In August, 2018, Gulf Stream Search was engaged to recruit a VP of Food Safety for a half-billion dollar privately-held food manufacturer that recently completed a massive round of funding.

The Company: Hiring a VP of Food Safety

In August, 2018, Gulf Stream Search was engaged with a half-billion dollar privately-held food manufacturer that was at the beginning stage of hiring a VP of Food Safety.  The company had recently completed a massive round of funding to accelerate the company’s top-line growth.

At the time, the company was not an industry leader in their category – top 10 at best; however, the company recognized some gaps they could exploit in competitor’s brand mix as well as their competitor’s lack of recent innovation.  With their recent infusion of funding for R&D, Production and Sales/Marketing, the company felt it a good time to invest and steal market share in the US.

The Back Story

Gulf Stream Search was approached by a well-known manufacturer that was in the process of hiring a VP of Food Safety.

The company needed a VP of Food Safety & Quality who would be able to conduct an accelerated and immediate Gap Analysis of the Food Safety program, then staff accordingly.  The company took on a new Chief Operating Officer who had no previous food or beverage manufacturing experience.

Because the COO had no industry background, the executive team would be leaning on this VP Food Safety, Operations Quality and Quality Systems as well as their wisdom and experience in managing the nuances of a Food Safety program.  As the company was growing quickly, the new hire would have to ensure their Food Safety program and staff expertise scaled accordingly.

For those reasons alone, the process and due diligence necessary for hiring a VP of Food Safety was critical.

The Challenges of the Search


The company is physically located in a secondary metropolitan market.  It’s not a market where people were desperate to get to, nor did it have a particularly strong economy for a trailing spouse.

The school systems were rated as average.

The local economy is not growing.

The fit

The role needed an individual with leadership across Operations Quality, Quality Systems and Food Safety – the breadth of the role limited the candidate pool.

The budget

The company’s initial budget for the role necessitated bringing in a Director-level candidate who’d be ascending into a VP-level role.  This represented a challenge as most Directors would not have the breadth across Ops Quality, Quality Systems and Food Safety.

Special challenges

This new hire would have several “overhauls” to address immediately – Consumer Affairs related to poor product quality history as well as a Quality Systems program that was archaic and wouldn’t stand up to the company’s expansion.

The company is privately-held with an “all hands on deck” mentality that manifested in much of their senior leadership team having been very hands-on; historically, the company encouraged this, but this new phase of their growth would require this VP to be more visionary – finding the right mix of hands-on vs. delegator would be our challenge during the Exhaustive Search and Customized Assessment stages.

Secondary staffing

The company would have to build out its Ops Quality and Food Safety team; additionally, they would have to contract out for some time-sensitive regulatory projects.  This new hire would have to delicately balance the staffing needs for short-term requirements as well as fulfilling their longer-term needs.

Gulf Stream Search goes to work

Gulf Stream Search provided an initial assessment of the market in terms of size and make-up of the target candidate pool within 3 business days of official engagement.

Because Gulf Stream Search specializes in recruiting Food Safety & Quality talent and are in contact with the entire US network, we were able to give this type of data to within +/- 5% accuracy.

Based on our client’s initial Wish List, we were able to give them an accurate audit of how large a candidate pool they were working with – additionally, we were able to provide objective data to determine where and how they might choose to alter their search criteria.  In their case, the market was extremely small (less than 50 target candidates that matched on all specifications).

Exhaustive Search & Assessment Stage

Target candidates were initially assessed for interest in the physical location as well as their tolerance for a growth-stage company.  Our initial assumption was the ultimate hire would embrace the opportunity as a career-capper type play – one where they could say…”I was there when…” or “I was the one that built their Food Safety program into what it is today.” – our assumption ultimately proved itself out.  These were areas we paid special attention to during the Assessment Stage – additionally, we scoped out team leadership/development and previous areas of oversight (especially Food Safety and Quality Systems) as areas of importance.

Capture Stage

We ultimately presented 5 candidates for consideration within 18 business days of engagement.

3 were Director-level candidates currently with manufacturers who lacked experience leading one of the required pillars (Food Safety, Ops Quality, Quality Systems).

1 candidate had exemplary depth and breadth of experience and was currently consulting for mid-size manufacturers.

1 candidate was currently a VP for a similarly sized company.

The company did a good job of “telling their story” to the candidates; they also consolidated the interview process over a two-week period when the executive team were all in town.

2 candidates separated themselves from the pack, both of which are currently Director-level candidates.

Each was able to overcome their lack of experience(not currently a VP) leading one of the required pillars by expressing and articulating a high-degree of empathy and problem-solving during the interview process.

One of the two candidates especially gave none of the hiring team pause or reason to doubt they’d be able to ramp up quickly in the area they had no experience leading.

Additionally, the individual had enough experience working with external partners that they felt confident they could outsource for expertise for a short period of time if necessary in the one area.

Big take-aways

The thoroughness of our Talent Acquisition Methodology™ dictated the level of confidence the company had when they selected the Director-level candidate.  They knew the VP-level “been there done that” pool of candidates was limited.  Additionally, the VP’s they interviewed were ultimately not considered because they didn’t express a strong level of interest in diving into a fast-growth environment.

The candidate who was currently consulting for other mid-size manufacturers never took off their “consulting hat” during the interview process.

They came off as a heavy-handed with a heavy dose of black/white thinking.

The hiring team didn’t see much flexibility, warmth or empathy for the company’s stage of growth.

The challenge of the role, the company’s market position and the current funding stage all trumped physical location of the role.

The ultimate hire was able to express their curiosity and passion for the role in a manner that minimized their lack of expertise in an area of oversight the company initially deemed a “must-have”.

Signed, sealed and delivered, August, 2018.

Gulf Stream Search

Gulf Stream Search is an executive search firm based in South Florida that works with fast-growing, innovative food & beverage companies in the US to help them find truly exceptional talent.