FaithSearch CEO Ed Fry recently met with a graduate student to answer questions about everything from starting his own company to the culture at FaithSearch to his favorite business book. Read the entire interview below.
Position: President and Chief Executive Officer of FaithSearch Partners, Inc. and HealthSearch Partners, LLP.
Ed Fry started his career directing marketing and public relations for hospitals The Joint Commission. With a solid hospital network in his repertoire, he transitioned to working for major executive search firms for seventeen years, serving as Vice President and Partner for Witt/Kieffer, the largest healthcare executive search firm, and launching a faith-based healthcare search practice at Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the “big four” of international executive search organizations. In 2007, he founded FaithSearch Partners, the leading executive search firm focused on faith-based hospitals, health systems, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute care organizations, colleges/universities, churches and ministries and is now one of the ten largest healthcare executive search firms in the U.S. The company is based in Texas but has seven additional locations in the U.S.
What made you want to start your own company?
I have always had a bit of an independent streak, and as the oldest of six children, I naturally developed some leadership skills. Growing up, my father started a couple of businesses, which affected my outlook on starting companies. The unpredictability and instability of an entrepreneurial family life drew me to the stability of institutional employment early in my career. I worked for organizations that were safe and secure with a stable paycheck. As I grew more confident in my skills and capabilities, I had ideas as to how to do things better in the search world. A large part of me wanted to start a company to test these ideas and be my own boss, but God’s timing wasn’t right. Finally, I put the notion before God, heard a clear affirmative answer from Him and founded FaithSearch in 2007.
What culture do you want to create at FaithSearch, and how do you accomplish that?
Prior to becoming governor of Florida, Rick Scott founded a healthcare company which is now HCA. Something he allegedly said early in his career at that time always stuck with me: his “No jerks policy,” meaning he wouldn’t hire people who weren’t particularly pleasant with whom to work. I always remembered that, and while it has not affected FaithSearch’s culture intentionally, our culture is a biproduct of that motto. When deciding who to bring on board at FaithSearch, I think of, among other things, who I would enjoy working with. As such, we’re very proud of the team we’ve assembled. I try to emphasize a culture of making a difference, considering most of our clients are not-for-profit. I try to be intentional about creating a culture of positivity and optimism. A culture of flexibility is also important; you must also trust team members. They are talented and need little oversight. Most good leaders shouldn’t “hover.”
What are some strategies you have used to grow your company?
Early on when we were a small search firm, my strategy was simple: do good work which spreads by word of mouth and naturally grows business. After ten years of more natural growth, we have supplemented our organic growth by adding a partnership (HealthSearch Partners) and expect to soon complete an acquisition of another search firm (HalfTime Talent Solutions). In 2018, we should be three to four times larger than we are now.
Speaking of growing businesses, you are the grandson of the legendary business pioneer of the 1960s and 1970s, James Ling. He was the famous conglomerate king and longtime founder/president of Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), which at its height was the seventh largest corporation in America. How did that affect your decision to start your own company, and what lessons did you learn from him and his career?
Like I mentioned earlier with my father’s entrepreneurial endeavors, I saw frequent high-risk situations with my grandfather’s career, some of which cost him almost everything. I was not comfortable with many of these high-risk moves, so early in my career, thinking about his career had a suppressing effect on my desire to go out on my own. As I grew in my career and confidence, I became more comfortable with moderate risk decisions, so I think about his career more as I have aged. Especially with our partnerships and acquisitions, I think of his career that was known for mergers. I am hopeful that whatever growth we experience can be done while maintaining our faith principles and core values. Growth for growth’s sake is not our goal; serving our clients better while uplifting our team members is the objective.
What are some leadership lessons you have learned in your own career as a company founder?
I’ve learned to hire good people, and let them do their jobs within a framework of accountability. I have also learned that being an inspirational and positive leader is best, building people up and being supportive. One of the long-standing leadership mantras to which I subscribe is, “public praise, private censure.” I am also a strong believer that humor can be leveraged successfully in regards to leadership.
What were the hardest lessons to learn in starting and growing your business?
As an entrepreneur starting a company from scratch, first I had the tendency to want things done in a specific way, and there was a risk of micro-management. I had to learn to turn things over to others. Since we are blessed with highly competent people, I trust them to get the work done, even if they might go about the work in a somewhat different way.
A second major lesson I’ve learned is there are peaks and valley of the business cycle. Sometimes the cycles are seasonal, but sometimes they are even annual. It is easy to convince yourself in the peak times that this level of activity will always be there, but you must learn to build a reserve during these times to help weather the valleys of the business cycle that will inevitably come.
Has there ever been a time when you doubted the decision to form your own search firm?
I only briefly doubted the decision in the first year and a half. but those times taught me if you work hard, do not sweat the down times because if you keep doing good work serving your clients’ needs, business will almost assuredly come back around. After those first 18 months, I have not had significant doubts, not even when I was undergoing my cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2015 during one of the “slow” business cycles.
What do you believe are the top 3 skills or attributes that an entrepreneur must have in order to be successful?
As I eluded to earlier, the first necessary skill is the willingness to take some level of risk. The second skill would be a sense of optimism. The third attribute is personal energy.
What business books are you reading, and what is your favorite business book?
I don’t mean to sound like a choir boy, and I mean this sincerely, but the answer to both of those questions is actually the Bible. Since my cancer diagnosis nearly three years ago, I have been much more disciplined in daily Bible reading. I have discovered there are amazing leadership principles in Scripture which are applicable to business leaders. In the Old Testament, I noticed wisdom from the prophets and in Psalms or Proverbs. In the New Testament, there is an abundance of leadership wisdom in the Gospels or in Paul’s letters. Last year I was inspired to compile some of these observations into several articles on executive leadership principles from each of the Gospels. For example, one of the things I gathered from Mark was that leaders should remain calm when storms approach. This is taken from Mark 4:35-39 with Jesus asleep in the boat in the storm. When his anxious disciples awoke him, He had the steady response of, “Peace! Be still!” Other lessons from the Gospel of Mark include think big, be all in, delegate, reputation matters, and how to deal with conflict.
For more information on FaithSearch’s Gospel Leadership series, visit these articles: