes perfect here. No better time to try than during the holiday season, a natural time of reflection. Try it out on your children, or for those who would prefer a non-verbal response, your dog or family pet.

Thanks for your support this year, and to all those still reading and stirring, may you have a good night and great holiday season. Merry Christmas,


Jeremy C. Garlington
Point of View LLC
4060 Peachtree Rd./Suite D-#117
Atlanta, GA, 30319
Phone: 404-606-0637
Web site:
TGR web log:

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"The Garlington Report" (TGR) represents the first new media forum devoted exclusively to executive-level leadership from the talent and search points of view.

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Thanks for continuing to read, JG