It’s All About Listening

Paying heed to a company’s unique needs; adding personal, boutique touches; and finding ‘nice people’: concluding a successful executive search for a US company’s strategic growth in Canada. Spring 2012

The Client Company

SpaFinder® Wellness, Inc. is a privately held, family-owned company, with 100 employees headquartered in New York City. Peter Ellis is the Chairman & CEO, while his wife Susie is the president. “They run the company as a family business,” says Neil Kurlander, SpaFinder’s Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel. “And they consider all the people who work here to be a part of that extended family. Therefore, it’s very important to them that a new hire, especially on a senior level, be a person they want in that ‘family’, and that we would want to deal with on a daily basis. We’re a very collaborative company.” SpaFinder is dedicated to providing the information, experiences and inspiration to help people find – and share – their path to wellness. As the world's largest spa and wellness media and marketing company, SpaFinder connects millions seeking a healthier, happier lifestyle with wellness providers around the globe. The company is also the largest seller of spa, wellness and beauty gift cards and vouchers, bringing clients to a global network of thousands of spas, fitness studios and wellness practitioners.

The Client

Neil Kurlander is a lawyer by training, and has worked as in-house general counsel for the past 22 years, eleven of those with SpaFinder. He has responsibility for all the company’s internal and external legal matters, corporate administration and human resource management. He is also corporate secretary and oversees all corporate governance matters. Prior to joining SpaFinder Wellness in 2002, Neil was vice president, corporate legal affairs at Horsehead Industries, Inc., a Fortune 500 company, where he played a major role in the consummation of approximately $1 billion in corporate financings, mergers and acquisitions and other commercial transactions. He has also practiced corporate law at some of the largest law firms in New York City. Neil received his B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and his J.D. from The Hofstra University School of Law, where he was a member of the Hofstra Law Review. “When I joined SpaFinder in early 2002, it was a much smaller company than it is today, and I assumed all the HR management,” he says, adding that the company hired its first full-time HR manager in late 2012. Neil hired all the company’s employees during the past ten years: “Hopefully, I have a fairly good understanding of what we do as a company, and the kind of person who will not only succeed here, but, equally as important, will find SpaFinder a good fit for them.”


Neil Kurlander

The Search

In Spring 2012, SpaFinder decided to put greater emphasis on growing its Canada-based business, and wanted to hire a senior General Manager (GM) to be situated in Canada to spearhead that expansion. “We understand that there are some significant differences between Canada and the US in how we do business,” says Neil. “By not having a physical presence in Canada, we felt we were limiting the impact we could ultimately have in the marketplace.” The company decided to hire a professional Canadian-based search firm ¬– which would already know the business community and marketplace – to conduct the search. “We hoped the firm we chose would also come to understand our business, and our product, and what we wanted to achieve in the Canadian market,” adds Neil. “As they identified candidates, they could make evaluations and maybe see things that as an outsider we wouldn’t see.” Neil reached out to SpaFinder’s Canadian partners, asking for search firm recommendations; Madison MacArthur was among those recommended companies. “So, I called the firms, to get a sense of their business and how they might go about a search,” says Neil. “Sylvia was very responsive to the questions I asked, and I also got the sense she was interviewing me as much as I was interviewing her, to make sure she understood what SpaFinder was about, what we were looking for, and what would be important to us. From the start, she took our temperature about the person we were looking for and how she would conduct that search.” Sylvia mentioned that she would be in the New York area; she was invited to the SpaFinder offices. “From the beginning, Sylvia impressed us,” comments Neil. “We were pleased that she felt it was important to stop by, meet with me and another senior manager, and see our office. After all, there’s only so much you can learn about people on the phone, and by coming into our office and learning about our corporate environment by actually seeing how we do business, we hoped that would go a long way to helping Sylvia find a candidate that would be the right ‘fit’.”

The Challenge

SpaFinder began receiving candidate resumes from Sylvia, along with in-depth personal profiles. “The profiles delved deeply, and honestly, into each candidate’s professional experience and strengths – and included Sylvia’s own impressions,” says Neil. “There was so much more information there than you could ever glean just from a resume. We found those profiles to be extraordinarily helpful.” The company ended up with two ‘very strong’ candidates – and a problem. “It’s not often you find yourself with two great candidates. We brought them back to the New York office twice, as it was such a difficult decision.” Ultimately the decision was made, and the winning candidate was chosen. “She has been everything everyone hoped for and more,” says Neil. “She is one of the best ‘fits’ I have ever seen for our company. If we have future hiring in Canada that needs outside assistance, it’ll be a very easy decision for us to pick up the phone and call Sylvia.”

The Conclusion

“Of course, like most companies we’ve made some hires that didn’t work out,” says Neil. “Very often, the problem hasn’t necessarily been that the person didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t do a good enough job – rather, it was not a good ‘fit’ for our company culture, and that is critically important.” Neil explains that SpaFinder is a very entrepreneurial company: “Sometimes, senior executives are used to having underlings to handle certain tasks that they might feel to be ‘beneath’ them, and we’re just not that kind of company. It’s really important to us that a new hire understand our egalitarian outlook, and ultimately be a nice person.” Neil feels that, at both the initial telephone conversation and in the New York office meeting: “Sylvia really listened to what we spoke about. We discussed what’s important to us as a company, and the person we wanted to work with, and that we thought would ultimately do well here. Sylvia heard us, and paid heed and produced really nice people. And I can’t tell you how important that is to us as a company. The new Canada-based General Manager is definitely a good ‘fit’.” The ultimate accolade comes from SpaFinder’s CEO. “He’s commented, on several occasions, how pleased he was with the caliber of candidates,” says Neil. “Coming from him, that’s significant praise. He realizes this was a very, very successful search and we’re so pleased in all respects.”