The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, a major development effort led jointly by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, was poised for a high-profile rollout. This unique start-up venture already had Kofi Annan as chairman of its board, and needed to find a similarly qualified individual for its CEO. Candidates needed to have a rare combination of leadership abilities and technical experience in the private sector and development worlds, with the strong preference that they be of pre-colonial African descent.
Using our extensive network, we found an extraordinary individual who had served in senior roles in the United Nations’ World Food Program and other initiatives—but who had effectively dropped off the radar screen, having retired early to run his own tropical farming operation. We probably could have ended our search with this brilliant and pragmatic PhD from Cornell, who had also served as deputy minister of agriculture in Cameroon … but we also found a second strong candidate, with a similarly stunning résumé. Not only did we find two exemplary candidates, but to do so, we successfully engaged with leaders at the very highest levels of responsibility in important international organizations and governments.