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Meet Warren Carter of The QualiFind Group

We were recently introduced to Warren Carter whose business helps organizations get key talent that they need to be competitive.  Warren started the executive search and recruitment firm – The QualiFind Group in 1999 and has since become one of the top search firms in the US serving clients from all over the world.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Warren.  Let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.  How did your business get started and what is your specific area of focus?
I started The QualiFind Group after a stint with the national firm – RSM McGladrey.  I’ve always been interested in intercultural issues and leveraging my prior experiences to launch a search and recruitment practice seemed the right thing to do.

We specialize in providing key technical, managerial and executive leadership talent that possess both the professional and technical experience and cultural characteristics to work within or lead wherever needed.

A significant portion of our clients are multinational organizations that do business in both the US and Mexico.  I found this market to be underserved when I got into it in 1999 and San Diego was an ideal place to launch from.

Have there been any key events or strategic moves that have set your business apart from your competitors?
It’s hard to pick which has been most impactful.  I think first and foremost, it’s the creative energy, enthusiasm and hard work of our team evolving through changing market conditions that have kind of built on themselves over time.

The chance to take our capabilities to a whole new level came in 2007 when we were contacted by the European-based global alliance of boutique executive search firms – IRC Global Executive Search Partners (www.ircsearchpartners.com).  That’s a mouthful so we just say “IRC” for short!

IRC is the world’s largest global executive search firm in terms of geographic coverage.  The alliance covers 46 countries on 6 continents.

The IRC Board of Directors reached out to us in 2007 because they were screening boutique search firms that could best represent Mexico for the global alliance.  After a lengthy screening process, we were ultimately selected as the best firm to represent Mexico and one of 7 to represent the US for IRC.

The US is the world’s most complex executive search market, so it is typically broken out by firms that specialize within specific industry sectors.  All other countries are served by one generalist firm that possesses the size, experience and consultant bench strength.  Within the US market, we represent the industrial/manufacturing, agribusiness/agriscience, food production and consumer packaged goods industry segments.

Becoming an IRC partner greatly expanded our capability to both serve multinational organizations and source key talent from anywhere in the world.

We also gained a greater ability to benchmark ourselves against other search firms for Best Practices.  Essentially a booster shot of diverse insights into being current with market needs and efficient delivery of services.  Without it, we’d just be another boutique firm limited to our group’s sphere of creativity and knowledge which I think essentially leads to stagnation and becoming irrelevant.

How do you interact with each other across so many time zones?
We interact through both virtual meetings online and two annual conferences. Conference locations are voted on by partners and the locations rotate among the various regions around the world.  The 2017 conference was in Shanghai, China and 2018 will be in Lima, Peru.

The conferences allow us to meet over a 3 day agenda that includes keynote speakers, discussions of industry trends, best practices, strategic concerns, and team building programs.

In 2010, we had a great opportunity to show off our great city when we hosted the IRC’s annual global conference at The Westin San Diego.  We had principals from 40 countries in attendance and highlights of the week included a formal dinner at the University Club and a sunset cruise on a private chartered yacht in San Diego Bay.  Many of our global colleagues still recall their visit to San Diego as one of the most memorable global conferences we’ve had.

In between conferences, we can thank Skype and WebEx for giving us a venue to meet with each other as needed.  We all know each other and know who to call on when the need arises.

A collateral benefit to this relationship has been the many personal friendships we have formed over the years.  International travel is a great catalyst for diverse cultures to share in exploring that which is foreign to the other.  This kind of interaction and exposure has also made our consultants more culturally aware.

The IRC credo is Globally Connected and Locally Committed.  For us “Locally Committed” implies our focus on the US and Mexico region and the “Globally Connected” piece is well…  self evident.

What other ways has The QualiFind Group evolved to where you are today?
Another significant part of our growth and success included two other firms merging with us.  In 2007, the agribusiness-focused Morton-McCorkle Executive Search firm from St. Louis merged with us.  This merger contributed to us completing one of our most senior search assignments.  That search was to replace a retiring CEO for an agribusiness organization and we completed the search with the placement gaining total compensation of just over $2.5 million.

Also in 2010, my partner – Carlos Acosta merged his recruitment firm – BPS International with us.  At that time, Carlos specialized in providing recruitment services to multinational organizations operating in Mexico and the US.  He merged both his team and offices in Guadalajara and Tijuana with our existing headquarters in Chula Vista and branch offices in Atlanta, Austin, St Louis, and Mexico City.  This merger further enhanced our value as a truly bi-national and bi-cultural firm with capabilities at both the technical staff level as well as the management and leadership levels.

Carlos spent his early years in Chicago and teen years in Guadalajara before coming to San Diego and Tijuana.  Much of our business success is owed to Carlos’s recruiting and business acumen combined with his bi-cultural expertise.

Your business was recently recognized by Forbes magazine for being one of the top executive recruiting firms in the country.  How did your firm rank within San Diego and Southern California and what do you attribute that to?

Yes, we’re proud to have been named to the Forbes List of the Top Executive Search Firms.  And yes, I think it’s a direct reflection of the collective hard work we’ve put into making The QualiFind Group a more nimble resource for our clients.

In terms of San Diego, we are especially proud of our ranking.  There were five San Diego-based firms in the Top 250 list and at #103 we were the highest ranked executive search firm in the Greater San Diego Area.  Furthermore, there were 20 search firms from Southern California that made the list and we were the 3rd ranked firm in Southern California.  Our IRC partnership was also represented well with two IRC partner firms also making the list.

At the end of the day, it’s just a list.  It’s certainly something to be proud of but I also don’t ever want to get confused as to what our goals are.  Getting on a list is not one of our goals.

Your LinkedIn profile shows that you are an Executive Board Member of IRC.  Please tell us how that came about and has it contributed to your business success.
I was selected to serve as a member of IRC’s Board of Directors in 2013.  As one of five board members originating from Australia, Dubai, Germany, Italy and the US; my colleagues and I are directly involved in managing the alliance’s governance.

It’s been both personally and professionally rewarding.  Board members meet three times a year in various locations around the world where we sequester ourselves in a conference room for three days to oversee the growth and management of the alliance.  This includes everything from internal controls, developing equitable policies, processes, marketing, facilitating conference meetings that allow greater interaction and setting up keynote speakers to contribute to the collective brain trust of our consultants and partners.

We typically set aside at least one day on each trip to become more familiar with the culture wherever we’re meeting.  During my tenure on the Board, I have traveled to meetings in Istanbul, Berlin, Madrid, Copenhagen, London, New York, Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon), Bangkok, Tokyo, Prague, Santiago, Singapore, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur.  I’ve acquired many great memories along with a thicker passport.  My term ends next year but Carlos and I will continue to travel to our regional and global conferences.

On a personal level, both Carlos and our wives have formed close friendships with many of our partners and their families.  You can’t put a price on that in terms of an enriching career and personal experience.  And… in these times of divisive politics in our country, it’s very interesting to learn how our fellow global citizens perceive what’s going on in our country and why.

Can you tell us how all of this contributes to better serving your clients in the US and Mexico?
I find many people aren’t aware of the extent of development that Mexico has undergone for the past 40 years.  Mexico has been a major recipient of foreign investment and that investment is now highly integrated within the NAFTA region with regionally based R&D, manufacturing, sales and distribution.  The same applies for its agricultural and food processing industries.  One client organization can have multiple sites across all three countries which means they need technical and leadership talent that can be effective across this landscape. This dynamic has enhanced North America’s competitiveness against the massive growth taking place in China and India and it’s made possible by a diversified workforce in all three countries.  The intercultural exposure that Carlos and I get with our IRC partnership helps us serve this market with better cultural awareness, communication skills, greater transparency and service delivery.

I understand that you commute between Atlanta and San Diego.  How does that work for you?
I’ve lived in San Diego since getting off of active duty in the Navy in 1993.  I think I’ve covered every square inch of Southern California at this point.  Launching The QualiFind Group in San Diego made me even more grounded here but as our business has grown, so has the demands for face time with clients.  That means I’m fairly mobile across all corners of North America and Latin America.

In 2014, I made the move to establish a second residence for my family in Georgia which put me in closer proximity to both clients and candidates throughout the region.  I’m a native of a small hometown in southern Georgia so the move also gave me the opportunity to be more involved with family and expose my son to an exceptional international preparatory school in the mountains of North Georgia.

I typically split my time between each coast and it’s worked out great for the past three years.  I enjoy aspects of both my roots in the southeastern US but always look forward to each month’s trip back to San Diego.  Mexican food is so much better out here!

Have you encountered any specific obstacles or challenges to growth in your business?
What business hasn’t?  I think our greatest challenge over the years has been the integration of team members capable of fitting into our collaborative and multicultural culture.  Our people need to be conscious of that and also know how to support our clients in their efforts to efficiently bring about desired change.

Hiring for our internal needs is much like what our clients experience.  Carlos and I experience the same issues that our clients have when it comes to getting people to integrate and assimilate.

Many of our clients are US, Canadian or European-based organizations and sometimes consultants from Latin America or Asia have had issues adapting to the pace, transparency and direct communication style required to work within them.  I’ve heard some hiring managers equating this to an education or language thing – but it’s actually neither.

Most of these people tend to be well educated as well as bilingual however they are unable to view things outside of their native country’s business culture.  Their challenge is more about being able to visualize needs outside of the framework that they evolved through.  This requires us to recruit and train consultants that are both culturally astute but also open to constructive criticism and learning new ways to work.

Tell us more about your business and how you deliver search and recruitment services.
We have a team of 16 that is divided into such roles as executive search consultants, technical recruiters, HR and organizational development consultants; and research and support staff.  In some form or another, we all serve to source, screen, assess and secure key technical, managerial and/or executive leadership talent or provide influence to the growth of our client’s organizations.

The business of searching for managerial and/or executive-leadership talent is better known as executive search and that business model is referred to as retained executive search.  Our search consultants operate under the brand – ExeQfind.

Our recruiters focus on technical and professional talent that range from being individual contributors up to managerial level roles and do so using The QualiFind Group brand.

Our research and support staff provide our search consultants and recruiters with market intelligence, candidate source information and the ability to provide background checks on short listed candidates.  The search consultants and recruiters are then able to leverage that information to more efficiently serve the client employer’s needs.

Is there any particular focus that best describes what types of clients you serve?
The bulk of our business is typically split into three categories.  One is clients with key talent needs in the US, another is clients with key talent needs in Mexico and third is clients with needs for key talent outside of the US and Mexico.  In this third case, we often partner with one of the 350+ search consultants that we have within IRC to serve that client wherever the need exists.

What are some essential qualities for being a successful executive search consultant or technical recruiter?
Great question!  Off the top of my mind, I’d have to say the individual characteristics of being entrepreneurial, having cultural awareness, a tolerance for frustration, adaptability, attention to detail and most importantly – possessing integrity.

Both recruiters and search consultants have to be opportunistic and have a sense of urgency towards seizing opportunity when it arises.  Each has to balance their work and service levels against an individual profit and loss statement that doesn’t sacrifice a commitment to excellence.

Personally, I’m a travel junkie that enjoys experiencing new cultures through its people, food and experiences.  My alter ego is a sort of Anthony Bourdain!  This little personal characteristic has given me an eye to see where various cultures can either collaborate effectively or potentially be in conflict with each other.  It’s an element of our work that I enjoy and I find that I share in common with our team as well.

The tolerance for frustration is about managing the unmanageable.  I’m referring to situations where either the candidate or client side of the equation experiences something that impacts the successful completion of a search assignment.  It happens and you have to be able to manage that which you can manage and work to control what you can’t.  Like most any other business, frustration comes with the territory.

In terms of adaptability…  The world is a rapidly changing place.  I attribute much of our collective success to a constant focus on being adaptable to changing conditions and the needs of those we serve.  While thinking outside of the box is a cliche statement these days, it’s a critical element in what we do.  When it comes to human beings, there are no absolutes and the process manuals and rule books just can’t cover the complexity.  We leverage our adaptability in almost every client engagement we have.

One of the first things I learned from my service in the Navy was the value of attention to detail.  I think many military veterans would agree with me.  To me, this attribute is highly valuable when assessing candidates for their match against a search mandate.  Recruiters need to understand the interconnectivity of a candidate’s life events, professional growth, personal interests and other things.  Effective recruiters are better able to spot inconsistencies and probe further to find reality versus how someone wants you to perceive them.  I could go on and on about attention to detail but I think that would turn this interview into something else!

And then and perhaps most importantly, there’s integrity.  Without integrity, there can be no trust.   I established a credo in our business from the very beginning and it’s really quite simple.  If any of us become aware of anything that is adverse to the interests of our clients or candidates, we must let the affected party know of it – even if it means we lose the assignment and its resulting fees.

Thank you for sharing your experience and insights with our readers!

Contact Info:

  • Address: 2411 Fenton Street
    Suite 101
    Chula Vista, CA 91914
  • Website: http://www.qualifindgroup.com
  • Phone: 6199211795
  • Email: wcarter@qualifindgroup.com

Warren Carter & Carlos Acosta in front of The QualiFind Group’s office in the Eastlake Business Park in Chula Vista


Carlos Acosta and Warren Carter – Senior Managing Partners of The QualiFind Group


IRC principals at 2016 Global Conference in Prague


Guadalajara-based search consultant Xochilt Acosta


Mauricio Torres examining Customer Delivery Models with team members – Alejandra Sobarzo and Amy Santos


Warren Carter conversing with IRC India partner – Manveet Singh Hora


Carlos Acosta pictured in team building exercise in Prague with partners from Switzerland, Ireland and Chile


Chinese dumpling team building exercise in Shanghai with consultants from Amsterdam, London, San Francisco, Tokyo and Sydney

Image Credit:
The QualiFind Group

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