Ivan Adler made his way into a Hill office that was in a shambles: naked walls, Dumpster-style trash bins, piles of boxes, jeans-clad workers carting out the contents of what had recently been the stately domain of a sitting member of Congress.
The lawmaker, whom Adler won’t name, is trying to line up a private sector gig after voters sent him packing. And though he still has a job for a few more weeks, there were obvious signs of his need to hang out a new shingle.
“We’re sitting there talking about this member’s future, and employees from the Architect of the Capitol literally come in and are taking furniture out of the office,” Adler said.
Down the hall in another one of six recent meetings with Election Day losers, Adler said he couldn’t even find a place to sit.
This is what the revolving door looks like. It’s messy.
So it’s no surprise that an industry exists to help grease the transition.
Enter the revolving-door facilitators, a select group of about a half-dozen professionals who quietly pursue or broker job deals for lawmakers and senior staffers who are headed for K Street.
Many of these headhunters, like their recruits, came from the Hill or the executive branch. Most work on retainer for clients that include major trade associations, nonprofit groups and corporations looking to hire top-tier executives. Others, like Adler, will represent the job-seekers and get paid by the firm or organization that hires them. He’ll also work directly for firms seeking a new hire.
Really high-profile candidates can retain their own counsel, such as Williams & Connolly partner Robert Barnett, whose clients have included former presidents, Cabinet heads and longtime members of Congress.
Adler, who got his start in Washington in 1988 as a press aide and driver for then-Sen. Al Gore, has been in the scouting business for 17 years. He said he represents a number of lawmakers and senior officials who will be out of office in the new year or are just looking to cash out.
Headhunting can be a lucrative business. Most searches — especially for the biggest firms such as Korn/Ferry International or Heidrick & Struggles — bring fees that start at $100,000, sources said.
And because the work is often clandestine, these headhunters find themselves conducting interviews and vetting job candidates in unusual spots.
“I literally could write a book,” said Liza Wright, a partner at Lochlin Partners, a boutique executive search firm with offices downtown and in Tysons Corner, Va.
One high-profile job candidate became so jittery about a lunch the two had scheduled in the Hay Adams Hotel that Wright suggested they instead have the meeting in the backseat of her car, which was parked out front.
“They were particularly sensitive,” she said of the person, who did not end up getting the job. “It was highly unusual. You do what you have to do.”
Wright and others in her business have come through the revolving door themselves. She was director of presidential personnel at the White House during the George W. Bush administration.
Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of board and CEO services at Korn/Ferry, also did a stint in presidential personnel. His practice has filled some of the biggest jobs in Washington, including the recent search for the new CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, which installed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the helm.
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