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Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry. Under his leadership, Korn Ferry has been transformed into a global organizational consulting firm with nearly 9,000 colleagues. Burnison is the author of seven leadership and career development books, including a New York Times bestseller.


  • In his early days as a CEO, a member of Gary’s board who was mentoring him, looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t just want you to be successful—I am going to ensure that you are successful.” Gary was moved by words. Looking back now, he sees that moment as a gift of grace.
  • How he built a career from an entry-level worker to the CEO of a 9,000 person company:
    • Humility and hustle drive careers forward
    • To learn, you must be humble and self-aware.
  • Hiring decisions:
    • “I higher for hunger over pedigree.”
  • The Five Graces of Leadership:
    • Gratitude―the attitude that elevates our spirits, boosts morale, and lifts our hearts
    • Resilience―the quality that allows us to achieve beyond our wildest dreams
    • Aspiration―the knowledge that we can make tomorrow better than today
    • Courage―the ability to understand and move beyond our fears
    • Empathy―the understanding needed to connect with others from their perspectives
  • The most impactful leaders have four key skills:
    • Adaptability: Being comfortable with unanticipated changes and diverse situations; being able to adjust to constraints and rebound from adversity.
    • Curiosity: Approaching problems in novel ways; seeing patterns and understanding how to synthesize complex information; having the desire to achieve a deep understanding of things.
    • Detail-oriented: Having the ability to systematically carry out tasks as assigned, with an understanding of the procedures and the importance of exactitude.
    • Tolerance of ambiguity: Being comfortable with uncertainty and willing to make decisions and plans in the face of incomplete information
  • “In today’s world, leadership is all about establishing community and connectivity so everyone can be part of something bigger than themselves.”
    • “To have the grace to create this kind of leadership, we need greater self-awareness and genuine connection to others – particularly in this hybrid work environment where connections are increasingly more challenging to come by.”
  • The #1 predictor of a candidate being effective?
    • Learning agility
      • “Humility is key for lifelong learning.”
  • Gary wrote a book called, “Lose The Resume, Land The Job.” – Target the opportunity you want. Work to earn a warm introduction.
  • A day in the life as the CEO of Korn Ferry:
    • “You suddenly stop being a person and you start being a function.”
    • “Leadership is about inspiring others to believe.”
  • How he earned the role of CEO:
    • Continuity helped (he was already working at the company)
    • Vision, purpose, “the why,” and the 4 or 5 parts of the strategy laid out moving forward
  • When you’re going for a VP role:
    • Make sure it is a fit for you
    • You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you
    • Have purpose and passion for the role
  • Why Gary writes so much:
    • “It’s therapeutic for me.”
    • He likes to write with others to learn from them and gain clarity. “I like to get their point of view and listen to them.”
  • How he’s built confidence:
    • It comes from life experiences.
      • When Gary was 11 years old, he lived in the middle of Kansas. The moving vans showed up and took their furniture away. His family went bankrupt. In times of crisis, it’s critical for the leader to step up.

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