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Pistons hire head hunter Jed Hughes to help with GM search

Hughes is a University of Michigan PhD who works for head hunting firm Korn Ferry International.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The search to replace Joe Dumars in the Detroit Pistons' front office is being led by Platinum Equity partners Bob Wentworth and Phil Norment, but now they have some help. To assist in the process, Detroit Bad Boys has confirmed that the organization has retained the help of Jed Hughes, Vice Chairman at Korn/Ferry International, a recruiting and consultation firm with more than 3,400 employees.

The Raptors recently used Korn/Ferry to assist with the hiring of Masai Ujiri last spring. Ujiri wasted little time cleaning up predecessor Bryan Colangelo's mistakes, helping the Raptors climb from the Atlantic Division basement to first place in just one season.

Hughes, who received a PhD at the University of Michigan, once served as a linebacker coach under Bo Schembechler. For more on his background, here's his bio from Korn/Ferry's website:

Mr. Hughes has distinguished himself as an expert in identifying, assessing, and developing leaders. His relationships within sports and intercollegiate athletics are extensive, having spent twenty years coaching in professional and intercollegiate football and working for five Hall of Fame coaches. 

As the leader of Walter V. Clark, a behavioral assessment company, Mr. Hughes re-energized the company with new products, research and software. He led the development of psychological testing, competency development and structural behavioral interviewing for the Super Bowl San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers. While at Walter V. Clark, Mr. Hughes coached some of the top business executives at GE, R.R. Donnelly, H.J. Heinz, and PNC Bank in leadership.

Prior to his current position, he led the sports practice at another leading international executive search firm for over twelve years and served as a core member of the board and CEO practice. 

Apart from the sports world, Mr. Hughes has had much success in recruiting board directors and CEOs within private equity, consumer, and industrial organizations.

He is the author of Succession Planning The Retail Black HoleAn Old Game with New Challenges - Leadership at a Crossroads in Intercollegiate Sports, and Survival in the Sports Entertainment Business: The New Darwinism?

Mr. Hughes earned a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Michigan, as well as a master of arts degree from Stanford University.

Previously, Hughes led the GM search for the New York Jets, Mark Murphy as CEO of the Green Bay Packers, Larry Scott as commissioner of the Pac-12 and Brady Hoke as the head coach of the University of Michigan. (I'm guessing at this point that list item inspires less confidence than it did a couple of seasons ago.)

Here is a news profile on Hughes when he jumped from a more general corporate headhunting role into a more sports-focused role.

So is hiring a corporate headhunter, even one with a sports background, par for the course or outside the norm? I've certainly never heard of it before, but then again, I'm not very smart. But this general question was addressed by Business Week writer Ira Boudway when Hughes was hired by the Jets early last year. Extensive, interesting excerpt to follow:

"I thought it was odd," says W. David Allen, a football fan and economics professor at the Universtity of Alabama-Huntsville who has studied NFL hiring and firing and can't recall another instance of an NFL team using a headhunting firm to hire someone in charge of player personnel decisions. "Usually you think of the owner and football people that they've already employed getting their heads together and making a list," says Allen.

So what is football veteran Hughes, who was brought in by Korn/Ferry last year to expand the firm's sports practice, going to do? Can he possibly find a name Johnson doesn't already know? Calls to Korn/Ferry with just such questions were met with "Let me guess why you're calling" and a polite decline to comment. At the recruiter's website, you can find this clip from News 12 New Jersey in December, where Hughes, who spent two decades as assistant football coach at both the college and professional level, talks about placing Neil Glat as Jets president last April and helping David Brandon go from the chairmanship of Domino's Pizza to athletic director at the University of Michigan. "I can pick up the phone and call almost every head coach in any sport and get them to return my call and get better insight than an owner could because I've paid the price of being a coach," he says. "My father was a psychoanalyst; my mom a guidance counselor," he adds. "It's been in my DNA, assessing people."

Assessing, rather than unearthing, GM candidates is likely the main function Hughes will serve for the Jets. Mike Speck, a partner at search firm Heidrick & Struggles, says it's becoming more common for sports teams to look for this kind of outside help. "They want to look a little more broadly," Speck says, "and they want those executives to have a broader and deeper set of skills, in addition to the football knowledge." The trend is the same, he says, for creative talent in the entertainment business: "I had a Hollywood executive say to me, ‘I know these three or four people out there. And I think I know them really well, but I know them socially.'" He wanted Speck to do the confidential background and reference checks that he couldn't. After Hughes's coaching days, according to this bio at Korn/Ferry, he worked at Walter V. Clark, "a behavioral assessment company where he led the development of psychological testing and assessments for organizations that included Super Bowl champions San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers." Hughes probably won't dig up some unknown gem to run the Jets, but, with his PhD in organizational behavior, he probably will give the eventual hire a full work-up. And with the circus that is the Jets, that's probably a good first step.

What do you think, DBB faithful? Does this signal that owner Tom Gores views the Pistons franchise as just another business asset with an opening in corporate? Or do you think this is what a smart owner should be doing in order to find and assess the best person for the job of reshaping the Pistons organization? Or do you just want to keep complaining about Josh Smith?

(Note: this post was updated to reflect confirmation of Hughes' hiring and Korn/Ferry's role in helping the Toronto Raptors' GM search.)