There are many roads to success.
He chose the winding one.
With master’s degrees in psycho-diagnostics and behavior development from Yeshiva University and CUNY, Don Yaeger always loved getting under the hood to find out what makes people tick. But where it led was something of a surprise, even to him. And now, after decades of moving people and organizations forward, it’s finally time for him to put the top down and enjoy the view.
Navigating Inner Space
To hear Don Yaeger describe psychometrics (a.k.a. psycho-diagnostic testing) conjures up images of cagey, “Mad Men” era technicians with suitcases full of Rorschach Tests to be administered with absolute efficiency and precision. He is only half kidding. Diagnostic testing in the early ’70s was a provocative new way of evaluating behavior, motivation and human potential. It was while conducting a pioneering program in New York City schools, tackling learning disabilities, that Don was approached by a consultant friend about helping his client in their search for a new vice president. He was asked to develop a personality profile that would guide them in the selection process and he did. But when he discovered that the company had chosen to forego his meticulous profile in favor of a disastrous recommendation from a well-paid headhunter, Don realized he was working on the wrong side of the fence.
So in the late ’70s, he moved to California and began his recruiting career with a CPA placement firm. He discovered that he loved the challenge of motivating candidates to make a career move, especially at a time when the American Dream mentality meant staying with one company until retirement. Soon faced with that very choice himself, Don happily accepted an offer to join forces with the new LA office of Foster McKay, led by Harry Boxer. Then, after a few years there, he struck out on his own with three other recruiters to form HYDE Group.
By the late ’80s, HYDE had parted ways and Don was approaching the most life-changing bend in the recruiting road yet: Harry Boxer was starting his own firm and invited Don to join him as partner and VP, along with a keen young colleague named Ron Proul, who would one day become CEO. In the fall of 1989, Century Group was born.
Right Place, Right Time, Right People
From a small, founding group of about a half dozen recruiters, Century Group would grow to become the largest accounting and finance search firm in LA. It is and always has been a place where each member of the team is encouraged to apply his or her own unique background and approach toward a common goal. And no two people illustrate that more clearly than Don and Harry. Don’s circuitous, painstaking, exploratory style runs counter to the adrenaline-fueled, point-and-shoot efficiency of Harry’s approach. Yet somehow, they consistently arrive at the same destination, with successful placements that meet clients’ immediate needs while setting them up to thrive long term.
Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Century Group has weathered economic storms that other firms did not survive. Those firms, however, lacked the close-knit team and leadership that Century Group (still) has. Don credits Ron Proul for transforming what was once a highly successful mom-and-pop shop into a thriving corporation … one that has been agile enough to adapt to changing times and seize the opportunities behind each new challenge.
It is precisely this combination of results-driven resourcefulness and growth orientation that has earned Century Group a reputation for strategic, game-changing solutions not only among its clients, but throughout the search industry. Hailed as the number one accounting and finance search firm by the Los Angeles Business Journal, Century Group is called upon not only by major global corporations, but by other search firms in need of bold new accounting and finance leadership.
Meanwhile, Don has seen Century Group repeating its original success in Orange County. The OC office has built its own formidable team of highly individual recruiters, all working towards a single goal and linked together with their LA colleagues in an ever-expanding global network.
Don is clearly and justifiably proud of Century Group’s spectacular growth and longevity, but not for the obvious reasons. In fact, he seems to be most proud of the fact that he never really saw it coming … that something he and Harry started 25 years ago has grown in such an unexpected direction because of the smart, creative, visionary people they brought – and have managed to keep – onboard.
So now when Don looks down the road, he doesn’t try to see too far ahead. However, he still continues to lend his nearly 40 years of experience and insight to Century Group from his seat on the Board of Directors, serving more as ground control than co-pilot. So whether he’s advising a colleague, conducting the occasional search or rounding another bend in life’s highway, Don’s plans for the future are simple: sit back, relax and let the next generation take the wheel. And above all, enjoy the ride… because at the quarter-century mark and well ahead of the pack, Century Group is just getting started.
Founder and Chairman Emeritus
He wrote the book on trading.
But the real story is all about people.
Follow your passion. Do what you love. Sounds like good advice, right? But how does it play out in real life? For Harry Boxer, it’s the thrill of the pursuit itself – whether he’s after upwardly mobile stocks or executives – that has driven him from one love to another and back again. And the story isn’t over yet.
Chasing the Deal
For a bright, young go-getter in 1960s New Jersey, nothing could match the glamour and excitement of Wall Street during its “go-go years.” And with his first major score as a teenage trader, Harry Boxer was smitten. He continued investing throughout college, where he began fine-tuning his technical analysis skills while earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Soon, seasoned brokers were taking note of Harry’s prodigious understanding of stock trends and winning trading techniques, and by the early ’70s, he had landed his dream job as a broker on Wall Street.
For Harry, there was nothing like being in the center of the action. But in 1974, with the market collapsing around him, he knew he would have to find that rush elsewhere. He began making the rounds to search firms hoping to find work as an analyst. With nothing available, but impressed by Harry’s energy, intellect and chutzpah, every one of those firms offered him a position as a recruiter.
New Jersey-based Foster McKay finally won him over and he wasted no time becoming their top producer. After a trip to visit a friend in LA in the middle of winter, Harry fell in love with the sunny Southern California weather and lifestyle. In a matter of months, he had FosterMcKay’s LA office up and running strong, and after a few years, he accepted an offer from a prominent west coast staffing firm to do the same for their new executive search division.
But by 1989, Harry was craving the freedom to run his own firm, according to his own vision. And recruiters whose talents he had spotted and tapped in the past were lining up to join him. Among them: Don Yaeger, who had worked for Harry at Foster McKay and would become his partner and Executive VP, and Ron Proul, whose rise through the ranks would take him from recruiter trainee to CEO. The firm would be called Century Group. And it would mark the start of a new era in executive recruitment.
The More Things Change…
In those heady, early days, Century Group didn’t need next-gen technology or corporate backing… it had more than enough raw collective energy, talent and ambition to catapult it to the next level. But automation certainly helped streamline the process. With each successive shift – from manual screening to computers, word-of-mouth to internet searches and social media – productivity has skyrocketed. And with it, Century Group’s reach and reputation have also grown exponentially.
In 2003, the firm expanded its offerings to include Interim and Project Services, and in 2007, they became co-founders of the CFO of the Year Awards in Los Angeles and Orange County, honoring the same breed of top performers that are their stock-in-trade. Today, with a database of over 85,000, Century Group has conducted more than 15,000 search and interim assignments in the last decade alone, while consistently ranking in the top five. In fact, they were recently named the number one accounting and finance search firm in the LA area by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Yet, through all the changes, there has been one constant: people. Quite possibly, Harry’s greatest achievement is that he has been able to bring together – and keep together – so many talented people for so many years. He proudly notes that there are no egos at Century Group: just smart, insightful, gifted individuals who not only share the same goals, they very often share the same deals.
With such a collaborative, supportive work environment, it’s no wonder that so many Century Group staffers have been with the company for over a decade. It is a testament to Harry’s uncanny aptitude for spotting the right people and putting them in the perfect position to achieve their full potential. Though perhaps it’s not all that uncanny when you consider that he has conducted over 20,000 interviews in his career, affording him the same kind of sixth sense that he developed as a trader, consistently recognizing which stocks – or people, as the case may be – are on their way up and making the right move at precisely the right moment.
These are the gifts that have propelled Harry throughout his career, whether as a trader, recruiter or president of his own firm. But they have also served as the foundation upon which Century Group continues to build. So even now, with Harry’s investment work and website (thetechtrader.com) demanding more attention – and more workshops, seminars and books in the works – he remains active on the firm’s Board of Directors and as its chief advisor. From there, he can look proudly upon what he has created, secure in the knowledge that he has the right people in place to take the company farther, faster than he ever could have alone. It is, by far, the biggest win in a career chock full of them. Yet the pursuit of greatness – for Harry and for Century Group – goes on.