Finding chiefs

Lee Ann Howard formed Howard & O’Brien Associates after she became frustrated with traditional firms’ cultures and knew that she could do better in the recruiting process on her own.

The company concentrates on the placement of “chief-level” senior executives — CEO, CFO, COO, etc. — and their direct reports. The differentiation from other recruiters is centered on candidate and company fit.

The focus goes beyond the traditional search firm mission of identifying a candidate with the correct set of skills and experience. For each assignment, an extended time period is devoted to understanding the culture and chemistry issues of the client’s organization.

Howard believes both the candidate and employer are best served by an intense, thorough investigation into a company’s culture. She also focuses on minority placements, which has resulted in 57 percent of her placements being minorities.

Other search firms do not use this approach. Typically, they stress the importance of only the candidate possessing a skill set that matches the client’s requirements. Failed placements occur most often when an incoming executive’s style is not in alignment with the organization’s culture.

Her strategic plan includes maintaining her commitment to personalized, hands-on service, focusing on being great rather than big. Successful growth will be determined by focusing on high-level executive searches and limiting the number of lower-level searches accepted.

Howard also founded the “Conversations with the Board” speaking series in an effort to promote female inclusion on boards of directors for public companies. The series targets key women in senior executive-level positions interested in learning more about serving on boards to groom them for board opportunities.

How to reach: Howard & O’Brien Associates, (216) 514-8980 or