When Tony Kroening, owner and managing director of VTL Search, was the youth pastor at a large suburban church, he wasn’t really thinking about the search business as another career path. You might say it found him.
“My boss at the church left the ministry to start a recruiting company,” said Kroening, who will celebrate his 16th year in the search business this August.
“I eventually followed him into the business, partnered with him for 10 years, helped build a retained search firm to about 20 employees then bought him out.”
I’m sure many of you can anticipate my next question, because you may already know some of the similarities. I asked Kroening what the ministry and the search business have in common?
“They are both about building trust, building relationships, asking great questions and caring how people use their strengths to satisfy their passions and feed themselves, literally and figuratively. So it was a real natural segue as far as the people skills are concerned.”
One of Kroening’s senior search consultants, Rick Heltne, also came to the business from a ministry background.
“What attracted me to search? Matching people with their gifts is something I have always done professionally. I watched how the right person in a position can really propel a church or organization forward, grow and become more effective. Conversely, I have seen what happens when the right person doesn’t come in. Figuring out that piece is something that really appealed to me, and still does.”
When it comes to figuring out that fit, they use a proprietary assessment technology (see below for details). VTL Search is part of SIMA International (System for Identifying Motivated Abilities), a worldwide group of consultants who help clients make the best possible “people decisions.”
About six years ago one of the people VTL Search was asked to find was a new senior pastor at a church, which Kroening says was an historic engagement.
“To my knowledge no other search firm had ever been hired to do a search for a senior pastor. Today there are four or five firms around the country who do searches for senior ministers, but we bring a lot of process to bear that those other companies simply don’t have.
It’s expensive, and it takes a lot of time, but it brings a whole new window of insight to the search process. It raises the probability we will find the right person.”
Like lots of companies in the for profit world, churches and non-profits have seen budgets cut, staffs thinned, people crunched for time and the reality of fewer resources to find the right people.
“They are realizing it takes a lot of time, research, expertise and networking to find the top candidates for open positions and they simply don’t have those things,” added Kroening. “So they continue to turn to us.”
And he looks for that to continue in the future, despite the pronouncements that the Internet and online job boards and social media will “put him out of business.”
“The search business has consolidated and it has evolved for sure with technology. But there is still a great need for ‘the human side’ of what we do. A lot of that involves going out and identifying talent. There is still something to be said for a search consultant belonging to the right associations and professional groups, serving on boards, actually going to conferences and events and talking to people around the country and finding out who the thought leaders are in various fields and industries. That has been a constant and we are committed to continuing to do business that way.”