All posts by Rikki

Fred Lamster Featured in Total Retail Magazine

Fred Lamster, Partner in Battalia Winston’s Consumer and Retail practice, has contributed an article entitled, “Organization Planning in a Troubled Retail Sector: 6 Keys to Success,” to Total Retail, the go-to source for executives looking for analysis on the omnichannel retail industry.

Co-written with Sharon Tunstall, former VP of Human Resources at Nike, the article shares actionable strategies for impactful organizational planning. In a time when retail is in need of more strategic leadership with greater cross-functional expertise, organization planning is more critical than ever.

Read the full article on Total Retail.

Fred Lamster Featured on

Fred Lamster recently contributed an article entitled, “Human Resources: Still at a Crossroads” to

Stop talking about earning a seat and start proving that you’ve already earned it

I was on the phone with an HR colleague one morning talking about the “state of the function” and bemoaning the current crop of Human Resources bench talent. After all, it is the primary job of HR to build the talent base of an organization—shouldn’t that include the HR function as well?

My colleague is a well-respected CHRO in the energy sector, and I recently left HR after a number of years as a CHRO to go into executive search. We were coming at the issue from different perspectives, but we had no trouble aligning on the key question: Why do HR people boast about “earning a seat at the (proverbial) table” when any other function head on the leadership team – CFO, COO, CMO, CIO, CDO and any other “C” titles that exist based on the company or industry – just comes in and sits down? Why does Human Resources have to earn a seat when other functions simply assume their seat is already reserved? And why do HR people talk with so much pride about earning a seat that should be rightfully theirs?

“If HR needs to fight to be at the table, I would suggest you are working at the wrong company.” (Bill Higley, SVP Human Resources – Retail)

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Mix and a-Mingle: Executive Search Firm Battalia Winston’s Annual Survey Finds Corporate Holiday Parties Are on the Rise

Companies are getting into the festive spirit this year as the trend of having corporate holiday parties continues to grow, according to the 28th annual survey of corporate America’s firms conducted by leading global executive search firm Battalia Winston.

This year, 89 percent of the companies polled will have holiday parties – a continual uptick from 85 percent in 2015 and 78 percent in 2014. The survey has historically served as a means of gauging corporate confidence in the economy. The increase in the number of parties planned generally reflects that people are feeling positive about the economy.

Holiday parties were held by 95 percent of companies in 1988, the first year of the survey, and hit an all-time high of 97 percent 1996 and in 1997 – all years when the economy was robust. The parties then hit a record low of 81 percent in 2008, and as the nation continued to react to the “Great Recession,” holiday parties spiraled to a new record low of 74 percent just five years ago.


This year’s results show a much merrier turn of events, as the survey reveals even more positive data from the companies.

“Despite the uncertainty of the election, we are seeing that companies are showing continual growth and that they are wanting to celebrate that growth with their employees,” said Dale Winston, Battalia Winston’s Chairwoman and CEO.

2016 Survey Findings:

  • Seeing green in 2017: As companies make plans for next year, more than half (64 percent) of respondents say they’re on track to “grow and hire” next year – up from 52 percent in 2015. Less than a quarter (20 percent) expect their growth to stay the same.

  • What’s the reason for the party this season? 50 percent of the respondents said that the purpose of the party was to boost employee morale – up from 47 percent last year. Another 30 percent said it was to celebrate a successful 2016.

  • Why no celebration? Half of the respondents who reported that their companies are not having a holiday party this year say they have never had such a celebration. Only 27 percent of those not having parties say a holiday party just didn’t make it into the budget this year.

  • party-sizeAbout that Budget… An astounding 93 percent of respondents said that regardless of company revenue, their company’s holiday party would be the same as – or even better than – the previous year’s. That trend is holding strong: it was also at 92 percent last year and just one point lower in 2014. What might be most telling about the employers is that this 93 percent includes the 18 percent of respondents who said their company either had no growth or had some type of consolidation and yet they still planned to have a holiday party at least as good as last year’s.

  • Who’s invited? Employees, of course! However, this year 30 percent of respondents say spouses, partners, dates, or other family members will be passing the eggnog.

  • Deck the Break Room: Most respondents say their parties will be held in the evening (35 percent) and at a restaurant (40 percent), but a sizeable portion (30 percent) of this year’s parties will be held at the office. Of the 18 percent having multiple parties, the majority are doing so because the company is too large for a single party or because of a dispersed workforce.

  • Bring on the Booze! Drinks will still be served at most (65 percent) of this year’s parties, but that’s the lowest percentage ever recorded. Thirty-five percent of party-goers will have to bring their own cheer this year.

  • What election? It seems this year’s presidential election has already been forgotten – at least when it comes to celebrating the holidays. Ninety-eight percent of respondents said that campaigning and elections had absolutely no effect on their party-planning process or budget. In fact, the majority respondents said the uncertainty surrounding the elections had no effect on their company’s future whatsoever.

  • charitable-giving‘Tis the season to give back (but just a little bit): 2016 marks one of the lowest for companies officially giving back to charity during the holiday season since 2010, when the recession caused charitable giving to drop to 47 percent. This year, 67 percent of the companies surveyed will be volunteering or collecting donations this year, up slightly from 66 percent last year, but down sharply from 75 percent in 2014. Also on a downward spike is the number of employers giving their employees a holiday gift. This year only 32 percent of respondents said their companies planned on giving out holiday gifts to their staff this year, down sharply from 45 percent just last year.

So, are corporate holiday parties here to stay?

“It is absolutely looking like the holiday party is here for good,” said Winston. “Employers enjoy giving their employees something to look forward to every year and a holiday party can do that every time.”

The 2016 Battalia Winston nationwide survey was conducted among a cross-section of 200 companies.

Click on the images below for full-size, downloadable graphs.

About Battalia Winston:

Battalia Winston has been successfully meeting client needs in executive recruitment for 53 years and is currently ranked as one of the nation’s 20 largest retained executive search firms, as well as one of the world’s largest woman-owned search firms. Headquartered in New York City, the firm also has offices in New Jersey, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Battalia Winston is an agile and uniquely flexible firm and their culture is focused on providing highly personalized, responsive client service.

Family-Owned Businesses and Long Term Incentive Programs (LTIPs)

by Bruce H. Walton, Partner at Battalia Winston

When a family-owned business needs to recruit a non-family CEO or COO, a well-structured Long Term Incentive Program (LTIP) is essential in attracting an outstanding candidate. However, LTIPs can make some family business owners uncomfortable. Few families want to give up true ownership, even when they realize that an agreement is important for the health of the business. Naturally, the non-family CEO will want to share in the value they create through an incentive program that enables them to feel, act and think like an owner.

Fortunately, there are ways to structure an LTIP that preserve ownership and make the program a win-win situation for both owners and newly hired executives. The dominant LTIP vehicle among private firms is a cash-based performance incentive which contributes the earned award to a deferred pay account with vesting conditions.

Here are a few guidelines that we have found useful in recruiting.

Work with Experts

Creating an LTIP is not something that should be handled in-house. It takes a professional compensation consultant to translate the family’s value system and objectives into an appropriate LTIP architecture, and then to fit the program to the requirements of the finalist candidate. There is always a bit of negotiating that goes on, first within the board and family, then with the finalist candidate. The process usually requires several steps/iterations over a couple of months and needs to be memorialized by a lawyer. The whole process might cost $12-15,000.

Because the process can take some time, we strongly encourage clients to start developing the LTIP at the beginning of the CEO or COO search. It is too late to start the process once the final candidate has been identified. If there is an LTIP already in place, it may need to be refreshed to match the current marketplace. Again, this process should be started early, since even minor modifications can take a couple of months.

Start with the Premise that the Program Should Pay Out Only When Value is Created

The architecture of the LTIP should be based on sharing in the value that the CEO helps create. Frequently, the way to measure that value is EBIT or EBITDA, starting with a reference value before the new CEO joins, and allocating a percentage of the value created to a pool that is shared by the top three to five members of the management team. This incents the CEO and provides some tools to attract and retain top talent.

In some programs, a third party assesses the company’s value each year, providing an independent view of the payout, but this method has a yearly expense attached to it. One recent client simply assigned a percentage of the EBITDA growth over time to a pool.

Keep it Simple

Some of my clients have tried to incent behavior with overly complex metrics, to the point that one candidate likened the proposed LTIP to the tax code. He asked, “What are you really trying to get me to do?” The company did not have a good answer. Also, it was very hard for the candidate to assess what was achievable before he moved under the tent with access to all the needed information. Ultimately, the company decided to simply base the incentive on company value growth based on their formal company annual valuation program.

LTIP payouts should be made in a reasonable timeframe, balancing the needs of the candidate with the need to protect the company from a large cash flow demand. Remember, if the CEO makes a lot of money, the family has made even more!

Of course, the value of the LTIP should be subject to a vesting schedule of a reasonable timeframe, perhaps three to five years. I had one client that wanted the monies held within the company until the CEO turned 65. That was unacceptable to the 43-year-old finalist candidate. He proved he was the right candidate by saying, “I want to be able to take some of my (earned) money out on a regular vesting schedule, invest it and then lose it, just like everyone else.” He turned the company profitable within nine months and doubled the value of their minority ESOP within three years.

While a recruiter can provide a sense of whether a program is comparable with others in the market, it takes a compensation consultant who deals with private companies to “turn the dials” and match a program to a specific situation. Recruiters familiar with family-owned businesses are accustomed to collaborating in this way and working with various other consultancies supporting the family-owned business community.

Blocks for Customer-Managed Relationship Concept

Fred Lamster featured in Chief Executive Magazine

Fred Lamster recently contributed an article entitle, “Why CHROs Should Get a Seat at the Board Table” to Chief Executive Magazine.

Why do HR leaders boast about “earning a seat at the board table” when any other function head on the leadership team—CFO, COO, CMO, CIO, CDO—just comes in and sits down?

CHROs and emerging HR executives must be included along with that of their C-level counterparts to make others see them as equal. First, by adopting HR best practices and then by proactively asserting expertise in business-critical processes, your CHRO will be welcomed at the leadership table. Here are 3 strategies you can direct your CHRO to follow to help make that happen.

Best Practice 1: Understand the key elements of the overall business. C-level executives (often with the exception of HR) are generally fully informed and aware of the financial health of the company, potential areas for growth and experimentation, competition and overall industry challenges. Most CXOs possess extensive knowledge of the products or services the company offers. A successful CHRO will be both knowledgeable and conversant in all of these same areas. He or she should know the key elements of each of the other executives’ areas, know what they mean and how they are measured and, most importantly, understand how human capital challenges impact each of these areas and be able to discuss these challenges and potential solutions from a functional and business perspective.

Continue reading on ChiefExec.

Boards and Family-Owned Businesses

by Bruce H. Walton, Partner at Battalia Winston

Family-Owned businesses are complex and filled with emotional, often multi-generational challenges, and they are the backbone of U.S. business.  To recruit top executives into these businesses, there are some important conditions for recruiting success.

 Perhaps the most important is an active, outside board.  Once a company reaches revenues of around $30-$50m, it is high time to seek outsiders’ perspective.  Many companies start earlier with an Advisory Board, but eventually a Fiduciary Board is important to the company’s success and important transitions. 

 Long before transitions are needed, most family business leaders have at least a gut feel for a potential family successor.  If a hole is evident, the need for a bridge to the next generation of leadership jumps out.  And sometimes the company will more properly transition from family-managed to family-owned.  If a top leader will be needed, the search will need an outside board’s perspective for a couple of reasons.

 First, any good outside CEO or COO will bring ideas to the table that will scare the pants off the owner.  The owner will need a sounding board to fairly evaluate those ideas.  Second, the CEO/COO will feel the need for some mechanism for influencing ownership.  Operating totally at the owner’s whim places the outside executive in a high risk position.  And that perception will cause the best candidates to back away from an offer, even a good one.

 Newly minted boards take a couple of years to find their footing.  Since nobody wants to be the sole outside board member in a family-owned business, there will be some complexity to forming a balanced board and establishing good governance processes.  So starting a board when you need to do a top level search is already too late. 

 A properly constructed and operating outside board should also have the governance courage to trigger the top management transitions important to company health and longevity.  Like an aging professional athlete, family leaders may need caring and clear-eyed advice on when it is time to let go and open a new life chapter.