"Just Talk With My Agent"

The phone rings and a recruiter calls about a "fantastic" opportunity with another company. The CEO responds with, "I want to give this opportunity the serious consideration it deserves. Given the time demands of my current job, however, it would not be fair to my company to spend that time with you. Let me give you the phone number of my agent. He understands what would be a good fit for me. My agent will do the initial screen. If the answer is ‘yes,' then I will spend the time to talk with you in more detail. If the answer is ‘no,' I will be glad to refer you to others."

Sound farfetched?

It is already happening.

The rise of the Executive Agent is based on two trends:

(1) the importance and perishability of intangible value and (2) a change in the power balance between individual and organizations.

Imortance and Perishability of Intangible Value

In an information-oriented economy, intangible factors can have tangible value. For example, high tech company Cisco uses acquisitions as a way to buy product teams. Cisco believes it takes too long to assemble them from the ground up. Rock star David Bowie floated a personal bond issue. Ownership of the bond entitled investors to a portion of Bowie's future income stream. The entire issue was snapped up within an hour for over $50 million.

Intangible factors can be so valuable they can (and often are) the foundation behind M&As. They are often the foundation behind venture capitalists' decisions. Intangibles can even be priced on the open market and "securitized" as in the case of David Bowie.

But intangible factors such as industry knowledge and human connections are also perishable.

Senior executives can get so caught up in the day-to-day demands of their jobs, they let these valuable assets grow "stale." One often hears the lament, "I was so busy managing my job, I damaged my career."

Who Has the Power?

In the business of sports, free agents revered the best players' relationships to their teams. The most talented sports figures can and will move around to the best opportunity. There is no longer any doubt about where the power really lies. Exceptional players are even dubbed "the franchise" by owners and sports fans.

The same kind of free agency revolution happened in entertainment. According to Ernst & Young consultants Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, the big studios used to be vertically integrated, with performers having contractual affiliations to studios. These contracts left them little personal control over their work. "Superstar" artists Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford recognized their value in the marketplace and formed United Artists. Their goal was to gain artistic control. Today, brand name stars rule Hollywood. And the agencies that represent the talent are becoming most powerful mediators in the entertainment world.

According to David and Meyer, author of BLUR, business has now entered the same world.

For a select group of professionals, the power of their intangible assets are such that they control the balance of power in the inevitable tension between individual needs and corporate requirements.

And this select group is not necessarily restricted to "brand name" CEOs.

Others include attorneys with recognized names, professional service firm "rainmakers," visionary technologists, scientists, physicians, and turnaround artists.

Enter the Executive Agent

Common with stars in sports and film, the agent's role is to serve as a mediator between the individual and corporations interested in retaining the client's services. Thus, the agent has an explicitly external role. A career coach, on the other hand, often works quietly behind the scenes to help the executive be more effective in the job. The agent is both coach and external mediator..

A second role for the executive agent is to constantly monitor the client's intangible assets and to insure that those factors continue to have high value in the marketplace.

Laurence J. Stybel of the Boston firm Stybel Peabody & Associates is an example of this new breed of agent. According to Stybel, the agent roles are as follows:

In their role as Executive Agent, Stybel Peabody Associates brings in attorneys, financial planners, and compensation analysts as part of the team. They even have a professional theater director to assist clients with their presentation skills. The role of agent leverages Stybel Peabody & Associates' nineteen year experience in providing corporate sponsored retained search assistance to senior executives. "We understand how the Board/CEO relationship unravels based on years of experience at this level. We now turn that experience to helping executives keep those relationships intact as well as helping them to enhance the value of their marketable, intangible assets."

To give an example of the agent role at work, an investment banker was being recruited by a consulting firm. The banker was presented with a compensation package that was not in line with investment banking salaries in New York. The banker, however, didn't know if the compensation package was in line with consulting firms and wanted to get a second opinion. Larry Stybel had appropriate surveys so that comparisons could be made.

As Stybel and his client were talking, it became clear that the banker was so eager to conclude the deal, he had not given sufficient time to thinking about the impact of the move on his career. Stybel was able to slow down the negotiation process so that the person could think about this opportunity in a structured fashion. The banker came to the conclusion that it would not be a good career move. There were other possibilities that might serve the investment banker's goals even better.

The Changing Balance

In the industrial economy, large bureaucratic organizations held sway over the lives of employees. The Dilbert cartoon series symbolizes this dominance. On the other hand, Dilbert's creator Scott Adams is a talent who really can set his terms with publishing houses and newspaper syndicates.

Perhaps Scott Adams needs an agent?


Stan Davis & Christopher Meyers. BLUR: the speed of change in the connected economy. Reading, MA: 1998 (p 145-165).


Maryanne Peabody or Laurence J. Stybel,Ed.D.
Stybel Peabody & Associates
60 State Street, Suite 700 Boston, MA 02109
e mail: stybel@aol.com
Office: 617/371-2990

Return To Stybel Peabody Home Page