Wagging Your Tail

Executive recruiter Dave Hardie on the benefits of leaving gracefully, consumer-products experience, and balancing We versus I.

Who he is: Dave Hardie, managing director of consumer products, Herbert Mines Associates

Who he has placed: Kathryn Olson, CMO, LeapFrog Enterprises Inc.; Mitch Kon, VP of marketing, Mikasa; Fred Johnson, CEO, Harmony Foods Corp.

If you're looking to get out, what's the best way to quit your job?

Always keep in mind the golden rule: Treat your employer the way you'd want to be treated yourself. Don't email a resignation; you want to have a face-to-face meeting with your boss, put it in writing, and keep it very positive. In this day of mergers and acquisitions, you really don't want to burn bridges. I know one guy who went from Procter & Gamble to Richardson-Vicks, and he was so negative. Well, several months later, P&G bought Richardson-Vicks and he was back. That haunted him for the rest of his relatively brief career at P&G.

If you're on the fence about trying something new, how do you decide?

Think of a new opportunity as a ladder. First off, do you like the rung of the ladder that you're coming in on? Would it excite you, get you up in the morning, make you eager to go to work? Are there rungs above that one you can be happy moving up? What about the wall that this ladder's leaning up against? Is this a company, an industry, with a future?

If you're taking a job because your new boss seems like the ideal person to work for — while overlooking other things about that job or that company — it's almost a given she's going to be gone in three months.

What does experience in consumer products do for your resume?

If you have built your credentials with a top consumer-products company, you can move almost anywhere. Look at Robert Polet, who ran the frozen-food business for Unilever. Now he's running Gucci. The new CEO of Nike, Bill Perez, was the CEO of S.C. Johnson. Everyone understands the value of someone who has learned to build brands, work globally, and focus on the consumer. If you have that kind of training at an academy company such as a P&G or a General Mills, it's like getting a super-MBA.

What turns you off in a candidate?

How much I hear the "I" word versus the "we" word. The best, most successful people know that part of their success is due to circumstances they were in and people they worked with. I'm much more impressed with somebody who understands their true role in success and has a little humility.

At the same time, you shouldn't attribute everything to we. In the South, we have a saying: "It's a sorry dog that can't wag its tail." It doesn't happen often, but sometimes I have to remind a candidate to wag their tail in our discussion. It's a balance between taking credit while acknowledging the surrounding context.

What career advice has stuck with you over the years?

In my first job, I didn't like my boss and was miserable. I had dinner with my father and he said, "It's your job to make this work. It's not her job to change for you." That advice helped then and many times after that.

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