By Susan Caba
"You can't get to the top without the headhunters."
With that pronouncement, the May 22, 2008 BusinessWeek Magazine named David H. Hoffman, chairman and CEO of DHR International, one of the world's most influential headhunters. A native of Washington, Mo., Hoffman moved his company headquarters from Chicago to St. Louis last year. The company, with almost $100 million a year in revenues, purchased its headquarters building in Clayton. Hoffman established DHR International in 1989. It is the fifth largest executive search firm in the United States.
These top headhunters, said BusinessWeek, control access to the "lion's share of C-suite succession for the world's largest corporations (and) the top ranks of the most ambitious smaller companies."
What's the most efficient or productive time of day for you?
"I'm very, very productive very, very early in the morning—5 o'clockish. I'm up, organizing e-mails, collecting my thoughts and getting prepared for the day. And again between about 5 and 6:30 p.m.—that's when I can think globally, consider strategy and organize my thoughts. The time in between is really spent on operational issues, firefighting and the day's events. The least productive is the lunch hour; I'm usually taking some individual out for lunch."
What is the most creative aspect of your work? What is the least creative or least satisfying?
"Executive search is pretty much process oriented—we know how to go about that. I think the strategy part is the most creative—where we're thinking about ways to strategically position our business on a global basis.
"It takes creativity. Being privately held, in the space we play in, we're a very large private company. We have to be creative in financial, creative and strategic settings.
"The least satisfying? Being a CEO, you have to concern yourself with financials and numbers that's not very creative—it is what it is. But I have to pour over that stuff to see how the business is doing."
What is the most distracting element of your workday/workweek? How do you manage it?
"People looking for jobs—that's our biggest distraction. That's not what we do. We are retained so that when any company uses us to find an executive, let's say the job pays $300,000 a year. They write a check (for a significant percentage of that amount) and we go and find the best talent in the world. But it has nothing to do with people coming in and saying I want a job with XYZ.
"When we found the director for the Saint Louis Symphony, we came up with the guy who ran the Dallas Symphony, for some very specific reasons. He had turned around
"You go around the world and look for the best person for that job. It's very labor-intensive. It's not just shuffling through resumes and a computer database. We ask if they've got the right experience, is the culture going to fit? We look at the competition, at people inside St. Louis and people outside St. Louis. I get about 500 e-mails a day and I probably have requests for at least 10 meetings a day. Probably eight of those are people who want a job. It doesn't help them and it doesn't help us."
If there is one thing you would like to do differently in the average workday, what is it? Why donÕt you do it?
"I would like to stay a little more disciplined with my exercise regimen. I'm pretty balanced with work and family, with clients and strategics. The measure of that is I'm not stressed, I feel fulfilled and I feel that we're getting the job done."
What are some of your rules for success?
"You have to have passion. I would rather work than play golf. I really, really like what I do. I'm excited about it every day. I think people that are successful, the one common ingredient is they are always passionate about it.
"People, by and large, that are successful are also pretty bright. That brightness relates in two ways—they are intellectually bright, but also street smart. I am not a believer that the world is run by C students.
"Passion, intellect and street smarts—those are the characteristics I see when I'm looking at people who are highly successful. I know I'm in the minority, that a lot of people will say discipline is a key characteristic. I've found that creative people, a lot of times, are not disciplined.
"I also think to be successful over the long haul, your moral compass has to be always pointed in the right direction."
How do you use devices and electronics—Blackberries, cell phones, iPods—to manage work flow? Are they, on balance, more often a tool or a hindrance?
"My Blackberry and cell phone are key ingredients of my tool kit. Personal communication is very central to what I do. I had one of the first car telephones in Chicago.
"I was slow to get on the e-mail trail
and slower to get on the Blackberry trail. Now I absolutely don't think I could function 24 hours without a Blackberry. I'm the epitome of a Blackberry addict. I'm e-mailing people across the globe almost hourly. The tool is fabulous for me and I think it is for a lot of people, especially if they are doing business globally. The thing the Blackberry does for me, is give me instant communication with our offices around the world. The boundaries of time don't exist because of the Blackberry."