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June 30, 2016

Recruiting firm targets construction and real estate executives in the Northwest

  • Herd Freed Hartz helps companies manage changes in leadership, scale and direction.
  • By LYNN PORTER
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Seattle-based Herd Freed Hartz recently launched its first practice group to recruit people for executive level jobs in the real estate and construction industry.

    “It's really a reflection of the moment and the growth that's happening in Seattle,” said managing director Scott Rabinowitz, who noted that 65 buildings are under construction downtown.

    Rabinowitz was quoting a recent Downtown Seattle Association report, which also said construction expenditures for projects downtown now being built are at $3.5 billion.

    Herd Freed Hartz has represented firms in real estate and construction before, but the new practice group will focus entirely on them. “Our real estate work has tripled in the last three years and it just seems like the right time to share the story and be dedicated as part of that industry,” Rabinowitz said.

    Herd Freed Hartz was founded in Seattle 15 years ago, and opened a Portland office in 2010, where the new practice group will also work.

    Rabinowitz

    The firm has clients in a range of industries, including technology, health care, finance, manufacturing and not-for-profit. It has done searches for BECU, F5 Networks, T-Mobile, Starbucks, Getty Images, Alaska Airlines and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

    It is what's called a retained search firm. Clients pay it a retainer to find them someone to fill an executive position. That retainer is one-third of the first year's compensation of the hired person. It is paid in three parts: when the work starts, when finalists are selected and when someone gets hired.

    Rabinowitz said if that person leaves in the first year on his own or is asked to, his firm will redo the search.

    In another model, contingent searches, the client only pays if a person is hired, he said. With that model, “There's less skin in the game and it's easier for someone you haven't paid to say forget it,” if the search gets difficult, he said.

    Herd Freed Hartz is a private firm with nine senior recruiters who Rabinowitz said deal directly with clients. He declined to release revenues.

    It often competes with Waldron and The Laurel Group, both retained executive search firms.

    Herd Freed Hartz has done senior level searches for Seattle design firms, including NBBJ and NK Architects, for subcontractors such as Cochran Electric, for homebuilders that include Isola Homes, and for real estate firms, such as Windermere Real Estate and Zillow. And it recently found a Seattle-based market leader for self-storage properties for Rosewood Property Co., a Dallas real estate firm.

    It has not yet landed a major construction or development firm but is in talks with them, and would like to break into the commercial brokerage industry, Rabinowitz said.

    It recruited residential and commercial broker Nick Ridgeway for a Seattle job as vice president of land acquisition for Isola Homes, which primarily builds houses, including single-family and townhouses.

    Ridgeway said he was finding development sites for builders as a broker for Real Property Associates when the recruiter contacted him in April.

    At first, he turned them down. “I kind of branded myself, and I was just fine dealing with my clients,” he said.

    But Herd Freed Hartz contacted the busy Ridgeway again, offering more detail on Isola Homes. He said the recruiting firm was excellent at conveying the vision and values of the Isola people — and he liked what those people stand for. “I am a big believer that people go to work for people not for companies,” he said.

    Ridgeway said Herd Freed Hartz coached Isola on the best way to vet candidates and himself on the firm's high expectations, so he could decide if it was a good fit.

    It was an exhaustive hiring process, with meetings and a test, he said, but the recruiter made sure he was on board with the process. “This was a very professional executive level experience,” he said.

    Rabinowitz said construction and real estate companies need someone to tell their story to candidates, including those not in their network. “(They) are great at what they do, but they're heads down — they're typically focused on building their project.”

    Those leaders want people with local connections and industry knowledge who can get projects done. “They like straight talkers who have expertise, are detail oriented and do what they say they will do,” Rabinowitz said.

    People in this small community know each other, which can make it more difficult to approach someone about a job.

    “If I am at Sellen and want to hire somebody from GLY ... it's not really all that cool for me to be calling and enticing someone directly,” he said.

    Rick Hermanson, president of Hermanson Co., a Kent-based mechanical contractor, said Herd Freed Hartz was excellent at helping the company fill a director of human resources position.

    It presented him the candidates and their qualification every week, ranked them and kept him in the loop.

    “Obviously they started out with job description,” he said. “They did a nice job of just racking it up, extracting what I was looking for, putting it in writing and finding the right candidates that met our requirements.”

    Rabinowitz said top candidates in any industry are reluctant to make a move, so you must be quick and effective in telling your client's story. “You think it's hard to make a bid on a house, try making a bid on somebody's life,” he said.

    Submitting a resume to an online job site can be like tossing it into a black hole, he said. “It's activity but not really action.”

    Rabinowitz said his firm screens candidates to make the hiring process more effective.

    It recruits for “C-level” jobs, such as chief financial officer or chief marketing officer, down to the director positions.

    Rabinowitz said project managers are needed for larger, complex and more costly construction projects.

    Seattle has gone at least two years beyond the typical real estate cycle, he said, and “there is a bit of hesitation that something should change soon.”

    However, he said, there's dozens of projects set to start in the next year and a half, so “it looks like this market and this sector is very well positioned for a least another couple of years.”

    Rabinowitz said Herd Freed Hartz is best at helping companies manage change in leadership, scale and direction, and this new real estate and construction practice group “is a sign for our firm of the importance of that sector to us.”


     


    Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.


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