Finding needles in the haystack

Jan 06, 2020

As Zweig Group’s director of executive search, Chad Coldiron’s passion is connecting top talent with AEC firms.

By Richard Massey Managing Editor

He can throw a curveball. He can also hit one. In the process of finding top talent for AEC firms, a lot can happen, and not all of it is good. Candidates get cold feet. They take an unannounced vacation and don’t respond to emails and phone calls for two weeks. Or an offer sheet dies on the vine. But for a guy with a background in insurance, and a proven history of handling emergencies, it’s all in a day’s work.


The Zweig Letter: In your role at Zweig Group, how do you Elevate the Industry?

Chad Coldiron: First things first. You have to show up ready to work every day in the AEC industry, and in life in general. If you don’t, someone else will and the ball will roll on without you. The AEC industry is a machine that churns 24/7 and demands a lot out of anyone who wants to experience a good level of success in their careers. My role specifically helps Elevate the Industry in a couple of key ways:

  1. Helping firms find the needle in the haystack. This is my true passion – helping firms by bringing the best teams together. Almost every AEC firm is struggling to find talent on all levels. We have worked with firms to find and attract entry-level positions all the way to working with a board of directors through the transition from one CEO to the next. Elevating women in the industry has been a real pleasure as well. The numbers don’t lie; they are an underpaid and often under appreciated demographic in the AEC industry and we are often in a position to change those circumstances.
  2. Working in the executive search arena allows me to participate in bringing different networks together. Zweig Group offers so many different services, it’s easy to identify where we might be able to provide guidance or supply helpful data points outside of executive search.
  3. Adding diversity to the industry. The Zweig Group 2019 Principals, Partners, & Owners Survey of AEC Firms has some pretty shocking stats on the lack of diversity across its leadership ranks. Ninety percent of principals are white, 83 percent are male, and only 58 percent of male principals feel there is a problem with a lack of diversity amongst principals in the industry. Seventy percent of our executive search hires in the last two years have been women, and I am proud of that.

TZL:You wear several hats at Zweig Group. How do you switch from one role to the other during the day, through the week, and throughout the year?

CC: Wearing multiple hats at work is certainly not preferred for everyone, but the ones who can get it done usually have the personality to match. I really want to show up to work every day and help people no matter what they need. It’s tough to balance some of the external client needs with internal demands, but that is where being on a great team comes into play.

TZL: As Zweig Group’s director of executive search, you are chest deep in the talent wars. Good people are hard to find. In the event of an economic downturn, and a subsequent easing in the labor market, what would be the opportunity for AEC firms?

CC: The opportunity is going to be tremendous for the firms that are ready for a downtown. Firms will start to see their biggest need – mid-level, professionally licensed project managers – start to become available again. Firms of all sizes will begin to enter an increasingly attractive M&A market, which will often produce large talent fallout. However, firms cannot be successful if they do not begin to invest more time and effort into their recruiting, retention, and marketing efforts. According to Zweig Group’s 2019 Policies, Procedures, & Benefits Survey, only 32 percent of firms reported having a recruiting/HR budget. Firms have not made a significant increase in recruiting/HR spending over the last five years, some of which can be explained by the increase in the smart use of social media to develop brand recognition and relationships with potential candidates. Why are firms not spending more to solve their No. 1 reported issue with the lack of available talent in the marketplace?

TZL: Your job demands that you fly across the country to meet potential clients for a proposal, or to meet a new client for a kickoff meeting. What is your go-to icebreaker when engaging a client face-to-face for the first time?

CC: Our airport in Northwest Arkansas often has me catching some odd-hour flights, so I normally arrive the evening before our meeting and depart immediately after we wrap things up the next day. Arriving the evening before always gives me a chance to meet up with the client for a casual dinner or drink on neutral turf. If I can’t connect with the client during that first evening, I usually spend it exploring some of the areas surrounding the office and gathering some ice-breaker type talking points.

TZL: Before coming to Zweig Group, you worked in insurance. How does that experience inform your current role as director of executive search?

CC: My previous role in the insurance industry had me ready for literally anything at all hours of the day. Claims, crashes, leaks, thefts, fires, and financial issues – you name it and I worked with someone through it. I’ve found that executive search demands carrying a very similar mindset. It could be a candidate having a change of heart in the last hour or a client disappearing from communication altogether while they are on vacation for two weeks. You have to be ready to react to anything and not get thrown off your game.

TZL: Trust is crucial. How do you earn the trust of your clients?

CC: Setting clear expectations on a weekly basis with every client is crucial when establishing trust – whether it was a very productive week or if you didn’t talk to any candidates at all. Keeping your client up to date on how you are going to help them accomplish their goal is all it takes in most cases. We also visit with each client face-to-face at the beginning of our engagements. This is a crucial part to gaining the trust of qualified candidates as they can see the investment the client is willing to make to ensure success. Finding and bringing on rock stars at their firms really helps, too!

TZL: You were a standout athlete and pitcher for the University of Arkansas baseball team, a perennial SEC powerhouse. How did your experience playing top-tier ball, and the work it took to reach that level, shape your life and your work?

CC: My experiences in sports provided me with some hard lessons, but also set me up for success in whatever I aim to do. It may have been learning that arriving five minutes early is 10 minutes late from my little league coach (thanks dad), or the fact that you should be running every single on-field scenario in your head between each pitch. As a pitcher, you generally have a lot to think about one moment and then close yourself off for complete tunnel vision the next. If you have seen Kevin Costner in For Love of the Game you’ll know exactly the type of tunnel vision I’m talking about. Those experiences also helped me look at any challenge and think, “I can handle that, it’s only some hard work.”

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.