Friday, June 14, 2013

Relationship Story - What I Learn from Her

Our older daughter, Katie, is getting married in July.  That’s obviously a big (and very happy) deal for our family, but as this great event approaches I’m struck by the clarity of what I am learning from her.  You see, Katie is a teacher.

During her first two years at UCLA, Katie was on the Mock Trial team and seemed destined to go to Law School.  Then she had her first chance to teach during the summer after year two, and this was followed by her chance to travel the world that Fall in the Semester at Sea program.  When she came home, they said she may be different than before she left after seeing the real world, including examples of true poverty and need.  I really wondered what would be different about her.

It was big.  When she returned home, Katie suddenly knew that she was destined to teach kids – Law School was a distant memory.  She has now been teaching high school for the past five years and is as purposeful about her career as anyone I know; she also travels the world every summer and builds even greater perspective along the way.  I started learning from Katie from the day she decided this was her destiny.

I remember starting my own career and having no real idea what was truly passionate for me, but I see how powerful it is for Katie to be in her zone every day, knowing she is fulfilling her destiny.
Katie is a teacher for me, helping me realize the value of purposefulness.

While I watch her grow each year to become even better at her purposeful craft, it causes me to continually examine my own choices and how I spend my time.  I have to ask myself all the time whether I am living as purposefully as I can.  I see the way Katie pours her heart and soul into helping young people have better lives and achieve far more than they had ever imagined.    

Who are the people in your life that are your teachers?  Perhaps it’s those folks that seem to be what you wish you were?  Perhaps it’s just something about them…

When I write these stories, I find that the subject is usually whatever I need to be learning myself right about then.  I suppose that as Katie gets married, I need to both appreciate her for the great person she has become and also to be reminded that I need to stay as purposeful in my life as possible.  Thanks for the reminder, teach! 


Jeff Black
Partner, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949   Office: (949) 529-2672
2 Venture, Suite 100    Irvine, CA 92618

I believe creating relationships that truly fit makes a big difference in the world

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Relationship Story - How Vision Can Transform Us

My coach, Vance Caesar, helps people like me understand the value of having both a purpose and a vision for my life.  The purpose part seemed to work easily for me – it’s always been about building fulfilling relationships, both for myself and for others.  However, vision was always a mystery, and I was clueless about its potential value for all the aspects of my life – personal, community, and also for my business.
At a 2007 retreat with Vance, he challenged me to write my “80th birthday toast”.  Having just turned 50, writing a 30-year vision seemed fitting:
The imagined scene was a ballroom of 300 people including family and many long-time friends.  It would be a very festive event, but it was only coincidentally a celebration of my birthday.  It was, actually, a celebration of achievements in Orange County philanthropy that had occurred over 30 years because of the emergence of a subculture of Difference Makers who came together to change lives for the better.  The birthday was a sideline - I was among a group being recognized for having played a role in making these achievements possible.
For the first time ever, a vision had been crafted for my life.  While this was really cool, it also totally scared me.  I really didn’t know what to do with this idea.  My good friend Bill Sanderson suggested that I just start talking with people about the idea, and after I did, a small group came together around the vision of connecting “Difference Makers”.
While it made sense that this vision helped lead to DifferenceMakersOC, where connections are created among a community of successful people who also want to help others, the real surprise for me was what a difference this would ultimately make in my business life.  This surprise is what I really wanted to share with you, as only you know how transformational your own vision might be for you.
My epiphany was that after we had our first DifferenceMakersOC event in early 2011, where we gathered 100 OC Executives for networking and to benefit a worthy charity, I looked back at my business and saw it as something completely different.  I realized, to my surprise, that my work – fitting an ideal new leader into a key executive vacancy in a client company – is astoundingly similar to connecting two Difference Makers in the community. 
You see, I find the real key for ideal “fit” is to align the values and priorities of the company with the true makeup of a talented new executive leader.  When this fit is ideal, it’s like a great marriage, and the synergy provides tremendous benefit for every stakeholder of the company – all the employees, the investors, and each customer the company serves.  I was amazed to realize how well this “marriage” fits the Difference Makers vision.
I had no idea that discovering a vision for my life, one that initially seemed to relate only to serving others in the community, was really a blueprint for a more fulfilling business life as well.  I didn’t expect this outcome – just as I didn’t know the real value of a vision.  Why couldn’t I have learned this a long time ago?  I wish you all the best for finding your own buried treasure – it just may start with a vision.
Thanks for sharing time with me; as always, I welcome your feedback.  Please feel free to pass this message along to others who may find value. 
Reference:  For a great story about that original Difference Makers group, you can read a recent article by Russell Williams called Six Difference Makers – A Canvas of Influence for Good, copied on my blog at, or visit – if you are not receiving the pearls of wisdom from Russ, I encourage you to get on his list.
Jeff Black
Partner, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949   Office: (949) 529-2672
2 Venture, Suite 100    Irvine, CA 92618

I believe creating relationships that truly fit makes a big difference in the world

Sunday, November 25, 2012

By Russell Williams - Six Difference Makers: A Canvas Of Influence For Good

They Came My Way
“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”
 Sandra Day O’Connor

It was 2008. In June Senator Barrack Obama became the Democratic presidential candidate. On November 4th he was elected President with 338 electoral votes. In March the government began to intervene in the U.S. financial system crisis.   In May Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had the right to challenge their detention in federal court.
The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers to win the NCAA Basketball Championship. Randy Pausch released The Last Lecture, creating a nationwide conversation.   John Grisham’s book, The Appeal, was released as was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.
Charlton Heston, Bobby Fischer, William Buckley, Paul Newman, Tim Russert, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Suzanne Pleshette, and Cyd Charisse were among notable individuals who passed on.
By 2008 a small group of Orange County men had been meeting for several months reaching back into 2007. In its beginnings the group was convened at the invitation of Jeff Black and included Dave Elliott, Greg Arbues, Jeff Abbott, Bill Sanderson, myself and one other OC professional who had to step aside from participation because of a career change. By 2008 Denny Bellesi became part of the group. Since that time the group has met on the second Friday morning of each month.
Jeff did not have an agenda when we gathered the first few meetings. After several months, it became clear that the group would not operate with an agenda of shared action, but rather something unique would emerge. As Bill Sanderson has said on several occasions over the last few years about this monthly meeting…it is the only meeting he attends monthly where there is no agenda, no action plan of deliverables, yet always filled with unscripted meaning and outcome that brings influence for good to many, many people throughout Orange County.
Imagine you, my reader, reflecting upon your own experiences with a small group that you may have been involved with…perhaps a Vistage Group, a men’s or women’s group or a tight bond of friends that gather regularly and purposefully to connect.
What makes a group bonded while it moves month to month and year to year as a living entity? I believe it is found in the shared history that the group creates. Gathering for meaningful conversation does require vulnerability.   It invites conversations of both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Such groups constantly paint on a landscape that connects the personal and the professional self.   Such groups constantly carry forward into each meeting the residue of goodwill and blessing that comes from knowing what trusted relationships feel like.
Meeting monthly with this group of men has become a special gift to my life.   It was the first time in my life that I had experienced such a bond. What I have found in the experience was surprising, as I believe it has been for the other men. What that means is…we have uncovered the shared worth of who we are to ourselves and to each other!
It was during 2008 our group made a big discovery together that would set into motion its influence for good. We discovered that we did not gather to create and initiate a shared agenda of action.
Instead, we discovered we gathered to explore mutual influence built on a principle…influence is organic not linear…as Sandra Day O’Connor concisely states in the weavings of individual threads from one to another creates something.
The men in this small group each bring their thread of good.   They know they are bonded by the mutual strength of the individual threads that connect and interact.
At any particular meeting we may talk about one or more of those individual threads. In doing so, it is obvious that the bond of trust that shapes the group does strengthen each individual thread…in its own time…and way… for expression and action.
Does this group have fun in its monthly weaving of mutual influence? Absolutely! Does it listen openly and hear stories of expectancy and sorrow? Regularly! Does it welcome new ideas? Always. Does each meeting end with optimism? Continuously! Does the group honor its commitment of mutual friendship? At its core!
These men…Dave, Jeff, Greg, Jeff, Bill and Denny are Difference Makers in my life. They have come my way for me to learn a valued lesson: The life threads of others is what makes the canvass of Life stunning and strong!
These men are symbol and substance of the Good that comes to us and through us as we make ourselves available to one another for grander purposes than getting for ourselves alone.
It is the weaving of the threads that ultimately shapes the influence for good at home, at work and in the community.
 Appreciating you on the ethical edge!

Russell Williams, Founder/President
Passkeys Foundation/Ethical Edge

A Relationship Story - It's All About The Mustard

Just how important are the details?  Well, perhaps it's better to ask "how important is being better than your competition?"

The details are the competitive advantage.  Buyers have the right to expect excellence.  Excellence simply must reflect, as part of its definition, an unwavering commitment to getting the details right. 

Let me illustrate this with a story about mustard (yes, mustard).  Up to the 1940's, Major League Baseball ballpark experiences had always been only slight variations of each other - all had games and hot dogs, but the creativity was pretty limited over the then 70+ year history of the game.  Then came Bill Veeck, and nothing would ever be the same.

Veeck bought the Cleveland Indians in 1947 and set out to entirely change the fan experience.  He also intended to win more games and fill more seats.  In fact, he led the Indians to their first (and only) World Series championship in 1948 and set an all-time Major League Baseball attendance record in the process (an attendance increase in just one year of an astounding 72%!)  There were many reasons, but the details of the fan experience played a major part. 

This insatiable innovator set out to create the most extraordinary fan experience possible.  He was famous for grandstanding with outlandish promotions that turned the conservative world of baseball on its ear.  However, the painstaking research and preparation he insisted upon really helped to create the right environment for magic to happen. 

Veeck personally evaluated every detail, including the choice of mustard for the hot dogs, ensuring that it was consistent with the pallets of the local fan base.  It just wouldn't do to throw out the conventional yellow bottle we all know so well.  He knew that getting people to the ballpark was a local/regional thing - the Northern Ohio fan was his market, not the average supermarket customer anywhere buying normal old French's.

I believe this story reflects a parallel with our business lives.  Following the lead of great innovators can help us focus our efforts and remind us of what is truly important.  Also, while Bill Veeck was a true maverick and a very controversial figure, the success of his team on the field was unmistakable.  I can’t help but believe that his attention to detail had a lot of influence on the team’s success – certainly a lot more than just having crazy promotions.  He insisted on as much focus on detail with his player decisions as he did with the mustard.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves how we might tailor our approach to our own customers in order to ensure we are focusing on the details that matter most.  Customers don't all need the same solution, but each of them definitely needs something specific.  We had better be thinking about what "mustard" our customer really likes and make sure to serve it every time, on time and under budget.  If we don't, our competition surely will.

Here's to paying attention, reading the tea leaves, and taking nothing for granted.
Thanks for sharing time with me; as always, I welcome your feedback.  Please feel free to pass this message along to others who may find value. 


Jeff Black
Partner, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949   Office: (949) 529-2672
2 Venture, Suite 100    Irvine, CA 92618

A Relationship Story: Passion - Really Living

Sitting in a darkened arena, waiting for the unexpected - I just knew there must be something special about this guy.  Why had so many found this to be something they would not miss - time after time after time.  I'd been to a lot of concerts since the 1970's, but finally in was time to see The Boss. This past April 27th, my close pal Roger Kraemer (President of ProActive Direct Marketing and a founding member of the DifferenceMakersOC organizing committee) treated me to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the classic old L.A. Sports Arena. 

I really had no idea what I was in for; I was also surprised to find that "it" actually had little to do with the songs, the lyrics, or even the message.  I simply could not believe the passion that was delivered.  The experience during the first 15 minutes was truly unbelievable.  The intensity of the effort by Bruce and the band...the pure emotion of non-stop power songs woven together brilliantly...the realization that this was all being delivered as a gift from the heart just for me (and the 15,000 other "mes" in the hall) actually brought tears to my eyes. I simply had no way to anticipate how much all of them were giving to all of us.

When we truly love doing something for others, they know it.  When we go through the motions, nobody is fooled.  Experiencing that show made me realize that I want to live that way all the time.  I want everything I do to approach, even a little bit, the amount of caring, concern and commitment that I felt in watching that show.

After the show, Roger said "that was the best concert I've ever seen".  I realized at that moment that I hadn't even thought to compare it to other such events. This was much more than just a concert; this was the Vin Scully of concerts.  It simply cannot be compared.

There are a lot of other examples of this kind of passion within great people in my life - the insatiably curious, those that are driven to achieve and discover new things, and the folks who care enough to truly make a difference.  You know a lot of these folks also, don't you?  These people inspire me just like Bruce did.  It is very clear that I am drawn like a magnet to people like this - as much as anything in my life, these individuals fuel my own passions.

How many of us encounter people that lack passion, that have too little soul, that don't really know what matters to them?  I know that, at least for me, this would be no way to live.  Here's to all of us finding what inspires us, living passionately, and committing our hearts and souls to what matters more to us than anything.
Thanks for sharing time with me; as always, I welcome your feedback.  Please feel free to pass this message along to others who may find value. 

References:    ProActive Direct Marketing (April 27th show set list included) - Bruce Springsteen Fan Site


Jeff Black
Partner, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949   Office: (949) 529-2672
2 Venture, Suite 100    Irvine, CA 92618