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I don’t attend many conferences and even more rarely do I hear something new at one of these events. But it finally happened! A recent conference on “Human Capital Advantage” sponsored by Hunt-Scanlon provided a breath of fresh air for those of us who have grown weary of the CEO platitude that “people are our most important asset.”

While I had my doubts about this whole topic, according to several speakers from executive search firms, a group of CEOs have done more than talk. Imagine! Instead, they have let their company’s money talk—by giving equity positions to the executive search firms that place people with them. So convinced are these firms—start-ups for the most part—that exceptional human capital is the key to their success, that they give away part of their company to those who help them recruit human capital. In addition to hard cold cash, stock options have become a standard form of payment for successful searches. Quite a testimony to the role of human capital in the new economy.

In light of this news, it’s no surprise that some of the executive search firms attending the conference were rethinking their position on demanding equity as a part of their fees. With the meltdown of the stock market, this has become a less attractive form of compensation. But the point, nonetheless, remains—those who have the capacity to find and attract the best people, now can command a larger share of the pie.


Laurie Bassi, President of Human Capital Dynamics and Saba Fellow, is tired of hearing the soft stuff so she researches the hard numbers behind otherwise soft subjects. Email her at




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