When it Comes to Acquisitions, Hire the Best

Even the smoothest of acquisitions are still difficult and demanding transactions that require a lot of time from start to finish. Someone constantly has to be in the driver’s seat to make sure that the engine of these machines runs smoothly. During the largest acquisition of my career, I still had the day-to-day responsibilities of running a company. About 10 years ago, our acquisition strategy heightened. Between the time that I needed to spend running the company, and the time I spent developing acquisitions—well, there just wasn’t enough time. After a period of trying to keep this impossible schedule, I came to the conclusion that we needed to bring in a full-time employee whose primary role was to handle acquisitions.

The big question: “Who?”

Around this time, I received a call from a woman whom I had first met while she was a realtor. She sold my house for me several years earlier and she called to see if we could set up a meeting. She explained that despite her degree in finance and her MBA, the bursting of the real estate bubble necessitated her transferring her skills to the financial staffing industry, and she wanted to know if she could speak to me about future prospects. I was curious about a realtor having such a deep financial background and we arranged to meet for lunch. Over the course of our discussion, she explained that she had been a CFO for a family business and she’d overseen a number of acquisitions on their behalf. Unfortunately, her father’s deteriorating health forced the sale of the family business.

I’ve said it before and I believe it as strongly as any of the other concrete truths garnered during my career: you might be able to screen a large crop of candidates according to their resumes, but you have to hire the one you want based on your gut feeling. Sitting there at lunch, I knew instinctively that she was the right person to lead our acquisition team. I had that feeling in my gut that she was the only one who could do it the way that I knew it needed to be done.

I told her to forget about financial staffing. She looked surprised. I explained to her that we had just gotten a whole lot of money and we needed to go on an aggressive course of multiple acquisitions. I told her that I wanted her to lead the charge and I offered her the job right there on the spot.

She came aboard and we got to work on growing the company. The first year of our aggressive strategy was 2010, and we purchased four separate companies, spending a total of $22 million dollars. Two companies in Arizona, one in Texas, and one in our backyard in Southern California.

I believe that far too many executives follow hiring protocol that is focused on candidates with specific skills, backgrounds and/or experience. While I certainly understand the logic behind this approach toward hiring, it overlooks the more important consideration—hiring people of personal quality, employees who can get behind the team 100 percent. Anyone can be trained to execute specific tasks, but even the most pedigreed candidate who can’t buy into the company philosophy and become a team player presents a significant handicap.

First featured on Forbes.com