How Pacific Cycle Hired a VP Virtually

Virtual hiring became a necessity when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the hiring process. Pacific Cycle was in the middle of hiring their VP of Brand and Creative when they were forced to close their offices. They moved forward with the process remotely, making a key hire without the traditional in-person interview.

The entire hiring party joins us via Zoom to share the challenges and successes they encountered. This panel includes Pacific Cycle’s Nando Zucchi (President), Tim Sheridan (VP of Human Resources), Lee Jakobs (VP of Brand and Creative), as well as Senior Executive Recruiter Sara Spirko.

Pacific Cycle is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is the parent company of legendary brands like Schwinn, Mongoose, and Kid Trax.

Highlights from our conversation include:

  • What they thought the hiring process would look like (6:24)
  • Their concerns about virtual hiring (9:00)
  • How they addressed those concerns (10:40)
  • How the team and Sara effectively worked together (12:42)
  • Lee’s experience on the candidate side (14:52)
  • Why they chose to focus on competencies (18:59)
  • The importance of the project (20:37)
  • How they involved stakeholders (26:17)
  • What their remote onboarding process looks like (27:42)
  • Lee’s strategy for getting to know his team and their capabilities (29:39)
  • What relocation looks like in a pandemic (31:38)
  • How this experience will change how they hire in the future (35:14)
  • Sara’s timely advice for talent acquisition leaders (36:11)


Roy Notowitz: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m your host, Roy Notowitz, founder and president of Noto Group Executive Search. We work with leading consumer brands in the athletic, outdoor, fashion, food/beverage, grocery, and natural product sectors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the hiring process by reducing the ability for companies and candidates to have in person interviews at the final stages. As a result, and born out of necessity, hiring without the customary element of being able to do onsite and in-person candidate interviews has become a new trend.

Our first client to make the leap into this unfamiliar hiring practice was Pacific Cycle, based out of Madison, Wisconsin. Pacific Cycle sells more bicycles than any other company in North America with legendary brands, such as Schwinn, Mongoose, and Kid Trax. Their parent company, Dorel Sports, also owns Cannondale and GT, and is one of the most prolific bicycle suppliers in the world.

Given this new reality, I thought it’d be interesting to have the entire hiring party on the podcast to share their insights after having just made a key hire without the traditional in-person interview component. Thanks so much for being here. Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining and for sharing your experience on this unusual hiring practice.

Nando Zucchi: [00:01:36] Thanks for having us. I like that description of who we are on the upfront -makes us sound even better.

Roy Notowitz: [00:01:44] I’ve never had so many guests at once, so why don’t we start by having each of you introduce yourself, as well as share some detail on your position and your role in this hiring project. Maybe starting with Nando. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:01:56] My name is Nando Zucchi. I’m the President over at Pacific Cycle. And this for us was/is a really key hire. We’ve created a new position and it’s at the VP level. And for us to go out and find the right individual was a pretty big deal, as this sets our tone with consumers moving forward, visually, on product, on all of our marketing collateral, you know, we really need someone who’s a great fit with the team, both in terms of personality, as well as, you know, work style and visual styles and things like that.

So, a really important hire to us, direct report for me and something I was really excited about – still am, despite the fact I’ve still not met Lee in person. He tells me that he’s like six foot five, so we’ll find out if he’s telling the truth when, when we see them in person. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:02:45] And Nando and I have known each other for over 10 years, right, with other companies that Nando has worked with, we’ve had the opportunity to do some hiring projects. Tim, do you want to go next? And then we’ll move on to Lee and Sara. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:02:56] Yeah, absolutely. So, I joined Pacific Cycle and Nando last August at the role of Vice President of HR for Pacific Cycle. And we basically spent the first six months of my employment building out what our strategy’s going to look like.

We’ve got two phenomenal, historic brands, to say the least – we’ve got far more than that – but, you know, a brand like Schwinn is what drew me in and got me really excited about being able to be part of building a longterm strategy and figuring out where we’re going to go. And part of that strategy was really looking at the leadership team and making sure we had the right talent on board, which led us to you, Roy.

Roy Notowitz: [00:03:36] That’s awesome, thank you. Sara, why don’t you talk about your role and, then Lee, of course, being the most important. We’ll share what he’s been up to. 

Sara Spirko: [00:03:46] Yep. So my name is Sara Spirko. I’ve been with Noto Group for a year and a half now, and actually, when Pacific Cycle reached out, Roy was actually on sabbatical, so I connected with Tim and Nando directly. Flew out there, I think in January, to meet with both of them in person to get the position kicked off.

And so I’ve been the recruiter for this role and has partnered with Pacific Cycle for two searches now, actually, but was the lead recruiting consultant for this position? 

Roy Notowitz: [00:04:13] It’s kind of ironic that you were the only person that flew out there for an interview. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:04:17] I was just going to point out is it’s interesting that the only person we’ve met in person in the whole process is the recruiter.

Tim Sheridan: [00:04:24] And Sara, if I, if I looked at my calendar, right, you flew out on February 28th. 

Sara Spirko: [00:04:30] Yeah, it was perfect timing, actually. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:04:33] And then of course, Lee, the hero of the story. Why don’t you talk about your background? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:04:38] I’m not sure I’m the hero here, Roy, but thank you. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:04:40] We’ll call you the main protagonist. 

Lee Jakobs: [00:04:42] Yeah. I’m trying to get used to that. I’m known as the new guy so far in these first few weeks at Pacific, but I think Nando painted the best picture I can imagine for what my role is and you know, Sara and I had, I believe we talked once a couple years ago for a different role. And then, when I was contacted by Sara, I was almost not, not in shock, but just like, “Is this for real?”- this, this kind of responsibility, getting to go in there and do something with these brands that I grew up with.

It, it really was, this is a dream come true. So the role is, you know, Vice President of Brand and Creative, and it really is an opportunity for myself and the team and Nando, all of us, to reshape where we go in the future. And I think that, in itself, is a dream for anyone in the kind of profession I’m in. So yeah, I couldn’t be happier. I think this is week four, and it just gets better and better every day. And then us like not to paint a prettier picture than what really is happening, it’s just every day I wake up, I’m like, “Wow, I get to do this kind of work.” It’s hard to call it work. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:05:52] At the start of week four, thanks for coming back in. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:05:56] Hopefully, the guarantee will run out, before you meet.

Tim Sheridan: [00:06:02] That’s fantastic. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:06:04] So, thanks again for joining. I know the trend is happening more and more, in fact, we were having some other clients making these decisions now. I’m excited, though, to learn more about how the process unfolded from start to finish, and maybe we can start with Tim. When the search started, what was the process that you anticipated having at the outset?

Tim Sheridan: [00:06:24] I would say our process was about as typical as they come. You know, you start with the phone screen with the recruiter, hands over to either the  HR team or the hiring manager, then we fly to person in to do behavioral style interviewing. Some positions, we’ll throw an assessment in there. And then potentially a second interview to lock things in. So, I would say very, very typical and traditional interviewing pattern and style. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:06:49] So that’s what you anticipated? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:06:51] Yeah, yeah, exactly what you would’ve thought. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:06:54] At what point did you realize that that wasn’t going to be possible? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:06:59] Yeah, so we did the first round as a Zoom interview, video based interview. And quite frankly, I think  Nando and I, we chuckled a few times thinking, well, if we wait long enough, maybe we can bring the candidates in. We kicked around all kinds of ideas around, you know, maybe we meet in another location, but then all of a sudden, we realized that if we really wanted to move forward with this now, and within the schedule that we had to match up with ensuring we get somebody on board and can continue to move the business forward, or we’re going to have to take some stretches and we’re going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Roy Notowitz: [00:07:35] I guess it was good that Sara had the opportunity to fly out. So, what was the process that you use to ramp her up? It seems like the fact that she was able to come out there, actually, maybe was helpful in regard to being able to sell the opportunity. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:07:48] Yeah it was. It was such a big piece of this particular role that, you know, it’s cultural as well, you know, and, and having brands that are so steeped in history that can help us propel to where we need to go in the future. What was key, or at least at the time we thought it was key, so having Sara see our workplace, see how we operate, be able to walk her through the strategies, I would have told you that we couldn’t have done it back then. Now, we’re in a different world, and I think when you got the right people and have the ability to look at things a little bit differently, and like I said, be comfortable with the uncomfortable, we made it through it.

And what we’re realizing is you can do a lot more than what we ever thought we would. Nobody ever thought, you know, March 13th, we’d shut our corporate offices down, everybody would work remotely, but right now, everybody has been phenomenal. We’ve had some really good luck with it, but we also have some great people, including Lee.

Roy Notowitz: [00:08:44] So when Sara and Tim came to you, Nando, and said that, you know, they recommend not having the in-person or that, that wasn’t possible, what went through your mind? What were some of your concerns or what were the things that sort of got you over the hump in terms of being comfortable with that? 

Nando Zucchi: [00:09:00] Yeah, I mean the, the big thing we’ve met everyone on the phone, I said, “Hey, here’s our list of folks we want to narrow down to and are getting ready to start bringing people in,” and, all of a sudden, you know, Friday the 13th hit, and immediately went into, and the mind was how the heck are we going to finish this interview process? We haven’t met any of these candidates in person, and, and even just with all the uncertainty around COVID, what’s gonna happen? We were trying to crash and burn and get through the process and get everyone in prior to a shutdown because we could see the shutdown coming, but then, all of a sudden, it was okay, shut down’s here, we haven’t gotten anyone out. What are we going to do? So we said, let’s circle the wagons. We asked the candidates to be patient with us while we figure it out. You know, we went into figuring out mode, which, I’m going to guess, probably took us about two weeks to come around and say, all right, well, we’ve got to just keep this process moving forward.

Roy Notowitz: [00:09:54] So you just decided the position was too important, and the business need was too great to delay until after. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:10:01] It’s a, it’s a critical role for us, and, once it became apparent, hey, who knows how long this thing’s going to last?  We’ve got to keep moving forward, so we said, all right, let’s, let’s keep this moving forward. So, after we did the shutdown, we sort of figured out how we were all going to work remotely and just get business moving forward. Then we said, “Okay, how do we keep our longterm strategy moving forward?” Critical to that is getting this role hired, so we’re, we’re going to have to do it virtually. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:10:28] Did you have any concerns about being able to make an accurate or a good decision without that component? Did that enter your mind? And, if so, what gave you sort of a comfort level and sort of rolling with it? 

Nando Zucchi: [00:10:40] Yeah, it absolutely was, was front and center, right? Because this, this role is critical to our culture and who we are, both internally, how we operate, as well as who we are to the external world. Who these brands are, so, not being able to do the traditional, you know, meet someone, look them in the in the actual eye instead of the virtual eye. You know, shake their hands, maybe have a meal with them, you know, all those things you would normally do with a candidate as your, in a key role like this, were all out the window. How we do that really was weighing heavily. And interestingly, I think some of it is how well we did, and our team did, in integrating to a virtual work environment, at least for me, helped me feel more comfortable making the hire without meeting the candidate in person. You know, as we got more comfortable with how we’re going to move forward, how we’re going to do our meetings, how we’re going to keep the business moving forward, it became apparent that, hey, we can do that. So if we can do that, why can’t we make this hire? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:11:42] Yeah, I was just going to add to what Nando said there. Our, our comfort level having cameras on and be able to see the nonverbal communications, which is part of the any recruiting process was tremendous. I know we wouldn’t have gotten there had it not been for the fact that we’re all working from our homes, you know, or working from, not even our homes in some cases, wherever you might be, and that’s completely shifted how we’re beginning to look at this, right? The beginning parts of this, we went into a hiring freeze and that was the original, from the parent company, was a hiring freeze. There’s not going to be any hire out, but as Nando said, that this is such an instrumental role that helped to blaze a path that we’re on our third virtual hire right now, and so far, so good. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:12:27] Oh, that’s awesome. Sara, what was your role in supporting Nando and Tim and the candidates as it started to become clear that travel and face-to-face interviews, weren’t an option. And then, what concerns or feelings did you have, or did the candidates voice? 

Sara Spirko: [00:12:42] Yeah, I would say, first, I was really excited that Tim and Nando wanted to keep the process going, just because if we had put it on pause, I mean, who knows when we would have restarted the search and just understanding from them how important this position was for them going forward, especially since their business changed so much coming through COVID. I’m really glad that they continued on, and, in reflecting on the position and the process, really, the only thing that changed was just tossing out the onsite for a Zoom call. And I know that sounds pretty simplistic and you are missing a lot from the actual physical, you know, meeting people. It wasn’t a huge wrench, it was just people getting comfortable with doing the virtual versus the actual onsite. Once Tim and Nando were good with that, you know, I reached out to the candidates – I think we were pretty far along in that stage. I think we had our top three candidates nailed down. And so, fortunately, none of the candidates that were our top finalists had any issue with potentially having to travel, first off. And second, amazingly enough, they were all okay with making a decision without actually going to Madison.

And I think that just speaks a lot to how Tim and Nando were really able to sell the opportunity. Pacific Cycle is a great brand, as we mentioned before, it’s a dream job for a lot of people. And so, sometimes you have to make that concession of how are you going to make a decision without having a face to face, but luckily, technology kind of mitigates a lot of that risk to a certain degree. One of the candidates had mentioned that – I actually appreciated this – is that they’re like, you know, I’ve relo’d for jobs before. Going and physically seeing the city isn’t going to make that big of a difference because there’s so many tools online.

You can get a feel for a place with doing research. You can stare at Google Maps and get a feel for what the town looks like. Luckily, Madison has been ranked like one of the top cities in the past five years, so that’s an easy sell. So I think all of those coming together, and then with Tim and Nando, both being super engaged with candidates, I think that went a long way with helping candidates feeling comfortable with making that decision. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:14:40] Lee, what was the interview process and candidate experience like for you working with Sara and Nando and Tim and getting comfortable with this, this big decision for your life? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:14:52] I think, Roy, it was overall, it was really, it was very comforting in a weird sense. I felt that there was a very sincere delivery of transparency from Nando and Tim, and then the, the other members of the leadership team that were on the calls, once things started to roll through. I would say I was put at ease, but I felt like, okay, I have a pretty strong feeling of what I’m entering here. There’s no vagueness. The discussions were very open and I felt that making that decision, from my point of view, like this is really something that is on paper, and from what Sara has discussed with me, is this really what I’m about to do? And do we have a clear understanding amongst myself and what they’re looking for and are we on the same page?And I, I do commend Nando and Tim, because I’ve been through these interviews before, and I just felt that it was a, a lot of sincerity and clarity to the role that helped me with that decision. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:15:50] How did you get a clear sense of the role or a good sense of the role enough to know if it was a fit for you? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:15:56] It’s not really a sense of pride, but I feel like I asked some of the hard questions that maybe I wasn’t so daring to make, just because it was so virtual that you have to ask the really difficult questions. Like, are we really prepared to work together towards these really big goals? And then having those kinds of answers come back where it wasn’t so much filling the bucket that I needed answered in a certain way, but we had dialogue, and, again, that honesty of like, okay, this is what I understand the role is. Are we all prepared to take these kinds of steps to get the brands to where we all believe they should go? I guess just asking the right questions, and also, from Nando and Tim and the other members of the team, there were some hard questions in return that I had to answer as well. So, I feel like maybe that was a, a sense of, we had to compensate for just kind of like natural downtime when you’re physically in the same room, so you had to be maybe more intense because of the Zoom aspect of this. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:16:58] That’s a good answer. And I think it’s good insight for any candidate who’s going through the process is to really ask the right questions, both sides, actually, to get clarity and to really listen to what’s being said.

Tim Sheridan: [00:17:09] Yeah as an employer and an HR person, it’s really easy to get forget that you’re being interviewed as well. It is a committed process, and the fact that it, when, when it was virtual, I think Lee’s comments are spot on, you know, making sure that you’re painting a strong and a real picture because it’s one thing when somebody comes into your office and you can walk them around and show them the facility and show them the people that work there, but doubling down and ensuring that you’re painting a clear picture for somebody, particularly when they can’t visit you, I don’t think there’s anything more important. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:17:41] Lee, what’s the biggest surprise you’ve had coming in? And did we represent ourselves honestly, in the interview process? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:17:50] It’s really a tough question to answer because I don’t feel like I’ve been surprised at all. I commend everybody on the team, and it’s always, like I said, and this is not kissing up to anyone, every day has been, wow, this is really way more than I expected in a great way. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, you know, either you’re from the Midwest or that’s where you want to be, and there’s a certain sincerity and a different kind of attitude amongst the culture. I feel like that’s part of what I’m starting to understand in the day-to-day with everybody. Yeah, there’s been no surprises. I think maybe all the surprises will be one time physically in the building. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:18:32] We’re saving them.

Roy Notowitz: [00:18:43] Speaking of asking good questions and creating structure. Did you have an iterative process? Did you and Sara kind of work on ways to make each and every call deeper and more meaningful to make sure more information was being gathered with each and every call? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:18:59] Yeah, actually one of the things that Sara brought to us, which Nando and I were kicking around before this would fit perfectly in around where we were going with people and interviewing is this focusing on competencies. So we picked the top five competencies, and we, we initially shaped the questions around those competencies. Once we got past that phase of it, it was more around fit because we got the comfort level that the, quite frankly, the three candidates that we had, Sara was able to take our crazy and turn it into people.

She brought three people together and forward that, you know, we couldn’t have asked for more, and to have a partner in the recruiting space that can do that was, was fantastic. But, once we got past the competencies with the candidates, we realized it was more about fit and more about diving deep into where have they done with bigger brands, where have they done before looking at, you know, past work, you know, putting a project together for them to come forward and present. Which, that was actually a key thing with Lee, where, when he presented, he wasn’t just presenting something to us, he was challenging us as well, which is exactly what we were looking for. It created some discomfort on our part as well, where it’s like, wow, he’s pushing us where, maybe we wouldn’t have gone. That project was instrumental in helping us make a decision. Interestingly enough, we didn’t run into any technology issues that we typically run into and somebody physically comes into your office and can’t plug into the TV.

Roy Notowitz: [00:20:29] Can, can you describe the project a little bit? Give us a sense of what it involved and maybe, Tim, and then also Lee, you can speak to it from your perspective. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:20:37] Yeah, so, so high level we, we’ve got a brand in Schwinn. We’re celebrating 125 years right now. The brand has gone everywhere, but it, but it’s mainly been about making bicycling accessible. So where do you take a brand like that – with 125 years of history – and bring it moving forward? I mean, it’s the crux of what this job is. So we gave something that generic to these guys, and Lee tackled it and basically inspired us as we move forward. And then we, we actually threw a little nugget in there during the interview process too, which was kind of fun, and we told the candidates to draw a bike. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:21:14] Oh, cool. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:21:15] They had 20 to 30 minutes to draw a bike, and that was the direction. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:21:20] And we decided to hire Lee anyway, even, even with the bike he drew.

Lee Jakobs: [00:21:26] Yeah. I have a comment about the drawing of the bike thing here. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:21:32] Yeah. And I think as we went through the process, I think Sara did a great job of finding us a candidate who, I’m not going to say Lee’s not crazy, he probably is. The good news is he’s our kind of crazy. So it went really well. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:21:43] So, it sounds like you left the project a bit open ended, so that allowed each candidate to sort of take it wherever they felt they wanted to, which is an interesting thing, instead of giving a lot of structure. And then also, did you have any parameters around that project so that they didn’t spend like three weeks nonstop on it or were there any sort of guidelines? 

Nando Zucchi: [00:22:02] No, we gave it to them on the weekend, and they had to, and they had to deliver it on Thursday, 

Lee Jakobs: [00:22:10] Saturday afternoon, I think – late Saturday. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:22:12] Timing was key. We didn’t want them to spend a week on it. We wanted to spend a very finite period of time and crank it out, you know? They, they didn’t have it because we didn’t give it to them yet. As open-ended as it was, this is one that I probably left more open ended than I have in the past.

Sara, what, what did I, I said that you gotta find us a unicorn, you know, find that left hand, right-brained  person all in one person, so part of it was here’s a little bit of structure, but a lot of creativity that you can bring to the table. It made for some, some fun exercises. Was it fun Lee?

Lee Jakobs: [00:22:44] Yeah, I mean. Maybe my first day physically in the office, I wear a unicorn outfit. The basic request was I, it was a mood board, really. It was nothing more than that. And I’m like, okay, what, what does this thing look like? Anyone can do a mood board. That’s a preschool job, so to speak, but, really, how do I show this team how I think? And I think I got this on a Saturday afternoon, and then I thought about it all day Sunday. And then Monday morning, I think I woke up super early and just sat there. It’s the first time in a while that I never left a seat. Is it like eight or nine hours of like, okay, what does this feel like?

I don’t think I even touched the mood board. I just kind of went into this Venn diagrams of how a brand works in this, and the circle with Schwinn in the middle and how does this thing kind of expand out? And then I started getting into the design and look and feel of everything. And the timing was actually quite nice because it gave me a short period with this kind of… like Thursday was the interview and I wanted to narrow this thing down, so it gave me the time to hit it hard with the creativity, but yet be super concise because I only had, I think we had a 90 minute presentation. The first half hour was with Tim and my peer over with Dorel and mainly Cannondale, and he definitely had me on my toes for the process. And then, you know, thank you guys for saying the presentation was, was on par. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here, but it, again, back to asking the right questions, this was also an opportunity to visually say, “Hey, this is a little bit outside of the scope of what you’re asking,” and for me it was like, I’ve got to show these guys how I think if we’re going to work together. So that was also a good challenge for me to kind of present them with a different challenge.

Nando Zucchi: [00:24:36] Yeah. And I think what Lee said, there was really important. The point of the exercise wasn’t to get the answer, right? I mean, I don’t expect any candidate to have the answer, but it’s to see how they think, how they approach the problem. That was what was really exciting about that project beause it was, it was much more about getting inside their thought process than it was “Hey, this is the answer.” Great, now we don’t need to hire you. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:25:01] So when did you get to the point where you felt like you really knew Lee enough to make that decision? 

Nando Zucchi: [00:25:08] You know, we did a phone interview, a Zoom interview, and then the presentation, and, once we got to the presentation, that’s where things really solidified themselves. You know, certainly going into that round, actually, all the way through, even coming out of that round, we had three really strong candidates, but that’s, that’s what really brought it home was going through the presentation and going through the presentation as a group. So Lee presented, to not just to me or, or Tim, but to a chunk of my leadership team that he’s got to work with daily in his new role, as well as his counterpart on the Cannondale GT side of the business, who’s in the UK. So, we were all involved, and being able to see the interaction with the team and how Lee managed, you know, sort of responding to questions and answers, and I don’t know, probably in at least one case, a zinger. Being able to see that and that group interaction was really important. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:26:07] So let’s talk about that. How did you get the feedback from all the stakeholders and then how did you incorporate that feedback? And then use that to sort of dive in to any areas of concern. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:26:17] Yeah. Like, like maybe any of your process, you have your debrief at the end. Those, too, were done through video conferencing,so we talked through them, lots of side conversations, lots of group conversations, you know, just having those conversations and you score it, your rack and stack it. In the end, it’s Nando’s decision, but the beauty of this is all of the people that Lee is now working with, you know, shoulder to shoulder, day in and day out, they had some input towards it. And the beautiful thing is we all landed on the same page. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:26:48] Lee, did the project give you a sense of what the job would be like or help you wrap your head around sort of the day-to-day experience of what it’d be like communicating and working with the team, even though it was virtual? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:26:58] The project itself, I think I, I just took it upon myself just to push it really far away from what the ask was. I think the ask was pretty simple. And I didn’t overthink the expectation of what I was supposed to deliver. I just felt that for me, it was most important to show kind of like what Nando said, this is how I think, based on the, on the question that was asked. It hasn’t necessarily been reflective of the project as far as where we are today, because a lot of this is like, okay, what, how does the company work what’s, you know, getting use to the systems approach, getting to know my team, but it’s been a lot of orientation. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:27:37] So let’s talk about that. That’s a great segue. Tim, you know, what does that onboarding process look like? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:27:42] Probably one of the more difficult things in all of this, because you’re meeting an awful lot of people. How many Zoom meetings were you on the first couple of weeks, Lee? Easily eight hours a day for 10 days.

Lee Jakobs: [00:27:55] I think. Yeah. Like you said, eight hours with some 15 minute, half hour breaks here and there, but pretty intense. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:28:01] Yeah. One of the things that Lee and I got to figure out, you know, pretty quickly here is while, certainly Lee has met his team in both group settings, as well as individual one-on-ones, you know, team assimilations and new leader assimilations, and those are all things that we still got to figure out how to crack that nut. They’re excited about having him on board, but everybody needs to learn how, and figure out how, to navigate this in a virtual world at this point, because this isn’t going to stop over the next couple of months. Onboarding is going to take a whole different look, but right now it’s lots of video and virtual meetings at this point.

Nando Zucchi: [00:28:38] I was gonna say, I think we’ve gone out of our way to make sure that Lee’s able to have, even if they’re not long, one-on-one, small group interaction with literally everyone in the company. So, one of the things that I know is a huge headache is when you’ve got this, you know, back-to-back 15 minute Zoom calls with, you know, two people in this group, six people in that group, but, you know, we made sure to essentially virtually walk him around the office. Which, to me, was a really important thing for him to just kind of make those connections and have that sense of, okay, I see who these people are, I know them a little bit, you know, that, that we would’ve done by just walking them around the office if you were there. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:29:22] Lee, have you had to sort of make an effort to understand the capabilities of each team member and their roles and responsibilities in addition to just getting to know them?  Because it’s a little bit more difficult, maybe being remote in that sense. 

Lee Jakobs: [00:29:38] I’d say that’s the biggest, not problem we have right now, but it’s challenging to gauge people’s level of performance or contribution from a virtual seat. So, the half hour talks I’ve had with each member of the, of the marketing design and product design team have been very valuable. I mean, that’s the one thing about this virtual world we’re living in now is that the communication between you and the other person is a lot more intense than it would be in a room for some reason. I think it’s just because you have to concentrate a little bit more acutely in the call. A lot of the team members, I threw everybody like four or five questions that they can respond to and then add anything into it, so everyone sent me back a sheet that I, I now read and get a better understanding of, of their challenges and where they’re at and things they’d like to see improved upon. So that’s also really a practice that I haven’t been in, in the, in any other leadership role where I really kind of need something in writing back, you know? Yeah, I could just ping them really quick with a video call, but it’s just nice to have something to sit back and read and go back in my notes. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:30:45] So you ask them questions, like, what are the challenges, what are the opportunities? How would you like to develop? Things like that? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:30:51] Exactly. Yeah. Like what are your goals in the company? Where do you see yourself in a couple of years? How are things working for you in the department? Just very simple things to also get them thinking about how I would like to lead. And so far, it’s been good, but I think the hardest part right now is having my finger on that. Okay, who’s the creative force? Where are their talents really going to serve them best and the team best? Kind of getting a holistic look of hey, I’ve got these five people who do this stuff really well, and these three people who do this really well and getting that understanding and feeling is going to take some time.

Roy Notowitz: [00:31:28] So have you relocated to Madison yet? And I heard there was some sort of virtual relocation company and some other resources. Where are you in that process right now? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:31:38] I’m I’m still in the Bay area. I’m in Marin. No relocation yet. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:31:43] Can I, can I interrupt with a question even though I don’t have Roy’s big, big microphone? Have you ever been to Madison, Wisconsin? Maybe we should start there. 

Lee Jakobs: [00:31:56] Yeah. Where, where is that on the map? You guys are down here, The Bahamas, right? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:32:01] Yeah, exactly.

Lee Jakobs: [00:32:07] So, no I’ve not been to Madison, so I’ve been doing my research and working with a company that Pacific put me in touch with to try to find a location. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:32:16] Have you ever eaten a fried cheese curd? 

Lee Jakobs: [00:32:20] I have, so I think I should probably also mention that I…relocating is not as nerve wracking this time around. I lived in Germany for a few years and relocated there, of course, and that, that had a lot more just physically being on the ground and getting used to the environment and the culture that I had that under my belt. And to Nando’s question, I’ve eaten some very similar things in Germany.

Tim Sheridan: [00:32:50] This hits on a very sensitive topic as well. I mean, anytime you’re talking about relocating somebody to a new location. That’s a tough ask in and of itself. Say nothing about having never been to Madison, Wisconsin. We’re, we’re fortunate in that we have absolutely beautiful community and there’s arguably no better place to live in a community that has bike paths everywhere. That being said, we’re also learning to operate in a completely different manner right now as well. In talking with Nando about alright, do we want to put a deadline out there for Lee to get there? The reality is we’re all working remotely, so Nando, happens to be up in Michigan right now. I’m not at my house right now. Lee’s in California. You guys are in the Pacific Northwest. We’re all over the country right now, and we’re effectively pulling this off. So we’re not in a big hurry to reopen our offices, although we will, at some point. We’re also not in a big hurry to say, “Lee moved to Madison.” That being said, you know, the, the day may come, but right now it’s proving that we can work.

Roy Notowitz: [00:33:56] I picture you both like you’re fishing cabins or something right now.

Tim Sheridan: [00:33:59] That’s where I am. 

Lee Jakobs: [00:34:03] Well, I’m in Fiji right now, so there.

Tim Sheridan: [00:34:07] But, you know, part of it as well as making sure that Lee is able to see what Madison is about, and we partnered with a local company in Madison to be able to give him some of the stuff that, quite frankly, I don’t do that for a living. They do, so they can provide Lee more information and more experiences about what Madison is about than I ever could.

So we doubled down in that space as well. The other person that we recently hired, it was interesting because I got a text from him the day that he accepted the offer. He says, “Can you send me a picture of my office?” I suspect that he regretted asking the question and I kid you not. I probably sent him 50 pictures via text.

Roy Notowitz: [00:34:48] That’s awesome. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:34:49] And the question has come up, “Where’s Lee gonna sit?” So one of the things that’s happening because of Corona we didn’t really have a place for him to sit, I’ll be honest, so we’re, we’re taking one of our small conference rooms. I think it’s going to be a long time before we can have meetings in small conference rooms. That will become Lee’s office.

Roy Notowitz: [00:35:06] Right. Perfect. So will this change how you hire in the future when it goes back to sort of normal mode? And if so, how? 

Tim Sheridan: [00:35:14] No doubt. We’ve learned that. We can do things differently. We learned that it may not necessarily have to fly somebody in for a first interview. You can actually do that virtually and get a pretty good comfort level around who the person is, what they bring to the table, and you’re not going to miss out on the nonverbal. There are pieces and things that you miss out on, but, we, no doubt,  we’ll do things differently moving forward. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:35:37] Yeah. I mean, I agree. I think it will absolutely change how we go through the process moving forward. I think we’ll be able to be faster, you know, with candidates. Hey, at some point it would be great if we get back to where, you know, the final is in person. I still think there’s something to be said for that, so, ideally we do get there, but I think the process can go a lot faster and be more thorough with use of video. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:36:01] Sara, do you remember how long it took? And also what learnings or advice can you share with talent acquisition leaders about navigating or guiding the hiring process like this?

Sara Spirko: [00:36:11] I think the time to fill for this position was under a hundred days. I feel like it went really quickly, given everything going on, you know. Executive search positions sometimes take six, eight months to fill. This one, if I was there in February, Lee, you started, what, end of May? It did go fast and I actually really have to commend Tim and Nando for keeping their foot on the  gas on this, because a lot of other clients haven’t. They’ve really leaned into the challenge of the unknown, which I think is really important in today’s age. I think for other companies hearing the story, hopefully it gives them encouragement, but I also want to just iterate, it’s not that we completely changed the hiring process. The only thing that changed was the onsite interview piece. So, it’s not like as a company, you need to go buy this really expensive technology solution – you don’t. You need Microsoft Teams, you need Zoom or something similar? It’s pretty simple to make that replacement. I would say what’s more important is that organizations understand that when you’re virtual, you lose part of that human sense of the process, so that’s where people just need to be trained on how you can have much more of a personal interaction virtually. And so it’s not going to be your typical onsite panel interview process, where it’s five of your employees against the candidate. It needs to be two to one or one to one, so you have that space for candidates to feel more connected from a personal point of view and getting to know people, especially with whomever they’re reporting in to. Lee and Nando, I don’t know how many times you guys spoke just one-on-one, but I know that you had phone conversations, you had the video conversations. I know Tim and Nando made themselves available for candidates, which is super important that they stayed engaged throughout the whole process because it can be nerve wracking.

I think, for a lot of people, kind of as Tim was alluding to, our hiring processes across the board are kind of antiquated. We’re still doing the same process that we’ve been doing for a long time, and I think this is a good catalyst for people to start looking at things differently. You know, having candidates fly out twice is, is expensive, it’s tedious for the candidate to try to hide that from their current employer. And so there’s ways to make it a much faster, much cheaper process. So I think there’s just a lot to do. We don’t need to go crazy and go extreme of all of these other completely revamping our processes, but it’s just being smart. It’s making sure that your people internally understand how to interview virtually, because it is different.

I’ve never been a huge fan of video interviews – I am now. And so this has been a really good learning for me that the video interviewing thing does not need to be scary. Technology does not need to be scary. And I think everyone’s mind has been shifted through COVID, so hopefully that should be a barrier that’s breaking down pretty quickly, but I do think this is going to be a good path forward for companies, especially that companies that don’t have big budgets to fly candidates back and forth. This is a good solution for them going forward. Hopefully this proves that, you know, you could still have a great hire at an executive level from a virtual perspective. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:38:55] One of the things you mentioned was about creating an experience. And I think drawing the bike example was a good example. We have another client, that’s a food company that’s having candidates cook a meal, and they’re going to share a meal together, describe the recipe and how it 

Sara Spirko: [00:39:09] works.

Virtually, of course, 

Roy Notowitz: [00:39:10] And I think,probably, Lee, what they should have in your office when you arrive, is that framed picture of the bike that you drew.

Lee Jakobs: [00:39:22] That was, I think it was the next morning. Tim had sent me a text, he said, “Hey, can you draw a bicycle in 30 minutes?” I’m going…and I, and I had to get in the car with my wife to take off for some family matters, and I’m going,”I, I don’t, I don’t even know.” I just, I suck  at drawing, first off. I need, I want, I need a protractor. I need a ruler. I can’t do this. So, I remember we were driving and I grabbed a coffee mug in the car. That was my template for the wheels, so I did cheat a little bit. So yeah, I would say, I would say also as a candidate, and just doing this thing virtually you would only have to worry about half your outfits so that  has its benefits too.

Roy Notowitz: [00:40:12] Son, last and most important question that we all want to know is what’s your favorite bike, and maybe Tim and Nando and Lee, you can share with us, what bikes we should buy. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:40:24] So I’ve been riding a Schwinn Paramount, a new one that I acquired since joining the company last summer, and I’ve been loving it so far this year. I don’t know, I think I’m around 1200 miles so far this year and we’re, we’re only in June, so I’ve gotten very familiar with that bike and I’ve gotten to really like it. So that’s sort of the next generation carbon Paramount and A, I like it because it’s a great bike, but, B, I love it because it’s a great road bike. I can go hang with all the other kind of high end road bikes out there, and it’s a Schwinn. And I like the looks that I get from kind of some of the other guys. And they’re like, “Whoa, what’s this guy doing on a Schwinn?” Pretty good, pretty good looking carbon Schwinn. What’s going on with that? So, so I kinda, I kinda like that.

Tim Sheridan: [00:41:07] Yeah. So for myself, I’m not as an avid cyclist as Nando where I would  look okay on a Paramount. That being said…

Nando Zucchi: [00:41:18] Just to clarify, I don’t, I don’t look good on anything. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:41:21] That being said, the two bikes that I just recently bought, one is for my daughter and the other one I’ve been riding trails behind our place here is the 29″ Schwinn Axums, which is a bike that we sell at Walmart and it’s arguably one of the best bikes for the money that’s out there. It’s, it’s been very nicely equipped bike. And I rode out avidly when I was in college, we’ll just say that was a while ago, and for me getting back into it, it’s just a phenomenal bike to be able to get back into and one that I know I can upgrade down the road if I choose to. So, it has been fantastic. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:41:57] Cool. Lee, do you get a bike budget when you join or…?

Lee Jakobs: [00:42:00] Oh yeah, it’s really good. Well, as far as the two bikes, I think I’m most excited about in the Schwinn family are polar opposites of each other. One of the Krate bikes, because it just brings back a lot of memories for me, and, you know, we have some exciting stuff down the pike with that. And then our whole electric bike movement, what we’re doing and you know, those are opposite spectrums of, of what we do. I’m a pretty strong, enthusiastic cyclist and ride everything, but electric bikes kind of change a lot of your outlook on, on mobility and not driving your car so much, going further in the dirt, all those great things. And I’m super excited about what we’re up to. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:42:48] I remember growing up, everyone wanted a Mongoose or a GT, you know, in the BMX bike world. I was like, obsessed with those bikes in the eighties. Well, thank you so much. I mean, this has been absolutely incredible. I think it will be extremely valuable for other companies that are in the same boat now facing these challenges around hiring, and it’ll give them a sense of comfort knowing that great hires can happen virtually. I think it would be awesome for us to all get together and celebrate once we can travel, we’ll come to Madison or find a way to get together, but I really appreciate working with you guys. We appreciate the business during this, you know, challenging time for everybody, and you’re providing a valuable product for the world right now, and, and that’s great. And how, how would somebody shop your brands? What’s the best way to get them or where would they go? 

Nando Zucchi: [00:43:45] So go online, go to your favorite retailers, sporting goods retailer, mass bike retailer. Some independent shops, but also online our website and our retail partners. So, Right now is a tough time to find a bike. Bikes are in short supply, high demand, and we’re bringing them in as fast as we can, so if you  don’t see what you’re looking for, check back frequently. They come in and they sell as fast as they’re coming in. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:44:12] Awesome. Well, thanks again so much. Thanks for being such great clients. Sara, thanks for doing a great job. Lee, thanks for being a great candidate. 

Lee Jakobs: [00:44:20] Yeah. Thank you. 

Roy Notowitz: [00:44:21] And good luck and congratulations. And we’ll, we’ll talk to you soon, hopefully. 

Tim Sheridan: [00:44:25] Thanks for having us. 

Nando Zucchi: [00:44:26] Alright thanks.

Roy Notowitz: [00:44:26] Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire.

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How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To learn more about Noto Group, visit or follow us on LinkedIn. This podcast was produced by Anna McClain. For more information about her great work, go to