Alan J. Kaplan
Connecting financial and growth-minded institutions with the next generation of leadership
Alan Kaplan is the CEO and founder of Kaplan Partners. Established in 1994 in Philadelphia, Kaplan Partners is a retained executive search and talent advisory firm that helps organizations fulfill critical roles and meet evolving leadership requirements. The firm specializes in executive search, board advisory services, and management assessment and succession planning. Clients include technology companies, private equity funds, community banks, nonprofits, and more.
JEFF MACK: You’ve been in the recruiting business for over three decades. Tell us about some of your toughest challenges and proudest moments over the years.
ALAN KAPLAN: Probably one of the most difficult times we’ve been through in our firm was when the financial crisis started to meltdown. We have a lot of financial services clients, but they all went into lockdown mode right away, and most of them were cutting back staff and cutting expenses. They didn’t even want to hear about hiring anybody, let alone actually hiring a firm to help them assess their team or to help them bring somebody into the organization. Our view in that particular time was we knew we were going to get through even though we suffered a little bit of a revenue decline, like everybody did; we wanted to play offense, not defense. I counted the meetings: we did almost about 200 meetings over the course of a year, just going out talking to companies, saying, “We know you are not in need of our help right now. Here’s what we’re seeing in the market. Here are the organizations that are trying to take advantage of the weaknesses of some of their competitors. Here are the kind of people that are coming into the market that are A-caliber people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.” And just be upfront, play offence, communicate, say, “We know there’s not a time right now for us to work together, but here’s what we are seeing and feel free to use us as a sounding board, as a resource, any time.”
That was probably the most difficult phase we have been through even though I’ve been through four, five economic downturns since I started this business. In fact, the first month I was in this business in 1987, I started on Labor Day of 1987—October—there was a huge stock market meltdown. So, the very first bump I went through. Then there was the S&L crisis in the early 90s; then there was the tech bubble burst, and 9/11; and then what we went through back in 2007, 2008.
I’m very proud of our team. We have an incredibly dedicated team that is really not only dedicated to the firm but really dedicated to doing what’s right for the client. And on the rare occasions when we cross an issue where there’s a question of integrity or doing the right thing, we’re always going to do the right thing. It doesn’t matter that it is not in our best interest. If it’s in the client’s best interest to know something, even if that means that we have to blow up a candidate or we have to pull somebody out of a process because we learned something about them, we’re never going to hesitate to do that. We’ve never had a problem in our team doing the right thing for the client, because the relationship and the client are most important. The third thing I’d say that I am most proud of is sometimes it takes us a really long time to build relationships with companies, and you hope someday that you’ll be able to partner with them, and we’ve been fortunate that sometimes, years and years later, the phone rings or you get an email, and because of the time you’ve invested in getting to know people, and being authentic, and not being sales-y, and trying to really understand who they are and make them comfortable with you over time, we’ve been fortunate that those opportunities continue to come for us.
Q. How do you approach talent acquisition for your own company?
A. We talk a lot about growing our firm and for us I think the most critical piece is finding the right next person who will fit with our culture and who’s very, very client-centric, relationship-centric, and incredible in how they present themselves to the market. Because at the end of the day, people aren’t going to buy something from you just because you may come off as some super sales person—they might—but more often than not, the levels that we get to play, it’s the credibility and the trusted advisor type of mindset and credibility over time.Finding people who are going to fit into a high-level human capital service is not easy, but when we find the right person, we are really excited about it.
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