If you ever get a phone call or a tap on the shoulder from Herb Smith saying he might have an opportunity for you, stop whatever you’re doing and hear him out. Even if you’re doing well in a leadership position, perfectly happy with how things are going, you’d be wise to listen.
Herb Smith is a recruiter. And if you do get that phone call or shoulder tap, odds are that Smith and his team have been closely observing how you work to see how you might fit into an incredible opportunity.
Beginning decades ago as a professor at the University of Chicago, Smith has recruited literally thousands of leadership positions in a broad range of industries. (Of those thousands of positions, hundreds of them have been in the Cleveland area.)
Research is a key component to the three-stage process at H.C. Smith Ltd. It’s a study, beginning with assessing clients and their requirements, and continuing with intense research of 20 to 100 potential candidates. Ultimately, that list is narrowed down to a slate of three to five people who are presented to the client for interviews. It’s a rigorous process tailored to each company’s needs. But Smith has been doing it long enough to have “whittled it down to a pretty good science,” he says.
Along with that research and science, there is intuition and a keen sense of people that can only be earned by someone who’s been doing this for more than 30 years, as Smith has.
What makes the best candidates?
“They need to be prepared to lead and manage change,” Smith says. “It’s as simple as that.” In our technological and cultural landscape, he notes that members of the younger digital-native generation “stretch the concept of knowledge beyond the boundaries we’ve been taught,” making them readily adaptable to change.
In helping to not only find, but guide, emerging leaders, Smith spends a great deal of time and energy working with others in the community. Throughout his career, he has been a coach, counselor, helper and mentor to countless people. He’s a longstanding member of the Case Western Reserve University School of Management’s Visiting Committee, and he takes tremendous pride in his work as a volunteer with the National Black MBA Association and the Urban League.
As a specialist, he encourages young people to also pursue a singular focus. “I say to young people, ‘Look at the Kentucky Derby. You’ll really understand the importance of being a specialist. No jockey rides two horses. They may train on multiple horses, but they only ride the winner.’ ”
Smith predicts the Trump presidency will impact his work. “You’ll see diversity as it is now known reduced substantially,” he estimates. “I think we will see [fewer] senior-level managers probably for the next five to seven years.”
In that time frame, he predicts that people of color in senior management positions will be migrating back to universities, particularly black colleges.
Fifty percent of Smith’s placements over the last 30 years have been people of color, and every slate he presents to a client includes at least one black candidate. If his predictions are true, there will be new challenges ahead. But the artistry of Smith’s research, experience, intuition and adaptability have proved very successful and made him a trusted matchmaker for an impressive global roster of clients.
“I’ve recruited athletes, entertainers, medical doctors, business leaders, government officials ... It’s a broad range of people we’ve recruited,” he says. “And everything we do is a new adventure for us. That’s the fun part.”