Marilyn Machlowitz, Machlowitz Consultants, Woman Entrepreneur

Machlowitz Photo 2015I met Marilyn over a decade ago through our children’s school.  Her daughter was one year older than our oldest.  Marilyn was involved in the school and so was I.  She asked me out to coffee and there you have it.  Marilyn is warm, engaging and one of the best networkers I have ever met in my life.  She has kept up with me over the last decade by reading my blog and shooting me emails.  But of course Marilyn is a networking maven…she is one of the top recruiters in the foundation/non-profit space.  She respects all those relationships and nurtures them.  It is impressive.  I got to see her at work during a recruitment process I was recently involved with.  I really like the way she works.

Marilyn grew up in Philadelphia but always wanted to be in NYC.  When she was a young girl her parents brought her to NYC to look at the new I.M. Pei apartment towers.  She was blown away that you can live on concrete with elevators.  It was her Eloise moment.  The other thing that also drew her to NYC was the NYTimes.  Her parents would get the Sunday times every week and she would read it cover to cover.  There were all these amazing things to do in NYC from theater to museums to restaurants and all she wanted to do was experience them in person not through an article.  She was meant for the city.

Marilyn’s father was a chemist in a pharmaceutical firm.  As Marilyn puts it, her Mom would have done much better living in a different era.  She was at home until the kids got into junior high school and went back to work as a math teacher in a junior high school.  Her Mom even started a high school program for girls around science and math 40 years ago.  Way ahead of her time.

Growing up summers consisted of camp.  Marilyn was a lifer aspiring to be a camp counselor as many do.  When she was in 5th grade her parents took her and her brother out of school for for 5 weeks in May to travel around Europe.  It made a major impact on her.  To this day Marilyn loves to travel not only outside of the city but inside the city as well.  She was also a champion girl scout cookie sales person.  Important to add to the list.

After graduating high school, Marilyn’s next stop was Princeton.  She was the beneficiary of the changing times.  When she was in 10th grade the options presented to her were on of the 7 sister schools.  She even went to a Smith tea.   None of these schools excited her but in 11th grade, 1969, all the other premier schools went co-ed.  Her father pushed her to do it.  He told her it would be a novelty.  She was part of the first co-ed class at Princeton.  She really wanted to go to Columbia but NYC was a very different place back then. She majored in psychology at Princeton staying for the full four years because then nobody really thought about going abroad for a semester.

Her summers consisted of doing market research.   Babysitting paid 50 cents an hour and market research paid $2 an hour so it was an easy choice.  She would go to the local mall, find people that fit the exact mold they were looking for (that was an achievement in itself), get them to come down to the basement and do a test and then they would get paid for it.  She loved the job.  It was all about meeting people and making connections.  She just didn’t realize that those skills and interests were in her future.

After graduating Princeton she went directly to Yale for a graduate degree.  That is what people did.   Truth is she really did not think about what she was going to do with a degree in psychology either.  Academia wasn’t of interest to her and as she learned that was the direction most people went.  She was 21 and in a Phd program with zero experience in the world.   Graduate school was definitely not as much fun as undergraduate.  One summer she had three jobs at once (I can relate I had three jobs at the same time during high school) and her father called her a workaholic.  It stuck.  She wrote a paper in graduate school on workaholics.  She interviewed workaholics in management consultant.  During her thesis she wrote to an editor of the NYTimes asking if she had any data on the subject.  The editor sent her a note back that she did not but when she had finished her paper she should come back to her….and so she did.  The editor read Marilyn’s paper and ran it in the NYTimes.  That woman changed her life.  Marilyn got a million phone calls from it.  She had caught a nerve.

The following summer she was working in NYC.  It was 1977, the summer of the blackout.  She ran around the city trying to find people who were working through the blackout.  The same editor said she would love to print Marilyn’s observations on that too.  She began to write for the NYX while she wrote her book called Workaholics.  She wrote her book during the day and her dissertation at night while the NYX was on strike.  Marilyn thinks at a different time she would have been an editor of a woman’s magazine.

After finishing everything she got a job in a company doing HR.  She didn’t love it.  She didn’t fit the pace.  I really love this insight.  Today we talk about culture fit but there is something else about not fitting the pace.  Many entrepreneurs do not fit the pace of companies because they work at a totally different pace.  Marilyn decided to go out on her own.  At that point she said that she had what was called a Portfolio Career.  She had another book contract, she was writing for magazines, she was writing for the NYX and doing speaking engagements.  It was a bit lonelier without Blue Cross Blue Shield, a cafeteria and people but she got used to it.

Fast forward she got married in her 30’s which at the time seemed ancient.  She got pregnant after having a miscarriage and had a daughter.  She was feeling very isolated so she decided to go back to work in a company landing a job in a non-profit organization called Catalyst. It is an organization that strives to help women advance in the workplace.  She had also taken on a role as an adjunct professor at Baruch college.  Her first assignment was to do research on women in the workforce.  The second was the President asked her to be involved in corporate board search.  She had actually come to Marilyn’s apartment while she was home with her then baby daughter to make the ask.  Marilyn wanted the President in and out before her daughter woke or did anything so it was a quick ask. Smart recruiting on the Presidents part.  Marilyn took the job and her life as a recruiter began.

Marilyn ran corporate recruiting.  Catalyst was then 25 years old and now it is 50 years old.  Women on boards was a new concept back then.  The expectations were you had to be a CEO of something.  There were about 8 women that everyone would continue to go recruit.  She learned a lot.  What was more interesting is Marilyn was spending more on childcare than she was making.  She considered it an investment in her future.

Marilyn met a woman who really wanted to do what Marilyn was doing, corporate board recruiting.  She was ready to leave so she placed this woman in her job to make an easy transition for the company.  It was her first of many recruits to come.  Her next series of jobs was doing executive recruiting for large companies.  Two were for the insurance world and one was in the media world.  Essentially the same job three times for different verticals.   What she realized is that she wasn’t working for the best bosses.  She perceived that as a risk.  Having another bad boss seemed too risky for her so she went on her own in 1987.  She figured it did not work she could always return to the corporate world.

Coaching was beginning to take on but it wasn’t what she really wanted to do.  A woman she knew at a large company asked her if she could help her find someone for a development job and Machlowitz Consulting was born.  What she loves about search is there is a sense of urgency, a start and a finish.  It is transactional.  She started doing search.  It was a time that McKinsey called the war for talent. It was a free for all.

She began doing profit search then two things changed.  9/11 and the internet.  Everything began to shift and after 9/11 everything just came to a halt.  It was around this time she was introduced to the Rockefeller Foundation.  She really did not know much about the inter-workings of this foundation except that they supported public television.  She went to Rockefeller, had a few meetings and fell in love with what they do.  She loved how they found the missing links between entities and programs and they could help make them work.  By 2004 Marilyn decided to only work with non-profit and foundation recruiting.

One of her biggest successes is bringing Darren Walker to Rockefeller as the VP before moving over to the Ford Foundation years later.  Darren is an incredible human being.  Smart, thoughtful, big thinker and a huge networker.  Darren has now been the President of the Ford Foundation for the past two years.  I am pretty confident that his leadership at the Ford Foundation will be a game changer for the organization. What Marilyn loves about she does is that you can change someone’s life before breakfast by giving them an opportunity to go do something that they might have never thought about before.

Marilyn has only two people who work for her.  She is a boutique shop.  The future of recruiting is changing.  It is the small boutiques with years of contacts that will be able to continue to do recruiting for the top jobs of organizations.  Everything under the top job will be found through technology.  What she has built and what she is able to do is powerful for the right organization.  Meaningful relationships with people who never thought about a particular career shift unless they had talked to Marilyn.  I watched it first hand.  It is impressive.  Not sure how more Marilyn’s come up the pipe because the industry is changing and she is top of her game.  An impressive woman who has been an entrepreneur from the very start of her career.  She just did it inside a few companies for awhile until realizing that going on her own was not only more empowering it was less risky.  I love that.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Yinka!

    Great profile. Seems timing is everything: To excel at the upper end of a niche as specific as nonprofit and foundation recruiting probably requires a big and diverse book of contacts, which is built over an equally diverse career in this case.

  2. Erin

    Keep these stories coming. Marilyn, you’ve got guts and you’re very inspiring.