Gary Burnison invested in executive search firm Korn/Ferry International during the tech boom earlier this decade, and shortly thereafter decided he wanted to be more than just a shareholder. The USC business graduate, then working at a consulting firm, loved the company’s culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. So Burnison reached out to the L.A. firm for a job and was hired as chief financial officer in 2002 – just in time to help direct a major downsizing prompted by Sept. 11 and the tech bust. Burnison survived that period and was promoted to chief executive in 2007 – but, once again, not long before the decade’s second crash prompted yet another downsizing. Burnison, 48, now oversees a company with 2,100 employees spread out in 90 offices worldwide. As might be expected, that keeps him busy traveling internationally, usually on red-eye flights. Burnison only spends about five or six workdays a month in Southern California, but he still finds time to relax on weekends with his wife and five children at their second home in Newport Beach, what he calls a sanctuary. The Business Journal sat down with Burnison in his Century City office, which is outfitted with an executive office putter, to talk about growing up in McPherson, Kan.; his whirlwind schedule; and the most challenging aspect of being an executive – laying off employees.

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