Donald A. Lee

Executive Search

We are a Silicon Valley boutique C level search firm specializing in CEO, CFO, CIO, Chief Talent Officer and VP of Marketing and Sales positions.

Clients are always the company that is seeking leadership.

Donald A. Lee has lived in Silicon Valley for over 40 years.  Don first applied his technical abilities at National Semiconductor in manufacturing engineering.  With a public computer peripherals company, Don had responsibilities for international sales, product management and divisional P&L.  When this company was acquired, Don began an entrepreneurial career.

Don has founded or been an early stage investor in companies that include the Internet of Things, e-commerce, SaaS, enterprise software, computer hardware, semiconductors and life sciences.

In 1992, Don became VP of a technology focused executive search firm.  By 1996 a continuing entrepreneurial spirit fostered the formation of Donald A. Lee Executive Search.

Through involvement with many start-ups, Don has invested in a variety of companies, many through the Band of Angels.  He currently serves on the board of several start-ups.

Active involvement in the community is important to Don.  He has served on the boards for the East Palo Alto YMCA, Portola Valley Schools Foundation and other organizations.  Don is currently on the board of the YMCA of Silicon Valley.


Competitive Advantages

The Right Tools for the Job

Everyone has a database.  Our in-house database of contacts is well over 15,000 strong which helps provide a wide net of sources developed over decades.  We do not rely on our proprietary in-house information as a primary source for candidates, however.  The market is too dynamic.

LinkedIn and other subscription based tools are a big help in identifying candidates, but they do not select or close the top candidates.

Our advantage is the experienced judgment exercised in the process of candidate generation and selection.  Supplemented by connections in our own network, we can get quick feedback on most candidates which keeps the process moving.

The Right Attitude for the Job

Don is a thoughtful competitor.  He is driven to succeed for clients.

Over twenty years ago, Don figured out that executive search was just the right fit for him.  It is a consultative trade that is absolutely results oriented.  With his dedication to detail and goal achievement works to your advantage.

The Right SKILLS for the Job

Creativity:  You have to have creativity to get the best results in search.  Merely finding the square peg to fit the square hole might fulfill the requirements on paper, but might not recruit the candidate with the highest potential.  Companies that seek transformative results need search that can deliver exceptional talent, not just talent from exactly the same industry with exactly the same functional experience.   

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The Search Process

Position Definition

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  If you don’t have a clear definition of the position and the underlying expectations, you are unlikely to have a successful search.  We take the time and apply decades of experience across industries and functions to get this right from the beginning.


The landscape has changed for research.  Today we deploy sophisticated subscription data base tools to identify industries, companies and candidates who should be proactively considered.

Candidate Generation

This part of search has been augmented by LinkedIn and other social media.  Whether through targeted outreach or active sourcing, reaching the right candidates with today’s tools generates a broader candidate pool than ever before.

Sometimes the initial candidate pool can number in the hundreds and become overwhelming if it is not well-managed.  Narrowing the pool is serious work requiring sound judgment and a real understanding of the client.

Candidate Presentation

The first phase of candidate review is via spreadsheet with summary background information and comments about potential fit and any issues that have surfaced by initial contact: relocation for instance. 

Final Candidate Selection

As the spreadsheet is updated and candidates prioritized, high potential candidates are interviewed in person by Don.  The client’s final candidates are selected review of a formal summary and sometimes a phone interview.

In person interviews with the client team lead to the selection of the final candidate.


This part of the process is non-trivial.  During this critical time, counteroffers may occur or other obstacles may arise.  We work closely with you and the final candidate to keep things on track.

Don is the intermediary dealing with offer terms to keep the client/candidate relationship focused on the positive.

Case Studies


Client:  ACT, the several hundred million dollar, 54 year old company known for educational testing.

Challenge:  The new CEO had a vision of the company focused on information and complete product offerings for the K-Career market worldwide.  The culture of the company lacked employee empowerment and had no strategic plan.  The headquarter location in Iowa City, Iowa was considered to be a major impediment to recruiting diverse and high level talent.

Solution:  Don knew the CEO from his prior work with him, so “got” his vision right away.  Don's broad-based business experience provided context to understand the complex, interwoven issues facing ACT.

Transforming a company is based on changing a culture.  Changing a culture requires the right team.  This is where we came in.

The CEO cleared the field of many legacy staff and made way for new hires.  A number of new positions were created to facilitate the transformation.

We recruited:

  • Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer (new position)
  • Chief Operating Officer (new position, later revised)
  • Chief Talent Officer (new position)
  • Chief Innovation Officer (new position)
  • Vice President of International Programs (new position)
  • Chief Information Officer (completely redefined role)

This group, recruited from both coasts and the Midwest, brought a new level of experience, perspective and talents to ACT.  Diversity of thought and background was greatly enhanced with experience that included Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Sun Microsystems, Fraunhofer, Humana, McKinsey & Company, Siemens and Citigroup.

Through the insights gained working with ACT, Don was able to facilitate a strategy session that helped clarify key elements of a going forward strategy that is enabling the strategic goals for the transformed ACT.

ACT is now the leading educational testing company and is well on its way to becoming an information company with worldwide reach.


Client:  Mercury Interactive, a near $1B leading supplier of enterprise software for corporate governance.  Acquired by HP.

Challenge:  The company was one of the first to face challenges related to options grant pricing.  The CEO, CFO and Corporate Counsel were terminated and the stock was de-listed.  A new team was necessary to instill a new level of governance for ongoing business while retaining staff and not hindering new revenue.  At the same time, a restatement of 10 years of revenue was required before stock re-listing could occur. 

Solution:  Don quickly understood the challenges faced by the company.  Don's relationships with boards, CEO’s, CFO’s and public accounting firms provided a strong foundation to understand what was needed. 

The company moved a senior executive into the CFO role and we recruited:

  • Chief Accounting Officer to lead a $70M restatement effort. 
  • Chief Information Officer to bring new systems and capability to the company.
  • Worldwide Controller, Professional Services.
  • Vice President of Business Operations to oversee finance operations.
  • Senior Vice President of Global Services to enhance and diversify the revenue stream .

The work of the new team powered through the restatement, re-listed the stock, reported outstanding financial results and was quickly acquired by HP.

Delivering Results with Speed

Client:  A Public Company

Challenge:  The CFO departs unexpectedly.

Solution:  Recruit a CFO ASAP.

Don was recommended by a board member for a public company CFO search.  It was 30 days before an earnings call.  The CEO explained the situation to Don and we signed an engagement letter that day.  Utilizing his long term Silicon Valley ties, Don surfaced a number of well-qualified candidates who could become available on short notice.  A final candidate was selected, interviewed, and a compensation package negotiated rapidly in part because the search had the full attention of the CEO and the board.

The company later sold at a high multiple to its past value.

A similar situation occurred with another public company.  In this case Don won a bet with the CEO that he could finish the search within 30 days.

Client:  LiveHive

Challenge:  Recruit the first VP of Marketing without delay.

Solution:  Don understood the need and the market.  Don utilized social media and other channels and sources to quickly surface a variety of candidates, gaining “hottest opportunity” notoriety on LinkedIn.

With a very responsive CEO and Board Chair, several candidates were interviewed.  A rapid choice was made and an offer was accepted in 45 days.

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Career Consulting

Don has a limited practice for C level executives who are in transition.  The goal of this practice is to bring focus and to develop a specific Career Action Plan that gets results. 

Being proactive in identifying career objectives and opportunities is the foundation of any successful plan.  Most executives default to a reactive approach, responding to positions on offer and to suggestions from their contacts.  Having a well-defined, executable set of objectives based on essentially reverse engineering the executive search process yields targeted career opportunities.



Cobra's & Beyond

Don has owned numerous Cobras including "The Winningest" Cobra that Don campaigned in vintage car races for 10 years. 

Don driving the National Championship 427 Cobra (#19) at Laguna Seca Raceway in 2012:  Monterey Historics Video

Don driving the "Winningest" Cobra (#89) at the Sonoma Wine Country Classics in 2004:  Sonoma WCC Video

Keeping kids safe while driving

Not all of our friends survived driving as teenagers.  These days there are countless distractions for today’s new drivers:  Texting, cell phones, iPods, navigation systems, sub-woofer levels, friend and peer distractions, fast food, unfamiliar vehicles and lots of traffic.  

It is easy to get into a life-threatening situation as a new driver.  It takes training or a lot of luck to survive.  New drivers do not have experience in testing the limits of car control in an emergency, use of ABS brakes, getting out of skids or learning how to recognize accidents before they happen.

I initiated and organized a full day young drivers program at a race track for all juniors at my daughter’s high school in 2001.  It is still in full swing. 

Here’s what I suggest for training:  Go with your kid to a “Street Survival” type of one day school.  Racing schools are great, but in my opinion they should follow lessons learned on how to master car control on the street.  There are a number of opportunities:

  • BMW Car Club - Local chapters put on excellent programs at a very modest price using your car:
  • The Simraceway Performance Driving Center at Sonoma Raceway:
  • Skip Barber Driving School:
  • Bob Bondurant (one of my favorite all time drivers) School of High Performance Driving:

YMCA of Silicon Valley

In the late 1980's and early 1990's Don became involved with the YMCA in Santa Clara Valley.  He was a member of the Board of Directors for several years and became Vice Chairman, head of the annual fundraising efforts, and Volunteer of the Year.

As the search business became located in San Mateo County and Don met dedicated volunteers in East Palo Alto, Don became re-involved with the "Y" in East Palo Alto.  He has served as Board Chair and has been responsible for annual fundraising efforts.  In a $17M+ project, a LEED Gold certified branch was constructed in partnership with the City of East Palo Alto.  A $4M endowment has been funded.

Don currently serves as a board member of the $70M budget YMCA of Silicon Valley. 

For more information, go to:


For someone raised in Texas, barbeque is something that you are supposed to know via DNA.  Don has been endeavoring to shore up his knowledge over the years to meet the expectations of friends in California.  This quest has resulted in a lot of experimentation and some attempts to learn from the pros. 

Feel free to download and enjoy my cookbook, a compilation of recipes from several BBQ University get-togethers and pictures of some of the more infamous joints visited in and around Austin:  Don Lee's BBQ U. Cookbook



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