Magazine article Management Review

Gerard Roche: High-Powered Headhunter

Magazine article Management Review

Gerard Roche: High-Powered Headhunter

Article excerpt

If a top CEO has just landed in a visible and powerful corporate position, look for the guiding hand of Gerard R. Roche to have put him there.

Gerry, as Roche is universally known, has placed more than 200 CEOs in hundreds of American corporations and organizations in the past 30 years. As chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in New York, a leading executive search firm, Roche earns well over $1 million a year from having found high-powered senior managers in high-profile, and very often difficult, corporate searches.

Roche's list of placements reads like a roll call of U.S. corporate titans, including John Sculley, formerly of Apple Computer, George M.C. Fisher of Eastman Kodak, Michael H. Jordan of Westinghouse Electric, Lawrence A. Bossidy of Allied-Signal Inc., Hollis Harris of Air Canada and A.D. Frazier, CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games.

In an unusual search last year, Roche joined forces with Thomas Neff, president of SpencerStuart, to produce Louis V. Gerstner Jr. for IBM. Roche relinquished CEO responsibilities at Heidrick & Struggles in 1981, at the urging of his partners who said he allowed costs to get out of control. Nonetheless, the high-level searches in which Roche excels bring revenue and international renown to the firm.

Voluble and ebullient, Roche met recently with Management Review senior editor Barbara Ettorre in his New York office.

Q. This year marks your 30th year in the business. How did you get started?

ROCHE: I started as a rookie [recruiter]. My first search was for a director of marketing research for International Paper. 482-13, that was the search number. How about that? The search took a couple of months. Put a guy named Welch in the job. I came into [Heidrick & Struggles] not on a permanent basis. I came in here with [co-founder] Gard Heidrick saying, "Why don't you come in and look for a job? In the meantime, do some search work and see what happens."

So, my tag line is, "I'm still looking." It's got to come along.

Q. What were you looking for?

ROCHE: I was the head of marketing for a very hot plastics company, Kordite, a division of Mobil. I was...you know...the quintessential Dustin Hoffman character [in The Graduate]. I was the young guy that went out into plastics. Today, they would be saying semiconductors.

Q. Do you agonize over a search?

ROCHE: Absolutely. I agonize over all searches. When I'm looking for people to do this work--the rookies and the people who are going to join our firm--one of the questions I always ask is, "Do you bleed over a search?" They've got to agonize, to realize that the future of a company can depend on whether they succeed or not. If you give me somebody who doesn't worry about a search, I don't want them on the staff.

Q. What do you agonize about?

ROCHE: The options. Are we developing valid and capable options for the board to chose from? I have this philosophy that if you only have one option, you don't have any. It's our responsibility to develop options for the board. Are they the best that we can get? More than anything else, I especially agonize over this: Okay, Mr. Wonder Worker, beauty of the world, getting all the acclaim that the press is giving--are you going to work? I have a standard phrase when I get complimented by a board: "Talk to me a year from now. Then we'll know how well we've done."

I have what my broker refers to as the Roche Fund. I buy stocks in all the Companies that I put CEOs into. I've done very handsomely, I might add. It guides my portfolio management. Of course, I have to watch being an insider, that I don't violate those rules. But once the appointment is announced...

Q. You're in the hopper with everybody else.

ROCHE: That's right.

Q. Have you ever turned down a search?

ROCHE: All the time. When I think they are undoable. …

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