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CSI Executive Search Founder and CEO Donna Sphar Discusses Her ‘Best in Class’ Recruiting Firm

published February 21, 2023

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CSI Executive Search Founder and CEO Donna Sphar
Professional Overview

Donna Cates Sphar is the founder and CEO of CSI Executive Search, LLC (, a national recruitment services firm based in Austin, TX. CSI has a reputation for being a value-added "Best in Class" executive search firm by bringing professionalism, integrity, and quality to the recruiting process. Sourcing senior leadership talent nationally in more than twenty solution locations, the firm's executive recruiters are well positioned to meet their clients' needs - regionally and nationally. They also serve international clients in need of U.S. based talent.

CSI's recruiters approach their clients' hiring needs by utilizing their Comprehensive Search InitiativesTM (CSI). Their evaluation procedures and proprietary searches have consistently offered top-tier talent for the companies they serve. CSI matches the goals, personalities, and skills of candidates with an employer's culture and business needs to establish a pinpoint placement with Day One ValueTM and long-term fit. Their ability to precisely meet their clients' needs is rewarded with long-term consulting partnerships as well as repeat business.

Ms. Sphar utilizes her legal services and extensive professional search backgrounds to strategically grow the organization and to assist client companies in successfully attaining their business objectives. She brings a keen capacity for leadership, exceptional attention to detail, comprehensive business acumen, and outstanding skills in identifying operational and technical talent.

Ms. Sphar was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and raised in Louisiana, Texas, and Kentucky as an "oil and gas brat." She earned her B.A. in General Studies, Pre-Law from University of New Orleans. Ms. Sphar is a member of the Association for Corporate Growth "ACG" (Past President, Central Texas Chapter), SHRM, AHRMA, APES, CIO Network, CXO Community, Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Houston Geological Society, Embedded Technologies, Renewable Energy Network, Motorola Alumni, and TREIA.

When she isn't working, Ms. Sphar enjoys gardening, church, spending time with her family, fitness (biking, swimming, walking/jogging, resistance training), and reading (novels, history, biographies, business, and the Bible). Her favorite books include Laura Hildebrand's Unbroken, Jim Collins' Good to Great, Byran Burrough's The Big Rich, and Winston Groom's The Aviators. Ms. Sphar is a frequent visitor of McCormick & Schmick's and New Orleans' Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter Street).

Ms. Sphar's Successful Career Path and Tips for Legal Recruiters

Does Ms. Sphar have a top memory from school? "I was challenged by and enjoyed taking two semesters of Constitutional History taught by Dr. Raphael Cassimere, an articulate man with tremendous breadth of perspective who was also a Civil Rights activist during de-segregation."

What does it take to become a successful legal recruiter? Ms. Sphar asserted:
"To serve a law firm with excellence, you must first understand that theirs is a service industry - they are client centric and require customer service excellence in their team members. Every job in their organization revolves around their meeting/exceeding their clients' needs. Having 10 years of experience working directly for law firms, I am able to lead our legal searches with a solid understanding of the dynamics within a law firm. Whether searching for a managing partner, a named partner, a practice group manager, a human resources director, a finance manager, or a firm administrator, you must quickly grasp your client's organizational structure, culture, challenges, and clarity as to the clients the position will be serving as well as the team the role is to manage.

To serve a corporate group in need of 'in-house counsel' with excellence, you must first understand their sector; the primary legal expertise needed; whether any third party attorneys will be utilized and, if so, under what circumstances; their organizational structure; their client base; and the internal dynamics impacting the role. With over 17 years of recruiting leadership cross-industrially plus 10 years' professional experience directly in the legal sector, I am able to lead CSI in delivering A-Players to clients in need of strategic 'in-house counsel' talent."
Did Ms. Sphar transition into working as a recruiter? "Yes, I transitioned from 10 years of top tier legal support roles to recruiting. Recruiting for the legal industry was a fit for our firm from the beginning."

What motivated her to work as a recruiter? "After 10 years working in the legal sector, I had an opportunity to open a small business, and recruiting was a natural fit given my leadership experience which included team selection and team building."

What advice would Ms. Sphar give to someone who's brand new to her position? "Your reputation is based on integrity, ethics, capacity, and results. For the first few years in the recruiting industry, align yourself with SHRM and other 'best practices' associations AND work closely with an A+ recruiting mentor of integrity, ethics, capacity, and results."

What information does she wish she had when starting out? "Negotiation is a skill which, when practiced well, becomes an art. It is NOT a skill one simply develops over time. Purposefully expose yourself to best practices in negotiation."

What's one of the things that Ms. Sphar finds most challenging about her job? "Time management! Though not unique to me, such is the challenge of every successful executive."

What would she say is the most important thing she learned as a legal recruiter? "Organizational 'fit' is key. Cultures vary greatly. Don't assume any two law firms or corporations are the same culturally."

What is Ms. Sphar known for professionally? "Professionalism, business acumen, collaborative partnership, active listening, strategic thinking, integrity, thoroughness, and delivering a high ROI."

What does she look for to find the right fit? What makes a great candidate? "I look for technical skills (ex: legal training/expertise), culture fit, motivational alignment, professional experience/education, retention variables, energy, soft skills, and career goal alignment."

In regard to what makes a great candidate, Ms. Sphar stated, "We often say that at CSI our job is to 'find a geek with a personality, strategic capacity, and sharp business acumen.' Whether it's a JD with specific legal expertise or an IT executive, at the core this description holds true."

Does she have a recipe for a perfect match? "Yes. A time-tested, repeatable process which produces consistent results is required. For each search, we work closely with our client to prepare a CSI Navigator (our proprietary tool) which clarifies the recipe's exact ingredients. The result is a trifecta - a win for the candidate / for the client / and for CSI. We thoroughly enjoy contributing to our clients' bottom lines through strategic talent acquisition."

How does the businesswoman process fear? "I repeat to myself, 'This too shall pass.' I do some deep breathing. As soon as I can, I also move myself to the task of thinking constructively to determine options for handling the situation."

How does Ms. Sphar tackle obstacles? "Rather than avoiding obstacles, I 'show up,' face them directly, seek wise counsel, consider options, decide on an approach, and move forward. I try hard NOT to live in the past - rather, I prefer to live in the present with an eye on the future."

Has she learned something of value from her mistakes? "Absolutely. There's always a 'take away' - I believe in learning from it and in avoiding making the same mistake twice."

Where does Ms. Sphar derive her confidence? "I learned hard work and self-sufficiency growing up in a working-class family. No doubt, these principles are reflected in all I do. At CSI, our hard work has resulted in an approach which is outstanding. From A to Z, CSI's process-based approach provides an excellent ROI for its clients."

Non-Profit Organizations, Being a Mentor, People Who Inspire Ms. Sphar and Her Passions

Does Ms. Sphar work with any non-profit organizations? "Yes. I support leukemia and lymphoma cancer research and care for families with children dealing with cancer through Go Mitch Go ("

Does she consider herself a mentor? "Yes. Both in our company and through volunteer leadership roles with business associations, mentoring is a routine component of my work."

Has anyone inspired her? "Laura Bush taught me that we can overcome even tremendously difficult events and live a highly productive, purposeful life. Tammy Turner, my sister, taught me HOW to face obstacles head-on by allowing me to be part of the scenery in the halls of MD Anderson as she battled Stage 4 Lymphoma - and won. Billy Graham taught me that without a foundation, people flounder."

What causes is Ms. Sphar passionate about? "My faith, family, fitness, cancer research, and caring for families dealing with cancer."

Coping with Obstacles, A Rewarding Position, Favorite Quote and Ms. Sphar's Goals

Has Ms. Sphar faced any obstacles in her life? "Sure. I've faced many obstacles. I get through them by 'showing up,' facing them directly, seeking wise counsel, considering options, deciding on an approach, and moving forward. This is much easier said than done."

Does she find her work rewarding? "Yes. Contributing to the bottom line success of CSI's clients is very rewarding - every day. CSI's work product does this throughout the country - for US-based clients as well as international clients with a US presence."

Ms. Sphar's favorite quote is "This too shall pass." She said the quote resonates with her because she believes it to be true and it provides perspective when in the midst of a stressful time.

Does she have goals? "I strive daily to be a woman of integrity and character both personally and professionally. On the business front, my goal is to continue to grow CSI by continuing to serve our clients with excellence and by introducing an even wider business audience in need of strategic leaders to CSI's value proposition."

What to Expect When Working with Ms. Sphar

SVP Commercialization, Petroleum Geo Services, commented:
"I want to thank CSI for great services in identifying talented candidates for a high level position we had in our company.

CSI's recruiters were highly professional and experienced, and communication was always prompt and informative. CSI was able to gain access to senior level difference makers in a highly competitive talent landscape.

CSI provided a carefully vetted group of top talent for our consideration, helping us to avoid wasted time on unqualified candidates."
President/CEO, Canal Barge Company, Inc., noted:
"After a comprehensive evaluation of search firms, we were impressed by CSI's breadth and depth of experience as well as the comprehensive approach and personal touch in helping companies find the right executives. Since as a company we had not done a national executive search in almost 25 years, CSI's flexibility and personal touch was a big help us in thinking through a disciplined process to finding the right candidate.

Through the entire process, CSI stayed focused on helping us find the right person for our business needs, our company culture, and who was a fit for our community. CSI ensured that they had a deep understanding of us and our business needs. We believe we found the perfect set of candidates who hit all of the right personal, professional, and cultural touchstones that we required, and we would definitely use CSI again for future executive searches. Their breadth of experience in multiple industries and ability to conduct searches for professionals in many different disciplines and at many different levels is a big plus for our needs."
President, Ness and Campbell, states:
Utilizing CSI Executive Search for filling a position was a great success for my company. CSI was very thorough in getting down to exactly what I was looking for. One of the effective tools they used was CSI Navigator, which really forced us to narrow down our search criteria to the critical needs of the position and also helped hone in on the personality of the candidate not only their professional experience. CSI also took a close look at our company as a whole, including our Organizational Chart, in order to find the best fit for us. Both Asa and Donna spent time and energy working on my company's needs and narrowing down the search to only viable candidates. When it came time to sending me the candidates they selected, the outcome was well defined, quality applicants that all could have made a great addition to our team. The individual I selected for the position was actually the first candidate they sent my way and we have been extremely happy with his addition to our company.
William Loven, (previously) GM at Aqua Water Supply Corp., President North America at Dork Ketal Chemicals, President/CEO North America at Sika North America, said,
"Donna and her team have consistently sourced outstanding candidates whenever I have worked with CSI. I would highly recommend her firm for all recruiting needs."
Kelly Ranum, CEO at LOPA acknowledged:
"CSI truly takes the time to understand our firm's needs, not just for the open position but also as to how that role fits in with the rest of the organization. CSI is thorough and extremely detail oriented. I always know where we stand on a search. And I know that the candidates they bring to me are all worthy of hiring. They make it a great problem to have. We have used CSI for many searches through the years and always receive top-notch service."
Christopher Glisson, Managing Partner at McGlynn, Glisson & Mouton, stated,
"We have turned to Donna at CSI on three occasions and she has completely satisfied our expectations. It is comforting to know that CSI only provides potential employees which satisfy our specific needs. We highly recommend Donna and CSI Executive Search."
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