Rob Bowerman ’85 is always on the lookout for talent. He’s president of The Bowerman Group, a Massachusetts-based executive search firm with a niche focus on helping luxury retail brands find senior personnel—from managers to C-suite executives. Bowerman, a Livermore Falls, Maine, native, now lives in West Falmouth, Massachusetts, with his wife, Robin (Hull) Bowerman ’86. He explains his work, career path, and advice for others.
I had joined the retail industry when I graduated from UMaine in 1985, with the goal of being a buyer. Starting with Jordan Marsh in Boston, I moved to two different Boston-based retailers and became a buyer within a few years.
The only problem was, once I reached that goal, I realized that I didn’t care for the job. What I discovered was that I really loved the retail industry, but was just doing the wrong job within the industry.
I started in executive search in 1994. I started The Bowerman Group in 2009, after building a desk with a similar niche in another company. We have a small team of remote employees based in Massachusetts and New York. Our specialty is “front-facing” roles where brand DNA is important—primarily retail, wholesale, e-commerce, and marketing. We are hired by our clients to fill key positions, using our contacts in the industry and understanding of cultural fit to find the best talent to fill their needs. We help our candidates by giving them advantages through the interview process in terms of company insight and interview training.
My firm places 70+ people annually, so it’s amazing to think that I’ve touched so many lives over my 25 years in the business. I love the variety inherent in the job. Given that my firm works on positions throughout the US and Canada, we do most of our work over the phone and through video conference. On any given day I can be speaking with clients in New York, California, and Europe while working with candidates across 4+ time zones.
You can imagine that we deal with very interesting people and situations when we are recruiting on [New York City’s] 5th Avenue and [Beverly Hills’] Rodeo Drive on a regular basis! One for the books was a few years ago when we picked up a search for a very well-known family-owned Italian luxury brand. [We were hired because] a family member saw a company executive passed out in the front display window of their Rodeo Drive boutique after a party the night before. His career took a nasty turn that day!
My time in Orono definitely played a pivotal role in developing my career. Most importantly, though, I met Robin, my wife of 32 years. I graduated from UMaine with a B.S. in Business Administration and Marketing, so that educational foundation helped me both as a recruiter and a business owner. As a member of University Singers, that helped with my “stage presence” and to become a more well-rounded person. I also learned a lot from being involved in the Student Alumni Association (now known as the Student Alumni Ambassadors program), which was a great way to gain experience working with alumni and other students.
It’s funny: You don’t go to college to be a recruiter—people end up in the field through all sorts of paths. Common denominators to success are creativity, drive, the ability to relate to all levels of people and understand their goals and desires, good analytical skills, and comfortable with an ever-changing landscape and project list. You have to be a little scrappy to do well in this business and be very self-motivated. I think that the most important differentiator, though, is caring about people and a commitment to quality.