External executive recruitment is one of the most perilous decisions in any family company, according to Barracuda Search joint managing director Jamie Zuppinger.

A chairman must be the right fit for a retailer’s culture

He says retailers need to be very clear about what they are looking for. “The chairman is responsible for leadership of the board and ensuring its effectiveness on all aspects of its role. Ask yourself how will family executive board members react to that?”

Zuppinger adds that the chairman is also responsible for setting the board’s agenda – in particular, strategic issues – and the chief executive will need to reflect on how he or she will react to an outsider coming in and potentially challenging not just the status quo but also their strategy.

Zuppinger adds that hiring the right search firm is just as important as hiring the right candidate.

To do that, retailers need to consider three things. First, what expertise and experience the search firm has in the retail industry; has it run similar searches before and what was the outcome? It may also be advisable to ask for references.

Retailers should also get the search firm to produce a written proposal outlining their search methodology, thoughts around target organisations and potential candidates, relevant past successes and also their fees and availability.

Finally, once a retailer has decided who to use, it is wise to spend time with them building the candidate specification and brief. Make sure the whole board is aligned behind this process.

Zuppinger says there is a direct correlation between the quality of input at the start of the search process and the outcome. He says: “Remember that’s it’s not just technical expertise you are looking for but culture fit as well.”