Recruiting The Right Leaders: The Secret Weapon Of Successful Organizations With Christina Bui

by | May 30, 2024 | Podcasts

Speakers Who Get Results | Christina Bui | Recruiting The Right Leaders

 

Christina Bui has seen it all. From startups to long-established companies, recruiting leaders is a big challenge among organizations. Finding the right executives can feel like searching for a diamond in the rough. In this episode, Christina Bui, the Managing Director of Executive Search at Robert Half, shares how important it is to recruit the right leaders. Christina brings a wealth of experience, from mentoring Vietnamese founders to working with Fortune 500 companies. She emphasizes that business leaders should understand their company’s culture, goals, and challenges in order to find the right person for the right position. Let Christina help you find your perfect fit. Tune in to today’s episode and start leading your company towards success.

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Recruiting The Right Leaders: The Secret Weapon Of Successful Organizations With Christina Bui

We’re talking about leadership and recruiting and how you can get the great job and how you find the great people for your company. Before I get into my interview though, let me invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition that you deserve.

My guest is the wonderful Christina Bui. Christina’s bio is very long. She’s done so many things that I’m just going to give you the highlights. She’s been a board member, a strategic advisor, business development executive and with many years of experience in launching new businesses and service lines. Particularly, she’s been involved in a whole breadth of industries. She sits on seven boards from food companies to artificial intelligence.

She’s now working as an Executive Recruiter for the big staffing company, Robert Half and Company, which means that she’s recommending the cream of the cream. That’s what we’re talking about. I get to ask Christina Bui about how you get hired, what you look for, and what things she learned from advising founders to now advising companies to find their best people. I know you’ll enjoy the interview with Christina Bui.

Christina Bui, I’m so proud to have you on the show. Welcome.

Thank you. I’m pleased to be here.

We’ve known each other for quite some time. I’ve heard bits and pieces of your story, but I thought, “This time, I’ll get her and I’ll get lots of interesting things I want to ask you.” Before we get into the official questions, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

My dream interview is with my mom who passed away of Alzheimer’s a few years ago. What I would like to ask her is, during the last seven years of her life, she was starting to forget who I was, who my dad was, and who she was. Very forgetful. I want to know what it’s like to know that you’re losing your mind and that you’re going to forget things.

One of the last things that she remembered to do with me and I’ll always remember that, is she had jewelry put away that she was going to give to our daughters later. That was the one thing she wanted to do while she remembered, was give me all the jewelry that she put away. That was very precious to her. I felt that something was wrong that she was giving me these precious pieces of jewelry so soon in her life. This was supposed to be left after she was gone, but she wanted to make sure that she didn’t forget to give me these pieces of jewelry.

Her courage was amazing because, during the fall of Saigon, my dad was already in the US. She was the one who planned our escape during the last days of Saigon. We were the last plane out the day before the airport was bombed. For her, at that time, she was only in her 30s, and figuring out our escape had to take a lot of courage.

You’ve told me about driving past the gates of the camp that you’d arrived at as a little kid and not realizing where that was. I often wish we could go back and things I would ask my parents and my grandparents. The ones I knew and the ones I didn’t know. When you’re younger, you’re involved in your own thing. Suddenly, it’s too late.

For her, to start life over in a brand new country with three kids, no jobs, not having finished college, and starting college here in the US, and starting all over. It was very hard. I wish that she could have captured it in a memoir. My father was able to complete his memoir at 89 years old.

Recruiting Executives

Good for him. Christina, I’d like to ask you, on this show, we talk about leadership and leadership choices. Especially when you’re a senior executive. You’re now an executive recruiter, although you probably did that in bits and pieces. You’re now officially an executive recruiter after having had a long career in various other things, including running an incubator project. How has that informed what you see now when you’re helping to recruit executives?

Prior to coming back to Robert Half, as a managing director of executive search, we are a boutique retained search firm that specializes in placing senior leadership talent across emerging growth and middle-market companies. We are a boutique firm within the largest staffing firm in the world. That’s been around for over 75 years with 400 locations globally and over 16,000 staff nationals.

Our executive search group is very boutique within the larger part of the company. I thought it was a natural fit. It was a no-brainer. I basically accepted the position over a lunch meeting after meeting with my former colleague who said, “Let’s have lunch.” She said, “We have this position open.” I said, “I’ll do it.” I followed my gut. What I found was prior to doing this with mentoring, advising, and investing in Vietnamese founders, I’ve collected about ten companies that I advise.

I have found that startups, especially emerging growth companies. People take the shortcut of not finding the right executives. It’s like your mother, your neighbor, or somebody you know. “I know somebody who can do this. They know enough about financing. My head of finance knows enough about HR or that they can look.” I’m finding that that is detrimental to the execution of the growth and success of your company.

I have found that through the process of learning the retained search process, to map the market for the best candidate for the role throughout every company that we know and interviewing and making sure that they have to write criteria. It’s so important to get the right executive or director or VP or whatever level you need to put the right person in the position. It’s very important to have this person on board. You can’t shortcut that. I found that the companies that I’ve watched fail is they skip that part. They feel like they are cousins. Part of our culture is taking care of your family and hiring all your family members.

Natural human tendency. You see that over and over again. One client I know had worked for a company where the founders were also on their own board. They didn’t have anybody to check them. They didn’t have anybody to say, “You can’t do that. That’s illegal. You’re not supposed to take that shortcut.” It’s part of growing up as an organization to get away from the point where you have your friends working there to hire the people who are the best for the organization. As you grow as an organization, it’s hard.

You have to be willing to replace yourself and get the right founders to get the right CEO in place to take the company to the next level. Be humble enough to move aside for the right person to take the company to the next level.

Speakers Who Get Results | Christina Bui | Recruiting The Right Leaders

Recruiting The Right Leaders: Get the right CEO in place. Be humble enough to move aside for the right person to take the company to the next level.

 

Offering Diverse Candidates

How do you also search for the right qualities by doing intentional diversity because the other thing is it’s natural to just start with people you know and people who look like you? As a company is growing, as an organization is growing, how do you, as a recruiter, make a point of offering them diverse candidates?

We go through a very major research process. The first thing that we do is gain an understanding of the company, its culture, its criteria for the role, incoming executives, objectives, goals, mandates, and their success factors. We understand what happened in the last three years and what the plans are in the next three years. We develop that profile.

What we do is map the market to identify the potential candidates to target. It’s huge research and databases of outreach of all of our tools, networks, associations, and organizations. It’s reaching out to hundreds of people at a time. We stay agnostic in terms of making sure that there’s no unconscious bias. We do present the full slate of everybody who is qualified, check the boxes, then we talk to everybody who’s interested. It’s a very focused process. That’s why it’s very successful. The candidates talked to quite a few people before they even made their short list to be presented to the client. We make sure that the person checks the boxes and then drill down on the personality fit and culture fit.

How do you talk to somebody? What do you say if there’s somebody who says the CFO loves but wouldn’t be a fit? How do you tell the people in place? How do you tell the candidate who says, “I want to go work with my buddy,” that they’re not the best choice? How do you manage that conversation?

You have to be honest. We have to be honest with them and they need to be honest with themselves. It is up to the client who make the choice. It has to be 100% right fit. If it’s even slightly off, you can’t move forward.

Are you the one who has that conversation?

I am. They’re tough phone calls but I have to learn how to make them.

Is that easier since you founded Kylan Ventures to support Vietnamese startups? You were working with small companies and now you’re working with big companies. I’m curious what you’ve noticed that you’re doing differently now having worked with those startups for a couple of years.

Now that I know in the back of my mind being back at Robert Half, it is a very well-run company. It’s one of the best-run companies in the world. Always voted top Fortune companies in the world. I look at the process and I tell these startups, “This is where you want to be one day. Everything’s so efficient and cultural. The people are important.”

It’s something that I can guide them to aspire to. Having the Fortune 500 company lens helps me to guide these startups to take the right steps to get there. I see all the shortcuts that they take. It was cheap. It’s not a shortcut. I’m not going to pay that retainer fee. I’m not going to pay for those consultants. I can figure it out myself. I’ll do it myself. In the long run, it is detrimental to the company.

Having founded and run a startup company on a shoestring, I understand having been cheap. One of the reasons why we finished, the main reason was that I burned out. I was done with opera, but also that I couldn’t afford to hire someone like you to possibly replace me, which is had we had more money. I moved on, but the company might have survived if we’d been able to do that. I looked back now and said, “I wish I’d known you then.” I would certainly have shown up at your doorstep and brought you a cup of tea and said, “Help. How do I deal with this?” I understand that. What makes a great day for you? What’s the best part about what you’re doing now?

I love meeting with the company executives and learning all about where they took the company, their goals, objectives, and their future, who they’re looking for, why they need this person, and what their goals are and vision. For that little retained search fee, I become their advisor for life. It was nice when my very first client was a nonprofit, the California Fire Safety Council. I helped the executive director find the CFO and she immediately hired me back again for the next role.

That’s how I feel like I want to be married to these clients and help them to get next level because that’s in me. That’s how I am with my Vietnamese founders. It is helping the company get next level. It is being there for them for that retainer fee. My best day is learning all about the company and the inside out and where they plan to take it. It’s so fun. That’s what I love about my job, then finding that perfect fit person. You find that diamond and rough. They hit it off then you see the other person on the other side. They’re so grateful. It’s just very rewarding.

Christina Bui, the super connector. One question for the time that we have left is, what would you tell any of our readers? We’ve got an audience around the world. If you’ve got readers who are looking to move to a new job or either their company went under or they walked away? They were fed up and finding the right place. What would you tell the candidates who are reading?

Finding The Best Positions

The best positions are going to be found through executive search. They should make sure that their resumes are in the databases of all the executive search firms, including ours and our competitors because those are the positions where the client hires the firm to look for the best person.

Most of our readers are female. What would you tell somebody in mid-career? What do you see is missing? If you’re looking for great people, you say, “I wish that ten years ago, she had learned X, Y, and Z.”

You can’t sit in an office and you have to leave your home. I tell people this. I drag myself out almost every single night, maybe 2 or 3 times a week. Sometimes weekends, but so many things happen in those conversations at events.

Are you talking about networking events?

Networking events. Many things can happen at exchanges, people you meet, and the discussions that you miss by sitting there and looking at posting your resumes on websites. You have to get involved. You have to get out and go to events, meet people, have coffee with people, and join professional and volunteer charitable organizations.

Speakers Who Get Results | Christina Bui | Recruiting The Right Leaders

Recruiting The Right Leaders: Posting your resume on websites isn’t enough. Get involved, get out there, and meet people at events.

 

The key to my success has been, I’m a crazy networker. It’s a little too much sometimes that blends into my personal life and family life too. It is building those very valuable relationships so that people know of you, know about you, and know everything about your personality and your skill set so that they can recommend you to somebody who’s looking for somebody like you.

One of the keys to success is networking. Share on X

Speaking of skill sets then, one more question. Are female CEOs still very much a minority in business? It’s so easy to just go into marketing or human resources. If you want to run a company, where are the areas that should be on your resume that you need to learn to make you fit to be a CEO? Women get shuttled into the girl departments all the time.

I feel like that management piece, that MBA, being able to manage, to lead, and to communicate. That’s what everybody needs. What I’m finding is missing in the founders. The founders are the most successful that I’ve been working with. They nationally know what to do next, how to manage themselves, and how to manage people. They don’t need to ask. They know what direction they’re going in all the time, every single day. Those are the founders that are going to make it.

The founders of the most successful organizations naturally know what to do next. They know know how to manage themselves and how to manage people. Share on X

If you serve an ordinary person, say in marketing, and you think you want to run a company. Should you try to get a job in sales or some department that involves having profit and loss responsibilities? I’ve heard that. Something I wish I had done more of when I started my company. We might have had a better balance sheet. What sorts of things would you stretch to learn if you were a middle manager?

The finance part is very important, the forecasting. Being able to write a business plan, put together a budget, forecast your budget, and maintain within budget. That’s where things fall apart a lot and understanding how to stay within your financial forecast. That is a big missing piece and as a marketing person. You’re right, it is being able to stay within running a P&L and being responsible for division with P&L.

P&L being profit and loss for international readers. For lots of our readers, English is not their first language, so running a P&L.

Let’s say, the company has a marketing person. It can raise this $2 million, and has a great product, but if that founder burns all the $2 million within a year or two, that’s a huge problem and that happens a lot.

Christina Bui, I’m so glad we were able to pry you away from your very busy schedule long enough to talk to us. You’re so interesting. I’m glad I got at least half an hour with you. Thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Thank you.

Wonderful readers, if you enjoyed this, please tell your friends. Subscribe to us on YouTube and leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts. That’s the one that gets us the most visibility, and we would be most grateful. This has been Speakers Who Get Results.

 

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About Christina Bui

Speakers Who Get Results | Christina Bui | Recruiting The Right LeadersChristina Bui is Managing Director of Executive Search at Robert Half, a retained search practice focused on placing senior leadership talent at the Director, VP and C-level across all industries and functions within the small to middle market companies in the U.S. and globally. Prior to rejoining Robert Half, Christina founded and managed Kylan Ventures, a venture accelerator focused on championing the talent and innovation of Vietnamese entrepreneurs. She serves as a strategic advisor and advisory board member of OnSky Health, Son Foods, Wynn’s Kitchen, Enterprise Purchasing Group, Sano, Fleurissent Skincare and Networked. She is a Founding Fund Advisor and Limited Partner at How Women Invest Fund.

A refugee of Vietnam’s Fall of Saigon, Christina believes in giving back to the community. She serves on the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Alumni Advisory Board, Fulbright University Vietnam Global Advisory Board, Executive Board of How Women Lead, Board Member of the Association for Corporate Growth, and Advisory Council of Asian Pacific Fund. She serves as a catechist at St. Brendan Catholic Church in San Francisco. Christina holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in corporate finance from Johns Hopkins University. She was awarded “Most Influential Women in Business” in 2016 and 2017 by the San Francisco Business Times. Christina has Co- Chaired the Association for Corporate Growth’s: A West Coast Conference eleven years in a row from 2012-2023.