Women in Business: Q&A with Barbie Adler, Founder and President of Selective Search

Barbie Adler is founder and president of the exclusive Chicago-based executive matchmaker Selective Search Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Chicago, Selective Search is the only matchmaking firm comprised of seasoned headhunters that use proven Fortune 500 executive recruitment techniques to help create the most successful matches, including a clientelle of celebrities. Over the past 13 years, Selective Search's matches have led to 1,487 marriages and 459 babies. About 34% of the time clients decide to stick with the first match presented to them. Another 48% choose a partner after three or four introductions. The overall success rate of 87% speaks for itself.

Before she began hunting down lovers and mates for her high end clients, Barbie Adler was an executive headhunter with Chicago-based search firm Encore, and counted some of the country's biggest companies as clients. Barbie is a Board Member of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization (YEO) a global peer-to-peer organization, and has been nominated by the City of Chicago's Entrepreneur Center for Ernst & Young's 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Being an effective leader is a culmination of both my professional and personal experience; my mother was a psychiatrist when I was growing up. I remember when I was 10, I would sit at the top of the staircase and listen to the classes she held in our home on communication and relationship development for couples. I would read her Psychology Today magazine, and attend classes and seminars with her. Being in her shadow, I was exposed to this industry at a young age and began to learn matters of the heart and compatibility. Watching my mom work with her clients, while earning their respect as an expert, taught me early on that things don't come easily, and there are a lot of sacrifices made along the way. She taught me that as a leader, you have to be fearless and that giving up isn't an option, regardless of the obstacles you encounter along the way.

How did your previous employment experience aid with establishing your own business?
Working for an executive search firm played a major role in laying the foundation of the search strategy for Selective Search. The parallels between the two industries of 'recruiting' are so profound. One is finding the perfect match for the job, and the other is finding the perfect match for love. I took the recruitment strategy used in leading executive search firms for Fortune 500 companies and evolved it into a proven method for helping people find love. We call this proprietary process Meet Your Future®. It provides a blueprint to our methodology, which gives our clients great comfort in knowing there is a proven and established process for success in place. Essentially both industries provide a great service to its customers, by conducting extensive research and taking the legwork out of finding the best fit for someone else's needs. My previous experience with the executive search firm has also enhanced my gut instinct! I think it is my secret sauce to success.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
As the saying goes, 'if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.' I'm fortunate enough to love what I do. But, equally as important, I'm also blessed to have a wonderful husband, family and friends. As a result, I find that balance of spending time at the office, helping clients, spending quality time with my husband, step children, mom and sister, as well as making time to see my girlfriends, all while not forgetting to set aside time for myself. It's a lot! So, just like you would create a schedule for meetings at the office, you have to create the same agenda for your personal life too. My girlfriends and I dedicate one morning a week to working out together (We spin every Saturday morning!) My husband and I have regular 'date nights' that we are both committed to.

This work/life balance is very apparent in the way we operate at Selective Search, too. Our Clients are in executive positions or are business leaders, who don't stop working. We tell them they need to take some time to invest in a different venture: falling in love. I absolutely recommend investing in your professional life, as it's equally important to be the CEO of your personal life too.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Selective Search?
Since Selective Search's inception, we have been able to change people's lives every single day. There is so much satisfaction seeing people happy in love; knowing that we were a part of the process is one of the most gratifying feelings imaginable. I consider all my employees at Selective Search to be part of my family. It gives me great joy to see how incredibly talented each member of our team is! On the other hand, one of the great challenges I've faced during the first 13 years of Selective Search is defining the balance between living in the present and planning for the future. What I've learned is that no business has the financial or emotional capital to do 'everything' at one time. I've learned to plan farther out. I've learned that being the best we can be (at any moment in time) is the best measure for success. I've stopped trying to achieve perfection, instead, I strive for excellence.

What advice can you offer women hoping to start their own business?
Do what you love. Find your passion and expand on it. Commit yourself, and dedicate every single ounce of your energy into making it successful. Take time to analyze your personal goals and make sure the two sets of aspirations are aligned, by setting priorities. You have to be laser-focused on the business for it to be successful. It's not an easy journey and it can be lonely at times. You will make personal sacrifices, whether it is missing friend and family get-togethers, holidays or perhaps delaying the start of a family. I do not recommend relying on friends and family to help get your business off the ground; it's a recipe for failure and you run the risk of ruining those relationships. Lastly, whoever said that you will be your own boss was mistaken. Every single one of your clients is your boss! Overall make sure that you are ready to make the sacrifices, and be dialed in 24/7 to your business.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
In my opinion, the biggest issue for women in the workplace is maximizing their professional potential without compromising their personal style and integrity. Too often, women think they have to 'toughen up' in order to be successful. I endorse a more natural, honest approach and believe in the power of intellect. A positive, can-do attitude, and hard work ethic will always prevail. Young women today should have the confidence to be true to their own character.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
It's not a one-size-fits-all; everyone is different and wants different things. For example, a mother with young children might have to lean into her personal life a little more than her professional one, and when her children are grown, she can switch gears and lean into her professional life. Again, this all depends on the individual. A woman who is the sole provider of a family that has a reliable job will think differently than one who has disposable income.

When leaning in and expecting a promotion or more responsibility, it's not only what the company should be giving you; but what you have done to go above and beyond for the company. Once you've proven you are ready for more responsibility how will you help the company achieve success if given this new responsibility? There is a problem when people feel entitled to a promotion or a pay raise...you have to work hard, dedicate your time, be loyal and prove your worth. This mentality never stops.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I owe a portion of my success to the mentors that have helped me along the way. I was a sponge, absorbing any information I could get from successful business leaders when I was starting out. This mentality continues today, I am still learning when and where I can. I took advice from all types of successful leaders, regardless of gender or industry. Having these mentors along the way was critical, because I inherited so much knowledge and experience that I still use today. On a personal note, my mentors also invaluable; when I missed my first family holiday, they helped me cope with the guilt, and reassured me that "it's OK" to miss some events. Having mentors along the way saved me during my weak moments, while validating that at the end of the day it was worth it when looking at the big picture, and is what it takes to run a company.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
A female leader I find admirable and someone I hope to follow the path of is Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx. Sara found a specialized niche in a saturated market that was failing; she developed her brand into a multi-million dollar business. She is the world's youngest self-made female billionaire. She didn't listen to the critics, she wasn't afraid, I can relate to Sara's vision, passion and determination.

What are your hopes for the future of Selective Search?
I have big plans for the future of Selective Search. We plan to continue being the best executive matchmaking firm in the industry, to employ and retain the greatest staff in the business, to satisfy our customers at industry-high levels (currently a success rate of 87 percent), and essentially expand our service offerings so we can further help people obtain happiness in their personal lives. Something that I'm also proud of is the culture I've created at Selective Search. Our rich culture is what's made Selective Search so successful. Not only are we changing people's lives in such a profound and positive way, but the teamwork in how we change people's lives is equally rewarding. We are responsible for introducing people to the love of their life. Nothing can top the feeling of putting two people together that would not have met otherwise. The plan is for Selective Search to help many, many more people fall blissfully in love.