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Purpose Driven Thought Leadership | Gene Rice

 Purpose Driven Thought Leadership | Gene Rice

Finding your purpose and using it to help others find theirs and have success.

An interview with Gene Rice about his extensive work in the search industry helping place new executives while aiding them to find their purpose.

Did you know that more than 50% of executives struggle to feel satisfied with their work?

It’s important to have a sense of purpose around your job; the feeling that you’ve contributed, that you’re respected, and that your work matters.

Today, I’m speaking with Gene Rice, the Founder and CEO of Rice Cohen International, which provides executive search and consulting services to a premier list of global clients across the Learning & Development, Ed Tech, and Management Consulting fields. Gene has personally helped place more than 1000 executives, and has a deep understanding of what companies are looking for in senior management.

Over his thirty years of experience in the search industry, Gene discovered several important trends. While corporations are seeking people that meet “standard metrics,” those that excel have a proven track record of building growth. Gene explains that the most valuable executives are those who found a sense of purpose that drives their success – and their job satisfaction..

For years, Gene had been recording life lessons that he would share with interns at his firm. These lessons led to questions which showed how ill equipped many young adults are to start their personal and professional lives. This realization was the driving reason for Gene to collaborate with his daughter, Courtney Bejgrowicz, and write 68 Tips to Excel in Your Personal and Professional Life. This book gives Gene’s experienced tips for life, job search, career, and personal finances, while adding Courtney’s comments to give her perspective as a teacher and mother, and the understanding of the younger generation.

The passion to help others with the book extends beyond the hope that people can learn a thing or two from it. Gene and his wife created The Plant a Seed Inspire a Dream Foundation which provides annual scholarships for children ages 10 to 18, to pursue passions and interests outside of school. With this foundation, they work to inspire young people from low-income households with life-altering athletic, artistic, musical and creative activities led by positive role models.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Those seeking a role as a senior executive will need a proven track record of building growth, to get ahead of their competition.
  • It’s important for an executive to have a sense of personal purpose, and to share that passion and drive it within others.
  • A good match between an executive and company means feeling like you can make a real contribution, and drive your personal as well as professional goals.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Peter Winick. I’m the founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. And today we’ve got a really interesting guest. We’ve got Gene Rice. Gene has worn multiple hats over his career. He has been the founder and CEO of Rice Cohen. And we’ll get into that a little bit. And he just wrote a book with his daughter, which is really interesting called Grad to Grown Up. So I want to start Gene with – talk about your professional career. Not that a book is unprofessional. Oh, but I’ve known you for a long time as Gene of Rice. COHEN Yeah. Tell us a little bit about what Rice Cohen does. And I think it’s relevant to the audience in terms of, you know, this learning and development space. You know, this training and development space is professional services space.

Gene Rice Yeah. You know, I’ve been blessed, Peter. I’ve been in the executive search industry now over 30 years. And, you know, we grew to be one of the 30 largest search firms in America. But the you know, the way executive search works is you specialize in vertical markets. So, my particular search firm became, I guess the I’m told, the largest search firm that works in what we call the corporate lindy industry, as well as Ed Tech and the management consulting industry. So, I’ve been blessed to have put in over a thousand senior positions, multiple sea level positions, but an awful lot of the senior partners at the big consulting firm. So, we did the senior partners at McKinsey, KPMG, we put the CEO into Mercer and then worked a lot with the corporate space over the years.

Peter Winick So on the corporate space, because you’ve got a really interesting view based on where you sit. Yeah, tell us a little bit. And you know, I mean, I think EdTech is part of the answer here, but what are some of the big differences? And one of the organizations looking for in a senior level person today versus even 15 years ago, whether their level of tech savvy, the ability to measure efficacy. Give me sort of the hey, 15 years ago, this would have been a rock star and today that wouldn’t even get them in the door.

Gene Rice Yeah. You know, I think right now what’s really critical is that senior level executive has to come in and they have to have a documented track record of building growth and growth not only from a profit point of view, from a people point of view. You know, and one of the things in the book, Peter, that, you know, that I write about is in placing all of these senior level executives. Right. So many of them, the ones are the most valuable. The ones and these are not just six figures of these are seven figure individuals. The ones that are the most valuable to their shareholders, to their teams, to their board are the ones that not only right have great professional success, but they’ve had personal success and they find purpose in life. Right. And that’s one of the things that said, you know, the Conference Board came out with a survey recently. You know, it was 2000 executives they interviewed. 52% of them had no job satisfaction on what they did. So, they woke up in the morning and they went to work for a paycheck. Right. To me, you know, one of the messages I want to send is I want everyone to find purpose and they answer your original questions. The ones that are most valuable are the ones that come in. And not only can a motivated group, not only do they have the numbers piece of it down, right, but they have purpose in their lives.

Peter Winick So how do you how do you signal that? So, if I’m a senior economic accomplishment, I I’ve hit budget, hit target growth, all those things. Right? It’s easy for me to put that together in a CV you know grew revenues 20% beat quota by led a team of implemented this. I think it’s unusual and maybe I’m wrong. We’re in that document somewhere, and I found my purpose. Or what? How do you even signal that?

Gene Rice Well, let me tell you. This is something that rice going has done differently. You know, and it’s funny because I’m going to share some things with you when we interview it. Exactly right. It’s all routine search. So we’re calling them about a certain, you know, senior level position that we have all the specs that we put together. Yeah. When I’m interviewing them, even before I talk to them about my client, I’m asking questions like this. I pay you to tell me in your professional career, when have you been the happiest professionally and what was going on that made you feel that way? Okay, second question, Peter, what do you like best about your current role? Okay, we’ll get you up in the morning. Mm hmm. Peter, if you became the chairman tomorrow, what would you change about the company, your role, and what the firm does? I want to see if there’s any pain anywhere. Then I’m going to come back and I’m going to ask a question like this for you. I gave you a magic wand, and I said to you, You can diagram the ideal next position for Peter. Tell me the company you would create, the role you would create, the culture you would create. Okay. And what are some of those questions? And those are just brilliant questions, Peter, but it’s getting to do they have purpose in their life? What gives them happiness? When have they been happy? Right. What are the things that they’ve done in the in the past that have made them the happiest?

Peter Winick So what are the things? Just give me an example of specifically because you have so much exposure in that space in the learning and development space. What are some of the answers that authentic answers that somebody trying to snow an interview? Right. But what are some of the real responses that you’ve gotten that get you to light up to go, wow, that guy’s found their purpose. And the purpose is aligned to the objective because there’s a lot of confusion around purpose, where your purpose doesn’t align to what this objective in this role, this job is. It might be a distraction. A distraction or a deterrent.

Gene Rice Yeah, well, some of the answers is, you know, I was happiest when I was with a company that really believed in walk the talk about the developing people were making their people better professional. I was with a company that really believed in cutting edge. We had to stay ahead of it. We were always staying ahead of it, using new offerings. What did our clients need? What did what was the marketplace calling for? Right. I was with a company that allowed me allowed me to make business decisions, to drive the top line and the bottom line. Right. I was with a company that allowed me to bring talent into the firm. Right. Mm hmm. It’s those types of things. I was with a company that the kind of work that we did with our clients, it consisted of this. And I got real passionate about the kind of work that we were doing on a day to day basis. Love it. It’s answers like that. You know, that’s got to match up to what our clients are looking for because if it doesn’t match up, so what the client can offer, right, then we’re going to say to the executives, listen, you got a great background. This one is not right. Here’s why.

Peter Winick Culture, culturally or.

Gene Rice Culture or you’re going to keep you in line in the future if something else comes along, you know, and you know. And I’ll share something else with you. You know, in 30 years in search and filling myself over a thousand placements in my company, doing tens of thousands, there’s three things that I’ve identified, Peter, that make for a good a good match between an executive and a company. Short term and long term. The first thing is they should feel that by joining this firm, I can really make a contribution. I can add value in this way. Right. I don’t care how senior you are. If you’re going to join a new firm, you should be able to look yourself in the mirror a year down the road and say, You know what? As a result of joining X, Y, Z Company in this position, I’ve grown professionally in these ways. Right. And then here’s the third thing that a lot of senior people miss, but a lot of young adults really miss, Peter. Those first two things can be there, but the third is not there. It is not going to be a good fit and someone’s going to be unhappy very quickly. You should not only respect the senior people that you’re touching, touching shoulders with every day, especially the board or the or whoever you’re reporting to directly. You should not only respect them, but you should like them enough that if you had to go out and break bread with them, it wouldn’t be something you would dread doing the the people.

Peter Winick That look forward to it, right? Yeah.

Gene Rice The people aspect is critical, you know. Yeah. Because if you don’t like the people, especially the person or the board you’re reporting to, you’re not going to stay very long no matter how much you’re contributing and no matter how much you’re growing.

Peter Winick Yeah, no, I think I think that’s great. So I want to pivot now because this is the other side of. The gene coin now is moving from search to. So you’ve got a book out, right. Which is grad to grown up. So that’s interesting. Right. So now you’re going from the executive you think of executive search to an author and with your daughter. Right. So, I don’t know. I think there’s one. Don Tapscott did a book with his son, but it’s usually not a family business. So tell me about how did that come to be? Is this like Thanksgiving? And, you know.

Gene Rice Let me show you.

Peter Winick What’s the backstory here?

Gene Rice This was something this was this book was has been on my bucket list for a while. And it’s based on every single summer for the last 25 plus years. I’d bring into my firm for college interns for eight weeks over the summer. And these four college interns that we hired; they went they went through a pretty intense interviewing process. They were interviewing and some other great candidates. Right. So, I felt by bringing them in some.

Peter Winick Functions that they. What’s the prototype of where do they come from? Are they marketing or. They are.

Gene Rice They’re from all over.

Peter Winick All over. Okay.

Gene Rice We’ve had we’ve had multiple lawyers, engineers, doctors. Right. Okay. They just wanted to do an executive search internship. And I can share with you how we set it up. But with them coming into my office, I felt I owed it to them to spend a couple of hours a week with change life lesson. It started off Peter, as things I wish I knew going into my senior year in college, and what came out of it was all these questions where I remember thinking, We’re only talking to my wife. How ill prepared so many of these really bright young adults were not only to start their professional careers, but their personal careers. And then, as I say, ill prepared.

Peter Winick I just want to push on that. I’m going to assume, although correct me if I’m wrong, that ill prepared wasn’t intellectually academically.

Gene Rice So whatever exceptional in that area.

Peter Winick Okay. Yeah. So where typically where are they life skills.

Gene Rice Well, let me share with you. Let me share with you. You know, and this is and this is this is what really pushed me to do the book. In the U.S. today, there was $1.6 trillion in college loan debt, Peter 1.6 trillion. I’m not talking billions. Every one of these young adults had college loans. They go all tell me how much they borrowed. They could all tell me they knew they had to stop paying it back. Six months after graduation. None of them could tell me how much a month they’re going to be paying and for how long. You know why they don’t figure it out. So, they take the last month.

Peter Winick If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave us a review and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps as well as at

Peter Winick So this is insane. That’s like closing on a house, on a mortgage, not knowing it’s 30 year and your payments may.

Gene Rice Never, ever. It’s adding up. It’s ending. You know, there’s $1 trillion worth of credit card debt. A lot of these college kids freshman year, the first day they walk into their kit, the.

Peter Winick Credit card.

Gene Rice Companies are handling these things. You know, I would ask them, you know, do you have a rainy day fund? Yeah, I have a credit card. No, that’s not a rainy-day fund, you know. Yeah. You know, 36% of young adults still live at home with their parents. Right, right, right. 37% of the American population, if they lost their job for 90 days, would be on the poverty line. Right. Right. Divorce rates at 50% and it’s growing. Obesity is through the roof. So, the whole idea of me writing this book is for me to if I can help. It’s 68 tips on how to create a professional and personal life that you can be proud of. It starts from life to job search to career to personal finance.

Peter Winick Okay. So, a lot of so a lot of this comes from your firsthand experience dealing with this generation over many years and say, ooh, there’s something missing here. It’s not just this one cohort. This is. So, you extrapolated that there is a trend. Now, how do you get your daughter involved?

Gene Rice You let me take my.

Peter Winick Daughter on that. Yeah, well, listen.

Gene Rice I had communicated all these tips. I had recorded them all. And anyone who knows me, Peter, I’m at best an average writer. My daughter is graduated from Lehigh with a double major in economics and English. She came out with at Lehigh. If you have a 3.75 GPA or higher, they’ll say they’ll pay for your master’s. They paid for her master’s degree. She’s a phenomenal writer. She had her first child two weeks into call it the global pandemic. She wanted to take a year off. And I said, this is the opportunity we’re going to come together. We’re going to collaborate. So every chapter is me writing about a tip and then her, which comes in with Courtney’s comments, right? She gives me a hard time. She’s Keeping Me Honest. She’s giving a different perspective from a high school English teacher perspective from a young, married, new mother. So that comes together. And that’s what made it great because, you know, one of the greatest things, you know, and I’ll tell you, this is one of the things I’ve found with these young interns. When you sat with them and you asked them, why are you going into law? Why are you becoming right now? Right, Peter. If you have a conversation with them, somebody in their lives that was influential to them, a parent, a grandparent or teacher or coach, pushed them in a certain direction and said, you can make a good living doing this right. And that’s fine. Except the thing that really surprised me is so many of them had absolutely no exposure to what that job meant until they showed up the first day. Right.

Peter Winick Right. So this concept of a lawyer was an abstract concept. Mom told me to do it. Or the pressure, or I had a great history teacher or whatever, but they couldn’t answer the question of what does a day in the life of a lawyer look? Well, let me tell you. Yeah.

Gene Rice Two of the interns went to two of the best law schools in America. One went to NYU. One went to Boston College. They both graduated in the top 25% of the class. They both got hired in the big law firms. Two years into it, they absolutely hated it. The hate, right. Now, I’m not saying that some people love being away. Well, Courtney thought she wanted to be a lawyer. Now, if me experienced my interns, I said, Cool. And I’ll tell you what. Before you do that, let’s see if we can find a small boutique law firm and you’ll say you’re willing to come in and work for free this summer, so you get some exposure to what being a lawyer is all about. And she found a small law firm. This small partner took her and Peter, and he exposed to every aspect of being able to write the administrative the research into the courtroom six or seven times. Well, when that summer was over, she said that I have no interest in being a lawyer. I said, Thank God because I would have had to chip in, you know? You know.

Peter Winick I know. But that’s so it was too much of a lot of hard time, which is valuable to potentially save, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus the emotional pain and suffering and all that. Yeah.

Gene Rice And so Peter So and here’s the thing. She went to this great university, Lehigh, where she thought her passion was always being a teacher, but she thought that would be under her. She wasn’t she wasn’t reaching high enough so she could became a teacher. She loves it. And let me tell you something I hadn’t experienced. I was moving her. And she worked in the New Jersey public school system, high school English teacher for eight years. Right. She loved the classroom. I, I happened to go into a wah wah with her in the town she taught in. And for the kids.

Peter Winick Were eight time out for our listeners who are not in the New Jersey area. What is New Jersey for 711, anyway? Yes.

Gene Rice Well, I saw how these four young students of Vice reacted to her. Right. And how much they love, see, you know, and they would talk. I said you’re doing the right thing. But one of the best things that came out of the book, Peter, is this culture. She loved the classroom, but the administration in the district and her school, there was resignations left and right, left and right. Right. Every one that was in that English department with her eight years ago, no one was like high turnover.

Peter Winick Yeah.

Gene Rice So the book encouraged her. At the end of writing the book, she said, one of the one of the messages is Go find purpose, go be happy. She took all the skills on how to interview and she went and found this unbelievable school, the school, a private school that embraces what she’s about with an unbelievable culture. And she is so, so happy.

Peter Winick So that’s awesome.

Gene Rice So in this book, you’re going to see one of the things I really believe in, and this goes for senior people as well as girls. This is what they’re not teaching them on the campuses. Peter, you’re a great kid. And if you’re one of those great kids that have the initiative to go to your career center on campus, right. They’re going to prepare you for an interview, but they’re going to prepare you like every other universities preparing this.

Peter Winick Exactly.

Gene Rice So you come out and you interview against four or five other students interviewing the exact same way. One of the things one of the skills, I believe, is one of the skills that we don’t teach well enough. And this goes for senior executives, because I’ve helped them with this. I believe everyone should become a grand master of interview, right? Yes. Why? Why? Because if you’re a grand master and you’re interviewing for that job, you really want the grand master’s, the person who gets offered the job and the grand master gets paid higher.

Peter Winick Right, exactly.

Gene Rice It’s a skill that you have to learn. So, the book walks them through step by step, how you become a grand master or an Olympian interviewer or a Nobel Prize.

Peter Winick Now it’s a great skill. So, in we’ve got like 2 minutes left here. So, I want you to just sort of wrap up. You know, you put a lot of effort into the book, right? You put a lot of work. You didn’t fund this. And this is obviously a passion project for you. But if you were, what are your hopes, dreams, aspirations? So, it’s a year from now and the book crushed it. What does that mean?

Gene Rice What that means to me. Let me give you two examples from the book. I got two emails in the last two weeks. The book came out. A month ago.

Peter Winick right,

Gene Rice I got an email from a young lawyer in New York City two weeks ago, and he wrote me this email and he said, I know I just finished your book. And he goes, I was I worked a 14-hour day and I went into a restaurant by myself to have a bite to eat in. The book is a chapter, Peter, that says, talk to the oldest person in the room. And I think a lot of young adults don’t understand how much value they can get out of that conversation. They don’t know what questions to ask. So, the chapter, the other tip is, is the questions you ask, don’t be intimidated. Right. So he goes, I finish eating dinner, I look up at the bar and this is old man drinking a beer. So, he says, I just read that chapter, talked to the oldest person in the room. So, I’m going to give this I’m going to give these questions a shot.

Peter Winick Literally right then. And there.

Gene Rice He goes, like, walk us through the bar. I sit next to him, I start asking your questions because I want you to know, two and a half hours later I left and it was one of the best nights of my life. The gentleman was a retired senior writer from the Johnny Carson Show. And what I heard that night just I had such an amazing, amazing night. And I never would have done it if I didn’t read that chapter. So, what I want to say to you, Peter, what I hope of these 68 tips is that if someone can get one or two things out of it. I got another email from a gentleman in Seattle. He’s been living with this woman. He says, I’m 36 years old and I’ve been living with this woman. And she putting some pressure on me to make the commitment. And I read your book and my greatest accomplishment in my life is not my business. It’s not the book. It’s my 38-year marriage to my wife, right?

Peter Winick Yes.

Gene Rice And in that book, there’s a tip Marry the right person. And what we went through to figure that out, the questions you asked. He says, so I read that. I read that chapter. And then I realize at the end. Nope. I have to get out of this right now. So I don’t know if we made the right decision or not, but that’s one of the highlights of the book.

Peter Winick Might not be the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

Gene Rice But I will tell you, you know, it’s not just the interns. I think I know if I mentioned to you, my wife and I started in 2008, Peter, our own charity called the Plantation Inspired Dream Foundation and People magazine, did a full-page story on it. It takes children that have a passion. Like my kids had a passion, right? But they don’t have their underserved youth. A lot of them are coming from single parents and they don’t have the financial resources to encourage the passion. The passion could be sports related. It could be karate, it could be dance, it could be cheerleading, it could be playing the guitar. We will step in and we will find them. That sensei, that drum teacher, that you know, the singing teacher, we put them together. We interview both sides. We check in with them every single month. We give them an annual scholarship. Right. And I’ve talked to all of those. We interview them all. And my interns weren’t prepared. These underserved youths are less prepared to start that next phase. So, I felt this could help them. So, every, every, every one of them, when they graduate out of the program, when they’re 18, their hand in one of these books know and I spend time with them and I make available to them if they have any questions. And I want your audience to know that by buying if they buy this book is a great graduation rate. So, you know, it’s a great graduation gift. But any financial rewards that come to me is being donated directly by the publisher, right to the charity to help more kids. We’ve helped over 800 kids pursue their passions.

Peter Winick That’s amazing. So, I love your I love your passion. I love the legacy here. And I love the blending of the professional expertise and sort of the things that came out of that that you turned into a passion project. So, I want to thank you for putting the hard work and effort that I know you did into this book. So, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Gene Rice I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. All right.

Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our website at to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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