The world is entering its fourth Industrial Revolution, often called Industry 4.0.  While Western economies ruled the first three industrial revolutions, which economies will dominate the 4.0 World is yet to be determined.  The future is up for grabs. The question is, what will the differentiator be for winning organizations?

In a recent article CB Insights expanded their initial study of 101 startup Failures and looked more closely at 253 Startup Failure Postmortems to distill the Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail.

Both articles were a fascinating read for me as a recruiter because the reasons noted for failure, with few exceptions, could have been avoided.   Indeed, hiring the ‘right’ executive talent would have led to better results for almost every one of the failed firms.

Those failures, cannot simply be written off as a sign of the times.

In my experience, most companies, not just startups, are ill equipped to define what key attributes of success they should be looking for when hiring executives beyond previous industry experience, which in itself is not a guarantee of future success.

Research shows that companies that are adept at recruiting deliver more than three times the revenue growth and twice the earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) as those that miss the mark on recruiting. To be “adept at recruiting,” you must identify the right person for the job — every time. That means assessing how each candidate’s specific characteristics mesh with your current and future needs.

I’ve been in the executive search business for more than 32 years – essentially eight lifetimes for mere mortals – recruiting executives in three niches; technology, construction/engineering and commercial real estate. Along the way the team and I have noted 28 Key Attributes in people the ‘marketplace’ would deem to be wildly successful.  It’s important to note that as headhunters, we regard success as a consistent and repeatable pattern in an individual’s life and not a one-off event in their career.  Successful people are successful consistently in most all areas of their life.

28 Key Attributes of Successful Executives

The Perry-Martel team identified twenty-eight key attributes of successful executives and we’ve clustered them into the following five categories:

  1. Character
  2. Intellect
  3. Business intelligence
  4. Leadership
  5. Emotional intelligence

I should tell you now that we’ve found these 28 core attributes to be fully present in less than 1% of the adult population across the industries we serve. However, in discussions with other CEOs,  business owners, executive search professionals and industrial psychologists, we all concluded that the 1% figure is very likely consistent across every industry.

Still, if you can design your interview questions to uncover these core attributes, you’ll increase your odds of hiring the right person for the job — as well as increase the odds of your organization achieving its full potential. so, before beginning the interview process, your recruiter and head of HR should work together to construct interview questions to assess whether candidates possess these attributes and which are deemed essential according to the SWOT Analysis you’ve previously completed.


When it comes down to it, nothing — absolutely nothing — is more important than a person’s character. Your candidate could have the intellect of Albert Einstein, the business intelligence of Warren Buffett, the leadership skills of Winston Churchill, and the emotional intelligence of Oprah Winfrey. But if he lacks character, all those other qualities are moot. Candidates should have these core character-related characteristics:

  • Integrity: Honesty, credibility, and trustworthiness.
  • Persistence: You want a candidate who is assertive and who will successfully execute programs to fruition. This person should be highly motivated — not an order taker in disguise.
  • Resiliency: A candidate should be able to demonstrate through his words and deeds that he or she can take a hit — whether personally or in business — and keep moving. The last thing you need is someone who will fold early in a battle! To assess this, listen very carefully as he or she tells their ‘story’ during the interviews.
  • Mind-set: Some people are optimists. Others are pessimists. Still others are skeptics. Whatever they are — whether they have a glass-half-empty, a glass-half-full, or an is-that-even-a-real-glass mind-set — can be beneficial, depending on the role you seek to fill.
  • Judgment: Top leaders have a track record of sound judgment, in all sorts of situations.
  • Battle scars: Someone who’s done battle in business — and has the scars to prove it — will almost always be a better bet than someone who hasn’t and doesn’t. Stuff happens. It’s how someone deals with it that matters.


Top leadership roles aren’t for dummies. A keen intellect is crucial. Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • Intelligence: You’re not just looking for someone who’s smart — you’re looking for someone who is pragmatic and has good common sense. A candidate’s verbal communication skills can be a good indication of this.
  • An inquisitive mind: To assess how inquisitive a candidate is, try asking about any interests he has pursued — personally or professionally — for a decade or more.
  • Problem-solving skills: What is work — heck, what is life — if not a succession of problems to be solved? That’s why anyone you place in a leadership role must possess problem-solving skills.
  • An analytical bent: You need leaders with solid analytical skills — someone who can consider multiple variables at once and make valid connections that elude everyone else. Even better, look for candidates who “know what they don’t know,” as they say. To assess this, ask the candidate to recall a time when she realized she had a gap in her knowledge, and what she did to fill that gap.
  • Enterprising thought process: The people who can come up with a hundred ideas to find the two highly creative — and highly strategic — schemes are the ones who can propel your company to new heights.


Clearly, senior leaders should have some level of business savvy. In particular, you’re looking for these qualities:

  • An understanding of the business: A candidate who is immersed in the guts of a business — one who has woven himself into the fabric of the industry and has developed deep and meaningful relationships with its leaders — is always a good bet.
  • Strategic focus: Any candidate being considered for a leadership position must have the ability not just to capture and define a sound business strategy beyond the original product or concept, but to garner the support of stakeholders.
  • The ability to think on their feet: If you’re looking to grow your business, then you’re likely to find yourself facing novel situations and problems, with no corporate history or industry road map to guide you. You need leaders who can think on their feet.
  • An awareness of the importance of cash: Senior leaders must understand the critical importance of cash — particularly for an emerging company — tracking dollar and time expenditures like an entrepreneur would.
  • A tolerance for risk: Tech guru Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky.” In other words, playing it safe is a risk in and of itself. In fact, it may be the case that going the safe route is riskier than whatever so-called “risky” action you’re trying to avoid! In today’s ever-changing business landscape, you need leaders who are willing to meet stiff challenges with bold solutions.
  • Customer focus: Senior leaders need to understand not just how markets work, but how to ensure the appropriate products and services reach your customers.


Senior leaders are just that: leaders. If they’re going to be effective, there are a few key leadership qualities they must possess:

  • Commitment: Top candidates will have an ingrained — and unrelenting — commitment to success.
  • Passion: Unless a candidate shows true passion for your company or industry, she simply cannot lead effectively.
  • People skills: The best executives manage effectively, hire and fire quickly, and effectively build teams of talented people, regardless of their personalities or any quirks they may have. They also seek out talent on an ongoing basis. That way, when that perfect opportunity arises, the ideal candidate is already waiting in the wings.
  • Vision: Senior leaders must have vision — and the ability to execute on that vision — if they’re to achieve greatness.
  • Initiative: You’re looking for somebody who’s proactive and forward-thinking, not someone who hides behind his title and takes a reactive approach.
  • Entrepreneurialism: You want senior leaders who will act like they own the place — in a good way. They should have a passion for the business, display an ability to be “always on,” and show vigilance to prevent small problems from blooming into crises.
  • Focus on results: In business, results are the name of the game — and you need senior leaders who achieve them. That means, among other things, having the ability to recruit a quality team, enable them to work together, and drive them to perform.


“Know thyself.” That’s what the ancient Greeks said. And boy, were they right. Leaders who aren’t in touch with themselves will have a hard time connecting with anyone else. This is especially true today, as more millennials enter the workforce. (They may not be in your executive ranks yet, but they will be — and soon!) For best results, executives should display the following attributes:

  • A healthy self-concept: Executives with a healthy self-concept — in other words, a solid answer to the question “Who am I?” — are much more likely to successfully navigate any business.
  • Strong values: Top leaders must establish a core set of values — both at work and in life — that align with the values of the company.
  • Empathy: The best executives have the ability to connect with employees and customers alike.
  • Caring: All too many leaders view people as nothing more than fungible cogs in a machine. That’s a mistake. Successful executives care about their people — and they show it.

What stands between your organization reaching its full potential is recruiting the right individual who has the 28 key attributes experience you need.  Constantly hiring well has little to do with luck.  Hiring greatness is the byproduct of a well-designed process, perfectly executed, every time.

Now, I’m going to give you an insight your competitors don’t have. The goal in hiring isn’t to find the best talent looking for work, or at least it shouldn’t be. What it should be: finding the best talent period.  Today that means recruiting leaders who are at the top of their game.   And here in lies – the recruiting challenge.  The best leaders, the Top Talent already have jobs, good jobs. The key to recruiting successfully now means going after Talent that isn’t looking for work.

Hiring the ‘Best’, is not about money – it never was. 

Shocking but true, the Best will come to an organization not to make more money, but because of what the organization stands for and what it’s trying to achieve. Work is personal. To attract Top Talent, you must first engage their heart.  Once you’ve spoken to the heart, you need to speak to their head. The Best will want to understand the organization’s business goals, its challenges, its assumptions, and its blind spots.  Once the head is engaged, you next have to address the feet. The best will want to understand the organizational culture that drives the way people interact and how things get done. To do this, you need a systematic approach to finding 4.0 Talent, engaging their interest, and assessing their alignment with your goals.

In the ‘Old West’, it was said that there were two kinds of people – the quick and the dead.   In the Industry 4.0 World, there are just two types of organizations – the quick and the dying. The quick embrace new ways of recruiting and hiring, while the dying hang on for dear life to what brought them success in the past.