Who’s Your War Admiral? Why Horses Beat Unicorns

on 02 | 27 | 2019

Companies like Uber, ZenDesk, Okta, Braintree, Github…all truly transformative companies, led by extraordinary, highly valued, highly talented transformative technology leaders.

We hear a lot about “unicorns” in executive search. I get it, they’re rare. But when it comes to transformative talent, I don’t believe in unicorns, (nor should you). The best people aren’t successful because of magical powers. They work hard with grit, determination, and skill. They’ve also learned from great mentors, and pass along what they learned to the next generation. These people are a rare breed, but they exist. I like to think of them as War Admirals.

War Admiral was the racehorse who won the Triple Crown and Horse of the Year back in 1937. So what’s he got to do with transformative talent in 2019? War Admiral was bred to win. His father had been a champion, and that same team trained War Admiral. After he retired from racing, War Admiral’s lineage became one of the winningest in history, producing champions like Seattle Slew, Zenyatta and the most recent Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. My point is lineage matters, greatness begets greatness. Early in a search, organizations will often target specific high-profile, brand name companies, but lineage is equally important. Great people come from great lineage. Experience is always critical, but look at their mentors. Who did they learn from? What did they learn, and what are they able pass on to others? A candidate’s lineage indicates  likelihood of success across a multitude of factors critical to your business.

Our most successful placements all come from exceptional lineage. When you trace back the origins of the family tree, you may find a War Admiral. They are an elite category, highly sought after and extremely rare.  I’ve been fortunate to work with several War Admirals over the years. I’m looking forward to sharing their stories in the coming weeks.