Rising Above Adversity―How to Build a Winning Team

March 14, 2023

A Q&A Session with Klein Hersh’s Jason Hersh and Jesse Klein

While Philadelphia’s beloved Eagles did not come out on top at this year’s Super Bowl, the team’s exceptional culture, leadership, and resilience have made them winners in every other way. Their capacity to rise above adversity with an eye to the future is a testament to the unshakable foundation built by the entire Eagles organization, and a fierce belief in their blueprint and in each other. We sat down with Klein Hersh Chief Executive Officer Jason Hersh and Chief Operations Officer Jesse Klein to talk about how the Eagles’ winning ways resonate within their firm, and what it takes to build a resilient, team-oriented culture.

The Eagles were expected to win Super Bowl LVII, but as we know, things don’t always go exactly as planned. Can you share a few examples of when things did not go as planned at Klein Hersh, and you were facing times of adversity?

Jason Hersh (JH): When I think about adversity, the first thing that comes to mind is the early years when we were growing Klein Hersh. We were a small, up-and-coming boutique firm competing against all the well-known, tier one retained executive search firms. We had to really prove ourselves and somehow convince companies why they should take a risk going with us. Business was not coming our way simply because of our name. But it began to because of our work ethic and the quality outcomes we generated for clients. More recently, the adversity we’ve been up against exists within the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Following unprecedented growth in 2021 and early 2022, the second half of 2022 was a down year for the industry. And that downturn is lingering. We have to think about, how do we remain relevant? How do we continue to add value for our clients beyond placing executives? How do we adapt to the current environment and drive motivation within our team to stay in the game? The last example I’ll mention in terms of dealing with adversity is the COVID pandemic. We had become the largest single site, executive search firm in terms of revenue, and our secret sauce―the collaborative culture we so intentionally grew at Klein Hersh―was being threatened by the need to operate in a virtual environment. In a homegrown culture, how do you take a unified nucleus, make it disparate, and still maintain the DNA that led your team to success?

In sports, in life, and in business, there are countless highs and lows. As organizational leaders, how do you manage the lows to ensure your team remains enthusiastic and engaged?

Jesse Klein (JK): Our culture has been intentionally built to repel negativity. We know if something is challenging now, it’s only temporary. We’re in it for the long term. The average tenure of our team members is over 10 years, so when you join this organization, our expectation is that it’s not just a job, but a career you will grow into. It’s a family. So, when a roadblock impacts one individual, there are five other people right there to catch that person and help push them forward. As leaders, it’s our job to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to support our team, personally and professionally. We understand things aren’t always going to be easy. And when things are easy, don’t get used to it, because it’s not going to stay that way either. So, let’s not get too high; let’s not get too low. Let’s stay steady and focused on being the best each of us can be every single day.

JH: Working through adversity with your colleagues is what establishes strong bonds and creates trust. It strengthens relationships between the team and with our clients as well. As much as it hurts to get kicked in the belly, if you show up and keep your chin up, there will be an opportunity to differentiate yourself. If a potential deal goes sideways, we never run from it. We try to get ahead of it. Our clients appreciate that level of transparency and honesty, and it builds trust. And once you have trust, it’s like you can take on the world. Our ability to remain steady is crucial. In tougher times, more eyes are on leadership. We can’t make kneejerk decisions or irrational moves. We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and we’ve seen the peaks and valleys. We need to demonstrate reserve, consistency, and thoughtfulness. It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to signify that everything’s going to be okay. Just like the Eagles, we have proven systems and processes in place. And we believe in ourselves. We know if we just stick to the game plan and stay true to our values, we’ll come out on the back end successfully.

From your perspective, how does losing―or rising above adversity―build character?

JK: It’s crucial to everyone’s development to go through tough times. It’s those times that make people stronger, smarter, wiser. We take every one of those experiences as building blocks. How do we learn from it? How do we avoid the same potential pitfall next time, and if we can’t avoid it, how are we prepared to move things along in a positive direction? We actually want our newer colleagues to run into walls and situations they might not be familiar with. And then someone who’s more tenured, who is looking over their shoulder, can talk them through the different scenarios that could play out, and help them learn from it and stay positive. The more that people can develop those muscles, the less chance there is for things like that to happen in the future.

Following the Eagles Super Bowl loss, Jalen Hurts said, “you either win or you learn.” How does Klein Hersh relate to this philosophy?

JH: Klein Hersh is a learning organization. It’s one of our key pillars. We’re constantly looking to learn and find new ways to add more value to our clients. Staying open-minded and humble, and not so arrogant that we think know everything, aids us in getting through a sideways patch or a rough situation. For us, even when we’re winning, we’re still learning. We’re always looking at how we can be better. One cool example of our commitment to continuous learning is our book club. We read one business-oriented book each quarter as an organization, and we meet every Monday to assess the content and talk about how we can apply those concepts to our business. It allows to us share multiple insights across the team.

JK: Just like the Eagles, we view adversity as an opportunity to learn. We are the only type of business where the product can say no, because we’re dealing with people. So, the product, which is the candidate, can say no. Or the company can say no. And surprises often happen at the last minute. It’s about how well-prepared you are to deal with those roadblocks when you run into them. How do you prevent unexpected circumstances from affecting your momentum, and not let that become so much of a setback as it is a learning experience? How do you build on top of that and move on? As leaders, what we teach is how to learn as much as you can from an experience to avoid similar situations in the future, and to always be prepared with a back-up plan. For us, that means keeping in mind other potential candidates along the way, so we don’t need to begin a brand new search when a particular situation doesn’t pan out.

JH: I’ll add that for Klein Hersh, it’s not wholly about winning or losing, but rather, it’s about the experiential journey. To Jesse’s point, not only are we selling on both sides, we have to brand ourselves experientially with both the client and with the candidate. We’re paying equal attention to both. In some ways, our business is simplistic in that we’re just setting up two parties to go on a date. But it’s also very challenging because it’s unlike most types of consultative sales, where once you have one party sold on your product or service, your work is done. In executive recruitment, both parties need to be sold, and you have to ensure that courtship leads to marriage. We pay manic attention to the experience. We know even if we win by placing an executive in a C-level role, sometimes we can still lose. Because if the experience isn’t a positive one for everyone involved, neither the client nor the candidate will choose to work with us again. For us, it’s always been about the journey―what we refer to as the Klein Hersh experience―more than the outcome.

In what ways do you relate to the Eagles’ underdog mentality?

JH: Like Jason Kelce said, hungry dogs run faster. While Klein Hersh has become an elite management consulting firm, that gritty, transactional mentality from our early days remains a huge part of our underlying DNA. That feeling never leaves you. We have a lot of tenured associates who still have that old school DNA, and that hunger and determination are imparted to our newer colleagues. It’s incumbent upon us to keep that fire alive. Despite our success, we will never rest on our laurels. We’re still hungry.

Both the Eagles and Klein Hersh talk a lot about the importance of “team.” We know how this translates on the football field. Why is building a true team culture an advantage in business, and what does it take to get there?

JH: To build a successful team, I think dependency is huge. Being dependent on each other is how you bond and create relationships. It’s important to build a culture where knowledge and responsibility are shared across the organization. Unlike many other companies, when we run a search, there are typically three, four, five people involved. This is a team sport, not an individual sport. Our culture rewards team play. When you divide and conquer, the outcomes are so much better. In addition to dependency, trust is one of our core values. As leaders, we’re committed to building really tight bonds with our team, to earning their trust, and to nurturing trust between team members and clients as well. And we place a lot of focus on the synergistic connection between our players and our front office, if you will, and ensure the team has every tool needed to succeed. We hire the best talent and quickly fill any gaps that arise. Like the Eagles, we’re constantly looking at our squad and trying to figure out what it will take to get us the Super Bowl.

JK: We also know that the strongest bonds cannot be built on the field or in the office alone. We spend a lot of time as a team enjoying all kinds of outings―from Top Golf, to Broadway shows in New York, to some major tailgates at the Eagles games, and even an office-wide trip with spouses to Cabo. A bunch of us just went to the Super Bowl together. It’s our experiences both inside and outside of the office that cement our personal relationships and solidify a true sense of team. More than anything, I think what matters is that we care about one another. And when people know you care, they’ll run through a brick wall for you. And they will always defend the village. We know together, we’re giving the best of the best, and that’s what our clients are getting.

How do you establish a team that can not only win today, but is built for long-term success?

JK: What’s really important is that the breadth of our knowledge does not reside only within leadership. Sharing our collective knowledge across the entire organization allows it to multiply. And everyone is bought in on everyone else’s success. When someone new comes on board, our veterans embrace the opportunity to bring them into the fold. We match each new hire―we call them future legends―with a veteran who helps to immerse them in our processes and our culture. It’s part of our core values and our DNA to remember where you came from and how you learned, and to give back to the next person. The unique aspect to our company is the inherent knowledge and understanding that we are not competing against each other, but competing against ourselves to get a little bit better every day.

When you experience unexpected disappointment, how do you put it into perspective, keep your eyes on the future, and move forward?

JH: Like the Eagles, we know there is never one single point of failure. How we share responsibility, how we exemplify leadership, and how we rally around one another, is the difference maker. During the Super Bowl, after Jalen had the fumble that was returned for a touchdown, you see him on the bench surrounded by A.J., DeVonta and Miles. He taps his chest to say, that one was on me. His teammates rallied around him. On the very next drive, Jalen had the longest quarterback run in Super Bowl history. Our approach at Klein Hersh is the same. We pick each other up. We own it, we take accountability, we learn from it, and we move on. That’s what exemplifies our brand.

Jalen Hurts is an extraordinary leader. And he’s well known for his thoughtful and quotable responses. We understand Jesse sends a motivational quote out to the entire Klein Hersh team every day. Tell us about this.

JK: This was something passed down from my dad and a passion we both share. Prior to him retiring a few years ago, he was sending daily quotes to the office and thought it was important to carry on that tradition. I love reading and I love finding inspirational quotes, whether motivational or thought provoking. The quotes I share usually relate to something we’ve been talking about in the office, and likely focus on how we can take little steps to improve ourselves. There’s a lot of power in the right words at the right time. If someone is facing a challenge, and they read the quote I sent out that day, it might just give them exactly what they need to tackle the next step and move forward. Or it might make them smile. It’s just a fun thing I like to do. 

Before we conclude, as passionate Eagles fans, what are your thoughts on the past season and what next season might hold?

JH: The Eagles had an outstanding season. Watching Jalen Hurts’ maturation has been amazing. It’s not dissimilar to watching new members of our own team come into their own. There is a system, there is a game plan, there is some tenure, and any gaps can be filled in. The Eagles are winners.

JK: Watching a team leave it all out there on the field has been awesome. We know it’s really hard to get to the top. And it’s even harder to stay there. But the Eagles have incredible players, coaches, and front office personnel. They’ll be just fine.

About the Authors

Jason Hersh is Chief Executive Officer, Managing Partner, and Co-founder of Klein Hersh―a global leader in strategic leadership placement solutions for the life sciences and healthcare industry. He is responsible for managing strategic growth, organizational culture, and career development across the firm. Since the establishment of Klein Hersh in 1998, Jason has been instrumental in building it into one of the largest life sciences executive search firms in the world, and more specifically, the world’s largest single site recruitment firm when measured by revenue and placements.

Jesse Klein serves as a Managing Director and Chief Operations Officer of Klein Hersh. He has played a formative role in advancing the firm’s leadership within life sciences executive search and is one of the driving forces in developing Klein Hersh’s winning culture. Jesse’s responsibilities include leading the physician recruitment practice―recruiting scientific leaders for emerging biotech and global pharmaceutical companies across multiple therapeutic areas such as oncology, CNS, and immunology. He also co-manages all pharmaceutical-related executive search practice areas, including discovery, clinical, and commercial.

Authored by
Jason Hersh
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About the Author
Jason Hersh is Chief Executive Officer, Managing Partner, and Co-founder of Klein Hersh―a global leader in strategic leadership placement solutions for the life sciences and healthcare industry. He is responsible for managing strategic growth, organizational culture, and career development across the firm. Since the establishment of Klein Hersh in 1998, Jason has been instrumental in building it into one of ...
Authored by
Jesse Klein
View Contact Page Connect On Linkedin
About the Author
Jesse Klein is a Managing Director of Klein Hersh and has played a formative role in advancing the firm’s leadership within life sciences executive search. He is one of the driving forces in developing Klein Hersh’s winning culture, creating an environment with an extensive focus geared toward delivery, accountability, collaboration, and fun. In addition to his role as a Managing ...