Cindy Hilsheimer was at a crossroads. After graduating from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business in 1979, she worked in a variety of financial leadership positions. But upon the birth of her third child, Jon Michael, Hilsheimer questioned whether she’d return to the workforce. But colleagues requested she “take on a project or two,” such as finding a controller or a CFO.

“So I started to organize information, build a database and ultimately unveil—carefully and slowly—this practice,” she says. Today, SC Search Consultants, an executive search firm, has grown to 20 employees and placed more than 600 people while maintaining consistent growth and profitability, Hilsheimer says.

The firm, founded in 1999, works with a range of employers, from closely held businesses to global, publicly traded organizations as well as nonprofits and higher education. About half are based in Central Ohio. Candidate searches can span the globe and employ a research team, an exhaustive database and a trusted network of professionals.

SC’s notable matches include identifying and placing Michael Dalby as president and CEO of the Columbus Chamber as well as CFO Rob McNutt and several directors for Greif.

In addition to her role as managing principal at the firm, Hilsheimer, 54, serves on the boards of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and its foundation, OCLC, the James Foundation, Pelotonia, the New Albany Community Foundation, A Kid Again, and Women & Philanthropy at Ohio State University.

What’s the best part of your job? “We’re impacting lives. We’re impacting lives within an organization. We’re impacting lives within families by moving people to different places. We’re impacting children who might embrace a new neighborhood or school, and we take real ownership of the situation.”

What’s your biggest challenge? “The only thing I might get frustrated by is not having enough time. The days end too quickly. There’s only seven,” she says. “I really wish there was longer days and more time.”

How do you maintain a work-life balance? In addition to Jon Michael, now 18, Cindy and Larry Hilsheimer (president and COO of Nationwide Direct & Customer Solutions) are parents to Lauren, 27, an engineer and attorney, and Kristina, 25, an engineer and health-care consultant.

Hilsheimer says her ideal is a “perfect blend of work, life, family and community. … There would be no idle time, they would all benefit each other, and they would also engage the people around me.”

What strengths do women bring to the workplace? “I would typically not differentiate males from females as it relates to strengths,” she says. “I think all individuals, based on who they are, might have any of the strengths out there.”

Who or what has been your biggest inspiration? Hilsheimer names her parents, who “instilled a work ethic and, really, the care and concern for other people”; her children, who “are always striving for excellence in a way that I admire”; as well as Ohioans Jesse Owens and John and Annie Glenn.

What are your goals for the next five years? Beyond a planned fall name change for her firm, Hilsheimer is a believer in flexibility. “Success happens over time, and often, if you’re rigidly following specific goals, you’ll miss opportunities that are standing right in front of you,” she says.

How can employers ensure that more women achieve high-ranking positions? Hilsheimer says she likes employers to be “reasonably flexible and trust people to perform their work regardless of, maybe, the hour of the day that it’s performed within. … Let them go about their work in a way that they can manage their day, and frankly, you’ll see higher productivity and you’ll see people ascend with pride and take ownership in what they’re doing.”

Michelle Davey is an editorial assistant and Jennifer Wray is a staff writer for Columbus C.E.O.

Reprinted from the May 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.