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Home Business Judy Wald, Headhunter in the ‘Mad Men’ Era, Dies at 96

Judy Wald, Headhunter in the ‘Mad Men’ Era, Dies at 96

She also upended the recruiting industry’s business model by charging the agencies, not the job-seekers, for her fees — a commission model that became the industry norm. Because she represented the most sought-after talent, they paid. She loved to tell the tale of how she had once collected a fee for moving an executive from one job to another within the same agency.

“I wasn’t about to give any freebies,” she told New York magazine.

Judith Wald was born on Aug. 21, 1924, in Manhattan to Albert and Rose (Fischel) Wald. Her father was a lawyer and briefly a New York State senator; her mother was a homemaker. Her younger brother, Niel, died in 2015.

Ms. Wald graduated from Syracuse University in 1945 with a degree in psychology and then worked an assortment of jobs, including as an advertising copywriter. But selling people, not products, was what she loved most, and she worked her way through several personnel agencies before striking out on her own, renting a small office on the strength of a $2,000 bank loan.

At first, her business bombed. “I got turned down daily,” she wrote in notes for an unpublished memoir that were provided by family. “My money and morale were about to run out.”

The tide turned when the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising shop hired her to find a new creative director. The agency was overwhelmed with portfolios from applicants, an executive told her, and would rather pay her to vet candidates than do the work itself.

“Once it became known that the hottest shop in town paid for our service, all the other agencies got on the bandwagon,” Ms. Wald wrote. As well-known names flocked to her firm, she opened offices in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, Paris and other cities, fueling her rise to industry power broker for more than 30 years.

Colleagues remember her round-the-clock devotion to her job. She’d do “five breakfasts and four lunches and then go out for dinner,” said Corynne Shaw, a longtime employee. “She’d have me call 10 people on the phone and put them all on hold — that’s how she did it. She didn’t care how long they held. And they didn’t care, either, because they knew ultimately they’d get to talk to Judy Wald.”

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