Jeanne Branthover of DHR International: "Never assume what members of your team aspire to be in their careers"

July 9, 2019 | Thrive Global

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanne Branthover. Jeanne is the Co-Head & Managing Partner of DHR International’s New York Office. Jeanne closely partners with her global clients on senior level searches personally managing each assignment. Known for her hands-on approach she consults with her clients on succession planning, organizational change, precision hiring and talent management. She has recruited across industries and functions identifying Boards, C-Suite and senior level decision makers. Jeanne is a leader in the firm’s CEO & Board, Advanced Technology and Financial Services Practices. She specializes in placing women on boards and in senior leadership positions as well as ensuring representation of diversity on every assignment in all industries. Jeanne has been named one of the World’s Top 50 Most Influential Headhunters by BusinessWeek. She was featured as a panelist at the Bloomberg Markets Most Influential Summit and the recipient of the 2016 College of Education Award by the University of Maryland Alumni Association. Jeanne has served as the United Way’s first female President of The Community Fund and sits on the University of Maryland College of Education Board of Visitors, NYCC Board, as well as several not-for-profit boards. Jeanne is a strong supporter and mentor to young women in the financial services and technology sectors and is also a regular speaker at both universities and corporations advising on the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Jeanne! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up with a very successful father who owned a law firm. His client and friend was Akio Morita who founded Sony. From a young age, I experienced global travel on my father’s business trips and trials as well as my mother entertaining clients at our house, having my sister and I participate as hostesses. This gave me a global perspective, understanding and appreciating the diversity of cultures, fearlessness of talking to senior executives and having a first-hand view of clients becoming friends. My father is a natural leader, a very bright man who always told me “you can be whatever you want to be as long as you are passionate about it.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I was 24 and working with GE, I had the opportunity to meet Jack Welch and recruit a new division for him called the Corporate Initiatives Group (CIG). He explained to me what to look for in a natural leader. To this day I have valued his advice which has helped me recognize what a makes a leader from a very young age.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am not sure it is the funniest, but I learned from it. I was running to make a train home and a reporter called asking a very serious question to be quoted. Usually I would be at my desk, jotting notes and thinking out my answer. This time I said the first thing that came to mind. That weekend it was highlighted in a major New York newspaper publication. It was a controversial subject. Friends called me from all over the world, thrilled that I was featured, but I learned never to take important calls, giving advice or quotes, when running to a train.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

DHR International, a global executive search firm based in Chicago, is owned by a family. I owned my own firm prior to joining DHR and I believe being a hands-on, entrepreneurial firm, putting clients first with our personal care and high-touch is a differentiator that brings clients back again and again.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I have started the Dynamic DHR Women (DDW) at DHR International which is a mentoring, training and networking internal program to help women team together. Our clients have successfully promoted female programs in the workplace and I believe DHR is now doing the same.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Women communicate well, team naturally, think ‘we’ versus ‘me’, tend to be organized, able to juggle many projects successfully at one time, are reliable and accountable. My advice is to treat the team with respect and communicate expectations and goals to always get the team’s buy-in on the goal, timeline and expectations. Empower them to think, to take the initiative, and to be willing to get out of their comfort zone.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The larger the team, the more important it is to communicate often to identify people’s strengths, to ensure each team member understands what they are accountable for, to lead by example and create a culture where people thrive, want to be challenged, are engaged and perform at the highest level.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents were instrumental in my success. At 22 I asked my father for $6,000 dollars to open my own company. He was a successful lawyer who owned his own law firm. A very intelligent man, the first in his family to get a college degree and then a law degree. He was my biggest fan telling me all my life that there was nothing I could not achieve, to find my passion and never look back. My mother, a dynamic woman, was the first woman to be on the Manhasset Board of Education, spearheading desegregation in the school district, was a leader, an incredible hostess and a devoted mother. She became my first assistant in my tiny office on Madison Avenue. She could not type but kept me motivated, answered the phone with a smile and kept clients and candidates entertained. Years later, long after she was once again my mom and not my assistant, I had a holiday party for my clients. One of my longtime clients was talking to her, recalling the time when she was my assistant. He said he could not believe we were still in touch. She laughed and said, ‘I’m her mother!’

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My passion is helping and mentoring young people, particularly women. At this stage of my life I am committed to mentoring women in the workforce to help them navigate both their personal and business paths to find their greatest success and reach their goals. I am greatly disappointed that women are still lagging behind in compensation, leadership roles and on boards in the C-suite. This must change, and I am committed to making a difference for young women so when they are my age they will no longer experience gender inequality.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Never “assume” what members of your team aspire to be in their careers. One senior member on my team, critical to my day to day operation, shocked me after 10 years by quitting. She told me that her career goal was not to follow in my footsteps as I had assumed and was training her to do, but rather to lead the support team. This taught me a valuable lesson that you can never assume what your people want. Ask and listen. Luckily, I did listen in that meeting and she is still with me after 28 years
  2. Give a recommendation/an opinion. Support your decision. I learned that my clients hire me for the tough searches making serious decisions on who to hire, to identify leaders that will make a significant impact on their company and ultimately grow revenue. With this comes a responsibility to give my opinion, recommendation and evaluation, even if the client is not in agreement. I learned that it is critical to earn their respect by being direct and supporting my opinion with the reasons why I disagree and to stand up for what I believe. Years ago, a client said “I am hiring you because I respect and need your opinion and recommendations. Not for you to just agree with me.”
  3. Empower/Motivate your people. Leadership is different than managing. It is influencing others to do what you need them to do and empower them to do their best for you and for themselves. It’s not about being nice, it’s about being fair, by being respectful, it’s about setting an example and never blame. My team has been with me and together for over 10 years. Empowering and motivating them is something I do on a daily basis. It is the glue that keeps us together.
  4. Culture. Creating a culture and identifying people that fit in that culture is essential to be able to successfully lead them. I try to create a culture of respect, empowerment, to challenge, to always learn, to give exceptional customer service, to care about each other and our clients. To be the best we can be…always.
  5. It’s not about me…it’s about “us”. I realized a long time ago that I could not do my job well without my team. An “us” attitude is essential to lead successfully and to have the team believe in me and see my appreciation and gratitude for their loyalty, hard work, dedication and commitment.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would want to see people whether men or women of any color and race to be recognized solely for their achievements, their personal qualities and skills. I would like companies to recognize that diversity on the board, in the C-suite, and at all levels within their company is essential to brainstorm, to have creative thinking, to be the best they can be. Diversity in gender, in race, in backgrounds. Diversity is an issue that must be addressed at the highest levels in both public and private companies.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never look back, never regret”. In life and in work this quote has driven me to be optimistic, to look forward, to be the best I can be. We all make mistakes. We can beat ourselves up or we can brush it off and move on and learn from it. This is what I have done and what I try to empower my people and my friends to do as well.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Mike Bloomberg. His exceptional leadership, ability to motivate and inspire, entrepreneurial spirit, fearlessness to make change, to challenge and his philanthropy. His passion to make a difference. His vision and his ability to be forward thinking in an ever-changing world. I would like to ask him what motivates him, what keeps him up at night, what more he wants to achieve, what he would do differently if he did it all over again.