LIKE MANY OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL start-ups, 1998 alum Jamie Flaherty Cheney’s innovative search firm Prokanga was born from a place of personal experience. While on maternity leave, Cheney asked herself the question frequently pondered by working moms: Can you care for your child and also hang on to the career that you’ve invested so much in? This conundrum was very real for Cheney—in addition to being a mother to three boys, she is an accomplished strategic business leader with a Harvard MBA and 10 years of experience at top agencies.
As Cheney thought about this, a powerful vision began to take hold. After her third son was born in 2013, she left the agency world to bring her ideas to life with the launch of Prokanga, a search firm blending access to traditional and flexible workforces.
To Cheney, the concept was simple. There are legions of highly skilled women from top-tier schools who have worked their way up the corporate ladder and want to stay engaged professionally while actively raising young children. There is also a growing dearth of high-level talent in the market, particularly at the relatively affordable levels that many young companies need. Matching these two groups, Cheney explains, is what Prokanga does, and does well.
A great example is an emerging hedge fund manager who has a set budget that they plan to use to hire a junior investor relations professional, she says. When this client is presented the option to hire an experienced IR director with active contacts on a flexible schedule at the same compensation level, the solution becomes obvious. She adds, “Large cities like New York and San Francisco are teeming with sophisticated new businesses in the financial and consumer service industries. These businesses need highly skilled professionals who can hit the ground running and require minimal oversight.”
“Our clients are those who care about quality over quantity—they come to us with a fixed budget and ask how they can get the best resource within that budget. Our unique access to both the traditional and flexible workforces means that we are positioned to strategically answer that question in a way that no one else in the market can,” Cheney explains. “Clients see us as a cost-effective way to grow their business and ultimately their earnings.”
Prokanga’s distinctive approach to talent recruitment has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, and Daily Worth, among others. The company was selected to be the founding network partner for Harvard Business School’s efforts to create career flexibility for their alumni through the HBS High Impact Talent Program.
Cheney spent the first few years spearheading Prokanga singlehandedly while the firm’s business grew at a rapid pace. In 2016, she brought on her now-partner, Lesley Finer, another ambitious young mother and a professional with over a decade of recruiting experience in the alternative asset management space. Together, Cheney and Finer led Prokanga to become what it is today: a highly selective recruiting firm with clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, and a business that generates over $1 million in revenue annually.
With the company’s growth and forward momentum, Cheney and Finer—who, true to their company’s mission, currently employ consultants to support them— anticipate a third leadership hire this fall to oversee their business development. In terms of specific practice areas, they hope that 2019 will be driven by continued growth in their C-suite practice (on the full-time side) and independent director placements (on the consulting side).
Regarding balance in her own career, Cheney has found the flexibility that she craved. While her load is far from light, she’s able to work between Manhattan and Rhinebeck, New York, where her family owns a small beef cattle farm—all while parenting three young boys.
“I have to give my husband credit for the name Prokanga,” Cheney admits. “It was a late-night brainstorming session at our kitchen table, and he came up with Professional Kangaroo—aka, a mom who is getting it all done with a baby along for the ride. And that’s the essence of Prokanga.”
—Carola Lovering ’07