SINCE 1989, DAVIES PARK HAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED MORE THAN 2,800 EXECUTIVE searches and assignments for public, private, and not-for-profit clients. Its assignments have included searches for CEOs, presidents, senior executives, managers and senior professionals. Davies Park has also found top board of director appointees in a broad range of industries and sectors.
Celebrating 25 years in the business, Davies Park now has offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. Maintaining a close relationship with clients and a boutique high-touch approach, the firm has the depth of expertise and the resources to quickly scale up to international searches on behalf of its many clients.
As national executive search specialists, Davies Park has helped top-tier organizations develop their leadership talent, enabling clients to take their businesses to the next level.
A client relationship lasts beyond a single recruitment. Partners at Davies Park dedicate time to each search and every client.
LEADERSHIP STARTS AT THE TOP. WHILE THAT MAY NOT BE GROUND-BREAKING NEWS, it’s still something every firm should remember when looking to fill its C-suite positions. Hiring a new executive is one of the most important decisions an organization will make and companies should treat it as such. But how do you go about choosing someone who will have a positive impact on the direction of an organization? That’s where Davies Park comes in.
For 25 years, Davies Park has been dedicated to finding the perfect fit. “When a client comes to us for recruitment purposes, we immediately start working to understand the culture of the organization,” says Mike Kerr, a partner at Davies Park’s Calgary office. “We spend time with the hiring manager, the board of directors, the president – any stakeholder in the organization – to ensure that we understand the expectations. Then we act as an agent for that organization. We become their partner.”
The emphasis on partnership has made Davies Park a success in executive recruitment. Kerr says Davies Park’s typical client relationship lasts well beyond a single recruitment. In fact, the partners at Davies Park prefer to work with fewer clients in order to dedicate more time to each. “Organizations come to us because they want to elevate their talent pool,” Kerr says. “It’s our job to search for the candidate who aligns precisely with the company’s desired skills, competencies and experience. We guarantee every search we do.”
Ralph Young is a long-time client who has seen Davies Park in action many times since its inception in 1989. He is the past president and CEO of Melcor Developments Ltd., and he called on Davies Park most recently when it came time for Melcor to search for a new CFO. “After they met with us, they drafted a proposal and we refined it together,” Young says.
After the initial meetings with the search consultant team, a client typically steps back, as was the case with Melcor, while Davies Park’s partners use their extensive database, market knowledge, and international network to perform a client-tailored search. The team reviews the organization’s strategic and business plans to gain further insight into the direction of the company and identify the best person to take it there – no stone is left unturned. Davies Park considers all aspects. Is it a new position? Was there a termination? Was it retirement? Is the company in growth mode? What other positions may need to be filled on the horizon?
“It was an iterative process that included a committee and a long list of candidates,” Young says. “Later, we had debriefs with Davies Park after meeting with each short-listed candidate.”
Part of what sets Davies Park ahead is that partners are involved in every search. Elizabeth Hurley, Davies Park’s longest standing partner in Edmonton, says partners provide quality assurance and oversight for every search. “Other firms may just send a salesperson to meet with clients, but Davies Park doesn’t do that,” she says. “The senior consultant you’re meeting becomes your ambassador in the marketplace and will find your next executive.”
Young was also impressed with the level of professionalism and the confidentiality Davies Park provided candidates. “The whole process took about four months, and we filled the position with CFO Jonathan Chia.”
Kerr says there are six to eight main points of evaluation that clients look to when they are filling a C-suite position; Davies Park compiles its short list of candidates based on specific criteria. For example, is the company’s priority focused on someone with industry experience or with important transferable skills? No two searches are alike for Davies Park, because no two clients are alike. And while the team scours the world for candidates, their clients are doing what they do best: nurturing their own businesses.
“We have been building our clients’ leadership teams for 25 years. We strategically partner with them to identify leaders who will integrate with and enhance their culture.”
-Anurag Shourie, Edmonton Partner
Dr. Marvin Washington knows first-hand the benefits that a third-party organization brings to a company in regard to its executive team. Washington teaches at the Alberta School of Business and, in addition to the MBA program, he instructs several executive education training courses for organizations looking to bolster the C-suite team without disrupting business. He says that’s what makes executive search firms such as Davies Park beneficial to clients. “I always come back to a sports analogy,” he says. “If I’m coaching the Edmonton Oilers, my focus is on winning the next game. I’m not thinking about who’s going to be on the team next season; that’s what I have scouts for. Search firms are like your scouts, they’re going to do all the background and groundwork while you focus on doing what you do best.”
Washington also says that organizations will find it worthwhile having someone in their corner looking beyond the obvious choices. Hurley agrees, and this is a huge advantage to Davies Park’s extensive database and network. “Often, the best person for the job isn’t actively searching for a new position,” Hurley says. “That’s where we come in; we’ll find that person. There’s a big difference between the best person for the job and the best person looking for a job.”
This is a driving factor in many of the “wrong” decisions that organizations make when hiring a new executive. It’s often that the sample section wasn’t as extensive as it could have been. When that happens, the company wastes time and resources training the new executive only to be back at the drawing board: still searching for that perfect fit. Davies Park makes sure this doesn’t happen.
“We’ve done the due diligence,” Hurley explains. “The background check, the initial interviews, the references – we’re completely committed to finding the best person. We don’t just fill the position and walk away. We truly become an extension of our clients, and that’s what has set us apart all these years.”
Top Tips to Choosing an Executive Search Firm
- 1. Find a firm that has experience placing great candidates in your industry, at the level you are looking to fill.
- 2. Ensure the firm has a deep understanding of the challenges of your sector.
- 3. Find out if the firm is willing to spend time learning about the specifics of your business.
- 4. Ask your executive search consultants if they have completed similar searches in the past year, 18 months, or three years.
- 5. Find out, through references and word of mouth, if the firm has had great success or a string of epic fails.
- 6. Ensure that you relate, on a personal level, to the partner who is acting as your agent.
The Power of People
Davies Park Executive Search’s founding principles are still going strong 25 years later
GERRY DAVIES AND DARWIN PARK STARTED DAVIES PARK 25 YEARS AGO, WHEN THE TWO were in their 40s. They seemed to some like an unlikely pair to be running an executive search company. “We often joked that we were a jock and a history major starting a business from scratch,” says Darwin Park. His post-secondary background was in physical education, while Davies had a degree in history.
Education aside, the pair brought a wealth of experience in management and recruiting, after working sometimes at the same firm and sometimes at competing firms, Park says. “We had often said we’d rather work together than compete.”
Finally, in the late 1980s Gerry Davies offered him a job at the firm he worked at the time, but Park said he would only join efforts on one condition: that they start their own business.
In September 1989, Davies Park Executive Search was born.
“Great leadership has a profound impact on the places where we live and work. We are proud of making our communities stronger through our professional and philanthropic work.”
– Ardyce Kouri, Edmonton Partner
“We had a lot of loyal clients,” says Gerry Davies. “Darwin’s and my relationships with the different parts of the industrial world were really strong. This is a business that really runs on personal contact, so if you’ve done good work, people tended to follow you. Our timing was great.”
Several years later, in 1997, they would expand into Calgary, and a decade later, Vancouver.
“We found we were getting shut down because we didn’t have a presence in Calgary,” Davies explains. “We decided to open up in Calgary because we had clients that wanted cross-Alberta representation. Vancouver was more of the same; we had clients with offices on the West Coast.”
The partners eventually left with a solid succession plan in place. Three partners – Elizabeth Hurley, Anurag Shourie and Ardyce Kouri – head the Edmonton office, while partners Allan Nelson and Mike Kerr helm the team in Calgary. Greg Longster, partner in Vancouver, was joined by principal Tony Kirschner. They have held key roles in that market since its inception in 2007. The newest addition, a Toronto office, opened in 2012 and is headed by principals Kartik Kumar and Rob O’Brien.
“Darwin and I hired the initial team. I guess when you’re in the executive search business, you’d better know how to hire good people,” Davies says. “We did.”
Park compares the company’s approach to running. “I liken starting and building a business to training for a marathon,” he says. “You focus on an end result, but really the event is successful one step at a time. If you concentrate on how hard or far it is, you’re going to have a tough time. I think that’s how we built the business – one successful step at a time.”
The national firm has taken many successful steps, now counting more than 30 employees, which Edmonton partner Ardyce Kouri notes is no small feat. “Darwin and Gerry founded this firm 25 years ago. We’ve grown to over 30 staff and four office locations doing work nationally,” Kouri says. “All we do is executive search, so that’s a sizable team.”
Though the company has now conducted close to 2,800 executive searches in 25 years, Edmonton partner Anurag Shourie highlights the diversity of clients Davies Park has worked with over this time – including entire executive teams and boards.
After recruiting Alberta Pension Services Corporation’s former CEO five years ago, the corporation engaged Davies Park to search for its entire executive, including members of its board. And when their CEO left after five years, the corporation asked Davies Park to search for a new CEO. It’s that kind of partnership that keeps Davies Park – and its clients – at top form.
Part of the company’s success placing executives stems from its own employee retention, says Shourie, who started with the company 17 years ago as a researcher, and became a partner 10 years ago. “We used to pride ourselves on the fact that we had no turnover. We used to have reverse turnover,” Shourie says, explaining that in addition to many employees staying with the company for a number of years, a couple of staffers left for other pursuits, but later returned.
Davies Park matches executives to coveted posts in every field from oil and gas and post-secondary education, to private and public companies, not-for-profit, Crown corporations, municipal governments, and health services. A key is not losing sight of where the firm started, Shourie says.
“We started in Edmonton and provide a boutique approach to our clients. It allows us to be nimble and flexible, and make decisions quickly.”
Today, with more than 30 people on the team and a national presence in place, Davies Park can create a robust national campaign with proven international reach.
Oil Execs Know
Andy Brooks, President and CEO at FT Services, knows that Davies Park has a depth of experience in Alberta’s oil sands. As head of the maintenance and turnaround provider for tier-one oil sands players, that’s important to him. He first met Calgary partner Allan Nelson when Nelson placed him with an oil services company that was undertaking an executive search several years ago.
“Since then, we’ve had an ongoing professional relationship,” Brooks says of Nelson and Davies Park. “Allan has led executive searches for us quite regularly over the past seven or eight years to find members of our executive team and other top positions.”
Davies Park’s understanding of the skill requirements, personality, and corporate culture at FT Services make the candidates the firm finds top-line, Brooks says. “They know who will fit,” he says. “They guarantee their searches, but it’s that element of the personal touch that really matters.”
Words of Support
THE STAFF AND PARTNERS AT DAVIES PARK HAVE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO WORK with terrific clients, many of them for years and across different organizations. Some clients have seen the benefits of executive search from both sides of the desk, and one-time candidates have become clients, seeking out the expertise of Davies Park in their roles as they search for C-suite talent in their own organizations.
As client Richard Masson, CEO of the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, puts it, “At Davies Park, they help with the things that are important to us, they know what the market looks like, what compensation should look like, and they find the right candidates in the variable timeframe that works for our organization.” And he’s not the only one saying good things.
“Our roots are in Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit and we continue to espouse those values. Today we have offices across Canada and we recruit talent from all over the world, but our legacy is grounded in that Alberta entrepreneurial attitude.”
– Mike Kerr, Calgary Partner
Meeting With Success
In addition to Lorne Babiuk’s position as vice-president of research at the University of Alberta, he is also chair of the board at TEC Edmonton, a partnership between the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta. In that role, he and the board were tasked with hiring a new CEO for the organization.
TEC Edmonton helps individuals and nascent businesses make the shift to market, commercializing their science solutions into businesses. It demands a set of crossover skills and expertise of its CEO that exceeds the average resumé. TEC Edmonton needed the person at the helm to have experience that fell into a specific tech commercialization niche, but also had crossover to other areas, considering the stakeholders in the organization. It was a tricky position to fill.
“We told them about the job, about our expectations, and the overall phenotype of the person we were looking for,” Babiuk says. “They cast the net wider than we ever could.”
Davies Park developed a long list of potential candidates, then met with TEC Edmonton to discuss findings, narrow the field and develop a shortlist. Next, Davies Park checked their references thoroughly and met with potential candidates to vet them and pre-screen them. When it came time for the small handful of candidates to meet Babiuk and the board, representatives from Davies Park were there.
“It made for a very relaxed interview,” recalls Babiuk. The candidates had already met with Davies Park partners, so they knew what to expect. From the field, Babiuk and TEC Edmonton wound up offering the position to Chris Lumb, who has now held the post for a year. “It’s working out really well, and Chris has proved very valuable to TEC Edmonton,” he says. “They asked the right questions and acted as supporting cast during the interview. They really got to know all the candidates, and that deepened their knowledge of the talent pool.”
“We’ve built a reputation for quality service and established long-term relationships. We’ve had an impact helping organizations grow and prosper. We take pride in that; their success is our success.”
-Elizabeth Hurley, Edmonton Partner
Now CEO of Ohlhauser and Associates, in the mid-1990s, Dr. Larry Ohlhauser was the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. He was the person who said yes or no to professionals seeking to become certified in Alberta. “At the time there were muttered complaints about the quality and retention of doctors in rural Alberta,” he says. While the task of recruitment and retention fell outside his purview, he stepped up to help find a solution.
“I told the Minister of Health that I would need a recruiter,” Ohlhauser explains. “I was referred to Gerry Davies, and I said, ‘Here’s my problem, I need 111 qualified family docs with various other special skills,’ ” he says. Davies Park was mandated to search first in Alberta, then Canada, then internationally.
The search culminated with a flight to South Africa, where Davies Park and Ohlhauser met with interested candidates. Within a year, Davies Park had helped fill more than 100 positions. “And these people fit very well in terms of skills and personal interests,”he says. It was no small feat, making these matches. For example, a hospital in one community might need a family doctor with experience in obstetrics or anesthesiology. Or a skilled candidate might be interested in communities near the Rocky Mountains. “But five years later, no one had left the communities we placed them in.”
Both Sides Now
Eric Sawyer has experience with Davies Park from both sides of the desk, and he has found it positive no matter how he’s approached it.
In 2004, Mike Kerr at Davies Park in Calgary was the main representative as the City of Calgary’s executive search consultant in its search for a city treasurer. From Toronto, Sawyer didn’t know much about the job or the city.
“Mike and the others at Davies Park did a good job of representing both to me,” he says. “The interpreted the scope and extent of the job clearly and were positive and fair to work with. They were very helpful, but they definitely represented their client.”
It was a great fit and Sawyer made the move and excelled at the job, becoming CFO for the City of Calgary in 2009. Since he moved west, he has also been a City of Calgary client of Davies Park. “Each time it was because we put out an RFP and Davies Park was awarded the contract,” Sawyer says. “Recently, the firm helped us fill a position in the finance group. We connected with them, identified our needs and then I went back to work and didn’t have to think about it. They brought me in at the critical times in the process.”
“I’m proud our partners developed the motto ‘creating success through leadership.’ It defines our commitment to our clients, our candidates and our team. We focus on leadership excellence in each of our offices.”
– Allan Nelson, Calgary Partner
Tom Hodson is the President of Skyline Group, a mid-sized construction company in Calgary that specializes in building envelopes for big commercial sites. But Hodson has not always been in construction. At one time he held an executive position at Proctor & Gamble. He left that company to join SMART Technologies, provider of technology solutions to enable interactivity and collaboration in schools and workplaces. (SMARTboards have largely replaced black boards and whiteboards in the classroom.)
When Hodson started at SMART almost seven years ago (he left to join Skyline in March), SMART was a successful Canadian company that wanted to launch a global business. “At that time they did not have a bunch of strength to scale up,” says Hodson. “They had a board of directors, and it needed to formalize its hiring practices. Word-of-mouth wasn’t going to work anymore.” Hodson convinced the board to try an executive search firm to find top talent. “Mike Kerr from Davies Park did a great job. He was approachable – almost folksy – and very professional.” SMART successfully recruited vice-presidents for human resources, operations and IT. The three successful candidates stayed with Hodson for the remainder of his six years at SMART and together the team helped launch SMART into a truly international company, grossing $160 million. Hodson is currently working with Davies Park to fill an executive role at Skyline.
1989: Davies Park Executive Search is founded in Edmonton, with two partners and a secretary.
1991: After a “flat year,” Gerry Davies considers becoming a truck driver. A fleeting thought, and things turn around.
1997: They open a second office in Calgary to provide cross-Alberta executive recruitment services.
2003: Davies Park completes its 1,000th executive search assignment.
2004: Founding partner Darwin Park retires, selling his interest in the business.
2007: Davies Park opens its third office, in Vancouver.
2009: Founding partner Gerry Davies retires at the company’s 20th anniversary client party.
2010: Davies Park completes its 2,500th executive search assignment.
2012: The once boutique firm becomes national, opening an office in Toronto.
2014: Davies Park celebrates 25 years in the executive search business, with a staff of more than 30.
Davies Park Executive Search Consultants
To create success, an organization needs to hire the best. Davies Park helps its clients identify the leaders they need, and then focuses the search to find the best candidates possible.