Exclusive Interview of Dan Hawkins, Founder & CEO, Summit Leadership Partners |


Dan is the CEO and Founder of Summit Leadership Partners. He advises boards, CEO’s, investors and business leaders on strategy execution and value creation through leadership and organization performance.

After a successful corporate career, Dan founded Summit Leadership Partners to help growth-oriented companies and business leaders scale and improve performance.

Under Dan’s leadership, Summit has become the industry leader for PE investors and high growth companies in leadership and organization assessment and performance and recognized as one of the fastest growing consulting firms by Inc., Consulting Magazine and Charlotte Business Journal. He partners closely with clients to catalyze change and is an expert in leadership, strategy, assessment, executive and organization development. Dan is practical, insightful, highly focused on outcomes and is appreciated for his direct, courageous, and well-informed insight.

Previously, Dan’s worked with leaders as CHRO at top global public and private companies such as Asurion, Ingersoll Rand, MagneTek, and Hoechst Celanese, and has worked across a variety of industry sectors, such as life sciences, chemicals, technology, health care, consumer products, retail, industrial and financial services.

Dan is a member of several industry and professional organizations, such as the Bloomberg Breakaway CEO Network, Forbes Coaches Council, the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

He serves on the boards of Clemson University Powers College of Business and the Belk College of Business, University of North Carolina Charlotte. Previously, Dan served on the board of Aquesta Bank, Best Practices Institute (BPI), Center for International Business and Economic Research (CIBER), Central Indiana & Central Carolina United Way, and the Purdue Krannert Business School. He also served as an active member of the Charlotte Business Innovation & Growth Council (BIG) and the Nashville Healthcare Council’s Leadership in Healthcare.

Dan has authored and presented numerous topics on CEO performance, leadership, organization change, strategy, leading in global contexts, and strategic talent management. He is regularly featured in top business publications, such as Fast Company, Bloomberg, Forbes, and Chief Executive Magazine, and industry publications, such as HR Executive, M&A and Middle Market Growth.

Dan is a Board-Certified Executive Coach (BCC) and holds a NACD Directorship Certification along with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Management from Clemson University and a master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

He has a passion for youth education and partners with local non-profits in North Carolina making a strong community impact, including Heart Tutoring and Girls on the Run. He enjoys skiing, hiking, wake surfing, exercise, and anything outdoors with his family.

Here is an exclusive Interview of Dan.

After a successful corporate career as Chief Human Resources Officer and other Top Talent Strategy roles for over 2 decades, why did you start your own leadership advisory firm?

I have always had a desire to do something entrepreneurial, dating back to when my father started his firm many years ago. After getting exposure to the private equity world in my previous CHRO role, I noticed a growing need in the market to help high growth companies and its leaders improve organizational performance and scale up quickly. My vision was to build a unique team of leadership advisors who had previously held corporate positions at Fortune 500 companies and could utilize their real-world business leadership experience with their behavioural science backgrounds, to better relate with, assess, and be a solid partner to leaders as they navigated the changing business landscape.

What is the mission of Summit Leadership Partners?

Our vision is to be the #1 premier advisory firm in the US to help leaders scale their organizations and increase enterprise value. We advise boards, investors, CEOs, and senior leaders with insights to deliver peak performance. Our values are based on partnering with our clients, achieving real business outcomes, transparency, and valuing differences.

What is unique about Summit? Is there a competitive advantage that Summit has over other leadership advisory firms?

Our competitive advantage is our team’s combined lens of behavioural science expertise and exceptional business acumen. Our consulting team have been leaders at successful organizations, in addition to being exceptionally trained in each of their fields. Our culture is collaborative, supportive, low ego, and fun. While we have proven products and services, we always have fit-for-purpose solutions for each client.

I understand Summit has doubled in size nearly every year since inception and has won numerous awards over the past few years. What’s your secret?

First, our growth can be attributed to the fact that we attracted some of the best leadership and organization advisors in the market. We have a focus on business outcomes and have always tried to ensure our insights are practical and actionable. Second, we have significantly invested in our team’s development and our marketing and brand awareness to ensure we are as relevant as larger consulting firms. We have also focused on several key growing markets in venture capital, private equity, and mid-market space – all of which are under-served by the top consulting firms. Nearly every one of our clients has been a repeat, long-term partner of ours, which speaks to the great work that our consultants provide daily.

Your firm works primarily with Investors, Boards and CEOs, what are they most concerned about these days?

Given the fast-paced, changing dynamics of the market and evolving talent expectations, there’s an increase concern about speed and agility. This is especially important for management teams navigating through uncharted waters. It is increasingly critical to have the right leadership players on the team as early as possible given the rapidly changing times. Given the shortage of top talent right now, objective assessment and accelerated development are paramount.

How has CEO succession and development changed during the pandemic?

I predict a huge lack of talent for required CEOs over the next several years. There will be an exodus of retiring baby boomer talent, who are disinterested in staying at the helm due to the strain caused by the pandemic. Therefore, CEO succession planning is a more regular discussion and priority among boards and investors right now. Boards are having quarterly conversations around CEO succession and more aggressively preparing potential successors. Private equity investors are also aggressively building their pipelines for future CEO needs within their portfolio companies and externally in the market. In addition, CEO criteria is evolving to include more EQ-related capabilities, such as possession of softer skills like empathy, being more inclusive, better retaining, and engaging employees, and aligning a remote workforce.

What have been the greatest challenges for top management teams since the pandemic?

We are very concerned about management team burnout and its ripple effect on meeting performance goals. My firm recently conducted a study that found more than three-fourths of portfolio company CEOs —78%— reported that they are concerned about management team burnout. And almost half of CEOs —49%— said that if senior management experiences consistent burnout this year, the biggest negative consequence would be the inability to achieve the company’s performance goals. Shaping culture in a remote working environment has also been especially challenging for CEOs and their management teams. And given the changing expectations of where and how people work, retaining talent has been a top concern. According to our latest study, most CEOs—91%—are having to change efforts to attract, develop, and retain talent over the next one to two years. Also, given the volatility of markets and supply chains throughout this pandemic, predicting, and forecasting business and performance needs has been especially difficult to navigate which requires an adaptable and nimble decision-making process.

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