MBA: Managed by Agent Executives pick up some real star quality
By Adam Bryant

Celebrities have agents. So do professional athletes. Why not business executives? After all, the much-ballyhooed talent shortage has created tremendous demand for capable executives. But who has time for plotting the next job hop, skip or jump? Break out the popcorn. It's time for a "Jerry Maguire" sequel: he's come to corporate America.

Sprung from Central Casting for the role is Neal Lenarsky. As a human-resources executive, he grew disenchanted with outplacement and recruiting firms, whose clients, after all, are the companies footing their bills. Lenarsky wanted to work for the employee, and to forge lasting connections. "I really never had the time to get into people's heads very deeply,'' he says. He spent some beach time pondering what he really wanted to do with his life, and decided to (cue the soaring soundtrack) facilitate the careers of executives. Not particularly heady, but it was different. After all, the real money was elsewhere. Headhunters, for example, get a fat fee the moment they place a recruit. For Lenarsky, who founded his Woodland Hills, Calif., firm, Strategic Transitions, in 1996, the payout comes from small annual percentages of his 29 clients' salaries.


By all accounts, Lenarsky doesn't have much competition now, but that's likely to change. Switching firms is increasingly the norm, and as executives become more like free agents, agents of their own could come in handy. "This does seem like a new phenomenon, but I'm sure that senior executives have something to gain from this kind of agent model,'' said Joseph Daniel McCool, editor of Executive Recruiter News.

Lenarsky, 42, is father confessor, coach, researcher and networker. He spends 25 to 30 hours with new clients... to figure out their ideal job. Sometimes what pops out is far afield from where the clients are now. They then map out a new career path, which often includes taking a "C'' job as a step to their "A'' job. He cold-calls companies to introduce his clients. He sharpens interview skills, resumes and cover letters, and tells clients what they can reasonably demand during salary negotiations. Lenarsky, who carries with him a two-inch-thick binder with names of about 7,000 contacts, also turbocharges serendipity. One client, Andrew Leary, a former music-industry executive, decided after long talks with Lenarsky that he really wanted to set up an online retail venture. Another Lenarsky client became Leary's partner, and yet another Lenarsky contact became their first investor. "At many a juncture, it would have been easy for me to steer away from what it was I wanted to do,'' Leary says. There are things Lenarsky won't do. Some conversations, for example, are best left to a trained psychologist. "I don't do deep drilling,'' he says.

Lenarsky can get as worked up as Jerry Maguire when he talks about his mission. Cue that soaring soundtrack again: "If you let outside forces manage your career, you will lose control. I look at people as products, and great products need great branding, marketing and distribution.'' Predictably, Lenarsky and his clients often trade lines from the original "Jerry Maguire." "Show me the money,'' his clients, in harmony with spouses, demand. "Help me help you,'' he answers. "Help me help you.'' If Lenarsky's right, he could be just the help his clients need.

Newsweek, May 17, 1999