In our first ever “episode” we go to our INAC US member firm and interview Debra Young, Sheer Velocity’s Managing Partner and Co-Founder. Before co-founding Sheer Velocity, Debra was an Executive Vice President of a top five executive search firm working in Denver, Colorado. Debra has more than 17 years of experience in Executive Search.
Why Executive Search and If you did not end up in Executive Search, what would you ended up choosing instead?
I fell into the recruitment business while working in human resources for a Fortune 500 company. Four years later I was recruited by a former CEO who was looking to start a boutique executive search firm. I was his first hire and that was 17 years ago and have been in the executive search business ever since. It is rewarding to be entrepreneurial where you are in charge of your own business and future. I still really enjoy the challenge that executive search brings every day but most importantly, I love being able to meet very smart people.
If I did not end up in Executive Search, I would have ended up following my passion for music playing in symphony orchestras. I have a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music performance. I started playing piano at the age of 4 and the flute at the age of 8. Most people never found me without my flute. I just loved performing and it was something that I excelled at. I feel the performance experience has helped me in the search business when doing business development as I can talk to just about anyone without fearing the conversation. Or, that just means I am an extrovert!
With such a long, intense, and fulfilling career what have you learned about the human being?
I have learned that most people want to do what is right which is so encouraging. Also, never judge a book by its cover. People are far more complex than I ever had imagined which has been confirmed to me time and time again by the work that I do with Personality Assessments. I really enjoy hearing candidate’s stories and understanding that everyone’s path in life is based on the decisions they make which makes every individual so unique. There is a lot of great talent out there that should be rising to the top. I believe it is our job as executive recruiters to help bring those great opportunities to them so that it will ultimately become a part of their continued path in life and their story.
During your career you were able to meet thousands of executives. In your opinion, is there a common trait for being successful? And if so, what is it?
Yes, I believe the common trait for being successful for executives is transparency and leading with courage. Transparent leadership is the key to fostering a culture of trust between leaders and their employees. Employees who are kept in the loop and understand their role in the overarching purpose and goals of the company are, understandably, more likely to put their trust in their employer. Courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers. The defining characteristic of the best leaders is to have courage to make bold moves that transform their businesses. Courageous leaders lead with principles — their True North — that guide them when pressure mounts. They do not shirk bold actions because they fear failure. Courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires their teams, energizes customers, and positions their companies as leaders in societal change. Leaders who lead in this way will soon be recognized and people will want to come work for their company. That is true leadership!
If you could give only one professional/career advice to someone, what would that be?
I would say the most important professional advice I would give someone is to be authentic and be oneself. When interviewing for a new position, if you put on a façade just because you think that is what the interviewer wants to hear you are doing a disservice to yourself and the company. You do not want to be one of those “wrong fits” that is unhappy and looking for a new job in 6 months to a year or worse, let go from your employment because you were the “wrong fit”.
You have helped so many finding their dream job, do you feel that they have helped you find something in life as well?
I learned that there are many great people in the world. Hearing people’s stories has always been of interest to me. Everyone has a path that they choose to take. Parts are challenging as well as exciting and rewarding. Hearing those stories has allowed me to reflect on my own life story with a greater appreciation for the accomplishments that I have achieved and understand how unique I am. Additionally, understanding that these challenging times require grit and being able to come out on the other side in a positive way is what is most rewarding.
INAC has been part of your life for so many years now. How has this “relationship” shaped your professional and personal path/growth?
INAC has been a great organization to be a part of for the past 7 years. Being the US partner for INAC has allowed Sheer Velocity the opportunity to do international work which is exciting. The platform has also given us global breadth that we can talk about in business development meetings which has been a huge selling point for prospects and current clients. The platform has helped us grow from being a very small boutique to having a large global reach. INAC has significantly helped shape our brand, particularly in the US. I like being able to say that our search firm is the US partner for a top 40 global executive search firm. Personally, it has been so wonderful to connect with others around the globe who are in the executive search business that I would never have had the opportunity to get to know.
What has been, so far, the biggest life lesson you received?
So far, the biggest life lesson I have received is to not be afraid to take chances. I see that in my candidates who are willing to take on new roles in new cities with new companies. You do not grow unless you take those chances. Whether you succeed or fail does not matter, you will always learn something about yourself through the experience.