Call Mark Shlien a head hunter, and he's likely to have your head.
Shlien, the founder of the insurance talent search firm iPeople, prefers the terms matchmaker, talent scout, executive searcher. Just don't call him a head hunter.
The expression, after all, does retain a militaristic, even predatory ring to it. And that's just not Shlien's business, even though he did work on a nuclear submarine.
No, Shlien's line of work is to match the supply of insurance brokerage talent with the demand for it among the hundreds of agencies around the country. The job takes work, takes time, takes care, takes attention.
"I want to have every person that calls me know that I'm listening to him or her," he said. "In this role, you're sometimes just listening about how tough it is. There's that side of it, that's the therapist side."
Agency clients are often fickle, their management structures idiosyncratic. One size definitely does not fit all--and you learn a lot about people, whether you like it or not, when you're 180 feet below the surface tooling around in a ballistic missile boat.
Shlien's not alone, of course, in running a talent search firm for the insurance industry. There are dozens of other talent search companies large and small serving the gamut from the nation's largest carriers to the nation's smaller agencies.
But with iPeople, which Shlien started earlier this year with several colleagues, Shlien said he wants to reinstill service and attention in the scouting profession.
Too many executive search companies, he said, function as "slot machines" whose only concern is to fill a position with another employee, instead of the right employee.
"We're not interested in placing people in slots," he said. "When people leave a company for another, it's a life-changing experience, not just moving heads."
Shlien, an alumnus of The Hartford, said iPeople, based in Washington, D.C., intends to "look to long-term relationships with the talent base," and promises to learn more about his clients than his clients know about themselves.
It's not really about the money, he said, but about the people.
Lofty thoughts, indeed. Why believe him? Because Shlien wants to sleep well at night, and wants his clients to do the same.
How's this for a rebuttal: He once turned down a $50,000 engagement after the client told him it wasn't interested in hiring women.
"I want to know that I'm putting you in an organization that has a solid reputation, whose physical plant is clean, that employees go to work in a good office with a laptop and a desktop. That's what I want iPeople to work with. It's not just about the money, it's not just about placing heads."
Von Breaux, executive vice president of Guaranty Insurance Services, said two qualities stand out. Shlien is contentious and he delivers results.
"With larger ones (search firms), they just send you a head. It's all volume, and one might stick."
Guaranty, with eight branches in Texas and another nine in California, didn't go easy on Shlien. "We changed direction on him," Von Breaux recalled. "We looked for a CFO, but then we came back and said we needed a CFO/COO."
Shlien was happy to comply.
"People we were working with at A and H Insurance Inc. kept changing the bar and what they were looking for," said Carol Ingalls, former vice president of human resources for A and H in Las Vegas. "He was right there with us, and he was able to make the changes at the same time we did."
The A and H agency eventually went on to hire one of the candidates he recommended, but for a very different position than originally advertised, she said. "He's adaptable and works as easily among women as he does with men," she adds. "I'm a fan."
Before coming to The Hartford, Shlien served as managing director for a satellite company in Asia, and was a former director of Asian sales for Skynet, a subsidiary of defense contractor Loral. His time in the Far East exposed him to dealing with clients in Taiwan and China. It was a lesson learned.
"If you promise something and don't deliver in those countries, you're finished," he said. "That's what iPeople's mantra will be: Deliver what we promise."
You have his word, this Scout's Honor.
is managing editor of Risk & Insurance®.
June 1, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications