Executive Capital Partners Career Agent Private Equity

The Wall Street Journal


Like most executives, Harvey Maslin was so busy running his business he had little time to run his career. When he left his job as the No. 2 executive of a $400 million personnel firm earlier this year, he hoped to land the top spot at another firm.  Then, a friend introduced him to Joe Meissner of Executive Capital Partners® , a San Francisco career agent.

Mr. Meissner convinced him to piece together his own company.  He launched a public-relations campaign on Mr. Maslin's behalf to burnish the executive's image as a leader rather than as a subordinate and introduced him to potential investors, management talent and even acquisition targets. Mr. Maslin eventually created WorldStaff™, retaining Mr. Meissner as an adviser and career agent.

"I probably could have done this without him, but I would have needed a half-dozen people to help me," Mr. Maslin says.  "And I wouldn't have gotten it done as fast as we have." 

With executive jobs and career directions changing more frequently than in the past and the demand for so-called brand-name executives heating up, the concept of the full-service career agent, common to the sports and entertainment fields, has filtered into the business world.

Executive agents combine executive coaching and career consulting with marketing and negotiations. They plot career strategy, help build networks of business contacts, advise on salary talks and shape their clients' images.  They also screen job opportunities for employed clients.

There aren't many of them yet.  StybelPeabody Lincolnshire, a Boston outplacement firm, has launched a similar service, complete with a team of financial planners, attorneys and even a theater director to polish presentation style.  Most such career agents work for a percentage of their client's salary.

Who could use an executive agent?  Well-known CEOs are candidates.  So are senior executives on the CEO fast track, rainmaking attorneys and consultants, cutting-edge technology wizards and successful turnaround artists.  If you're thinking of getting an executive agent, ask yourself these questions: Are you at or near the top of the class in what you do?  Is what you do in short supply?  Do you lack the time or ability to plot career strategy and build business contacts? 

Executive agents trade on their career expertise and contacts.  Mr. Maslin, for example, hadn't conducted a job search in 30 years, and with few contacts in the equity world, he hadn't seriously considered an entrepreneurial venture.  Mr. Meissner provided expertise, contacts and a vision for Mr. Maslin's future.  "It took Joe to take me through that process to make me feel we could pull it off," Mr. Maslin says.  

In some ways, executive agents operate from the shadows.  Mr. Stybel conducts anonymous job searches for executives who don't want anyone to know they're sniffing around.  Mr. Meissner remains in the background if a recruiter balks at his participation, not an uncommon experience.  To raise Mr. Maslin's profile, Mr. Meissner arranged interviews with trade publications and booked a road show for meetings with private equity funds.  For other clients, Mr. Meissner has arranged speeches and gotten them involved with charitable organizations that attract power brokers. 

"Harvey needed to see himself as an entrepreneur and a brand," Mr. Meissner says.  "Then I had to reposition Harvey's image with people in the industry, so they would see him as a stand-alone guy."

As in the entertainment industry, executive agents are also deal packagers.  Mr. Meissner, for example, has introduced Mr. Maslin to management talent-a chief financial officer for the new company and potential investor-relations and product-development managers.  "He exposed me to a whole slew of people," Mr. Maslin says. 

Brian McAdams also needed a deal packager after completing the turnaround and sale of an infomercial producer in 1996.  He was in search of "another big, successful deal," he says.  The executive recruiters he contacted were placement specialists, not deal packagers.  One of them referred him to Mr. Meissner.  First, Mr. McAdams says, the career agent interrogated him thoroughly about his career.  "I had forgotten how successful I was in the food business," he says.  "He created in my own mind a picture of myself that was more accurate and complete than I would have ever done myself." 

Mr. Meissner then arranged meetings with companies and private equity funds around the country that Mr. McAdams, who has spent his entire career in Philadelphia, didn't know existed.  He also steered the executive away from firms whose investment aims weren't compatible with his and counseled him to pass on one deal he felt was too costly.  "He won't let me do anything off-target or stupid," Mr. McAdams says.  "He's created a lot of efficiency for me."

Mr. McAdams likens Mr. Meissner's role to that of an entertainment agent.  "The really successful stars in show business, if you look underneath, you'll see a great agent looking out for their long-term career interests," he says.  "He'll decide to do this project or not do that album."

Once he lands his deal, Mr. McAdams says he will continue to retain his executive agent.  "A guy like me, when I'm managing a business, my nose is to the grindstone," he says. "There's no one out there who represents my interests."

©1998 The Wall Street Journal