King Arthur’s Quest

When King Arthur Flour went looking for a CFO, it didn't take a cookie-cutter approach.

The interviews with the seven candidates turned up useful information, says Johnston, and enabled the list to be cut down to two. A couple of “very strong candidates” were dropped because they hadn’t worked in a family business before. Another candidate was eliminated because he had stayed with the same management group throughout his career. Two more candidates dropped out after visiting the corporate campus and discovering just how small-town Norwich is.

That left two finalists. One was Susan Renaud. A native Vermonter who had started her career with Ben & Jerry’s, Renaud was currently working for PricewaterhouseCoopers’s M&A advisory practice in London. After 10 years of living abroad she was hoping to return to her home state, she says, and the King Arthur job seemed to be the right reason to do so.

Renaud says she appreciated the essay assignment. “It was hard work, but in going through that process, you’re not only informing them, you’re informing yourself about whether it would truly be a good fit or not.” She spent the better part of a weekend writing the essay. “I found the ideas came quite quickly because I got excited about it,” she says.

The fast pace of the selection process meant Renaud didn’t learn she had been chosen for a first-round interview until late on November 28. That gave her less than 12 hours to arrive at the airport for a flight to Boston. The visit was brief, and by the afternoon of November 30 she was on a plane back to London.

On the following Sunday, December 6, Renaud returned to Norwich for a second-round interview on Monday. A long day on campus meeting with most of the management team was followed by dinner with Voigt and Johnston. That gave her a chance to review her other homework assignment: a binder filled with past projects and presentations she had done that could be relevant to the types of work needed at King Arthur.

The Choice

Finally, a week later, on Monday, December 14, Voigt offered Renaud the job. She accepted and began packing her bags in London for the move to Norwich. She plans to start her new job before the end of January.

Voigt’s choice didn’t surprise Johnston. Renaud “was in my top group,” he says. “She was remarkable from the start, and she really wanted the job,” which she proved in part by making the London-Norwich round trip twice within a week, he says.

Johnston says his approach to conducting an executive search could work for any number of firms, and he’s hoping to do more searches. He does offer one piece of advice for would-be finance chiefs: take a lesson from the sales team. “Sales vice presidents are much better interviewers than CFOs,” he says. “In fact, they’re harder to hire — because they’re all so good at selling.”

For its part, King Arthur hopes it won’t need Johnston’s services again anytime soon. “What we’re really looking for is a good match,” says Voigt, “not just someone who is going to swing in for a couple of years and then move on to something more interesting.”

 

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