Carnegie Mellon University

Five Questions with Gerry Peterson

Alumnus Gerry Peterson answered our "5 Questions" about why companies turn to the "unicorn hunter," why finding the right executive is so important and the thing most people get wrong on their way to the C-suite.

One of his clients introduces Gerry Peterson (HNZ 1991) as a "unicorn hunter."

As the founder and managing principal of Tartan Group, LLC, he doesn't literally hunt unicorns, of course: he hunts for something much rarer — the perfect candidate for executive level positions on behalf of a variety of high performance companies. During the CMUConnect webinar, "Pathways to the C-Suite — Keys to Advancement," on Thursday, September 6, Gerry will provide a brief look at the attributes and behaviors that distinguish rising stars from solid performers and give you the tools to visualize how you can get to the C-suite. 

With more than 25 years of experience in leadership roles in numerous organizations, including GE, Gerry knows personally that advancement requires more than just hard work. During this webinar, you will learn the "5 Es of leadership," actionable behaviors you can start using right away to distinguish yourself in your organization and ways to be more proactive in managing your career. 

Gerry recently sat down with us to answer our "5 Questions" about why companies turn to the "unicorn hunter," why finding the right executive is so important and the thing most people get wrong on their way to the C-suite. 

Q:What do you love most about what you do?
A: I enjoy the variety and challenge in my work and working globally. I apply the full scope of my education and experience to help solve critical talent needs for clients. One international client needed a global operations leader to transform their 34 plant global manufacturing operations. I looked at more than 880 candidates over four months. I smiled after reading one particular resume recognizing the fit. I connected with the candidate, who was living in Singapore, shared the details of the opportunity and the criteria for the fit. We flew him in for the interview. He had dinner with the CEO, interviewed the following day with the senior team and received an offer before getting on the plane to return home. He has helped transform that business. His leadership changed the quality of life for many people.

I also enjoy my work as a coach. I get to meet some truly talented and interesting people. Applying my expertise to help them unlock their potential and seeing them grow is very rewarding. Helping clients learn to hunt and learn the essentials of a nontraditional job search can impact them in very positive ways. 

Q: Why do companies reach out to you when they have a C-suite position to fill?
A: Everyone believes they are an expert in hiring. In reality, a master has tried and failed and has learned a craft through extensive experience. I provide insights and understanding into subtle nuances that often differentiate a great fit from a wrong fit hire. I bring value to clients by leveraging my years of diverse industry experience, academic preparation in social science and business acumen combined with a rigorous process to find the right fit. One of my clients introduces me as the "unicorn hunter" because of my ability to find and identify people with unique skills and abilities critical to their organization's success. Now in my 11th year, I continue to build a reputation of delivering results at a high level. 

Q: How do you define a "pivotal person" who can be the leader for which a company is looking?
A: A "pivotal person" is someone critical to the success of the organization. This person brings both technical/subject expertise and leadership skills that are vital to the role and to the execution of the business strategy. They have skills in understanding the required results and in mobilizing and energizing the group to achieve those results. They are purpose-driven. 

Q: Why is the concept of fit so important to companies when they're looking for new leaders? 
A: The more senior the level of the role, the bigger the potential impact that person has to the organization. Finding the right fit can accelerate the organization to achieve transformational results. A wrong fit hire can significantly derail an organization. The cost of a wrong fit hire can be measured in exponential terms. It can be many times the actual salary and well into millions of dollars. Cost can include lost customers, damaged reputation, lost talent who leave the organization or choose to not join and lost opportunity when the business fails to act. 

The right fit hire is well-aligned, brings energy and helps the organization achieve results. Alignment with objectives, values and resources is critical to a good fit. I have learned from experience how to minimize and reduce the risk of wrong fit hires and identify the right fit by following a defined process. 

Q: What's the #1 thing people get wrong when looking for their first executive-level position?
A: People often take a short view and jump to accept a role based on compensation and title. They are excited that someone wants to hire them. I see many unhappy executives who did not take the time to do the diligence to determine alignment and fit. Important learning happens in early career roles. People often accept jobs with little regard to how it fits a broader career path and next roles. These people experience 'buyers' regret' and begin to look to change jobs because they do not find the position fulfilling or satisfying. 

A recording of Gerry's webinar — as well as other past CMUConnect webinars — is available at our Webinar Archive.