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Hiring A Key Executive – Tips For The Hands-On CEO

By Ali Behnam, co-founder of Riviera Partners

The new hire process, particularly at the executive level, is a significant decision and can be quite involved. While there are a number of factors in play which combine to impact the recruiting and hiring process, there is one constant that drives the process of the search – the CEO always sets the tone.

And there are some key factors that need to be taken into consideration for CEOs facilitating a successful search:

Be Decisive.

The best hiring CEOs understand they are the ones ultimately making the decision and drive the decision-making process. At most, decisions regarding an executive hire should be limited to a group of two to three people. Any more than that, and you end up with too many opinions and it becomes a very challenging task to meet everyone’s goals.

An executive’s role touches many groups and people in a company. Many CEOs want each department (Finance, Product Management, Sales, Board, etc.) to provide their sign-off for such crucial roles—in essence giving others who have limited experience hiring for this role the ability to “kill a hire.” The most ineffective hiring process is one that involves a large group and gives everyone veto power in the hiring process.  This results in a “watered down” hire.

CEOs should take input from their team but the decision to move forward or not should be theirs.  Input is great to get and a critical component to shared buy-in, but only one person should have the ability to veto any hire.

Be Humble.

Great CEOs believe they have the ability to bring transformational change to whatever problem they are solving or industry they are targeting. That is what makes them great and gets investors, customers or users to “make the leap” with them.

However, when courting an executive, some CEOs forget that the candidate is “betting” their career for the next several years. Next to death, marriage or a new birth, career change can be one of the most stressful events an individual can go through. The best hiring CEOs understand this and help their chosen candidate navigate their concerns by putting themselves in the new hires’ shoes.

Sell the Dream.

Many candidates may be eliminated from the hiring process because in the first meeting they were not over the top passionate about what the company was doing. The best executives are going to walk in apprehensive and want to hear from the CEO as to why they should be excited about the new endeavor.  Some CEOs believe a lack of enthusiasm for their company is a rejection of their idea (which it could be); however, the majority of the time, the candidate is simply going through their personal due diligence.

It’s important to consider the type of position. For example, engineers may evaluate the position very logically, while sales or marketing executives may inherently be more emotional and enthusiastic.  CEOs should remember that they will probably spend most of that first meeting selling the individual and will have subsequent meetings to evaluate the candidate. Every candidate walking out of those meetings should be “fired up” on the company’s prospects and add to the buzz on the company.

Unify Company Objectives.

As a candidate, it is reassuring to hear that everyone on the team understands and can articulate the vision plus understands his or her particular role in attaining those objectives. However, I am often surprised to hear from the candidate that they heard different company objectives from different people on the team. From the candidate’s perspective, there is nothing scarier than going through the interview process and encountering diverging opinions and goals from various team members.

Hiring a great executive requires the orchestration, coordination and input of the team, but in the end, the decision of whom to bring on board should be the responsibility of one person: the CEO.


Prior to co-founding Riviera Partners, Ali Behnam co-founded and acted as EVP, Operations & Services at PeopleMover. Ali is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine with a BA in Economics. In his free time, he enjoys rugby, cycling, swimming and traveling. He and his wife and their two children currently reside in San Francisco, CA.




This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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  • Vik Chaudhary

    Ali, insightful article on leading and hiring as a CEO. Keep it up!