Joanne Elek | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Joanne Elek


Launched in 2007 and headquartered in Toronto, Ambit Search helps clients fill mid-level and senior executive positions in finance and accounting across a wide range of industry verticals. 

The Mistake:

Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize that the culture of a workplace no longer aligns with your strengths and values as a professional. We all believe we can make a difference. That’s especially true for senior executives with professional designations. So it can be hard to finally accept, deep down, that there is something wrong with your cultural fit.

I know this from personal experience. Many years ago I worked in a role in a mid-sized corporation that I really enjoyed, and in which I was very successful. I liked the entrepreneurial culture and was given tremendous autonomy to succeed or fail.

In fact, I liked it so much that, for me, failure was not an option.

A few years later, however, senior management changed and a new crop of executives arrived who did not value autonomy – mine or anyone else’s. The culture changed from a focus on results to a focus on policy, process and reporting.

I knew the culture no longer played to my strengths but I stubbornly wasted two years of my career believing things would change. They did not.

In 2007, I co-founded Ambit Search. I found my cultural fit by starting my own company. And I’ve never looked back.

I found my cultural fit by starting my own company. 

The Lesson:

The most common kinds of cultural shifts occur through mergers and acquisitions, or the hiring of new senior management. They tend to be driven by people who change cultures, not conform to them.

As an executive recruiter, I often see strong, visionary professionals with tremendous skill sets and experience who find themselves in situations where the culture has changed. And I know from personal experience that moving on can be a painful decision.

In retrospect, I waited too long, and I keep this in mind when counselling both clients and candidates about the importance of cultural fit. If I knew then what I knew now, I would have moved on sooner. Staying too long in the wrong workplace can undermine your confidence and cloud your judgment. You may begin to doubt your abilities and compromise your potential.

Executive recruitment requires a long-term perspective. By starting Ambit Search, I was in a better position to help my clients make choices that were in their best interests, and navigate the kind of disruptive change that I experienced and learned from in my own career.

Follow Joanne Elek on Twitter at: @AmbitSearch

Photo courtesy of Ambit Search.

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