RICK VOGEL, FOUNDING PRINCIPAL THE VOGEL GROUP
Rick Vogel infuses the word endurance with positivity. The Founding Principal of The Vogel Group, a boutique executive search firm based in Edmonton, has a unique combination of professional expertise and life experience that has informed everything he knows about leadership: How to identify it, how to support its growth, and how to combine it with other qualities to inspire everyone’s best performance.
Whether it’s Rick’s background in financial services, or change management, or his hometown insider knowledge of Edmonton, or his history as an elite athlete that is being drawn upon, the leadership recruitment process demands every bit of his experience and expertise.
“It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have junior people assessing candidates, in fact, it’s why we don’t have junior people at all,” Rick explains. “We believe that to be an executive recruiter, you need to have some life experience. You need to be able to assess authenticity and that takes some maturity.”
Among other things, maturity brings focus, perspective and perseverance, which Rick drew upon as he trained for and completed his first IRONMAN triathlon in 2017.
“I’m just an age-grouper,” he jokes. “I’m way too old to be world class now.”
Jokes aside, Rick has represented Canada in two sports: track and field and triathlon. The second sport he took up in 1990 after the amputation of his left foot. In 1997 he brought home the men’s para triathlon bronze from the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Australia.
His approach to leadership recruitment is much like his approach to sport. He doesn’t expect to sprint to the finish line. Like an endurance sport, recruitment takes time and training, but finding the right fit for the right position also brings a rush of accomplishment that cannot be duplicated.
The Vogel Group does not use assessment centers, questionnaires or automated tools when it judges candidates for executive searches at private companies, not-for-profits, post-secondary institutions, municipalities, regulatory bodies, professional associations and other types of organizations.
Rick and his team; Christine DeWitt, Julie Barron and Rae Ann Mino; all see their executive searches through from initiation to conclusion. Their approach offers a unique contrast to the typical recruitment firm that hands off clients through various stages of the process from on-boarding, through research and screening to short-listing and interviewing.
“That represents a significant amount of knowledge that has to be transferred multiple times,” Rick says. “It wastes time and useful details get diluted or even lost through that transfer. From a business model, it means we do fewer searches, but we keep our overhead low and deliver better results than other firms.”
According to Rick, once basic competencies for the role are met, there are three qualities that have to be assessed in a leadership candidate: aptitude, attitude and passion.
“We’re dealing with leadership styles using face-to-face, hand shaking, eye ball-to-eye ball interaction,.” he says.
The first quality The Vogel Group looks for in a candidate is an aptitude for leadership.
“There is a base level of knowledge and experience required by the position being searched,” Rick says, “but every candidate has gaps in their experience compared to the desired or ideal experience in the job description. Aptitude assessment allows us to ask if those are gaps that can be bridged or if they are insurmountable. Many skills can be learned but some characteristics can’t be taught.
Positivity looks different in each person.
“Everyone has a choice when they have a challenge in front of them and I view challenge positively. My amputation was my 21st surgery and I spent a lot of time growing up in the hospital. I don’t feel like my life has been an ordeal, my life has been great,” Rick says. “I had challenges as a kid with health issues and things like that, but I have a great life. As the in-coming Board Chair of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation, I meet people whose every day challenges make what I went through look like a tea party. Taking what you have and finding a way to make the very best of it with your team is what true leaders do, each in their own way according to their own style.”
Passion drives all leaders. That might be an oft-repeated maxim, but that’s probably because it’s true.
“While it can be a broad definition, the best leaders have a passion for people, for setting and reaching goals, for many different things. Leadership comes from passion that inspires. The person who is the boss has a title, but the person who is the leader has the people. Great leadership has an emotional component that will vary from industry to industry, and within people, teams, and cultures. In various forms, passion drives leaders and we are always looking for it.”
Passion isn’t just a desirable quality in candidates; The Vogel Group discovers and articulates it within their client relationships as well.
“We are bringing that experienced, unbiased new perspective to our clients’ organizations, to the roles they are looking to fill, and to the cultures of those organizations. We put in all the hours up front, so people don’t just give us a job description,” Rick says. “We challenge our clients and they expect that from us. Head and heart go back in forth on perspective and thoughts. There’s a constant battle between heart and head. When they don’t say the same thing, then we need to discuss it.”
According to Rick, conversation remains the best method of unearthing the details of a company’s existing culture, the better to provide them with the missing skills and competencies they require.
“It’s all about open-ended questions,” Rick says. “A question about a challenging project might be a 20- minute conversation about commitment that leads to a discussion about managing people, leading people, and coming up with alternative solutions. We have a different conversation with every candidate. It’s hard to fake your personality over an hour and half or two-hour conversation because it’s not scripted.”
A script has no place in The Vogel Group culture. They are an Edmontonian firm, after all. Edmonton demands authenticity from all who enter the city’s borders and executive searches are no exception.
If you are going to be involved in our community for the sole purpose of being seen, Edmontonians will sniff you out in a second,” Rick says. “Don’t go through the actions just to be seen. This is a city of very grounded people. If people were not born here, they come to work here and end up spending most of their lives here. We have everything: sports, the arts, post-secondary education and we are renowned for volunteerism and for festivals and events. The people who are here get the city and that makes it a hard place to leave, even with the challenging climate.”
And what does Rick think has been the best part of applying the skill set of an endurance athlete to the field of executive search has been?
“In terms of recruitment, my greatest success is the team I have been fortunate enough to build in my office,” Rick answers. “I am a nightmare client to have as a recruiter. I am picky, I am a pain-in the butt client. But somehow I managed to find Christine, Julie and Rae Ann and we have built a great office culture and have lots of fun together. We’re a great team.”
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
The Vogel Group
# 300 – 10355 Jasper Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5J 1Y6