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Keith Pickard, founder and chief executive officer of Jakait Inc.

brent foster The Globe and Mail

Every week, we will seek out expert advice to help a small- or medium-sized company overcome a key issue it is facing in its business.

Keith Pickard loves small-town life. He was raised in Kingsville, Ont., a small town an hour southeast of Windsor. Within kilometres, in neighbouring Ruthven, he set up his packaging company, Jakait Inc.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Mr. Pickard's passion for small towns.

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For about a year, Jakait's founder and chief executive officer has been searching on his own for a chief operating officer, and nearly all candidates have said the same thing: They don't want to move to Ruthven.

"Being four hours outside of Toronto and an hour from Windsor, it's not like people are banging on our door to live in the middle of nowhere," he says.

Mr. Pickard, who has about 50 employees – all of them locally hired – hasn't had to recruit any senior executives until now.

But after the six-year-old company grew its revenues by 2,033 per cent between fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2010 to $13.7-million, he now needs someone to develop policies and procedures that will help his business make the transition from a small enterprise to a medium-sized one.

Mr. Pickard wants to hire someone with experience at a larger company. He's looked as far away as Windsor and London, but hasn't found the person with the right skills, nor the desire to move. "Closer to home, we don't have as deep a job pool as a city, and while people may be able to commute from Windsor or London, it would be better if they were closer and part of the community," he says.

He hasn't so far taken his search to Toronto and other large cities because he believes salary expectations will be too high.

Still, Mr. Pickard hopes to find an executive who will want to be a driving force behind his company's growth, as well as have a more laid-back lifestyle, and live close to work.

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He says he's willing to pay $70,000 to $90,000 a year, as well as a portion of the person's commuting costs, and he'd personally show candidates what Ruthven has to offer.

So far, he's spoken to nine potential candidates, and, while none were right, seven said they wouldn't want to make the move.

"It's a hard sell to bring someone from the city into a small town," he says. "But I can assure you those who have become part of the community say they'd never go back."

The challenge: How can Jakait lure a COO to its small-town home?


Ross Coyles, Toronto-based principal with Mercer, an international human resources firm

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Cash is king. For this kind of firm, if they want to be competitive at the COO level, they're going to have to pay around $125,000 to $150,000. But they'll also want the job to be performance-oriented and offer some short-term incentives. Have another 20 per cent available for performance-based bonuses.

Part of the package is also entrepreneurial. He needs to sell the new COO on how he or she can make a difference.

You want that person living in southwest Ontario, not Toronto or Hamilton – you want that person at work, not teleconferencing from four hours away. Southwestern Ontario, specifically Windsor and London, is a good bet to find a COO for this company. These places have had a significant amount of turnover in the last few years in jobs that may be potential COOs. Windsor is a big manufacturing community. He may find someone with an operational background who's been a plant manager or a supply chain manager in a well-managed organization, who many now be out of, or looking for, a job.

Janice Detta Colli, Toronto-based principal with executive search firm Odgers Berndtson

Consider hiring an interim executive who would join the company for six to 18 months. Pitch them on the comforts of small-town life and the opportunity to come, help grow a company and then leave when they're done.

Interim executives want to do contracts. They want to have an impact, offer their leadership skills and exit. They usually have deliverables set by the CEO and then leave after they reach those milestones. These people have experience helping business through growing pains, and you get a lot of value in that time for what you pay.

If he'd prefer a full-time person, he might want to look at executives with young families. Ruthven is not only a beautiful place to live, but joining a company like this is the next step for many of them. They want growth, title and to make an impact, but maybe their current boss is just a couple years older than they are. So they could be willing to move to get more experience.

If he can't find a COO at all, he needs to look at his internal talent to see if there are people who can do pieces of the role, if not the whole role, that can move them forward in an incremental way.

Daryl Bitz, president and CEO of Saskatoon-based Crestline Coach Ltd. He's also had trouble hiring executives to his city.

It's a challenge to try and recruit people into a market that's not seen as sexy. We hired someone in my role, before me, and that didn't work out because we didn't do a good job of understanding the candidate's personal circumstances with the cultures and values that you have in Saskatoon. If it's important to go to the opera or five-star restaurants, then it won't be a good fit.

That was way more part of our focus when we were hiring a vice-president of production last November. We didn't focus on the technical side - we can teach the individual the production side of the businesses. It was more about cultural values and activities.

Consider hiring a headhunting firm. There's no way we could have found the right candidate without one. One of the key benefits of using a recruiting firm is that they have the time, expertise and, more importantly, the network to identify candidates who are most likely to be a match for the job being filled.


Spend more money

If the company wants to hire an experienced manager, it'll need to pay up. Consider spending $125,000 to $150,000 for a new hire.

Hire a headhunter

Headhunters wll know the types of people who would be willing to move to a small town. They also have the contacts to track a possible COO down.

Sell your town's benefits

During the interview, don't focus on the technical aspects of the job. Play up the benefits of living in a small town.

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