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May 2013

Valerie Frederickson & Company

Peter Principled: When It’s Time to Hire Your Own Boss

Dear Friends,

At the HR Symposium here in Silicon Valley the other day, a funny story recounted by the CHRO of a financial-services software company got me thinking. She said that when she was growing up, her mother told her to marry a doctor or a lawyer. Now she’s mother to five (yes, five) teenagers, but what she tells her daughters is a little different: They should be the attorneys and MDs, and as for who they should marry, well, there’s nothing wrong with a chef. In her much-discussed book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg takes this idea even farther: She says that picking the right husband—a guy who will do his part as a parent, housekeeper, short-order cook, etc., so that his wife can grow in her job—is critical to a woman’s career, and to the very essence of who she will become. But if we stipulate that picking a life partner is the most important search and selection activity you might ever do, I’d posit that picking a boss is right up there in second place. Why? Because having a great boss above you, or sometimes even just realizing that you need a boss, may be the single biggest factor in the trajectory of your career.

Last year, I met a smart young woman who decided that she was in over her head running HR for a 300-person, publicly traded tech company. She’d been on the job for more than five years, reporting to the CFO, and both she and the CFO admitted that the HR function was, in their words, “compliance oriented.” But instead of merely complaining about her frustrations—that she wasn’t having enough impact, that she could never seem to get ahead of the curve, that she just wasn’t having fun anymore—she did something constructive with them. Surprising, but constructive. She took a long, hard look at herself, her skills, the HR systems and processes currently in use, the executive team and how they needed to develop, and where the company was ultimately heading, and decided that she was the wrong person for the job. What the company really needed, she believed, was a VP-level HR executive who would know how to prioritize, who could lay out a clear strategy, and who had the clout to coach the execs, to give them honest feedback, and to push back when necessary.

Wow. And by that I mean, wow. How many people do you know who would have the courage and insight to judge themselves and find themselves lacking? She basically did a 360-degree review on herself, the executive team, the HR department, and really the entire company, and decided that the key to taking it to the next level was to take herself out of the equation.

More surprising still, she decided she shouldn’t even stick around to work for whatever brilliant person would come in to kick-you-know-what and take names. She not only knew a company that size didn’t need both a VPHR and a Director, but that, since she’d been there for so long, the CEO wouldn’t engage with her new boss if she was still hanging around doing the same things she’d been doing. Like my neighbor who told me when I wanted to get married that I needed to clean out half my bookshelves and closets so that there would be enough feng shui room for a guy in my home, this über-smart young woman knew that the CEO had to be forced to interact closely with the new VP in order to build the relationship. So, I got a call from this sweet young woman saying that she wanted us to conduct a replacement and upgrade search for her successor. And to make sure that everyone would agree to her plan, she went out and got herself a new job and let everyone know that she had a fixed end date.

In some ways a dramatic move like this might be seen as a step backward, but in other ways it’s a step or two or three forward. You get to call lots of meetings with the senior executives to convince them that they need strategic HR, and you get to participate in selecting the search firm and ultimately the candidates themselves. Meanwhile, even as you’re throwing your hands up in defeat, you’re showing a tremendous amount of self-confidence, both by letting people know that you know what you don’t know and by taking a leap of faith with the certainty that you’ll land on your feet. And whether you decide to stay on as second banana or go find a job elsewhere, you’ll end up with a bunch of people on your side that can help you take your career to the next level, whether it’s a new boss/mentor or a grateful CEO or the plugged-in chief of a respected Silicon Valley HR services firm whose socks you’ve just knocked off.

From having watched people grow their careers over more than two decades, I know that pulling yourself out for reasons like this is almost always the right thing to do. It’s better to be able to say, “I quit,” than to hear, “You’re fired.” And it’s better to find new challenges to conquer than to beat your head against the same old wall. While the young woman in question still has a long way to go to become the next Sheryl Sandberg—she’s currently working as a Compensation Analyst for a much larger company than the one she left—I have no doubt that her decision to lean in toward her own ouster will ultimately pay off both personally and professionally. Right now she’s the happiest little fish in a great big pond, with the opportunity to advance her career in a deliberate and appropriate fashion. And whether or not it ever leads her to a perch as lofty as COO of Facebook, she’s clearly already successful in the eyes of the woman who currently holds the position: “If I had to embrace a definition of success,” writes Sandberg in her book, “it would be that success is making the best choices we can ... and accepting them."

Take care,

Ask Valerie

To submit your most daunting HR questions, email us at or visit us on Quora.

QI am an internal executive search recruiter for one of Silicon Valley’s largest employers. I happen to know that one of the VPHR candidates my company is interviewing got fired from his last job for “personal reasons.” Do I have any obligation to let the company know, and if so, how should I share the info? I don’t want to come across as meddling, and maybe the company wouldn’t have a problem with what he did, but I do. How should one weigh “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” against “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”?

If you are directly responsible for bringing forth this person’s candidacy, then by all means make sure that the reference or background checks pick up this. If not, butt out.

QI’m interviewing with a company to lead the HR function and find myself really turned off by something the CFO keeps saying, which is that everyone in the company flies coach, even on international flights. I don’t want to be flying to Asia or Eastern Europe on a 12- or 15-hour flight and be stuck in coach. Frankly, it’s almost a deal-breaker. What do you think?

I think two things. First, it’s 2013, not 1999. Everyone’s flying coach these days, though most executives get around it by using their own miles for upgrades. Second, this really shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. If it’s that big a problem for you, take the job and then fight the battle once you’re on the inside.

QI heard that John Chambers has made Sheryl Sandberg’s book mandatory reading for all Cisco Systems executives. In the wake of Lean In, what else should we be doing?

Required reading is a start, but there are certainly plenty of more tangible steps you can take. For instance, proactively institutionalizing equal pay for men and women, even if the women aren’t currently asking for more money. You can also set five-year gender or diversity goals for your executive ranks and then enact a plan—right now, today—to get you there. Don’t accept less than full equality, and take personal responsibility for where it’s lacking in your organization. Look at recruiting, retention, promotion, training, compensation, communications. Don’t let anything be off-limits.

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Current Executive Searches

HR Executive Searches

The world's most important social media employer is taking things to the next level and hiring their first Head of Diversity to lead global diversity efforts including having the chance to create the overall vision and evolve the diversity and inclusion strategies. Ideal candidates have 10+ years of experience in HR, strategy consulting, or employment branding/advertising along with experience in full spectrum recruitment and general management. This is a global position based at the client's beautiful headquarters in Menlo Park, CA. Submit Your Profile

A very hot Fortune 100 company is seeking a VPHR to lead the strategic HR for their incubator subsidiary. Partnering closely with and supporting the executive team, this VPHR will help define the talent strategy to ensure a continuous pipeline of prospective engineering talent and a solid bench strength for growth. The executive will have overall responsibility for HR, including talent acquisition and talent management, total rewards, leadership development and communications, for this incubator. A love of technology and the ability to connect well with engineers of all backgrounds is crucial. Submit Your Profile

A mid-size, publicly-held mobile gaming company is seeking a VPHR to lead the entire HR function including working with the board of directors, partnering with and supporting the executive team, and taking the responsibility for all facets of HR, including talent acquisition and talent management, total rewards, leadership development, and communications. Both highly experienced and first-time VPHRs will be considered. A love of gaming as well as experience working with a youthful employee base is desired. Submit Your Profile

A 200 employee, 80-year old, fast-paced, historic public safety company now in a turn-around mode after going private with Francisco Partners is seeking a hands-on VPHR to lead organizational design and development, talent acquisition, performance management, and total rewards. The ideal candidate will take a strategic approach to the change management and employee communications needed to lead the company to the next level. The role will report into a sophisticated and transparent CEO with an engineering background who likes metrics, results, and direct action. Submit Your Profile

A publicly-held, highly innovative B2B SaaS company is seeking a VPHR who will further develop the HR function into a scalable, global, best-in-class organization. With their recent IPO, this HR leader will be able to guide company through the talent, cultural, and organizational challenges it will face during a time of transformation and growth, and create a work environment that is both appealing and market-competitive to potential new hires. In addition to helping to develop a hard-driving, fun culture, the person in this role will continue to develop a proactive talent acquisition function as well as robust talent management systems and programs. The ideal candidate will be a highly professional, ethical, and energetic leader who has the ability to communicate effectively with board members, executives, and employees. Submit Your Profile

A sophisticated, publicly-held chip company that is a global leader in their space requires a SVPHR to lead the function globally and support extreme growth. Partner with the CEO, other members of the executive team, and the Board of Directors to design HR programs and services that improve and drive results. Lead a global team of high-performers in every HR function including talent acquisition, total rewards, learning and development, and HR business partners. Submit Your Profile

A billion-dollar global technology company needs a Head of HR to oversee their Asia operations. Reporting to a very sophisticated CHRO, this Director will manage a team of country heads for each Asian location and will partner with corporate on setting the vision for people strategies in Asia during a time of rapid growth. The ideal candidate will have a solid leadership development background and have led Asian operations at a high tech multi-national corporation. Bilingual fluency in English and an Asian language, preferably Mandarin, is highly desired. Job can be based in Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Taipei, or Penang. Submit Your Profile

A leading Fortune 200 company seeks a Director of Talent Acquisition to assess and revamp their talent acquisition function. Reporting into the CHRO, the Director will manage a team of highly sophisticated recruiters and partner closely with hiring managers across all functions to redefine the employment branding strategy for this well-established company. The ideal candidate will be an experienced TA executive with a background in talent acquisition design and strategic planning for a large multi-national corporation. Submit Your Profile

A leading global electronics manufacturing services provider with approximately 225,000 employees seeks an experienced compensation executive to lead the US compensation function, reporting into the Vice President of Total Rewards. This position is open due to numerous internal promotions. This Director will manage and lead the company's compensation philosophies within the US, aligning pay-for-performance philosophy with business objectives, while also managing the global focal review process for the corporation worldwide. They will design plans that are aligned with business objectives and talent strategy while ensuring the achievement of consistent and market-driven levels of compensation. Along with the drive and ambition to succeed and be promoted, experience with global compensation is a plus because, although primarily US-focused, there is also a substantial global project component to the position. Submit Your Profile

A leading global electronics manufacturing services provider with approximately 225,000 employees seeks an experienced benefits executive to develop and lead cutting edge programs that contribute to the attraction, retention, and welfare of the employee population. This position is open due to numerous internal promotions. Manage and lead benefits programs and initiatives with a team of experienced professionals. Design programs to enhance the company's overall employee-facing initiatives. Experience with global benefits is a plus, as there is a substantial global project component to the position. Submit Your Profile

The largest social networking company needs a business-focused HR leader to support the deeply-technical, business-minded engineers that make up two critical, rapidly-growing groups within their infrastructure team. The ideal candidate is a strategic-minded up-and-comer with a strong business focus, as well as an intuitive knack for empathy and the ability to build genuine, trust-based relationships with senior leaders, managers, and engineers. This role will focus on coaching and leadership development, talent management and retention, and employee relations. Financial acumen and exposure to a global environment a plus! Submit Your Profile

The largest social networking company needs an up-and-coming business leader to support their cutting-edge global teams in HR and team dynamics. The ideal candidate is flexible, creative, and proactive, with the ability to roll up their sleeves to handle the day-to-day challenges that arise in a fast-paced environment geared towards innovation. This role will partner directly with several high-profile, influential members of the leadership team in global organizational assessment and design, talent management, succession planning, and first-time manager coaching. Prior experience in sales and marketing preferred. Submit Your Profile

Internal VF&Co Searches

We are looking for consultants who are super strategic but can also roll up their sleeves and dive in, respond quickly and concisely to client inquiries, think proactively, know when to push back, and are all-around authoritative yet super easy to work with. Submit Your Profile

As companies look to expand their leadership development initiatives, we are adding to our internal executive coaching team. Prior experience working with multi-cultural teams a plus! Submit Your Profile

With the world economy picking up, many companies are looking to expand into new markets, particularly in Asia and South America. And, thus, we are looking for executives who have prior experience working in and who are interested in consulting to companies who are building their presence in these locations. Submit Your Profile

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HR Consultant & Contractor's Corner

Our hottest global HR contracting and consulting assignments include:

  • Interim Head of HR assignments with pre-IPO companies in software analytics and digital advertising
  • Advising several European companies interested in relocating their headquarters to the United States
  • Providing Venture Capital and Private Equity firms with on-demand HR and compensation consulting for their portfolio companies
  • Comprehensive review of compensation programs for hot post-IPO tech companies, including benchmarking and redesigning of short and long-term incentive plans
  • Coaching an executive team through strategic planning for their leadership development function including succession planning and creating career development paths for hi-po’s
  • Executive leadership mentoring and “on call” support for CFO’s and HR managers at start-up companies in tech hubs that include San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Austin and New York
  • Customized outplacement projects for Fortune 500 companies in the midst of restructuring or integrating acquisitions

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HR Events

GOLSE HR Conference 2013
May 20, 2013 – LSE Campus, London, UK

June 16-19, 2013 – McCormick Place Convention Center, Chicago, IL

GOHR Star SF 2013
July 17, 2013 – South San Francisco Conference Center, South San Francisco, CA

GOLinkedIn Talent Connection
October 15-17, 2013 – MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV

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Spotlight on...

Check out Valerie’s insights on the correlation between employee retention and lavish perks in the Silicon Valley Business Journal here.

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About VF&Co

Valerie Frederickson & Company (VF&Co) is a human resource executive search, HR consulting and corporate outplacement firm known for helping clients build and sustain winning teams in today´s rapidly changing marketplace. Since 1995, VF&Co specializes in creating customized solutions to meet an organization´s human resource needs at every stage and size from start–up to Global 500.

Outplacement Practice

Re–evaluating your outplacement vendors? Require a higher utilization rate for your outplacement dollar? Need higher touch services and consistency across all markets? Since 1995, VF&Co is the outplacement firm of choice for sophisticated corporate buyers. Join the numerous Fortune 500 employers and small firms who have selected us over their previous vendor and are now enjoying the best of both worlds: each employee well taken care of, and consistency in every city.

Price shopping or need to customize a program? Contact our Corporate Outplacement Team at 650-614-0220 or email them at for more information on our outplacement services.

HR Consulting Practice

With the dramatic increase of global technology outsourcing and the continued geographic dispersion of corporate teams, the need for international human resources strategy, design, and project implementation has increased. Our global team of HR consultants has the specialized skills and breadth of expertise to develop and lead your initiatives—saving you time, money, and resources. We can manage the international recruiting function, help you hire key local managers or an entire startup team in an overseas market, and establish HR systems for global expansion.

Why clients choose VF&Co:

  • Results-driven, value-oriented. To keep your HR programs in line with your corporate direction, we provide HR strategy, cost-effective HR infrastructure, and pragmatic HR advice across all critical areas of human resource management.
  • Any size, any stage. We draw upon years of experience with startups, midsize firms and large global enterprises to guide our clients strategically through any stage of growth.
  • Work smarter, not harder. In survey after survey, CEO's say the number-one issue keeping them up at night is "people problems." We help you solve them so that you can get back to focusing on your business.

Contact our HR Consulting Team at 650.614.0220 or email them at for more information on our HR consulting services

Executive Search Practice

Why clients choose VF&Co as their human resources-specialized executive search firm:

  • Prompt results. The average time from start of search to presentation of the winning HR candidate is 21 days. 50% of HR searches are completed in less than 45 days.
  • Superior results. More than 95% of HR executives placed by VF&Co are still with their companies five years following placement.
  • High client satisfaction. More than 90% of the firm's work is either repeat business or from referrals. A number of clients have been with VF&Co for more than a decade.

You get:

  • Access to the best global human resources executive talent available through extensive networks built upon long–term relationships with U.S. and global executives
  • Customized HR executive search solutions that fit your goals, budget and timeline
  • Interim HR management during the search process, followed by an assimilation period to ensure a smooth transition

Interim HR management during the search process, followed by an assimilation period to ensure a smooth transition Contact our human resources executive search team at 650.614.0220 or email us at to learn how your organization can reap the benefits VF&Co can deliver: Improved performance and greater success through your most valuable asset—your people.

Diversity Statement

VF&Co welcomes and encourages all diversity candidates to contact us directly. We highly value the diversity of our VF&Co team, placement of diverse executives into our client companies and our diverse clients, candidates, and supplier partnerships. We want to help swing the pendulum the other way.

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The VF&Co newsletter, "VF&Co In the Know," and VF&Co Executive Search Update are the intellectual property of Valerie Frederickson & Company. They are a free resource to business professionals. To subscribe to this newsletter, email

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