Partners in Search

Michele James and Roysi Erbes started James & Co. sixteen years ago, but the pair’s relationship spans three decades. Here, they discuss how their rapport informs the trailblazing work of their human capital firm.

Roysi Erbes Michele James James & Co
Roysi Erbes and Michele James, James & Co.

In the media, entertainment, sports, and consumer technology industries, diverse top management talent is a vital asset. No matter what segment of these businesses you’re in, you need to maintain a high level of innovation and originality while confronting a changing economic landscape, new competitive challenges, and continued technological upheaval. In this environment, securing the right people for senior leadership positions is perhaps the most critical competitive edge.

At James & Co., a sixteen-year-old boutique firm that Michele James started with longtime friend and business partner Roysi Erbes, a collaborative approach is one of the many outlooks they’ve helped to pioneer when it comes to talent acquisition. James and Erbes’ focus is to redefine talent acquisition to ensure the right executives are in the right roles to capture growth and “win” for their organizations, both today and tomorrow. They are known for their unique ability to assess culture fit, which results in leaders who take organizations to new levels of innovation and sustained profitability.

As a woman-owned business and diversity supplier, inclusion and cultivating talent with transferable skills have been core tenants of the business since its inception. Over the years, the firm has developed a reputation for the high quality of assignments that they lead as well as their discretion, which ensures that their calls to senior talent get returned immediately. The cornerstone of the firm became their unique access to a diverse candidate talent pool, one which developed over the years making these relationships long lasting.

Candidates find themselves coming back to James & Co. for several reasons, including advice and counsel on the next step of their career. “It is important for us to have these growing relationships with candidates,” Erbes says. “It’s the best of both worlds—placements who we have a relationship with can introduce us to new talent and communicate trends they are seeing in the marketplace. There is also the possibility of them becoming the client in the future depending on where their career takes them.”

The duo has developed a flexible and effective methodology that they apply to every assignment. By sharing their process with their clients upfront, they ensure that everyone involved knows exactly what to expect each step of the way. No two companies are alike. No two executives are alike. No two search assignments are alike. At James & Co., each engagement is viewed as an opportunity to apply their full experience and expertise to the client’s unique need at their organization.

James & Co.’s success throughout the years comes from a collaborative, team-driven atmosphere. The entire professional staff shares a commitment to understanding the client’s challenges and opportunities. Like the firm’s founders, they combine industry experience with search expertise to offer clients a truly industry-focused, strategic solution. “The magic is in identifying the timing of the executive’s career and finding the right culture fit,” James says.

Finding the right timing is a defining factor for candidates, but evaluating the client plays a major factor in the firm’s primary methods. To do so, James & Co. fully evaluates the client’s executive structure, gains clarification for each role, prioritizes short- and long-term goals and discuss succession planning to have a complete picture of how this candidate will fit culturally and professionally in the organization. “Speed is important in completing the search, but creating a clear picture of the clients ‘wants vs. needs’ is what helps us narrow down our pipeline to find the perfect executive,” Erbes says.

That convivial, collaborative atmosphere is evocative of James’s and Erbes’s own relationship, which spans three decades. They met at a leading search firm in the 1990s. They stayed friends and close collaborators after James left to lead human resources and, eventually, serve as chief talent scout for AOL Time Warner. From that vantage, James identified what the executive search industry was missing, as well as the areas that could use a massive overhaul.

With James’s myriad observations in mind, she and Erbes formed James & Co. in 2002 with a specialization in the fields of media, entertainment, sports, and technology. In addition to executive search, the firm has expanded in product lines to include organizational design, performance management, and transactional assistance.

All of that, though, is a culmination of James’s and Erbes’ successful partnership for so many years. “There’s very few places where the senior leadership has been together for more than three decades,” Erbes says. “That we still have this partnership speaks to just how special it is.”

Photo courtesy of James & Co.