010: How Rod McDermott Got Out of the Way to Help Scale His Recruitment Firm

What key moves led to McDermott + Bull’s accelerated growth and stellar reputation in staffing?

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I try to remind myself: people learn more from failure than they do from success. So, if you allow your people to fail, they'll learn from it.

Show Notes:

  • That one guy who knew he wanted to be a staffing executive (3:04)

  • McDermott + Bull’s ideal client (4:42)

  • What is Project Activate? (5:18)

  • The lessons learned in recessions (9:02)

  • Organic growth versus investment (12:36)

  • M + B’s approach to acquisitions (14:25)

  • Lean Sigma Six Training (15:08)

  • What would Rod do differently? (17:50)

  • On the importance of not running a desk (20:22)

  • The surprising method Rod uses to create company culture and hiring the right person (21:39)

  • How to retain talent? (24:12)

  • How to find talent (26:21)

  • How will M + B reach it’s goal of $50M? (28:58)

  • Does growth come from marketing or branding? (31:17)

  • The important lesson Rod learned from a partner before his death (36:14)

  • The value of philanthropy (38:11)

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, head over to The Journey Up and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript


David Alonso  0:12 

Hey everybody, this is David Alonso and welcome to another episode of the journey up podcast where we explore business success stories and lessons learned from the very best CEOs in the recruitment industry. On this 10th episode, the journey up I met with Rod McDermot, who is the CEO and co founder of McDermott & Bull executive search. This staffing firm has over 50 employees globally, and was recently recognized on the Forbes list of the best recruiters in executive search for 2019. Rod has so much passion for recruitment, business and charity and it was absolutely inspiring being able to talk to him. I got the chance to meet with Rod in his office in Irvine [California] was just a short trip up from San Diego. And whilst I was there, I really got to understand why they are so successful. On this episode we discuss hiring process, growing organically, company branding, lead development and so much more. I'm excited for you to hear this podcast. So without further ado, let's hear from Rod.


David Alonso  1:12 

Okay, I'm at the office today of McDermott & Bull with the CEO and co founder. Rod, Pleased to meet you. Thank you for allowing me to come to your office for that.


Rod McDermott  1:23 

Yeah. Thanks for joining us, David.


David Alonso  1:25 

It is a great office. How long you been here for?


Rod McDermott  1:27 

God? You know, that's funny. I don't know. We've been in business almost 19 years, we were down the street for between three and four years. But as I've gotten older, I cannot gauge time anymore so that ...it's somewhere between 13 and 15 years. I have no idea. We just re upped our lease. We took on  50% more space, because we've been growing. And so we're here for a long time.


David Alonso  1:47 

Good. And for those who are listening don't know we're in Irvine, California. Is that where you always been based?


Rod McDermott  1:52 

Yeah. So when we founded the firm, we literally were down the street in an office ad we'd still be there today, but they during our leasing negotiations they weren't that great. And they didn't think we're going to leave. And so we looked down the street and it was the easiest move we've ever done. Literally, it was a midnight move, pack the stuff on on some dollies and we took it down the street. No trucks.


David Alonso  2:12 

Yeah, yeah. And you alluded that you've been doing this for a while. So tell me how long you been here for what is your journey up, so to speak, to get to where you are today. Tell me about it.


Rod McDermott  2:20 

Yeah. So I've been executive search for over 20 years. We founded McDermott & Bull. It'll be 19 years in January. I worked for a national firm based out of Chicago. I was in the Irvine office. And right around the the tech wreck, we decided we were going to leave, my partner Chris Bull, when he was over at the other firm as well. We were being recruited by a couple of big firms, Korn Ferry being the biggest and the one we probably got closest to. And then over Christmas of 2000, we said, hey, maybe there's another opportunity and that was maybe starting our own thing. So we decided to leave our old firm and then start our own thing, which we did in January '01.


David Alonso  2:53 

And what did you study at university? Was recruitment always your dream? Or was there a different...


Rod McDermott  2:58 

Was it anybody's dream?


David Alonso  3:00 

Next staffing person as well, it wasn't my dream, but it all works out in the end, right?


Rod McDermott  3:04 

Yeah, I know. I don't think any actually that's not true. There's one person who works for us that actually was thinking about recruiting from the age of 16. The true story, the only person... I'll tell you the story really quick, just because it's interesting. I said, How the heck did you think of this? Nobody ever thought of this business. And he says, one day I'm dropped off in front of my high school, I'm up on the steps and I see a friend of mine, get out of a Bentley. And he comes up and I said, whose car is that and he goes, that's my dad's. I ask, What does your dad do? He goes, he's an executive search consultant. And the light bulb goes off. And this kid says, I'm going to be an executive search. I'll swear to God, from 16.


David Alonso  3:36 

 Never heard that.


Rod McDermott  3:36 

Yeah. And his father is a big biller. He was the biggest at Korn Ferry and now has his own firm, quite large global. But yeah, it's an interesting story. So for me, I came out of UCLA was an econ business major and went to New York worked for Citibank in the city for a while and then they asked me go to Texas for a couple of years, which I did then want to get back to LA and they didn't want to lose me in Texas. So I was playing a little internal politics. I had a job with the LA guy, which was a promotion. And my boss in Houston said, No, I need you for another year. I think I was 23, almost 24 at the time and a year was a lifetime. Yeah. And so I ended up getting a job with a bank based in LA that was the fifth largest bank in the country at the time since acquired, back in 1991, by Bank of America. So I did that for a while. And then I left banking '91 and started starting businesses. I got into recruitment, executive search in 1999. So I had a couple of businesses in between and the job I had right before getting in this was a VP of Sales and Marketing for computer security company.


David Alonso  4:37 

So tell us about the actual types of clients you deal with the type of work you actually do.


Rod McDermott  4:42 

Yeah, so our firm is pretty diverse. We call it multi specialty firm. So I do a lot of work in aviation and aerospace partners that do work with private equity companies, consumer products, technology, healthcare, Life Sciences, nonprofit, we actually hired a partner in New York. Just recently, who does a lot of work in the nonprofit space. So we're kind of in just about every sector out there, we don't do really any government work we do a little bit, but not much. We don't really chase it down. But we're in just about every sector.


David Alonso  5:12 

And I can see you've got a couple of logos on the wall here, you've got your M+B logo and your Project Activate, so tell me a little bit about this one?


Rod McDermott  5:18 

 Sure. Sure. So one of the things I like to do is start companies. And so at McDermott & Bull, we started our search from 19 years ago, we started MB interim leaders about seven or eight years ago. And that's a business where we take folks that have come to us through our executive network primarily, okay, we've had an executive network for 18 years with over 10,000 senior executives in it. And some of these people said, Hey, I want to consult or I'd be open to consult or maybe I'm looking for my next job. But if there's an opportunity to go out and stay engaged and make some money, I'll do it. So we started that business coming out of the last recession when a lot of companies had need but didn't necessarily want to get married. You know, we call it rent a Ferrari without buying a Ferrari. We started that business that's been quite successful. It's growing very rapidly. Fastest growing segment our business today. And then Project Activate we just started this year. And it's really, it's a different business altogether. But it's about taking what we've learned over 20 years of, you know, seeing people run their own job search, helping them through the executive network, at least at the executive level, run a job search, and then taking it to non executive folks. So we're actually our first market that we're going after, what we call fresh outs, kids that are just coming out of college to maybe they've come they came out three years ago. So kind of that was fantastic. I'm about to graduate to I graduated in the last three years. And what we find is there's a lot of folks not mean, necessarily, I mean, I knew I knew what I wanted to do. My senior year, I went back to New York and started interviewing with banks in January of my senior year. Well, I had second interviews in February, and I took a job in February. And there's a lot of kids out there like that. And then there's some that either don't know what they want to do when they graduate or they don't know how to get it. And so Project Activate is about teaching them how to identify your vision then once you identify maybe one two or three things that you'd be okay doing that would be kind of on track to your dream, building a plan around how to attack that how to get there. Who are the potential companies I should work for? Who are the people within those companies I should reach out to? Because a lot of these kids, they're just applying for jobs on the internet. And everyone I talked to says, Yeah, I've sent out 100 resumes


David Alonso  7:19 

Oh, no real thought about what they're applying for either.


Rod McDermott  7:21 

Yeah, they don't know what they're applying for. And they don't know who they're applying to. And they're one of 1000 coming over the internet to these companies that never call them. I can't tell you how many stories I've heard from kids saying, I've sent over 100 resumes. I haven't gotten a single response, nothing. And so it happens a lot. And then the last piece is this accountability piece, which, you know, we need to keep them on track. You know, I always say job searches like sales, but you're selling yourself short, which is the hardest product in the world to sell. I have a benefit because I've been selling myself for over 20 years.


Rod McDermott  7:53 

But a lot of people can't do it.  So we're teaching people how to do that. You know, the Career Centers are great at the universities because they show kids what can be possible and they represent some companies that want to come on campus. But there's a lot of kids that aren't there yet. And they need more one on one. So Project Activate is a two day workshop, 16 hours and followed by some one on one coaching and mentorship, kind of throughout their job search process. So it's, it's more intensive, and more I would call it hand holding for people that need it. And we call it filling the gap. Bridging the gap between college and career.


David Alonso  8:26 

It's fantastic.


Rod McDermott  8:27 

Yeah, it's a it's a passion.


David Alonso  8:28 

Yes, real buck. And I can feel it's great to actually be opposite you here to see your passion sort of shining through here.


Rod McDermott  8:34 

Yeah, Maddie and I are working on that. And and we'd like to say we're going to change the world now.


David Alonso  8:40 

When you mentioned before about the recession, obviously you've gone through pretty big one, you know, last time around. There's a lot of talk, as we know, and I'm sure that's going to happen in the near future and so forth. Was there any dealings in the last time that you can kind of apply to make sure you're not hit as hard? I'm presuming like everyone else, you were hit hard. Oh, I know. I was unfortunate lost myself in business back then. So yeah. very aware of that sort of period and maybe some things to do or not to, from, you know, from the lessons learned really.


Rod McDermott  9:07 

So I do have a few call me after the recession and asked me how they worked out couple of my ideas. But, you know, if I, if I go back to the first recession I was in, in this industry was the tech bubble bursting back in 2001. And that was not a broad based recession. If you look back in history, we've only had ever had to massively broad based recessions, the Great Depression and the Great Recession, where it affected every industry. And basically, if you go back, if you go back to, you know, the early 90s, it was aerospace and real estate, if you go back into the 80s, you know, it was energy, a lot of oil and gas.


Rod McDermott  9:45 

I was in Houston in the mid 80s. And it was a depression in Houston. If you were in the oil and gas business. It's funny, it's a recession to everybody else. But if you're in that business, it's a depression, depression. Yeah, I mean, you'll have 30-40% unemployment in an industry. This last recession was like that in that it affected so many things. So my hope is that in our lifetimes, we never experienced anything like that again, but I do know will experience recessions. And generally if you look at recessions, you can figure out what areas what sectors might be affected.


Rod McDermott  10:14 

So let's go back. I was doing a lot of work in the tech space, back in 1999, 2000, 2001, when the recession hit, and we followed it all the way down. You know, it was, remember b2c companies first, it was b2c that was big deal, then it was b2b. And so we shifted, you know, from and then we went to more of the the macro providers of technology. So the networking companies, the folks that were doing connectivity, things like that, we literally followed it all the way down to the chip level companies that were building chips. Ultimately, the entire supply chain got affected... if we're not starting new venture backed companies.


Rod McDermott  10:48 

I'll give you this example. I had clients that were gateway and Toshiba, and then I had clients that were startup tech companies, the startup tech companies would recruit somebody else who would, not me, I wouldn't recruit from my clients but would recruit people from Toshiba Gateway. So human gate would call me and say, Hey, we just lost five people in this one department, we need to go re staff it. So yeah, startup tech companies that would hire us to do search or somebody to do search. Yeah, these guys that would hire us to replace the people that they lost. All the while these venture backed companies are raising all kinds of money. And they're buying Cisco switches and they're buying. Lenovo, IBM, I was gonna say back then it was IBM, but they're buying IBM laptops and HP laptops and Dell and doing all that. So you've got this huge supply chain that's supporting this and then all sudden the IPO market, it peaked right. The stock market NASDAQ peaked in March of 2000.


Rod McDermott  11:38 

And then it started going down. And the IPO market went away. So all these venture capital firms had no exits. So what they started doing is they started not investing, because they needed to keep the money that they had left for the companies they'd already invested in. Because the IPO market it sounds a lot like today. It sounds a lot like it really and I was talking to a couple of money manager friends of mine I said this reminds me '99, 2000 they said oh yeah and with what happened a couple weeks ago with we work they said you know, there's always something that might trigger trigger something that might be it. Yeah, we don't know. And so if the IPO market and you saw peloton went out last week and then went down, yeah, you know, and it's a real company, no earnings, but that was what was happening in 99 2000. You remember important companies like Pets.com, right and toys.com toys com went out. They could have bought Toys R Us the next day.


David Alonso  12:27 

Yeah, similar things in England.


Rod McDermott  12:29 

So it's crazy.


David Alonso  12:30 

Your view on like organic growth versus investment. Is this all funded yourself? Or?


Rod McDermott  12:36 

Yeah. So we have not raised a penny of investment capital. It's just it's more of a philosophy. There's actually a few companies that have raised private equity in the executive search space. Private equity firms and we do a lot of work with them and they're great firms, but they have an exit strategy. You know, I'm an investor in a fund and as a limited partner, I want to see my money back. Plus, you know, income So I don't want to let it ride. We don't have any plans to ever sell our business, we're growing. We want to bring more people into our company continue to grow the business, if anything, we have plans to maybe start creating some liquidity for some of the senior folks and actually bring in the employees as a shareholder. So that's part of our plan.


David Alonso  13:20 

Yeah. And I'm walking in, I walked into the office today is very vibrant. I can see training going on, I can see great self and a lot of people on the phones, it seems it feels like a great place to work. Where are we at now as a business? Where are you at revenue wise or employee wise? Where is the company currently sitting at?


Rod McDermott  13:34 

Yeah, last year, we did in the US we did a little over 16 million. This year, we'll probably get closer to 20 million in the US. We've been expanding internationally as well. So in Europe, we're out of Amsterdam, that business we bought two and a half years ago with our partners over there, to the top builders at the firm partnered with us to buy it and that business will do about two and a half times what it did when we bought it. Same thing in Canada. We partnered with somebody in Canada who's 20 Your search veteran and rather than work for a firm that was kind of resource constrained, we said, Hey, how about set up a McDermott & Bull Canada do with us. And so we're partnering, we're moving into a space literally today that we took down that'll house 15 people. And it's a little nerve wracking because we only have, we only have five, hopefully, six and another week. So we have a lot of work to do.


David Alonso  14:22 

Do you see acquisitions as a way for you to sort of grow?


Rod McDermott  14:25 

Yeah, you know, we haven't, we haven't really done that we've acquired what I call single single, so a couple of individuals who had their own companies, we've acquired them to come on board, but I don't know, you know, I think there's so much that goes into culture fit and how you do what you do, right. So we do it a little differently than a lot of firms. You know, we found from our clients, our clients love the quality of the work that they get from us and other retain firms, but they wanted to go faster. And so we went took our entire company through Lean Six Sigma training a year ago, so that we can move faster and not take short cuts. We would actually get the same work done, but get it done more efficiently and faster. And what it's done is it's reduced our time to fill significantly.


Rod McDermott  15:08 

I give an example, in my practice, before we went through Lean Six Sigma training, we started doing things where we, you know, we just made it a rule that if our recruiters or somebody that they really liked, we had 24 hours to accept that interview on our calendar, right? Prior to that, if I was busy, or I travel or something else going on, I might say, you know, I can't do that for three or four days. Now. It's 24 hours. And even if I'm traveling, I'll do a video interview with somebody. And so I can do a face to face from wherever I am, even in Europe can wherever 24 hours, if I like that candidate, I've got 24 hours to submit them to our client.


Rod McDermott  15:44 

So again, I'm not taking shortcuts. I'm doing all the same work I used to do. I'm just doing it faster is there, you know, when we kick off a search, one way that we can figure out if we're correctly targeted as we identify the first 25 names and reach out to them within the first 24 hours, you'll start to see a theme. The theme here is 24 hours. So all things when we when we kick off a search, and we write a spec for our client, we have one to one and a half days to get a draft back to the client. Because if we can do that it's still fresh in the clients mind go to be quick. Yeah, they haven't moved on to some something else. Yeah, but it historically, and even at my old firm, I mean, we would we thought we were fast. And we would do it within three to four days. the hiring manager is now on to something else. And maybe they're traveling and so now all of a sudden, it takes three or four days for them to get back to us. So now you don't have a spec you can use for a week and a half.


Rod McDermott  16:34 

In our model, we have a spec we can use usually within two or three days, and so we can start sending it. I'm interviewing candidates within we two. Were done submitting our slate to our client, usually within week four. So my practice before we kicked off Lean Six Sigma training to the whole company. We got our time to fill under 60 days, which is pretty phenomenal given the industry average industry average.


David Alonso  16:55 

Yeah. What is it?


Rod McDermott  16:55 

 It's around 120 days for the retain businesses. Yeah. So we were half so we We'd like to say to our clients, listen, you're going to pay the same but you're going to get your resource two months faster. That's 17% more of a year,


David Alonso  17:07 

I'm sure you're not missing the trick by not advertising that or promoting that stat to prospect clients.


Rod McDermott  17:12 

Oh yeah, we are doing that a lot.


David Alonso  17:15 

I can see how involved you are in the business and then I've obviously met with Angela your co founder not in person but I have spoken to her and that's great that you got those two senior people see you still active it doesn't look like you're retired to the golf course or anything like that at all. At what point...


Rod McDermott  17:29 

I'm not old enough. And my golf game isn't very good. Well I'm sure it is fun to play...


David Alonso  17:36 

There's lots of things you do in your spare time Yeah. But was there a kind of point in your growth to get where you are 16 million that you kind of wish if you took on that person earlier may have fueled the growth was there like a key higher that maybe you was a little bit reluctant? You know, looking back?


Rod McDermott  17:50 

Yeah, actually it was a couple of things I think it was it was not only key hires but it was also this is gonna sound weird, but  Angela was not a co founder of McDermott & Bull. She was a co founder of MB interim leader. OK, so the interim side so she's been with us 10 years started as a recruiter on McDermott & Bull. And then actually was my right hand person on a lot of the initiatives I was working on, including starting in the interim. So when we needed to get that going, we were trying to hire people, including a head of talent acquisition, which is her role. And we couldn't find anybody we liked better than her. And I said, would you do it? And she said, Yes. So that's kind of how we got that launch my partner, Chris Bowen. And when we founded the firm, we kind of divided all the stuff that needed to get done between the two of us. And we were pretty in there, we were in the weeds on a lot of stuff. One of the things that I've found over the last four or five years, if you hire really good people, and you get out of their way, and you let them do their jobs, they'll do amazing work. And you can actually scale your business. And I was talking to somebody recently, and I told him about the growth we've experienced over the last four or five years and he said, so you're an overnight success after almost 20 years.


David Alonso  18:56 

Sometimes it can feel that way.


Rod McDermott  18:57 

Yeah, and it's true because we The first you know, 13 or 14 years, we were so involved in everything I think we became the governor of the impediment to scale. And now, we've hired great people. We have people leading marketing. I'm pointing to Bianca, who's back there behind one of the cameras. We have people leading our recruiting effort. We have people leading search consultant recruiting and development. We used to do all that Chris and I did it all close. Yeah. But now we have other people doing it, and it's helped us on. So we're definitely out of the weeds. Now, we focus more on vision and where we're trying to take the company.


David Alonso  19:34 

How do people do that? Because I do podcast with many, many people and a lot of people still run the desk sometimes by preference. I also get the sense that they just can't make that next jump. Is it a personality trait? Is it business acumen what is what you know so much of the businesses 10 employees or under? How do you make the jump? What is it? Is it a combination of things, but doesn't it really boil down to the CEO at the end the day to make those business calls?


Rod McDermott  19:58 

Yeah, I think so. I mean, I look at they're so many companies that have been able to do it and we were stuck for a long time. I mean, getting to 10 million was a really, really big deal for us, right? And then it's okay, how do we get to 20? What do we do? And so it's been hard, I'll be candid with you, it's been really hard to not dive back in, I have to resist the urge to dive back in and either take over or put my spin on something.


Rod McDermott  20:22 

You know, one of the things I try to remind myself, people learn more from failure than they do from success. So if you allow your people to fail, they'll learn from it. And they won't do it again. If you robbed them of that opportunity, because you jump in. Yeah, maybe you'll be the hero there. But you're also going to be the impediment to scale. Because one person can't build a $20 million company you need a team is able to do it in 20 million is not our vision, our vision is 50. And even then it's not our vision, it's 100. Let's keep growing and it's more than just the dollars. It's more about. We have a great firm that we consider family. I know most of the families so the people that work for us and We hire people from, you know, New York, Dallas Europe all over, I get together with them, we hang out, we break bread, and I want to meet spouses and other folks. And so we try to operate it like a family. So it's more about getting people in there like us that we're going to like working with.


David Alonso  21:17 

So yes, you have remote workers. Yeah, really? Yeah. And what about when you actually hiring people? What is the quality you look for? Because obviously, culture is a big deal for you. So two questions. What is culture for you guys? You know, I can sense that I can tell, by the way talk about family, but I think culture gets branded around quite a lot nowadays does Yeah. And how do you actually get that good culture, but what does it actually look for, for a key higher? What you're kind of top things you look for?


Rod McDermott  21:39 

So this is very unscientific, but if I meet somebody, if it's an hour meeting, and I want to get out of there and 45 minutes, I'm not gonna hire that person. I don't care how much they bill. Yeah, if it's an hour and I go over, which I'm prone to do, and my assistant hates me for that, because she backs my calendar up. Then I set up more times and these are people that I want to get to know.


Rod McDermott  22:00 

So for me it's it's more about a feeling of is this a person I want to spend two days in the car with in Dallas going to visit a lot of their prospects and customers and spending time with them and spending time with their family and we just hired a guy in Dallas. And before we pulled the trigger, I was on my way to a aviation show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and I'm a pilot, so I was flying myself and our team. So I said, Hey, listen, I need to stop for fuel on the way can't make it non stop to Oshkosh. So can we meet for lunch in Dallas and his daughter's in recruiting to bring your daughter bring your wife bring your daughter and so we all had lunch, and it was great. And I got to know the whole family. And so I kind of liked doing that. It's very unscientific, but I don't hire people without having them over for dinner to my house. I get my wife involved in a lot of it. She doesn't suffer from hope like I do. So you know, when I look at somebody and I want to bring them on, I'm like, Okay, this person could really help us in this market. We really badly need somebody in this space and they could be the answer to it and my wife steps back and she doesn't look at that. She's like this A good person or not? It goes. Yeah. And sometimes you say, Yeah, don't hire that person.


David Alonso  23:04 

So it sounds to me like you would definitely cut a big biller out if they were toxic in the office.


Rod McDermott  23:08 

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And we have Yeah, we have. Yeah, yeah, we had we had one point. This is going back to pre recession. We had our biggest biller who's actually good guy and a good friend, but was a glass breaker around the office and we had a talk with him one day and said, this is gonna sound really weird because you're our biggest biller, but we think you belong at one of the big firms. They don't mind that because you bill a lot, so they'll overlook that. We do. Yeah, we can't build the kind of company we want with you here. And when he left, something interesting happened. We saw a million and a half walk out the door and back in the early 2000s. That was a lot of money. And we didn't miss a beat everybody else that the air started circulating around the office get. Everybody else took deep breaths and they built their practices. So certain people suck all the air out of the room. And again, really good guy like him and I know he's different, but we need To make those changes for us to build the kind of company we wanted to build, and


David Alonso  24:04 

How do you retain them, and obviously paying well and so forth definitely seem to have the right environment to thrive. But how about progressing people? What does that look like?


Rod McDermott  24:12 

Yeah, so what we try to do is develop career paths for everybody at all levels of the company. You know, the the gal who's our controller now, who handles everything finance started as a researcher right out of college, and she kind of moved up into various different jobs and then took over and now she runs all finance and accounting for us. We have a number of stories like that. So we try to promote from within, it's the devil we know, I know, it's the antithesis to our business. But if we don't have the right resources in house, we'll go out and we'll bring the resource in. But we want to show career path. I think, for me, if I think of myself, I stagnate after two years. I need to change my job every two years, which is one of the reasons we've started all these companies. It keeps it keeps it fresh.


David Alonso  24:52 

For you, obviously very approachable CEO, you seem like a really nice guy and so forth. But I can imagine you can make some difficult decisions when you need to. what makes a good CEO be able to kind of make those, you know, decisions from being the nice guy to approach when you invite them around to your house for dinner and so forth. So how do you have that conversation where the kind of the boundaries of these guys,


Rod McDermott  25:09 

yeah, so I, you know, I kind of look at it as if we're, you know, let's say we're running a professional football team, we need to put players on the field that are going to help us win games, and ultimately win the Super Bowl. If we've got the wrong players on the field, or they have the wrong motivation, or they don't necessarily want to play on the team, they might be great people, but they're holding back the rest of the team. So we just have to look at it from that perspective. I try to do that, you know, even Obviously, I'm not going to fire my kids, but even with my kids, my wife and I talk about what's acceptable behavior around the house and you kind of have your norms and when your kids go outside of those norms, you know, you have to pull back the leash a little bit. We do that here with our people as well. So what is it we expect of you? If you're delivering that great, you'll move ahead, you'll make more money, you'll get raises, you'll get bonuses, if not, we need to either fix it put you in a role that you can succeed at and or movie out, because you're going to hurt us in our ability to win Super Bowls.


David Alonso  26:06 

Yeah. As far as finding talent, do you do anything different about reaching out finding people? Or is it the normal recruitment pool that's out there that everyone seems to be going through recruiter channel, you don't even definitely to try and find some, some real gems in the market and it's a drive the business forward,


Rod McDermott  26:21 

We've gone to what I would consider ancillary businesses where we can find people that work for maybe for profit universities, right. And so they're doing admissions right. It's kind of a sales job. They're talking to a whole bunch of people they're trying to trying to get them in to come and take a look at their product. We've had really good luck, our sales leader for our interim business, started as a recruiter here at McDermott & Bull, okay, she's matriculated all the way up. She's been with us not quite 10 years now. She came from one of those places. And so we were able to get her in, she didn't have any fear of the phone. She was able to qualify folks. And so it made her a good recruiter. And then from there, we continue develop her. So it's interesting. We've had some great success getting people that are experienced recruiters. And we've had some amazing failures. Yeah. So we try to open our minds to ancillary businesses that have taught people some of the skills and as long as we meet somebody that's got that core culture fit that we're looking for, right. There's somebody we want to hang out with. There's somebody we can build up and we can move ahead. We can teach them this.


David Alonso  28:36 

So we mentioned like employees to help fuel growth, right? That's obviously a big part of it. But how are you going to get to 30, 40, 50 million as you mentioned before, you know, obviously branding, etc. So what's the sort of vision of growth look like? What is the expansion plans? like can you kind of like, summarize all of that for me about how you're going to make this a $50 million business in no pressure?


Rod McDermott  28:58 

I was gonna ask you that. David, how are we going to do? Well, so we've made strategic decisions to be in certain markets. So obviously we're headed in Southern California, we do a ton of work down here. But we just opened up in New York and we also opened up in, in Dallas just recently. This is in the just our US markets. So we want to build out just like we're doing in in in Europe, in the Netherlands, we started with with two builders, and now we've got five and we continue to grow that we've got a total of eight people there. And then in Vancouver, we're doing the same thing. So here, we plan to grow out our Texas market, we plan to grow out our new york market. Each of those folks has an area of expertise that they brought to our firm and we're trying to fill in blanks around them. In some cases, they'll be leaders, they want that that opportunity to lead the office. In some cases they they might or might not want it and if they don't, that's okay. We can build as well. We can build around it but we want to build critical mass in certain markets. What does it look like to initially go off to a market like Texas though because you mentioned a below


David Alonso  30:00 

Right, and hopefully they've got business to bring that would be the ideal scenario. Is that always the case?


Rod McDermott  30:04 

Yeah, for the most part. Yeah. I mean, we've actually grown our own. But what we find is, it's harder to grow your own outside of Southern California for us. So given that this is our head office that a lot of our top partners are here, people can learn from them. So we've brought in folks, you know, if you look at me as an example, or Chris Bull, we didn't come from this industry, we had to learn it random being the president of our company, he came in as a lawyer, he didn't have any book of business stuff, and we taught him the business. So we're pretty good about teaching people how to become successful search consultants in this market. We haven't figured out yet how to do that outside of this market. And so outside of Southern California, we're primarily going after folks that have books or business already that are already experienced in retained executive search and they can bring that over. So in New York are our partner there has a long background in nonprofit and diversity. And so she's doing more work in that space and then in Dallas, our partners comes out of the healthcare space. So he's bringing a lot of relationships and healthcare, but also wanting to do some regional stuff as well, which is why we want to support him in technology and consumer products in industrial.


David Alonso  31:10 

Do you feel like growth comes from extra hires and sales or more from branding and marketing? How do you think you're going to go and get that new business?


Rod McDermott  31:17 

That's great. Bianca would probably have a really big opinion. I think I'd like to know for myself as well, you know, because it's a little bit of both right. But nowadays, I just wonder, I just wonder if if the people with the right answers are going to get in that scale? It's a great question I've always looked at as marketing, get the fish close to the boat. Sales, get them in the boat. But I'm old school, right. And I'm an old school salesperson. And so I'm starting to rethink that.


Rod McDermott  31:44 

And you know, we're using branding like we've never used it before. We are doing lead development things. We're doing a bunch of events that that we've been doing for years, but we're actually doing bigger scale events, CEO forums, things like that, that continue to brand us but also Bring the right people together in a room as another way that we can touch them. So, you know, we want to be known as thought leaders in a lot of the lot of the areas that we work. You know, for instance, in aviation and aerospace. during some of the trade shows, I have an interview series that I do with CEOs and will usually pick a topic and we'll go out and ask multiple CEOs on the same topic, their perspective, we have thousands of people that watch these, and I get a lot of responses get a lot of new business opportunities from that. Well, we're brand new, yes, you know, and then ultimately, we get more business out of it. When we started our aerospace aviation practice, really strategically as a practice, I had one client in that space five years ago when we were doing a few hundred thousand a year. Last year we did combined $3 million in that practice. So I think if you continue to do these things, you build a name for yourself opportunities arise, they know who you are, they see you at events, you're credible.


David Alonso  32:51 

You get business, I also think is great for the employees to see the CEO out there hustling as well. You know, I think there's something for them to aspire to this.  I think that's important for them to be part of that as well.


Rod McDermott  33:02 

 I like that. I'm a sales guy at the core. I just always thought sales doesn't happen here, it happens outside, we have to go to the customer and I love going to the customer, I love visiting customers or prospects. And I like going to shows we have an aviation show coming up the end of this month in Vegas. And we'll probably have 25 meetings over two days with CEOs of a lot of the big companies and I just I love telling the story and hearing their stories. Sometimes we help our clients in ways that we don't get paid for. It's not about putting a person in a company sometimes I have one of our big clients and there's another company as a prospect and they should get together. And so I've told them both and they both want to meet now I've heard I'm hosting a meeting at the show in Vegas between these two guys. There's no search there, nothing at all. It's just about them doing business together. They will come.


David Alonso  33:47 

Yeah, it will always come Yeah. What about next 24 months if we take the recession pending potentially out of the equation, anything disruptive to the market staff in recruitment or just search that you're Worried about or anything you want to share about that?


Rod McDermott  34:03 

Yeah. So I think that this whole idea that we've engaged in this Lean Six Sigma training and the idea of getting the time to fill down significantly so that we can actually add value much sooner at client side. That's not a novel concept. So I think people that do that will put themselves at the leading edge, because clients have told us for a long time, I love search, you know, the way it works, the quality is good. Not everybody loves it, by the way, but when they when they have a great experience, and they have a great result, they really see the value in it. Why is it takes so long? And even the best candidates say the same thing, what is it takes so long, so I think we have an opportunity to kind of reinvent our business, if we can take some of the extraneous time out of the process, and put that into actually working on that engagement.


Rod McDermott  34:49 

You know, imagine you only had one search, what would you do? Right? And so putting those kind of metrics in place to make sure that we can do that. The difference with our firm is we have resources. We have really, really well trained researchers, we have really great recruiters. We have search consultants that either we've developed internally or they've come with great skills. So we can bifurcated parts of the job, from research from recruiting among great people who can it's like, you know, building anything, right? How long does it take us to move up a product through our plant? If we had one person building it from the beginning to the end, it take us a long time.


Rod McDermott  35:24 

If Tesla had one employee building one car, it would take years. But because they have teams and people doing their best jobs, they can move cars through the factory in a day or two. And so that's what we're trying to do here is it's not a factory approach per se, because every job is different. But there are certain things and this is why Lean Six Sigma. I'm amazed that more service companies haven't adopted it. Yeah, yeah, we had a sensei that we hired to come in and train our company and his biggest business these days is service, either service functions within manufacturing companies like HR, or in some cases, service companies. You You're just not hearing it a lot. It's really become in vogue in the last three or four years now. We've heard about in manufacturing for 20 years or longer.


David Alonso  36:08 

It sounds to me like you have many passions. How long have you been a pilot for?


Rod McDermott  36:14 

Yeah, I've been a pilot for 32 years. And it's interesting. I was a weekend warrior up until about 1314 years ago, I would rent a plane. Probably once a month. I flew an average of 15 hours a year. And we have Catalina Island right off the coast. There's an airport they call it the airport in the sky. It's up on the top of a cliff and and they have a nice restaurant where you can get buffalo burgers. So I was kind of a once a month fairweather pilot would fly over there, get a burger.


Rod McDermott  36:39 

And then one of our first partners in our firm passed away from cancer in 2006. And he inspired me he said, one thing you don't know is the day you're going to go, so don't wait to live life. He said, I know there's been things that you've probably been wanting to do. But you've thrown yourself so much into this business, what are those? And I said, you know, I'd love to fly more. Well, I'd love to figure out a way to Incorporate flying into our business and he said, Well, you've been smart with your money you should do that. And so three weeks after he passed, he passed 10 days after we had that conversation. I had my first plane got an instrument rating through flew 300 hours that year. So up until that time, the first probably 1516 years I flew flew about 300 hours that one year I flew 300 hours so I literally doubled my hours. Got my instrument rating sold that plane one day short of a year 364 days bought my next plane, which is more of a cross country plane. Okay, pressurized nice cabin. And since then I've owned five planes. So I got to fly a plane to Europe two summers ago, which was kind of fun. criss crossing the Atlantic is crazy. Yeah, it was fun but it but I fly a lot. So Alex, did you fly? I flew last week I flew this weekend yesterday I was up in Oregon flew down and I'll be flying next week to Alabama and great stuff. Yeah, so I'll fly commercial if I'm going overseas, generally but to Vancouver. It's an nonstop for me. So I'll do that Texas is non stop. So I fly a fair amount.


David Alonso  38:04 

Let's finish up on a little bit more about the personal personal side of things. I know you're big on philanthropy. Tell me a bit some of the stuff that you do as well.


Rod McDermott  38:11 

Yeah, so I've been involved in a couple of nonprofits over the years one was called Think Together, it was an after school program for kids and tougher areas. And it was basically get kids off streets, keep them in the school, do after school, academic help to help move them along. And that was really, really fulfilling. I was on that board for probably nine or so years.


Rod McDermott  38:30 

And then I went to the Board of our local hospital where all four of my kids were born and equally fulfilling, raising money for the hospital. We just built a $70 million cancer center there. So my wife and I are sponsors of that as well. And you know, it's one of those things where if you don't get involved, I've learned this from the hospital. nonprofit hospitals don't make enough cash flow from operations to actually pay for great equipment. And if you want to have great diagnoses, you have to have great equipment and have you ever had an MRI Yeah. How strong was the MRI machine? It was, nobody knows. No, nobody ever asked that question. I never even considered one Tesla one and a half Tesla, three Tesla, it makes a huge difference in the quality of the scan that you get. So I tell people, if you're going to get an MRI, find out how strong that machine is. If it's not at least a three Tesla move somewhere else, because the quality I've had my doctor, I've had three back surgeries, the doctors will show you. Wow, this was really clear. It's really good. This is okay, I can see that. It's black and white versus, you know, 11 megapixel color, you know, all the stuff we can do with our iPhones these days, right? It's night and day.


Rod McDermott  39:40 

Hospitals don't have the money to do that. And so in order to spend that money, they have to raise it. And when they raise that money and they buy the best equipment, guess who else they attract the best doctors best doctors want to work with the best equipment so we happen to live, you know in a great place in Southern California. A lot of the doctors that work At the hospital, I'm involved in Mission Hospital. A lot of the doctors there live by the beach Laguna Beach. I mean, it's a great place. And if you talk to any of these doctors, you ask them where they're from. They're from all over the country. But they came out to God's country they love and out here, they have a great lifestyle, and they work for a great hospital that has the best equipment in the world. Some of the equipment we have is on par with UCLA, Johns Hopkins. amazing places. Why? Because we fundraise a lot.


David Alonso  40:23 

Yes, a continuous thing, isn't it?


Rod McDermott  40:24 

Yeah. And if you need the best piece of equipment, because you're in a car accident or something else, or you're having brain surgery, you don't want second rate equipment.


David Alonso  40:33 

No, I was at a pancreatic walk this weekend. So yeah, where they need to get out there. But yeah, but I could be here all day. Yeah, I know. There's a timer. And it's been a real pleasure. Thank you for sharing not only your work, but your your personal stuff that you've really been through and you're so passionate about. It really came through today. And it's been a real pleasure. And I wish you all the best success in the future.


Rod McDermott  40:54 

Thank you, David. Yeah, there's been a lot of fun. Thank you very much. You're welcome. 

  Don’t forget to subscribe in your favorite podcast app


009: The Value of a Servant Based Mission with AtWork President Jason Leverant

How does a clear mission statement lead to consistent growth even in uncertain times? David talks with the President of AtWork Group, Jason Leverant, about that and more.

A special thanks to ZipWhip for sponsoring this episode! ZipWhip is the market leading solution in texting for business with unmatched connectivity to the mobile networks.  Check them out today!

The irony is that you can make as much money in the world. But you just can't buy time.

 Show Notes:

  • Jason’s rapid climb from mid-level to C-suite (1:56)

  • Jump starting growth during a recession (6:40)

  • Amazon Alexa’s role at AtWork (8:28)

  • Using your mission statement to create a solid foundation (9:09)

  • The importance of time management for work-life balance (10:25)

  • The AtWork staffing service and franchise model (13:09)

  • The unique way AtWork supports its franchisees (14:48)

  • Who is AtWork’s ideal franchisee? (17:50)

  • How AtWork’s brand attracts talent (22:58)

  • The benefit of the AtWork brand identity for franchisees (25:22)

  • Driving business growth with a personal brand (28:02)

  • The billion dollar goal (29:27)

  • How does Jason plan for growth and challenges? (31:43)

  • Is AI killing recruitment? (33:50)

  • What Jason is most proud of (38:04)

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, subscribe for free to The JourneyUp in your favorite app and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript

David Alonso:       Hi and welcome to the JourneyUP podcast. This is a show featuring the very best CEOs in staffing industry. We share their passions and successes as well as giving you some practical advice that you can use in your staffing business. I'm David Alonso and in today's show, I met with the president of an award winning recruitment franchisor revenues now exceeding over 332 million bucks. He's a recruitment Hall of Famer and he's listed by the staffing industry analysts as one of the hundred most influential people in the staffing industry. My guest today is Jason Leverant from the AtWork Group. Thanks for Thomas for the introduction and let's now hear what Jason is all about.


David Alonso:       Okay, Jason, well thanks very much for being on the show today. Really appreciate you being here. Thank you for your time.


Jason Leverant:     Thanks for having me...it's awesome.


David Alonso:       That's great. Where are you located? Where's your base?


Jason Leverant:     I am in beautiful East Tennessee, actually Knoxville, Tennessee, where I guess we are famous for the great Smoky Mountains still. I think that the most visited national park in the country right now. So I coveted San Diego and the beautiful beaches, southern California. A lot of people in the country I guess want to come visit us here in Knoxville. So, uh, that's where I'm sitting at today.,


David Alonso:       So, I don't say this often. We'll probably trade the weather... A lot of May gray here. So if I sound like I'm moaning about the weather here I am, it's been a rough couple of weeks. So, maybe it's the right time to come visit you down there.


Jason Leverant:     There you go. Come on over.


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, I'd love to. I'd love to say again. Thanks for your time. I always like to kind of start this thing, but just be getting a good background of how you started and I'll tell us a little about your journey up to your current role, even though it's just touching upon how you actually got into the business in the first place.


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It's kind of an interesting story and a lot of people stop and ask me and they're like, you know, I look at your LinkedIn profile and you, and basically you work at Ronstadt and you are working out of a branch and then you jump rank and you're already sitting in the, in a c level role at a national staffing firm. And so it kind of goes back to my journey before I got into staffing. And so, you know, I worked for a sporting goods company and it was called Focus Golf, but we were actually a licensee for a brand that many people are familiar with, Dunlop sports groups. So if you play golf or you play tennis, you may be familiar with the Dunlop products. We also produced Max fly and Slazenger and other things like that. But I was in their marketing department as their marketing manager.


Jason Leverant:     So I handled, you know, basically golf products, golf clubs, golf gloves and things of that sort. And I was, you know, it was kind of an interesting role. I got to play a lot of golf that you're in an industry where everyone has fun. Everybody loves to golf. And that's, you know, you're in a recreational industry where Fridays were product test days and you got to hang out on tour with pros and you know, it was a really a great time, but just like anything, all good things must come to an end, and you know, I found myself in a position, there was some, some changes internally with focus golf as a licensee in Dunlop Sports Groups from the UK coming in and wanting to take a stronger stance here in the US and I was looking at my opportunities. I had to find something because I was with really without a job.


Jason Leverant:     So I started looking and throughout, you know, my life growing up, my father had partnered with headhunters and, uh, in helping him find his next career. And that's what I thought, okay, you know, I'm going to follow in his footsteps and I'm gonna go turn to a headhunter. And I didn't know what I was doing at the time. And so, you know, my wife and I were talking about it and she said, well, what about these companies? We were searching staffing firms around locally in Greenville, South Carolina. And so I started boots on the ground, went out knocking on doors, visiting staffing agencies saying, Hey, can you help me with any positions? This is my experience, you know, national marketing, you know, sporting goods. I'd love to stay in this industry, but I also want to stay in the southeast. And honestly it would just wasn't possible if I, if I was going to stay in the industry, I would've had to go to southern California with Tailor Made or up in Boston with Tidalist or you know, basically anywhere in the country


Jason Leverant:     But Greenville, South Carolina. But they stopped me and said, almost every single firm said, you know, we can't help you with any positions externally, but we may have some opportunities internally if you want to at least listen to us and see if you like it. So I went through the, the, the process, the kind of the on-boarding orientation, not on-boarding, orientation... But the orientation kind of is this for me with both Ronstadt and a company called Apple One out of southern California. And I went through it with both. And funny enough, I got an offer of employment by both Ronstadt and Apple One on the same day within like 30 minutes of each other. And so this was like a sign I have to be in the staffing industry, didn't have anything on the horizon and to staffing companies want me to come work for them, I should listen to that.


David Alonso:       So these, the opportunities from background really differentiates as well, right? I mean it's, you know, oh, someone's got marketing backgrounds going into recruitment. You're talking about personal brand growing the company brand is very advantageous.


Jason Leverant:     Bingo. Exactly, exactly. And so that helped tremendously. So I ultimately took the, the role for Ronstadt I, I've got great things to say about their training because they brought me through the ringer, went through the process and really got my foundational understanding of the industry with those guys. But you know, it's funny because I started in the history, I was in a sales role. They always had me positioned out because sales was always been my strength in markets where I was going to spin up new branches. So I was out in Anderson, South Carolina, Clemson area when I kind of jumped the ship and came over to Knoxville with Ronstadt. I was working in blond county, which is a, an area kind of in the outskirts because sales was my strength. I always yearn for more of a national type, you know, gig. That was what I am doing with Dunlop being confined to a little area...


Jason Leverant:     it just wasn't my cup of tea. So I was getting my eyes open and this little company, little company, this little company called at work was advertising for a VP of sales. And so I threw my hat in the ring. I remember distinctly if your recruiter had been in recruiting, you remember Hot Jobs, the Yahoo Job Board. I was actually found it on Hot Jobs and I sent my resume and, and uh, I told my wife that night when I did, I said, you know, hey, I sent my resume and who knows, they might call me. I said, I doubt it, but you never know. And I literally, that night I got an email from the CEO I was interviewing the next day. It took a good probably three months, but I finally joined the AtWork family. Yeah, it was interesting. It was a, it was a grueling process, but I joined the work family in 2007.


David Alonso:       How big were they back then?


Jason Leverant:     You know, it's funny, we were, we were hitting some peaks back in the '07 times. I mean everybody was in the industry. We were at a high as an industry at the time, right. Cap at hundred millions. We were right over a hundred million. We're really excited about hitting the triple digits and the and size, um, obviously the, the recession, you know, helped us unpack, unwind a that, that number. Yeah.


David Alonso:       Not to long after you joined either, right?


Jason Leverant:     Oh my God, funny because it was, it was an interesting ride because I'd been in staffing for a few years prior. Things were growing great. You didn't have to really try that hard and just orders were falling in, you could fill it. I mean, billable hours were increasing. It was beautiful. And then, '08 happens '09 And it's like the trap door fell out of the economy.


David Alonso:       I was doing it as well with my recruitment business. I know exactly how that was happening. Yeah, yeah. It was ugly. But it didn't deter right. You uh, you moved your way up the ranks.


Jason Leverant:     Oh Man. I was batten down the hatches. We really shed a lot of the overhead. We had to just maintain and we felt that we, our unit count dropped pretty heavily. Our total revenue went down, I think about 60 million or so, a little bit less than 60 million in total annual revenue. And we basically had a building point from that point forward to start growing. And that's exactly what we did starting in 2009 2010 and we just started ramping up the growth. We again focused on best practices focused on what we really needed to do to get the job done. It was in maintenance mode '08 to '09, 2010 and we started looking at yeah, what we're going to do. But you know, you know, we've talked about it in our kind of pre-calls, but AtWork we are a franchisor, so we are looking to bring in franchise owners and when the economy is pretty rough, a lot of people aren't looking to invest in the industry. That was almost most severely impacted by the recession. So we took a stance and we started building ourselves and we started building some company on locations to get the momentum going and that really helped jumpstart our growth back into the industry in 2010 and then beyond. And we've just rocketed since that point, so


David Alonso:       Absolutely. Yeah. And you, um, took the president role at the company what period?


Jason Leverant:     I took the Chief Operating Officer in late 2011 and then, and then the, uh, the founder of the company designated President in early 2012. And so that's when I really took the helm. Uh, we're still a privately owned firm. The owner sits in Scottsdale, Arizona pretty much, uh, 12 months of the year. It's just, it's his home base of operations now. And, and we work remotely. I, I joke with people and say when he's in Phoenix, I actually interact with him more than when he's right across the office from me. It's crazy, you know, and we've got video conferencing on all of our desks. So he basically tells his echo device and then we use the a, the Amazon echo device. So if he says, Hey, call Jason and we have a video you know, face to face, video call three times a day, four times a day.


David Alonso:       So there is no hiding in, that's for sure.


Jason Leverant:     Oh No, it's awesome. Look what we're doing right here, man. Yes. So he gave me the, he gave me the reigns and said, take it where you can take the company. And I asked, I said, how big do we want to go? He said, let's grow. Let's do this. Yeah. And so we really focused on kind of reworking everything we do. We started with a mission statement back in 2012 and we, and we looked at where we were in the past and there's nothing wrong with it. We were a great company, but we really wanted something inspirational. We wanted, you know, a mission to drive the purpose of what we're trying to accomplish. And funny enough, we simplified it. We took a mission statement that is very simple, very basic, this whole idea to be at work for you. I could talk for an hour about what that really means to us. But that kind of underpinning, that coupled with our core values of servant leadership, you know, you don't really, excellence in the market and empowering our owners has driven us to just exponential growth. It's been, it's been a phenomenal ride and we've continued to grow. And so last year we pushed, uh, over 360 million in total revenue over a hundred branch locations across the country in 2018. So pretty interesting. Uh, yeah, I would say it was pretty amazing run that we've had, but it's all been really focused on, uh, a service forward service focused approach. And that's really what I'm beating that work order from just a, we need to differentiate through service. That's what it's all about. So,


David Alonso:       and, and obviously, you know, early days, a lot around vision and processes, et cetera. Now that everything's in a more of a, uh, routine, so to speak, people who aspire to be CEOs or presidents, what does it, what does a typical day look like for you? What does a, there's no nine to five, right? We all know that. But if you could sort of summarize that, what does it kind of look and feel like?


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, you've got to live in it. And so that's it. That's an amazing question because it feels like every day is different. And I like it that way because it gets creative, different things are happening and we're always moving. We're always developing. And so, so we, we kind of live by this idea or this concept, you know, people say the, the expression, if it's not broke, don't fix it. But the expression really is, if it's not broken, you're not looking hard enough, fix it anyways. So we're in this constant state of really examination, you know? So I have a certain meeting routine with all of our departments. Every Monday morning we do kind of a one on one department head kind of meeting, a steering type of meeting to make sure everybody's going down the right path. Every other week we do a department head group meeting to keep the communication flowing.


Jason Leverant:     At the end of every month we do a full staff meeting. It's all about communication. It's all about making sure that everybody is bought into the vision. Everybody is really focusing on the direction that we want to go. And then it's obviously identifying and prioritizing. I wish I could share with you on, I probably can, you know, I keep them board of all ongoing projects on my, on my wall at all times and we keep it updated. So, so my life is really making sure that our company is growing from a branding perspective, but not just a branding and an external appearance, but infrastructure operationally. It's following the path that, that we want it to take and grow in a certain way. And so again, it, it's really just doing the best you can. Funny enough. And I, and I've told people, you know, I really want, I have a desire to, uh, to write a book about time management because for me, you know, many people think, oh, you're gonna, it's going to be grueling.


Jason Leverant:     You have to you know. It's a hundred hours a week. It's, you know, you're, you're never going to live. You know, I've got three young children. I can come home for dinner while when I'm in town, I'm not traveling. I come home, I have dinner every, every night. If I can sneak away... Today, I went and had lunch with my daughter at school. It's all about time management. And there's nothing in your career if you balance your time properly and you do the right things. And when you're working, you're working and when you're playing, you're enjoying time with family, you're doing that. But if you balance your time properly, you can fit everything in. It's all about prioritization of what you're trying to accomplish. And, and that's what I've been successful at doing for 12 years with that work. And that's not held my career back. And I, I really feel like it's a time management component that people need to really think about. And that's helps you excel because when you're working and you're doing your best while you're on the job and working and not playing around, not not, that's helped me accelerate my career. So,


Jason Leverant:     and the irony is that you can make as much money in the world, right? But you just can't buy time. You know? That's the thing that time is so important. We do a lot of sessions internally about management of time, structure of your day.


David Alonso:       Should be able to do things in the day. Just got to work it closer to your time management for sure. But I'm really intrigued and I actually think a lot of the listeners will be just about the model of AWwork in the franchisee business. It gives us an overview of how it works from, from a revenue perspective and just talk about a little bit about the model if you would.


Jason Leverant:     So AtWork... I alluded to earlier is a franchise or a of staffing services. So we find entrepreneurial minded professionals that are looking to enter into the staffing industry. So those that want to come in and you know, own their own staffing business. We help them do that. We give them all of the infrastructure, we give all of the pieces and parts and processes, everything they need to open up their own staffing business. And really it's as simple as that. They follow the model, we do everything on the back end to allow them to truly focus on the sales client development side of the, of the spectrum and the talent development talent pipeline side of it. So sales and recruiting, you know, so we take all of the, the back end infrastructure components, we provide the software solutions, we do all the tax and accounting functions.


Jason Leverant:     We'd lift all that burden off of our owners to really allow them to focus on honing their skills on both of those fronts. It's interesting because our model is slightly different than some of the other staffing franchise models from a financial perspective. And I could go on for an a for an hour talking about the benefits of our structure versus somebody else's. And, and I'm not going to bore you guys with that, but when you look at our model financially and how we actually structure our fees, components and you side by side comparison, we are the most cost effective model. You know, I'd say we're the cheapest because that would assume that our value that we bring to our owners is any less. That's absolutely not the case. And you could see it based on our phenomenal success and growth that we've had, but we're the most cost effective model that's available as a staffing franchise. And we don't skimp on that level of service and the resources and things that we provide to our franchise owners because we really take a hard focus on, you know, our mission statement on decisions that we make internally to make sure that we can remain in that position.


David Alonso:       What, what sort of training goes into a new franchisee? How does that work?


Jason Leverant:     Oh yeah. So it's funny, we find ourselves even before an owner, an owner, when they're going through, we call the discovery process in the validation process. You know we do a discovery day, we do calls with these potential owners and we find ourselves dwelling at the training. Even at that point talking around how to go out and make an effective staffing sales call, how to recruit individuals. But officially when you sign the franchise agreement that really the training begins at that point in time. So we have a tool and intranet software platform that helps with the new owner, walks them through, I think it's like 150 or 160 steps to ownership for when they execute the agreement to when they actually opened their door. And through that process there's steps to the process to open their, you know, all the different little nuts and bolts items of setting up your corporation, getting insurance in line, you know?


Jason Leverant:     But then there's also those training components built into it with, you know, some pre opening web-based staffing training. There's pre-opening web-based employment law and HR related trainings that come into play. We do an instructor led live, we call launch camp very early on in the process, which allows our owners to to come in just as owners and focus on getting their business elements up and running and then that that reserves or allows us to focus on our full instructor led training to be purely staffing related. Because what we want is at the end of the training process for our franchise owners to have a core understanding, a foundational understanding of the staffing industry. And I, and I tell our owners as they come in, many of them have no staffing experience. They may have, you know, experienced as clients of a staffing firm or at some point in their younger life had went through a staffing firm for some kind of a temporary employment or something like that. But they've never actually acted in a role where they were placing talent and that kind of thing. Our goal is to bring them through. Yeah. So they come in and they have that foundational knowledge when they opened their doors and then our field operations team comes in and works with them to keep building in that foundational knowledge on top of that. So then you know, hopefully over time they start building those skills and they become true staffing professionals when they're out in the marketplace.


David Alonso:       Are they surprised about the detail that goes into actually setting up your own shop or they kind of, surprised about the level of detail that is needed.


Jason Leverant:     You know, it's funny because we baby-step everything. It's very granular. The process that we have when they log in to their AtWork Connect platform. They have every step. If they follow each step and just check it off, check it off and just go down the list. It's actually quite simply, it's very detailed, but people take it for granted I think because I recall times when we didn't have this software and I think in my head, oh my God, how did, how did our previous franchise owners even know to open up to do all this stuff? I mean, we didn't have any of these resources 10 years ago and they were, they were okay. But now we were literally handed on a silver platter to our owners and say, hey, we make this process as easy and seamless as possible because we don't want you to have to worry about this. We don't want you to forget anything. We want you to really truly focus on building your market, building your business. That's what it's all about. So


David Alonso:       yeah, concentrate on sales. So you alluded to this a little bit before, what, what's like a, an ideal profile of the type of person that you would expect to be successful? Because I presume you do some outbound reach to certain individuals, right? So what are you looking at?


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, so if you could give me, you know, kind of a profile candidate profile and I'm placing the job order with you and you're a recruiter and you're telling me what do I want from my potential placement here? You know, somebody who's sales minded, who's I think almost direct sales experience is great, having actually been out and sold before. But I think even as strong or as powerful would be managing sales teams. That's very critical because we've seen now the owners that really excel. I've got a strong background in team management and understand how to coach and develop internal teams despite the fact that your first office will only have two to three people working with you in the office. You still need to have those skills to be able to motivate and engage your team. If it was somebody with staffing experience, you have a bit of a tactical advantage because you already get the market. So if we can draw somebody in that has 10, 15, 20 years of staffing experience, they can walk right in the door. Those people really appreciate what we've done. We've got probably six or seven owners who have come from the staffing industry and just been crazy successful and have told us, we wish we did this 10 years ago. I wish that you don't have, I mean, so many owners tell us, I wish you, yeah.


David Alonso:       It's interesting though. You said sales first, then recruitment. I don't know if that was an oversight or not, but I would've thought it would be staffing fast. But what sort of a learning curve, if your non-staff in the good people, how long did it take them to pick it up?


Jason Leverant:     It really depends, I think, you know, we get some really, really sharp folks that get it really, really quickly. But it's funny that you asked that question because everybody takes their time and I, and I don't say it, you know, staffing as a whole, I don't feel like is a, is a super complex industry to yet it's very processe driven. We, we've got processes in place and if you learn the processes for all the process for us, you're going to go, go and do it. But there's times when I, I recall when I used to work directly with owners on a day to day basis, we could go in and basically tell when an owner finally got it, it clicked in their head and they say, you sounded like you were talking to a staffing, like a recruiter or a staffing salesperson versus talking with an owner who's trying to, who's on their way.


Jason Leverant:     And I usually stop and tell them, hey, now you sound like a staffing pro. You sound like a professional. You could, you could go and sit at it, you know, go to a staffing world and executive forum and nobody would think twice that you didn't know what you're talking about. You know? But there's certain tipping point with that. That really happens. But I do say sales first because despite the fact of the economy that we're sitting in today, you know, being a, being a talent, short market with skills, gaps everywhere. We've seen owners, when you start a business in staffing, you're starting from scratch. Even having our infrastructure, even having our brand backing, having everything, it still takes a concerted focus, a really strong focus on the client development side of it, because you can't force relationships with customers. They may have a demand and you may be able to secure a, you know, one off job order.


Jason Leverant:     But to truly solidify a branch in a marketplace, you've got to have a really, really strong sales process. Now it's gotta be backed by effective recruiting as well. And that's, that's absolutely the truth. But for a new office taking off the ground was starting with zero revenue and growing sales and is absolutely critical. And we put a lot of emphasis into that. Now we found that as an atypical fit for staffing. We don't necessarily feel, and I don't want us to lay down a rule, but folks with HR backgrounds seem to have a more difficult time transitioning into the staffing industry. And so that's kind of interesting where you think, oh, you know, HR folks should be great for staffing, but it's just a mindset shift for them. And so yeah. Not to say it's impossible. It's just a bit more challenging because it's a different world.


David Alonso:       yeah, I can understand that. I can what? I mean they're more resource driven versus actually recruitment and sales driven. Right. So that kind of makes sense.


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David Alonso:           I'm reading Linkedin, looking at articles. You guys are a really good strong job on branding. I end up doing quite a lot of that goes into your franchisees and you mentioned before about the market and so forth. So I always like to kind of switch gears a little bit and talk about especially the, you know at the moment how difficult is to find candidates and so forth. How does the brand go out and attract candidates in these difficult times? What did you kind of suggest to your people about how to keep on bringing these good, good candidates through the doors?


Jason Leverant:     It really is the US economic issue with the, there's a lack of talent, but there is talent out there and the staffing firms are bringing them in. So for us it goes back to our really core focus on our branding and awareness. And we do have a bit of a strategic advantage as a, as a franchise or, because in franchising it's all about brand awareness, right? So you want to try to, you know, your w, I don't want to say puffing ourselves up, but we always want to appear bigger than what we are. And that's something that's kind of a strategy we took back when we were a $60 million or $70 million firm back in '09 just to look at our presence, our online presence, everything we're doing to appear. I want up here as large as an Adecco, as an Elitist Group, as a Manpower when you know we're, we're a fraction of their size even today with growth.


Jason Leverant:     But it's all about building that brand awareness. And so we've continued to maintain that where web presence a strong, we focused on reputation management heavily. We're focusing on really looking at ongoing satisfaction surveys and things that's worked not only just to attract new talent but retain the talent that we have. One of the things that we're experimenting with and feeling really good about is our focus on video marketing. We've, we've just recorded a series of recruitment based candidate facing recruitment videos. Really high production value. Those can be used, whether it be on television or wherever. They're very, very high production value and we're seeing them right now using them on YouTube through ads, YouTube ad channels, things of that sort and seeing some serious, serious results through those channels. From the standpoint of brand awareness of engagement impressions, but also click-throughs and actually the watches, it's outstanding, how much data you can pull extract from from the Youtube marketing channels on that arm.


Jason Leverant:     At the same point, we're looking at innovation in technology that's been innovating, so we've, you know, we've Beta tested some AI sourcing tools in the past. We've, we're looking or we've rolled out an upskilling platform. This is more client or talent retention on that side. In a partnership with Penn Foster. It's at works level up program. And so we really want to offer this ability for our talent to level up themselves and, and it's really a pretty cool, uh, way to go about it. And so we're really looking at ways to bring resources and value to the table where we're staffing firms in the past that really struggled to do that. So


David Alonso:       How does the brand awareness stuff that the AtWork Group corporate that does that trickle down into the franchisees? Cause I presume, you know, the budget isn't with the franchisees, the budgets with the corporates. How does that work from what you do? How does that kind of trickled down and actually support people in Nashville to San Diego and stuff? How does that work?


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, you've got a great, great question. A lot of people ask that. That very same question is really, when I brought on our marketing director, I told him, it's like, you're almost like a, you're going to wear two hats. You've put on your staffing, your staffing hat or your franchise sales hat. And so when we meet we, we've got a clear delineation between spend, between resource sets and things of that sort for franchise sales and for our staffing operations. And so AtWork dot com, which is a really attractive domain where we push all of our jobs through and we do a lot of work to get highly trafficked is different than. AtWork Franchisedot com which is our franchise arm of the uh, business. Funny enough that we actually, most of the time, most months we spend more resources on our staffing arm than on our corporate franchising arm because in my opinion, if we could attract more candidates, more clients, if we can grow the staffing side of the business, guess what? Owners will take notes. They're going to join the system because they see our growth.


Jason Leverant:     That's what's going to drive our franchise sales growth is the performance of the, the as a franchise system. When you look at the team here that we built internally, I'm a staffing guy. All of my field ops folks are 20 year veterans in staffing. We look at ourselves in the mirror. We're a staffing company. We're not a franchise company. We're a staffing company. That franchise is not a franchise company that did the staffiing, which is, which I think may set us apart of it because for good or for bad, I mean the results are evident. We've really put a heavy focus on bringing in people who get the business. A lot of times it helps in the franchising front because in staffing it's a service focused deliverable. In Franchising, it's a service that we're delivering to our Franchisees, so I find my team delivers phenomenal service to our franchise owners. That's our mission. If you look at our ad work for you mission, if you read the fine print of our mission behind it, kind of the underpinning of it, it talks about the service that we delivered to our Franchisees, our clients, and our talent.


David Alonso:       I can see how that just sets you apart from your competitors. I really do and actually for someone who, if I was to go into that, I'd want that level of marketing's, I know it's going to trickle down and I can really talk and piggyback off it. I could do so many of them own marketing campaigns as the back of what what you do. So that's a real bonus and I'm not sure, um, if a lot of people listening in actually realize just how important that is to have that sort of corporate brand. So that's amazing. And what about, um, where do you kind of see the president's role in, in brand awareness? So, you know, on LinkedIn there's a lot of business owners acquire before recruiters to be front and center and videos and so forth. But I see you're a guy who doesn't mind to be in front of the camera. I can see online and stuff yourself. I wouldn't say that's typical of a lot of, you know, not necessarily your size but maybe a staff and business of say up to 20 people maybe a little bit camera shy. How important is your personal brand in grown your own company brand?


Jason Leverant:     I think it's absolutely critical and I think that was a, a big component of, you know, the tone that I want to set in the organization is that I want to position myself as a, as an industry leader, as a thought and subject matter expert in the staffing industry. So again, when we're franchising, when they're looking at who we are, they see that, you know what, not only do they say they know what they're talking about, everybody else in the industry says, yeah, these guys know what they're talking about. And so many on my team, I've encouraged them to get involved from an entry perspective, get involved in public relations campaigns and opportunities to put ourselves out there as industry experts. Are you sharing the secrets trade secrets? Well, not, you know, we're not sharing any kind of special sauce that at the end of the day, staffing and staffing, if you serve us better than your competitors, we're going to win.


Jason Leverant:     And at the end of the day too, I wholly believe that the whole idea of a rising tide lifts all ships. So I get out there and do what I do to try to improve the perception of the staffing industry. And so if we're using that example of a rising tide lifts all ships, I know our ship is faster, better, stronger than everybody else's. So we're going to win. If I can get the industry position more strongly, and it may be, I may be kidding myself with that, but I look at what we've done, I look at the growth that we've had and look at the impact we've been able to make as a whole. And so the bigger weekend, and it goes back to this whole idea of, you know, for us as do a lot of staffing firms, we'd love to be that next billion dollar staffing firm. So I did some math and looking at, okay, how do we get to $1 billion in revenue?


Jason Leverant:     What do we need to do to achieve this, this big lofty goal of $1 billion? And when you start doing the math, you know, in 10 years I've been with the company 12 years now. So 10 years is not, doesn't seem that far away. If you're like yesterday, I just started 10 years, we can average 15% growth year over year we'll be at $1 billion at the end of our 10th year. And so I'm looking at our numbers and, and you know, and I look at the, where we are, where we're going and I set that tone for everybody and say, okay, here's how we get there. If we can grow, we can make an impact in the industry for the positive. We're going to be able to maintain these numbers. And so as we grow and we become, you know, the, the eighth largest or 10th largest staffing firm in the country, we can swing a lot bigger stick and make a lot stronger ways. And if we're servicing at the level that we do today at that size, we're going to improve the perception of the industry. There's no doubt about it.


David Alonso:       When you talk about growing a business and in your role, what about the issues? There's obviously issues that arise, you know, how did you kind of foresee stuff, how much strategy do you put into like looking ahead of the curve and seeing where you might be kind of a little bit susceptible to some issues that are going to arise.


Jason Leverant:     It's crazy because there was one year, I think back, I think it was 2014 or 15 we pushed like 57% growth in one year. It was crazy. And we were, we were a $164 million company pushing 57% growth in one year. It was, it was not like we're going from a million to a million and a half. We were going from 160 million to 257 and nine or something like that. And one year I, I jokingly filled books. It was like running tractor trailers on gravel roads. I mean, your infrastructure is barely support able to support the level of growth. And we're like, you know, the, the, the walls are shaking. We're trying to, trying to keep it, keep it on the track,

Jason Leverant:     Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and you know, the lot of bigger numbers comes into play and we've started leveraging some of this, but still some serious growth as a, as of late, we're about to drop a release for quarter one 19. I think it's coming out the air tomorrow where we've grew 17% year over year from 2018 versus 2019 and so we're pumped about that because I needed 15% so I'm already beating my target by two points, which is pretty awesome to get by, you know, one quarter down out of 10 years at 39 quarters to go at 15% to hit my targets.


David Alonso:           So, Amazon Echo thing for the owner and have a chat. We might remind him if he doesn't know already.


Jason Leverant:     Exactly man. So, but going back to this, this fact of, of having that strategy and, and there's some things that you can plan for, but there's other things, you know, if a large customer comes to you and says, Hey, we want a partner, let's go right now. It's Kinda hard. You've got to think about, for us, we partner with Wells Fargo Bank. They're been an amazing partner for us since a, and I'm not getting paid any kind of referral thing here, I'm just going to, I'm not a paid spokesman for them, but they were to help back in 2007 honestly, during the recession, 2008 they helped us out when no one else would. They believed in us and they've been our partner ever since. So this will be our 10 year anniversary with those guys or 11 year now. You know, thinking like things like banking lines, you know, if you don't plan for that, it's going to restrict your growth.


Jason Leverant:     If you can't afford to fund a, you know, a $50 million client, you've got 30 day net terms, you're talking about a considerable credit line in a plan, then you've got workers compensation premiums. If you grow exponentially and now you have to renew those work comp premiums if you didn't plan appropriately, those down payments, those costing on the front end to renew policies are absolutely crazy huge. You know, you're kind of stuck if you don't, if you don't have the funds, what do you do? There's some core operational components that you have to have to critically focus on. That coupled with making sure you run your ship really tight. The issue we have today is a lot of people can get very litigious and so you have to make sure that you run properly, you know, lean on your legal partners. I think it's critical. Listen to them if they tell you to do or not to do something, listen to them.


Jason Leverant:     I mean just things that where we've, where we've learned in the past from from different issues and mistakes and you know, while the numbers look great, there's always a set of issues behind it that we've had to deal with and to get through and it's been a wild ride but a learning experience for it and we've taken all of our experience and channeled it back into our franchise program to make sure that our owners don't make mistakes, that they get the right decisions and that they can scale and grow and don't have the issues.


David Alonso:           And again, great that they've got you guys to call upon for the legal side of things, if need be,.When we talk about barriers to grow for issues around growth, do you kind of see any things on the horizon, any recruitment trends or to your model as far as barriers to growth? Anything that you're kind of trying to head off because your read, you know, recruitment's dying, it's is going to die soon, right?


Jason Leverant:     So they say, and I think that's funny because I do a lot of of industry speaking on technology and a lot of people pointed recruiters and say, oh you're, you're going the way of travel agencies. That's what I have somebody actually, so I did a panel discussion at an ASA event a few years back and we had some folks from academia, a couple of guys from like Yale and Rice and Cornell come out and did a presentation and trust me, it was not what I expected. It was great, but it was definitely, I felt like a college lecture I sat through. But one of the more dynamic of the folks said stood up in a room full of staffing professionals that said, if you guys don't change, you're going to be like the travel agencies were 20 years ago when the Internet was coming into fashion. Now I've thought about those statements for a long time and looking at that thought process and I disagree with him because I feel like in staffing it's more relationship driven than a transactional type relationship.


Jason Leverant:     You know in something like buying a vacation is very transactional. There's not a trust element that I'm having to, to worry about. When I think about staffing and I think about the tools that are coming down the pipeline, we think about the AI sourcing tools and the AI matching tools and that's where a lot of people point say, hey, computers are going to do the job of recruiters. You know, I am the first to say I'm a super nerd. I love technology. We've looked at the AI components tools and I keep saying tools because that's what I truly feel a lot of these resources are. They are tools to be wielded in the hands of a professional and the professionals, the one making the matches and providing those services. Yeah, there'll be a place for that. Perhaps there's a new line out of a service line that becomes AI matched candidates, but there's not going to be at this point that I see at the, even the distant future, a source or a tool that's going to actually take a way, the job of recruiter, they're... They're not capable at this point.


David Alonso:       No, I agree. And it's the same as sales enablement tools. I mean, is it the death of the salesman? Just because there's good tools, the tools are the to get you where you need to be. So I agree. So I think one of the things you mentioned as well, there's, there's always issues around operations. A big business is growing fast and so forth. So what does the next 12 months, how far out do you plan ahead? You know, obviously you've got your 12 month forecast, so you, are you going out five years, 10 years? When you revisit if it's not going according...


Jason Leverant:     Yeah, we, we look at it ongoing and because franchising is a is a bit different than if we're actual staffing operations. Our scalability is a little bit different. It's actually a bit easier to focus on scalability. Right now we've done three year forecast financially, but structurally we that's obviously subject to change based on where things go and how we grow our business. Uh, some of the things we have looked at, you know, obviously we have a 10 year growth strategy on our target numbers that we want to go with along with kind of infrastructure. Both, you know, our model as a regional support model. So we have carved regions that we have a core focus on trying to support our owners, getting a little bit closer to them through a, again, regional hubs where our folks, corporate folks can be closer to reach out and touch those owners and interact with them, engage with them on a local level.


Jason Leverant:     But we've also invested in and part of our future we see the writing on the wall that the industry total contingent workforce management is becoming more and more of a of a theme with client companies large and now kind of mid market companies shifting towards MSP companies to come in and really provide kind of cost and quality controls. So we just found a sister company late last year, early this year, our sister company pipeline talent solutions and pipeline is a, is a full scale MSP which provides total workforce ecosystem support and solutions for clients specifically targeting the mid market. So customers that we're not really not on the radar of a of a GRI or of a tap thinner pontoon and our source writer, Kelly OCG, they're targeting on the big guys. We're going into the mid market, the mid-level spenders who you know, again, they have enough spend for us to really step in and help them manage it and show real savings. So we're excited about it. It's very early in its, in its process. Ultimately it adds value back to the total AtWork family of companies because it brings a, a national footprint, a large or mid-level or mid-market footprint for our owners where they couldn't have played in that space before.


David Alonso:       Well it seems like a very good move for sure. We spoke a lot about growth and revenue and so forth and you know, you're incredibly proud of. What about the sort of, the more that the tactical side of, of running a business. Where are you most proud of where you've sort of grown in last or seven or eight years? Personally?


Jason Leverant:     So as a business we've gone from what it feels like to be a privately owned company. We were very much, uh, you know, we were a small company. We are privately owned, we ran like a very small company and we had a great feel when you came to work and at work that, you know, you're a small company, you're part of something. But what we've been able to do is take that, that feel of being part of a company that really cares about everybody internally, but really build something out that we can scale and grow. It's a great thing we've done so far. So we've, we've grown dramatically and maintain that feel of being a, a nimble organization. One that, uh, if people really enjoy, people love to come to work here where we have great tenure internally, we have very little turnover. People just love their jobs here.


Jason Leverant:     And I want to maintain that, that side of it, but give us the ability to scale. So you can't, sometimes you can't have both. When you start growing, you start feeling a lot more corporate. You feel, you know, I don't want our team members to feel like a number in our organization and I don't want our owners to feel that way either. So that's a challenge. It's a great thing, but it's also a challenge versus in the future as we continue to grow, to maintain that really close, we do it, we call it the, at work family. When somebody joins the family as a franchise owner and our team here, it's like being a part of a family and everybody really enjoys one another and we have a great time. But the key is how do we maintain that as we're, you know, as we get to a hundred owners and we get to, you know, we had roughly 700 at work team members, internal team members across the country.


Jason Leverant:     That's franchise owner staff and ours, you know, getting to know, you know, some of the key members we're really trying to get to know, you know, it's hard to get to know all 700 people, but it's really getting those as many as we possibly can and continue that feel of a family environment. Now obviously when you step back and you start looking at some of the, the accomplishments that we've made, you know, from a, from an award and accolade perspective, we've, we've got, you know, I tell folks we pretty much, if there's an award out there, we chase after it. We want that recognition because we can say how great we are, but it's a lot more powerful, somebody else's, how great we are. And so that's, that's been our mindset. So I look at our Franchise Business Review FBR 50 award that we get, we've gotten every single year we've surveyed. So what that is is this is very proud that we get this. Our owners fill out a very extensive survey every year about us as a company and the support we provide. And uh, every year we get regarded in their top 50 most satisfied, uh, franchisees. It's that they ranked at the highest ranking a franchise or there's 4,000 franchise wars in the U S and we're in the top 50 of, of happiest franchisees. It's pretty, pretty awesome to be a, to say,


David Alonso:       yeah, I never realized the number is that high.


Jason Leverant:     Yeah. Yeah. That's crazy. I mean, and that, and then you said, you know, we start thinking about other achievements we've, we've received, we were, I think 86 on entrepreneur magazine's franchise, 500 again, 4,000 franchise companies in the U S and we're in the 86 were rated the 86 best franchise in the country. I look around, I'm like, we're just at work. I can't believe we're that getting this kind of, uh, this kind of recognition. But it's all about branding. It's all about proper PR. It's about, you know, positioning properly and, and doing the right things, executing on, on it.


David Alonso:       Well, he's done a good job on me. I am sitting here thinking, why would I not want to be a Franchisee or work? Come on maybe one type. I can definitely, you know, have to listen to you. I can really see the value on having just that extra level of support when you start a business nowadays, especially with, I think we touched upon how the legal side of things as the way that things change so quick, especially in the u s definitely a different business animal, two in Europe. And, uh, I can, I can see a lot of advantages for the business. So, you know, you did a great job probably about, we'd probably penciled in part too because I could talk to you about this, but I think that's probably where we're at today. And I'd say thank you so much. I think we say great model. He did a great job and especially on the personal brand. People listening here, watch Jason on video, follow him on Linkedin and check out AtWork for more, a little shameless plug here, but check it out because he's done a great job in the corporate brand age. All right, we'll wrap this up today and I'll speak to you soon. No doubt. Alright, thanks.


  Don’t forget to subscribe in your favorite podcast app


008: Joe Mullings on Scaling Your Search Firm with Social Media

How do you use digital media to build brand value and grow your staffing business? David discusses this and more with the CEO of Fortune 50 recruitment company The Mullings Group, Joe Mullings.

A special thanks to HERE FISH for sponsoring this episode! Here Fish enables growing staffing firms to automate communication and processes to produce high touch candidate, customer and contractor experiences. Check them out today!

Reinaldo was his own brand, but so were the teams that he played for and he didn't represent those brands and that team didn't necessarily represent him. They were both true to themselves.

 Show Notes:

  • About The Mullings Group (1:42)

  • Why Joe decided to start his own firm (2:41)

  • TMG’s ideal client (3:23)

  • How and why Joe built his personal brand (5:36)

  • Joe’s content rules: Is it educating? Is it informing? Is it inspiring? (6:30)

  • How Joe gained 8,000 followers (6:56)

  • Creating video content versus written content (8:32)

  • The benefits of brand building (11:16)

  • How involved is Joe in the day to day operations of TMG? (14:35)

  • The essential daily practice that will help you build your own brand (16:40)

  • The difference between his personal and business brand (19:32)

  • The real impact of his brands on TMG’s sales (22:10)

  • What is the spend? (25:54)

  • Joe’s advice for building your own brand (27:00)

  • Hiring the right leadership and media team matters (28:48)

  • Would Joe do anything differently in hindsight? (30:19)

  • Don’t be an influencer. Be a connector (31:21)

  • Joe’s high performance routine  (33:26)

  • Joe’s Finish Line (36:08)

  • What’s True Future? (37:17)

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, subscribe for free to The JourneyUp in your favorite app and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript


 David Alonso: Hello and welcome to the journey up podcast and thanks for listening. Our show features the very best and most talented CEOs in the staffing industry today. And the idea is that they come on and they share their passions, successes, as well as giving you some practical advice and playbooks that you're gonna be able to use in your own staffing business.


I'm David Alonso and in today's show I met with the CEO who's built such a strong personal brand that he's seen his staffing business growth through the roof and his top line revenue explode. I've been following this Florida Bay CEO now for awhile. He's a great guy. He works really hard for success and he's hard graft is evident in his podcast today and you're going to see why his LinkedIn bio of being unreasonably relentless on a daily basis is so fitting. If time now to introduce you to Joe Mullings, of the The Mullings Group.



David Alonso: Okay, Joe. Well thanks for joining the podcast today. I really appreciate it.


Joe Mullings: My pleasure. Good to be here. Thanks.


David Alonso: Absolutely. I first come across you when I read your article on the 4D with Gary V. So, um, that led me to investigate a bit more about you. So I do want to get onto the personal brand stuff. I'm really keen to talk about that. I think there's big piece of what you're about at the moment. Um, but I definitely will talk about your current business and uh, we'll get onto the personal brand in a little bit if that's okay. So how I'd like to start really is for the people who don't know you, let's just kick off and talk about your current business, um, a little bit more about what all you're working on today and really where it all start, if you would start off with that.


Joe Mullings: Sure. So our search from The Mullings Group, I've been at it since December of 1989. I worked for somebody else for two years. First, great guy who I told him that I was going to work for him for two years and then start my own firm. He laughed at me and said, if you're good enough to do that, God bless you in, you know, two years in, four weeks, more so to the day. Uh, his name was Sebastian . Uh, I moved from New York down to Miami and opened up my firm in January of 92 and uh, haven't looked back ever since, uh, focused in 92 on med tech exclusively at that point in time, we had committed the entire organization to one industry and now we're at about a, we're probably about a $9 million annual run rate right now. I'd have to check.



David Alonso: Congratulations. When you took that role, you indicate that you wanted to start your own firm. Why was that? Was that saying that you've always wanted to do before you got into the business, did you just want to have your own company? Was that an early thing you knew that you wanted to get into?


Joe Mullings: Yeah, from a young age, I never liked to be told what to do. Even today, I don't like to be told what to do. So I went to school, got my engineering degree, Undergrad and mechanical, spent a couple years in industry, realized very, very quickly, um, that larger companies, uh, are a large cohort of average producers, not committed to whatever it is they want to take on. That's always been a challenge for me. And so I knew I wanted to create my own world in general, personally and professionally. So, uh, the only way for me to do that was to design my own firm and, uh, that just was never even anything other than an option.


David Alonso: What's your ideal target client at The Mullings Group?


Joe Mullings: Oh Gosh. I would say the balance of our business, our emerging tech startup companies that are bringing the very unique medical technology to the marketplace, be it surgical robotics, imaging, navigation, chips that go into your brain that make you think faster, quicker. Uh, intention is to cure Alzheimer's, but people are using it already for upgrading human performance. Uh, venture capital brought in money five to 50 million and are looking to grow the organization out. Typically, uh, the venture capitalists will come to us and say, start us with our CEO and blow out the company. Two, sometimes it's 10, sometimes is a case we did it with Google was a 290 people over about a 36 month period.


David Alonso: Oh, awesome. That's an awesome, uh, request that one. So how do you actually differentiate yourself to your competitors?


Joe Mullings: In general? In search one was we decided very early to only focus on one industry because I had seen a number of search firms that have four or five, six specialties and you really don't get to get the compounding effort of every single phone call happening in the bullpen or whatever you call it. So we knew that if we had 800 calls a day going out of our firm, all in the same industry, the ability to have that high fidelity of data available for everybody in the search firm to be able to tap off of, you know, speed kills all deals. So the quicker you can get to a short list and the quicker you can get to an offer, the less likely it is. Jesus. The water walker walks in off the street or somebody friend walks in or they shut the position down. So our goal is always no more than two weeks to shortlist.


David Alonso: So this role of CEO, now it's a, I won't talk about how many years you alluded before, uh, obviously you're a veteran in the recruitment industry and you really now seem to me to be transitioned into someone who's not necessarily moving away from the day to day, but certainly your personal brand is of real value to your company from what I can see. So you're obviously the CEO there, but when did you actually start this transformation to build a new actual personal brand?

Joe Mullings: So I think that happened about four years ago or so. Uh, the intention in the beginning was not for a brand build, so to speak. It was more for taking what we knew already at a search level and being able to amplify it on the social platforms at scale. If you think historically the search business is a very analog business, one phone call, one conversation, one potential point of influence, 90 seconds later. If you're lucky, that phone call is over and that means maybe 50 phone calls a day and you're not working 24 seven. We thought that we went so deep into the medical device industry and we wanted the industry to know that we started putting content online, just merely demonstrating what we know our edict is never post, always educate, inform and inspire. And so whenever we put out something we ask, is it educating? Is it informing? Is it inspiring? And then hopefully it amplifies that. We've got about 80,000 eyes a day on us, an aggregate on our brand on LinkedIn.


David Alonso: When did that volume start to kind of take effect? Was it a slow burn to get there or was it, was the content of that good or did i t take a while to kind of curate the right sort of stuff? What sort of process do you go to kind of build 8,000 followers?


Joe Mullings: It only, in the beginning it was a very small team. Uh, it was a Sony Camera. It was my nephew who had graduated from film school up in Massachusetts. I knew that we wanted to create content that we knew would be interesting to the industry and it wasn't about us as much as it was about how to build a career technologies in the med tech world. And we had at that time, two person team today I think we're up to 11 now. Uh, just on production. Uh, and in the beginning we tried a lot of things. You know, what I did in the beginning is I use too much video. Video isn't as important as everybody thinks it is. In the beginning I used memes to get my message across. You know, we tested a lot of things. We felt like, what worked well, what didn't work well.



Joe Mullings: And then, you know, again, the balance of entertain, inform, inspire and educate. You eventually get your cadence and then it comes down to what are your skills? I'm a decent writer. I'm like, my grammar is terrible. But my ability to get a point across seems to be interesting to a lot of people. And I've got, you know, film teams and camera teams around me all day long out in some very interesting places. So we capture pictures there more than ever and a lot less video now. It's what fits my brand not what I'd instruct other people to do. It's got to resonate what you can deliver on, on a daily basis, not once in awhile.


David Alonso: Why do you think a video to you is not as important though? Because the transition in Linkedin, the last six to eight months is just being video, video, video, right. It's just gone completely. The other end. So interesting to hear why you feel video isn't as powerful.


Joe Mullings: Um, well personally I don't think videos as powerful as the written word. First of all, one is, um, when people are at work, they can't listen to videos as easily. You know, if this was Facebook or this was instead, that might be a little different. Second, the quality of the video that most people put out is marginal at best. Now you can look at Gary V or you can look at, uh, Elon Musk, or you can look at Richard Branson and say, Joe, but their videos get tens of thousands of views. Keep in mind they were a brand before they came to LinkedIn. If you're growing, your brand on LinkedIn, video requires the most amount of time, the most amount of money and the highest technical skill level. And so for every five minutes of video you shoot, you're likely, if you're even a decent editor, you're spending two hours to make that piece.


Joe Mullings: And a lot of people just don't give video. They taking low quality, they're rambling on their message and oftentimes it's not something that is memorable and it's gone on LinkedIn, especially the shelf life is very short and video usually doesn't get shared. I find a large number of my pictures and my copy goes viral a lot more quickly than video does. You know, I put out something the other day, I never know what's going to go viral. I put out something the other day and uh, within 48 hours, it had 80,000 views on it and it had been shared, I don't know, 40 times on just a regular post. That doesn't happen in video. Video does not go that viral. Now it might go viral on Facebook because it's a puppy video or a, you know, good looking guy or girl doing something sporty but on a LinkedIn platform video does not go viral


David Alonso: And you're all over all the platforms, right? Assume LinkedIn is your primary focus or...?



Joe Mullings: LinkedIn has always been our primary focus. However, we've just partnered with Gary Vaynerchuk and VaynerMedia and Gary and his team are going to be working closely with us to start deploying on Instagram, Facebook and potentially Twitter as well on my brand as well as a a docu-series we're coming out with. I'm happy to chat about later called true future. 7


David Alonso: Fantastic. Okay. Well I look forward to hearing about that. So four years ago you started this transformation. The business obviously was doing well at the time. Okay. A number of employees in the business. I'd love to know actually what does it look like to transition away from the day to day to free up the time to do it because that's the difficulty isn't it? Is really making that cut off and um, I presume getting the right types of people through the door to help support your goals.


Joe Mullings: Yeah. So the reason we went to building out a reputation a brand was historically the recruiting business has been a real challenge to build at scale. And here's why. And if you're in the recruiting business, you'll know that to find the good recruiter by itself is really difficult to find a good recruiter then who's got business development skills is even more difficult. And that can take anywhere from three, four, five years to get, again, depends on what you call expertise, but then become a really good high end recruiter who's really adept at business development could take a couple of years. So that's not very business in my opinion. It's still a practice when you build out a really strong brand reputation on a platform and you offer tremendous value to the market, suddenly now you start to get a lot more inbound traffic on the business development side.


Joe Mullings: And then what you can do is you can then go out and afford to hire. Historically recruiting firms have hired the best person they can for their as little money as they can pay. And you know, most of the time that's 30- $40,000 American and you know it's your interested figure money as I call it. And you're not going to get a real talented person. So your, your business ends up being hire, train, fire hire, train, fire and you're not building a business or your own desk cause you're distracted. But if you build a really good brand and you have business coming in, you can afford to go spend 70-80- $90,000 on best athlete and then have smart, driven, intelligent people who never have to worry about market development, business development, but can immediately start to impact making placements a lot more quickly and ah definitely because they're smarter, they're more driven and they're not. And I don't mean this a wrong way. Bottom of the barrel willing to settle up $30,000 base salary



David Alonso: For sure. So where was you before then when you started the process as far as bringing in new business, where was you from a percentage from outbound versus inbound? What does the transformation really look like?


Joe Mullings: Well, if you've worked the desk, you know most of your business, if you're good, about 50% of it is repeat business and then 50% of it is you out there calling. Have you got an opening? Have you got an opening? I just read about your business. Congratulations on the new contract, whatever it is. I read the article or I heard, so I would say more than 90% of our businesses inbound now from that and what's just as important, Dave, is our recruiters, even if they're just starting in their first week two, three, they don't have cold calls anymore because we have such a presence in our space. They no longer have a call when they call up. They'll say, hey, I'm with the mullings group. Oh yeah, you guys put out great content. I love what you do. You really understand my industry. So that call immediately moves up to a B to an A call, and we're not doing any C calls, so to speak.


David Alonso: It makes complete sense. I mean, cold calls essentially have gone right. There's no such thing as a cold call nowadays with the tools that we've got and what's available on social. But getting the one step up the ladder certainly will help. So I don't know how much time you spend on the personal stuff on a weekly basis, but do you kind of ever feel like you sort of maybe losing touch a little bit with the day to day of the actual operation side of recruitment business or is it your managers? You presumably figure that out over the last sort of four years to kind of keep in touch and know what's going on?


Joe Mullings: I still am the biggest biller in the office, I still spend at least four hours a day at my desk filling jobs. It's the only way I'm able to put out relevant salient, content cause I write every single word that comes out on my, I have designed my world. I have what's called the office of the CEO here at The Mullings Group. I've got one person who is a vice president who runs all operations here and she puts in place and gets down to the day to day weeds on whether it's financial, legal, HR, interaction with banks, billing, collections, et cetera. They'll be BMS, MBA, really smart person. I have another person who is a director who manages what I would call the lower level calls that keep all my deals in motion, whether it's setting up calls, setting up appointments, following up on messages, et cetera. And then I've got another person who's a director who manages all of my day to day on what's called DragonFly productions, which is our storytelling, our media company. I sit with each of those people every day. We go through, you know, my key decision and then what I've done



is gone out and hired really smart, driven people. Then go make sure that those things happen. The minutia happens on a daily basis. So I'm scaling out my experience and intelligence in this business cause I'm not a very smart guy and I'm allowing people who are smarter than me to run those aspects of my business which allow me to stay on a desk and built 1.7 to 2 million a year.


David Alonso: Joe, I don't even know how to answer that comment in the sense that I think a lot of people listening are going to be thinking why, how and jealous that you've been able to pull it off too. So you know someone who's, I'm trying to free up time to do stuff like this. I can appreciate what it takes to get processes in place to, congratulations. You mentioned the guys about the deals, the accompanying opportunities are coming in for them because of the brand and so forth. When you're hiring now you're looking at people who can actually jump in front of the video who are more confident than maybe you would have looked at in the past.


Joe Mullings: No, you will not get in front of a camera here for your first three, four, five years. You know what I believe in, and it's funny, is if you're not able to write on a daily basis, here's what my marketing university looks like. If you think that you want to build your brand, you need to be able to commit to writing on a daily basis, on a daily basis, somewhere between one and 1300 characters. That's all LinkedIn will give you is 1300 characters and inspirational aspirational educational message relative to the marketplace that you're in and be willing to put it out in the public domain and stand behind it. We only get good at what we practice every day. My writing skills have dramatically improved over the last couple of years because I commit to writing every day the same way I commit to eating every day. I commit to writing every day.


Joe Mullings: When you can write and rewrite and be forced to fit it into a 1300 character capsule that forces your communication skills, your spoken communication skills to process a lot more quickly and also be a lot more succinct and hitting your message and getting off your message and then moving along. So anybody going to do video. I think the road to success is becoming committed to writing on that LinkedIn 1300 character platform and do it on a daily basis and be brave enough to put it out there and you'll find after a while your online presence and video or anything else you want to do with get tremendously better than when my people come here. They're not coming here to beat brand machines. They're coming here to be recruiters.


David Alonso: Before we hear more from Joe, we're going to take a quick minute break to hear from one of our favorite partners here at Tracker Rms,



Here Fish. This company is all about helping staffing firms make automation personal, so if you haven't heard from Here Fish or heard about them, then you should certainly check them out today.


Here Fish: Here Fish is the leading automation platform specifically built for the fast paced needs of recruiting and staffing firms. Here Fish helps modern staffing firms personalize at scale to engage with candidates, clients and contractors throughout the entire recruiting cycle by automating key activities like sending email, sending text messages or updating fields in your ATS. Here Fish customers can focus on driving new growth rather than focusing on repetitive tasks with customers of every size and in every industry, Here Fish enables growing staffing firms to automate communication and processes to produce high touch candidate, customer and contractor experiences. To learn more, please visit herefish.com/podcast


David Alonso: Do you have a company brand? You have a personal brand. Is there a difference between the two for you?


Joe Mullings: Yeah, tremendously different. huh... So, um, you know, and this'll be a weird, and I'll get a lot of eye rolls on this, right? Rinaldo was his own brand, but so were the teams that he played for and he didn't represent those brands and that team didn't necessarily represent him. They were both true to themselves. Um, and the eye rolls are yeah. Um, and you can use the mean, am I the Rinaldo recruiting? Yeah, I am. Um, so.


David Alonso: I might have to... Too good a line not to use that.


Joe Mullings: I, I'll stand by it too. So know I have no right in being the standing brand of TMG. Although I have a responsibility to that brand. Each of my teammates here at the mornings group have their own idea. What we try and do is we just try and convey not our opinion on the market. We report what's happening in the market on the TMG brand, on the JSM brand, the Joe Mullings brand. We represent my point of view and asking you to think about things in your personal development and your career development. Those are two totally different items,


David Alonso: Isn't the danger, for instance, the Joe Mullings brands just much bigger in the sense that that's what people gravitate to and then one day if you do on the exit and buy that yacht, it too tied in. You're not worried about that?


Joe Mullings: The good news is that never [happen],



David Alonso: That's not a bad problem to have either, right?


Joe Mullings: No, no. The good look. The good news is I could not imagine having more fun in my life than what I've been doing for the last 30 years. Number one. Number two is, let me give you an example. I got a call today on the Joe Mullings brand and how it benefits my company. It's a very large national meeting that goes on in the medical device industry every year. And I got a call if I would be interested in sitting on the board and determining the content and what's going to be spoke about at the meeting and would I be able to bring in some key speakers out of the venture capital community as well as the large strategics, which are billion dollar companies because of my presence online that benefits my new recruiter who's 45 days in sitting on his desk. And it benefits my recruiter who's been with me for 23 years sitting at her desk. So I never worry down range about something that is probably never gonna happen and then pulled back my punching, um, for present day.


David Alonso: Okay. So this isn't a vanity project, right? This is a real impact on bottom line sales. Right. So can you, have you got any stats or top line sales yet? Any, um, indication of, of what that looked like over the last four years.


Joe Mullings: Inbound business is 90% calling. I think we've reduced our speed to hire by probably about 15 20% we've been able to create a platform that .... See what I think of us right now is I'm at the beginning of this model. You know, I know it stands out in the marketplace right now. It really does. We're just at the beginning of that model. I look at us as a gateway, a connector, a portal. Here's what the long game is. David and I haven't told anybody this in public yet. We have one product called TMG Pulse, TMG Pulse is a news aggregator in the medical device industry. Just think of Huffington Post as a news aggregator, guest writers, custom content and news aggregator. The second is the docu-series that we're talking about. True Future, again, a multimedia featuring companies and people in the Med tech industry. The third is a CEO future leaders platform that is by invite only on c-level people as well as emerging c-level people who want to be coached.


Joe Mullings: Give them guidance and custom content, right? All on multimedia and then we're taking all of that wrapping in a backend AI system that is going to connect all that with each other and we are now taking building careers and companies to a new level using multimedia and the ability to reach out by providing tremendous content. The portal gateway, it's all the information in the industry that we're specialists in. That same model would work in automotive and would work in agriculture. It would work in the pot business.



It'll work in all of those. If you're in the search business today and plan on being around for a long time and you're not adding more value than search itself, you're going to have a real challenge.


David Alonso: So the search, I mean in recruitment terms, you know, 80% are under 10 employees. There's not a lot of big companies out there. So you mentioned about 11 people is the team for the personal brand. So just give us an indication of how much money this costs, right? Because it's small shops can't do this. We're talking about a very small section of the recruitment space. Could even do it. That's even if they had the right people to do it, the right personalities do it, the right presence of mind to actually think of themselves as a media company versus actually a recruiter. So, you know, you're definitely in a, you know, I can't even imagine the talking about one or 2% here that you must be willing to do this and go on this journey. So if somebody was even thinking about doing, let's talk about what, you know, I'm curious, what do you actually need a team of 11, what does that even consist of and what does it even look like? Right? I mean, money-wise, you must be talking half a million bucks a year to get it right, if not, maybe more, maybe double, I'm guessing here, but, um, you know,


Joe Mullings: Our spend right now, again, because I've got an AI platform, I've got the Huffington Post Platform, I've got Dragon Fly Productions, uh, and I've got True Future. Let me give you a quick example. I'm going to answer your question. We have a presence in med tech, in the surgical robotic world and we put out a lot of content around that. I got a call a month ago from $1 billion plus industrial robotic company that's located in Germany that makes robots for the appliance business, Ferrari, Porsche, the number one, I believe the number one robotic company in the world. And they called us up and said, we want you to come out and we want you to do a feature on our company, in our medical sector that we're growing and we want to connect you with all of the companies that are in the med tech industry that are starting to buy our robots.


Joe Mullings: No, if that's not a pure evidence play on influence and the ability to lock business, I don't know what is and again, I've got those one after another, so that's one answering the question. Our spend right now is just under a million dollars a year, but again, we're putting out, I'm a docu-series, you know, we fly out to clients, do features. Any client that comes to us with seven or more openings on retainer, we will go out and do a custom piece on that for no extra charge. They just have the lock up for the retainers. And so now you can start to build a different business because you can now have a



monthly revenue flow that you're not sweating the start and end of every month. So when you have clients giving you a $40,000 average fee times seven that's $280,000 and you have 10 12 of those and then you get one or two that are giving you a hundred positions a year, you start to manage your business differently.


David Alonso: Very impressive. So what do we need to do then? Small business owners, they're looking to a start their personal brand. What's the bare minimum to do or is it even worth it? I mean, that's what it boils down to, right?


Joe Mullings: It's absolutely worth it. So the first thing is become a good writer. The second thing is buy a solid, a really high end camera and practice your writing skills and do it fearlessly. There's definitely certain ways to write and I'm eventually going to share with people how they should be writing, in my opinion on linkedin. But I would say forget about video, spend time on writing and bringing value to the market. Use the camera, don't use stock photography. You your face, use your brand. Don't make it a glamour shots or a beauty shot. You know, get them while you're working, while you're in action, while you're at a seminar, while you're at a convention or an industry show, while you're giving a morning meeting in your organization, you can have somebody wrap off hundreds of pictures a week, get yourself Lightroom, do some light editing on them and some people are saying right now are saying, oh my God, that's a lot of work. Yeah, it's a lot of work


David Alonso: For sure. And is it two posts a week, three posts in that week enough, or is it every day? So we have to really lock it down. Is is the consistency of the content as important?


Joe Mullings: Yeah, cadence, frequency and value. Those are the things I would say minimum three times a week because that's the only way you're going to get good at committing to practicing


David Alonso: No, I agree. Okay. Then let's change gears a little bit and go back to the search firms. So is this all done on your own dime? Have you ever taken any investment or is this all organic?


Joe Mullings: My venture capitalists are American Express, City Bank and Mastercard.


David Alonso: Good for you. The American way. That's great. And what about four years ago when you started the personal brand, is that where you kind of



looked at as more senior people to come into the business or was that management level already in place, you just to kind of take off and do it or we hire process?


Joe Mullings: No, I've been growing my leadership team for years. I've been super fortunate, uh, to create an environment that they've thoroughly enjoyed, um, prospered in and continue to personally grow. So having that was super helpful and then having a real passion and interest in learning the media business. If you're gonna get into the media business, you better learn it. You shouldn't just hire some young guy or girl because they're a millennial and you think they know Instagram. I went through probably 4 consultants, uh, who quote unquote were high level Madison Avenue marketing types and w one within one day in one within a couple months. I knew that this was an enormous waste of time because everything they did was rear view facing and we're trying to bend my brand to what they thought it should be. And unless you're going to be exactly who you are, whether I wake you up at two in the morning or spot in the middle of the day and people say, Yep, that's who he or she is, you're not going to be able to sustain. You're going to get tired and you're going to get literally sick.


David Alonso: Remind me, how many employees do you have?


Joe Mullings: Uh, 31 I think.


David Alonso: And is there any, if you were to sort of go back to the beginning, would there be a certain role that you would've, you know, hired earlier to kind of help you scale quicker? You know, for me, you know, in software sales is different now too. I'm into more of my old recruitment business where I would probably take on a VP of marketing off the bat to help grow the brand quicker. But looking back, would you have ever made a different change in who you'd have taken on first?

Joe Mullings: Mm, no, because I'm only where I am today because I went through those iterations and they were educational so you can look back and say they were bad hires. Um, I looked back and they were educational for me and I learned and never regretted any of the hires I made ever. I just don't process that way to be fair to Dave. I don't,


David Alonso: yeah, I don't process it that way. Why would you, I mean, if things are going well, just keep, keep moving forward. So the Rinaldo of recruitment and I'm going to, I'm going to have to align. So, um, obviously



you're being run out of your, you're an influencer, right? That's exactly what you are. But you know, what does that word mean to you? Right. Because influences on Instagram mean a very different thing, right? As far as the education, you know, like you mentioned before, so we look at who you're influencing in a positive or negative way. What does it mean to you personally about the content you put out and the effect it has on people? What's important to you?


Joe Mullings: So what's important to me are the private messages I get 10 or 15 times a day because I'm a recruiter. It's hard for some people to chime in on the comments or even like at times, but I would say minimum six most of the time, 10 on a daily basis, thankful and everything from vps down to entry level people who somebody told me to follow you and somebody that you know, that kind of stuff. That is really without being corny, that's the most important thing to me is knowing that the content that you're putting out is sincerely making a difference for people on whatever challenge or whatever they're trying to unwind themselves. So that's number one. I don't like the word influencer. I liked the word connector, that's the word we like to use. A influencer, no matter the platform I think is just not fair to use.


Joe Mullings: It's, it's certain something that can happen, but I like to believe I connect people from a career and a personal perspective and I've always viewed it that way. So it feels good to be a connector. Um, an influencer feels a lot more shallow. A connector to me feels stronger and more important. And quite honestly, that's what networking is about. Networking is connecting people, right? You know, that's the Internet's as these amazing back connections that all keep it strong and has redundancies in place and brings far reaching people together because of those connections. Influencers, influencers tend to push connectors tend to connect.


David Alonso: Okay. That's a good summary for sure. So I still can't get over the fact that you run a desk that is still a incredibly impressive. It really is.


Joe Mullings: I'll, I'll take it and show it to you right now.


David Alonso: No, I have no doubt. I mean there's just, the truth is it's coming out here. So what I would like to know is that, you know, you do your desk, you know, half a day, you're doing all your other stuff that you do. Are you talking about 15 hours of work here with that, you know, w what does it look like and you actually get an hour free time, family time. What does that actually look like? What's the balance look like for you nowadays?




Joe Mullings: So, um, I don't like the word balance because that's all personal in nature, but what works for me and my family is that I wake up everyday at 4:00 AM I answer emails from four to four 40 personal trainer comes to the house from five to six. Um, grab a shower and some quick breakfast. I'm usually out of the house by six 35, six 40 at my desk by seven Oh five this morning I had a call to Israel. So I was here at five 45 for the Israeli call. Like I said, I have an office assist...a CEO who manages my calendar, no meeting ever is longer than 30 minutes. Uh, these podcasts, I allow to go further than that. I probably take them that job. No, no, no. This is a great opportunity. I'm humbled that you asked me. By the way. I have my calendars, 30 minute increments the longest, most of the time…


Joe Mullings: 15 uh, work through lunch, but it's a standing lunch and it's usually with somebody. I usually wrap up out of here by six, six 15. I'm about 32 minutes away to my house. I have dinner with my, a 14 year old and six 17 year old. Yeah, met 17. Yeah, half the time because they both work. The 17 works and the little ones ice hockey, lacrosse player and a, when I'm not there, my wife sits down and has dinner with me. I'm in bed by eight 30 and it makes it easy to get up by four 4:00 AM


David Alonso: wow. So that real structured day, you really feel you need to keep to that level of structure to make it work?


Joe Mullings: I treat myself like an athlete, so the food I take in, the sleep I take in when I travel on the road, like I look at myself as a professional athlete and I treat myself accordingly.


David Alonso: Wow. So this level of commitment you mentioned or alluded before, that you're never going to not stop working, but is there any sort of finish line for you? What does it look like if there was?


Joe Mullings: um, yeah, I don't even think about it. Cause the second you put a flag in the ground as a finish line is the second that you stop being creative and you fixate and start making this decisions on a near term goal. Um, that is that a finish line. So, you know, I described the three people around me who are my opposite of the CEO is... in the eye of a hurricane or a tornado, if you're dead center, you're always safe. If you're really far out away, you're really safe. But if you're silly enough to stand close enough but not be in the middle, that's where you're going to get torn up. Right? And so what I look at is my world changes so quickly every day. And those people who are in that inner circle with me, I have



to change that quick that I can't give you a finish line because I just shift things all the time and.


David Alonso: So, no, no finish line finished though because you all diversifying and things are more exciting if you were just doing the search firm, do you think there's probably more likely to have a finish line?


Joe Mullings: I wouldn't just be doing the search for no, that's the problem.


David Alonso: That's the difference. Yeah.


Joe Mullings: I wouldn't, you know, and look, I probably pour, honestly, I pour 60% of my profits back into building the uh, production company, you know, be that sheen... Rather than a finish line. How bout maybe a line on the tombstone? There was talent acquisition before The Mullings Group and then there was talent acquisition after The Mullings Group. And maybe that would be the closest thing to my finish line. I'd like somebody to point back historically to.


David Alonso: Nice, nice legacy for sure. So let's finish up on the docu-series where, how, when, where if we find it, what can we do with it and so forth.


Joe Mullings: So right now we're going to be on all the platforms. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. It'll be under true future and it'll have a webpage called truefuture.tv.


Joe Mullings: The essence of this show is, and this is my guys don't like me to pitch it like this cause they don't want to be compared to it, but it's the quickest way to do it. Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain, although the show was around food, it really was around culture, people's social challenges and his beautiful perspective on life. I would say the True Future aligns with the Bourdain approach two parts unknown only instead of food. We are using the advanced medical device, medical technology that impacts every single person in this world and the things that are yet to come that most of the public don't even know about. We are showing that people who make that and bring that science, the market around the world. So as I said, we're going to Germany. Uh, we just came back from Flagstaff, we're up in Boston, we're going to Tel Aviv.


David Alonso: And San Deigo?


Joe Mullings: That's well we're going down to Carlsbad. Um, and one of those dates right now,




David Alonso: Well, you know, you're five miles from me. So make sure we, um, do something when you here for sure.


Joe Mullings: On that we'll, we'll be pimping it very, very soon on true on, uh, LinkedIn is really where we're going to blast out. But as I said, Gary and Vayner Media are going to be pushing it out on all the other channels for us as well.


David Alonso: Well, listen, I have to say that's been a real pleasure. This definitely feels like, you know, although


David Alonso: you've been doing this for lots of years as far as search and four years as far as the brand, it feels like it's just the start. So I feel really sort of privileged to kind of get in very early on this journey of yours and the follow you and see what you're all about and, uh, buy some beers in Carlsbad in the next few weeks by the sound of it. It's been a real pleasure, Joe.


Joe Mullings: Thank you, David. Thank you so much and best wishes.


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007: Sharon Hulce on the role of the CEO and personalizing the recruitment process

How does the CEO make or break a company’s work culture? David Alonso discusses the fundamental role of the CEO, fostering positive company culture, and personalizing the recruitment process with Forbes-recognized CEO Sharon Hulce of Employment Resource Group.

A special thanks to JobRobotix for sponsoring this episode! Why manually manage your work flows if our bots can do it for you? Free your staff to do more profitable tasks with our data automation technology! 

People don’t leave companies. They leave leaders. 

 Show Notes:

  • How a near death experience led Sharon on her recruitment journey (1:06) 

  • Sharon’s ideal client (2:39) 

  • How did the recession impact Sharon’s recruitment company? (4:06)

  • How has Sharon’s recruitment business changed in the last five years? (5:06) 

  • How does Sharon get a company’s business on brand and on message? (6:30) 

  • Sharon’s personalized approach towards candidate retention. (7:57) 

  • Why it’s important to be a storyteller in the recruitment business. (9:22) 

  • How many positions Employment Resource Group has filled this year (10:38)

  • How important is the CEO when it comes to the company brand? (11:06)

  • Sharon Hulce’s Top Recruiter experience and how candidates were selected (13:01) 

  • The role that emotional intelligence plays in recruitment (15:04) 

  • Sharon on ‘natural DNA gifts’ (15:25)

  • What the Pinnacle Society is and the role it plays professionally (17:35) 

  • Sharon’s daily schedule (18:52) 

  • Why Sharon continues to run a desk in her recruitment company (21:39) 

  • The candidate selection process and the importance of being involved as CEO (22:52) 

  • Employment Resource Group’s core philosophy (24:57) 

  • Does Sharon fear the coming of A.I.? (26:09)

  • Are there mistakes that Sharon has learned from in the recruitment business? (28:08) 

  • Does Sharon find it hard to hire for her own business at times? (30:10) 

  • Something Sharon is most proud of. (31:14) 

  • Sharon describes the workplace culture of Employment Resource Group (32:15)

  • Sharon discusses personal traits that may annoy some of her employees (33:53)

  • Sharon discusses “Shall We Dance?” (34:52)

  • A book or podcast that motivates Sharon (36:47) 

  • When will Sharon know she’s accomplished her goals? (38:12) 

Additional Resources:

If you are interested in listening to more recruitment business stories or wish to share your recruitment business journey, subscribe for free to The JourneyUp in your favorite app and listen to other informative and inspirational episodes! Feel free to contact me, David Alonso, with questions and comments.

Episode transcript

David Alonso:    Welcome to The JourneyUP podcast show feature and the very best CEOs in the staffing industry who share their passions and successes as well as giving you some practical advice that you can use in your staff in business. I'm David Alonso and today's show. I met the CEO of very successful search firm out of Wisconsin. She's an industry visionary of Pinnacle Society Member, so much passion for the staff and sector. She does it all from speaking gigs to TV shows and even has time to still run a desk. Her expertise has led to her from being listed by Forbes as one of America's best executive search firms for 2019 my guest today, Sharon Hulce from Employment Resource Group. A little shout out to Wendy Robinson for the introduction, so let's now hear what Sharon is all about.

David Alonso:    Hello. Thanks for being on the show. You know, I've been looking forward to this one for a while. I'm trying to keep it on point because I know that I could probably ask you too many questions and it could go on forever. So I'll try and keep it nice and concise for you today. But I love to start and just ask, being in the industry for for some time now, how did you start? What was your journey up? When I look on Linkedin, I don't see anything beforehand, so I'd love to get a feel for how that first day came about.

Sharon Hulce:   Yep. So I was working for a women's clothing company out of North Carolina as a national recruiter and I loved my job. I got to wear beautiful clothes every day and I got to meet very interesting women. I was flying from Saint Louis to Chicago and my flight had no landing gear. Oh, we didn't know it till we were already in the air. So it took four hours of circling and we finally landed on our belly and I became a very nervous flyer in that job. I had to fly every day. So I did what I tell everybody do. And that's make a list of all the things I really love and all the things I was sort of in my DNA naturally good at. And the piece that came out is I really loved recruiting. I loved helping people to find their life's vocation, all of that. So I accepted a position with another search firm, worked for them for six years and loved it. But my then boss was retiring and rather than buy his office, which was pretty much my desk, I just purchased my book of business and started Employment Resource Group.

David Alonso:    Wow. Well I've never heard a near death experience be linked to how they started in recruitment so far. So that's definitely the first time that has happened. And tell us a little bit about your kind of ideal client. Tell us about who you recruit for...

Sharon Hulce:   You know, I would say that for me the ideal client is one that lets us sort of become that trusted advisor. I hate the word headhunter, I just despise the word headhunter. So for us, we really try to not just fill positions but really help from a talent perspective to look at their whole organization. So it's really around how values bleed into the organization. Are they living their values every day? And then if their culture is strong, finding people that culturally can integrate in and if their culture's not strong, how do we help them to grow the kind of culture that they ultimately want within their companies. So I would tell you the ideal client for me is one that will open the kimono and let us really help them with their whole organization, not just, here's a position I have, go out and fill it.

David Alonso:    What's the reality of that? What sort of percentage allow you to kind of have that creativity would you say?

Sharon Hulce:   Well, I would tell you over time they all get there is I see things, I'll be honest with them about either their leadership style or they have a leader within their organization that people are commenting about. They're not living the values that they say they have as an organization. So I'll have those candid conversations. At the same time that we have those conversations, I'll try to also offer up services or things that we can do that will help them to understand where the disconnect is and how they can fix it.

David Alonso:    And have you over the years, you know, looking at the sort of the time period, there's at least been one or two recessions in there, did you ever kind of have to change your model to or did you always stick to the same certain process?

Sharon Hulce:   When I started we didn't have the Internet, so I'm really a dinosaur in this business. So lots of things have certainly changed throughout the years. I would say the recession piece, we were really fortunate that we had good customers, that while they didn't have a lot of openings that gave us what they had, we also did a lot of consulting during the recession because people had more time to really unpeel the onion on what they had for talent as opposed to looking for new challenges. So we spent a lot of time doing values analysis and creating cultures. Then keeping people engaged when, the economy wasn't as great and business wasn't as robust. People have more time to train and do all of that during those times. So we always had things that kept us busy. We've always had good years obviously when it's not a recession, it's better though obviously a little easier.

David Alonso:    We've had a good run right for the last, you know, eight, 10 years and so forth. But, and obviously you said there's been a lot of changes. What about the last five years? Is there anything you can kind of sort of say, well that's really largely changed for how I used to do business?

Sharon Hulce:   The biggest change I think that I see is the things that we used to sell about organizations. You know, we used to sell things like clean facilities and good paying jobs and, and we used to sell safe places to live. None of that really resonates with the incoming leaders. It really is that heart piece about purpose and mission and you know, does your organization offer an impact on the lives of those you serve? So if you sell something or you make something, what impact does that have? And if it's not impactful, they're not as excited about working with the organizations. So the messaging around how we sell an organization is very different. I mean, nobody cares if your facilities are cleaned and they're lean and they're, you know, you make a great product. It really comes down to how does what you do impact the world and everybody has that. It's just really getting companies to understand what that messaging looks like.

David Alonso:    Yeah, I did a podcast the other week actually. It was more contract based. They were saying to me that I'm, I think 70 [or] 75% of contractors can even remember the employment agency they were working for. So it was a huge number, which kind of just goes back to the whole brand and a message and so forth. So how do we get the whole company on board with the brand and the messaging? Obviously from a CEO perspective, we'll cover off that in a moment. I know you do tons of that, but how'd you kind of get your team and staff all onboard? Does that go back to the actual hiring process or is that something you educate as you get them through the door?

Sharon Hulce:   I would say it starts at the hiring process. So, so our own experience has to mirror the experience we want from an it perspective of our clients. So everything about what we do is experiential, right? So it's how we differentiate ourselves as a search firm is if the experience they have from the time they have the first phone call with us till we bring them in and we interview them and we onboard them. So we do a lot of things to give them a unique experience as it relates to interviewing with us. Therefore, we talked to them about emulating that same sort of experience with our customers. So everything from sending them shirts with the company logo to business cards to um, you know, that how many times that they have that human to human connection. All of that I think is what differentiates us as a firm is that fact that we really try to make it more of an attraction and an experience than it is just the transaction of you have an opening and we're going to fill the position and same thing with our on we go by the ideal team player.

Sharon Hulce:   So we hire a hungry, humble and smart. That's our three things that we look for.

David Alonso:    That's great. And when you talk about candidate attraction, you mentioned about you know, some swag and that sort of stuff. Is there a set process that they register, they get this, they get these touch points. Is there a cadence in place for just candidate retention?

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah, so every company is different. Everybody has their own. So we'll recommend things to our client if we work very heavy in construction, construction is an industry that comparably is the least likely to remain connected. They sort of expect us to keep the connection between the time they actually send an offer letter until the person starts. So we do things to keep the candidate engaged in the experience. And we will tee up your, you are on the clock to call them on this day. We actually set an appointment to say on this day you're going to give them a call. Say, you know, I'm getting excited. Or something as simple as that email. If the person is traveling, you know, I'm excited to get you on board. You know, we've teed up, we figured out your first project you're going to work on. So we in a lot of technical driven male dominated industries where it's not that natural. You know, I think in our industry it's more of a natural week. We started to have touch points where along the way we know who's going to connect with them when, but for people who are really busy in technically driven industries and they're out in the field and they're traveling and they're running projects, we have to be more thoughtful on making sure that that kind of stuff happens along the way.

David Alonso:    And you mentioned about a messaging being so important. Obviously a huge part of that is your employees and how they deliver that messaging. Is there certain training that you do around messaging or so forth? I'm curious to know are they kind of expected to post certain things or do certain things? Cause that's a challenge for every business, right?

Sharon Hulce:   We are not a "post and pray" company. So we don't post anything. Our number one job, and my people will tell you, they hear this all the time, our number one job is to be storytellers, but we don't talk about, so again, let's use construction as the example. All of the contractors that we work with all build beautiful buildings. All of the subcontractors we work with all do great work. So what differentiates them are the stories and the stories have to be about people and how the people connect one to another. So we tell a lot of stories about what the organization does to make themselves unique. And so for example, we have one client that they had heard that the CEO wanted to hit, always wanted to fly in a helicopter. So during a project meeting they had helicopter land in the parking lot. They'd take her around to see all the projects. So it's those kind of, we tell those stories as opposed to telling, you know, they build great buildings and here's what they sell because nobody cares about all of that. They do ultimately, but they want to hear what makes a company special.

David Alonso:    And how many sort of positions would you typically work on per year? Like how many instructions would you get?

Sharon Hulce:   Oh, a lot. So right now we have 70 open retainers. So we worked on hundreds a year.

David Alonso:    You know the whole JourneyUP podcast is really sort of aimed at CEOs exactly like yourself. So I do get a feeling that a lot of CEOs are really struggling with a personal brand piece about actually putting themselves out there. They may have had, they might be long in tenure, don't want to do it, nervous about doing it, that sort of stuff. How important is the CEO's brand or can we just let the employees do videos and build that whole brand up for us? We have to get involved.

Sharon Hulce:   Oh Lord. Well I think so. Here's what I would tell you is my observation. This is my 23rd year of being executive search. And if I had to say what makes or hurts a company brand, it's the CEO. And even myself, I had to go through a very personal journey of looking in the mirror and saying, what is it that you do that creates a good or bad experience within these walls? When we see that a company's in chaos or we see a company has a culture that people ultimately leave and they don't like it, typically because the CEO is so busy that they don't take time to really recognize their own personal brand and how their message is being felt across the organization. People don't leave companies, they leave leaders, and they tend to leave leaders who are not transparent or are not willing to look at their own wins or losses and share that with the team. They feel like they have to be above it all. The more warm I am, the more transparent a CEO can be, the more likely they'll have a really wonderful people first culture.

David Alonso:    Yeah, and for those who, who are new to Sharon, there's lots of stuff on Youtube. There's, there's TV shows you've been on, the some great stuff, um, presentations that you've done. Lots of books about top recruiter, new to me actually from the UK. So I enjoyed that. Well how did that all come about? And just curious, what was the, you know, tell me about how it came about and uh, what did you kind of take away from the experience? Cause it's taken you away from making money at the end of the day, right. So I'm sure that was a drain.

Sharon Hulce:   It was a fabulous experience. I'll just start with that. So a, what happened? Crystal Bois, who is the producer of top recruiter, had a talented traction series he was doing and bringing in people from either a search firms or high level HR people to come together and just have conversations about talent attraction. There's not a lot of people who have as much tenure as I do in search. And I think quite frankly, he needed a female who had been in a long time. So Chris and I had a conversation on the fallen. I flew to Miami and met with him and I did the talent attraction series and he called me and he said, I have, I got to do it for you. And I'm like, oh Lord.

Sharon Hulce:   And he said, I need somebody. I need a female to be the boss on top recruiter against Dick Felice, who is this long tenured, really tough kind of a teddy bear really. But it comes across as this really rough and tough guy and I need somebody who can stand toe to toe with Dick. Would you do it? And I just started laughing and I said, uh, you know, tell me a little bit more about it, and stuff. I ultimately decided I would do it. So I was one of two bosses to vote people off the top recruiter island.

David Alonso:    How did the people get selected for the actual candidates then?

Sharon Hulce:   So I think they had a group of people who actually interviewed different people to be on the show. And it was, you know, it was a really interesting prospect of people. I mean, no, no two people were alike. And I think the assumption was they would do tactical things that recruiters do. And it wasn't like that at all. It was really very emotional intelligence type. And as we took them through so it ended up being different than I think they anticipated. And I think the winner actually ended up being someone different than everybody thought it was going to be cause they thought it was just going to be based on pure tactics of making calls and you know, writing scripts and that sort of thing. Which we get wasn't that at all.

David Alonso:    Well isn't that interesting though? Cause there's so much emotion, right, that people never saw to talk about the emotional side of recruiting. And actually if you kind of break out your day, you are dealing with emotions every single time when you pick up that phone call, right? How you're engaging with that candidate, how you engage in that client, you know, do you have any empathy towards them? Are you nice? And I think we never hear about that sort of stuff.

Sharon Hulce:   And that is the number one thing that AI believe makes us successful. And B, I think is more important. I think that, so for us the technical skills are really a point of entry. If they don't have it, obviously why are we interviewing them for the job? So that's kind of what I call the point of entry stuff. Okay. They have the right technical skills, but it's all that stuff that is behind the curtain that makes people either wildly successful or not integrate into a culture and not integrate and be successful in a company. And that's why when I really unpeel the onion on a candidate and have that deep dive conversation, would I want to know is what makes them tick internally. And I'm a firm believer and I've always been a believer in DNA, natural gifts. So you think about the athlete in high school who was just a natural born athlete. Go to baseball, go to football. That's a natural DNA gift. Or the girl that never cracked a book and just got straight A's, right? Natural DNA. Get every person, everybody has one. If you can find out what that is and then put the person in a job where they will enhance that natural gift, they'll be a rock star because they're naturally good at it. It isn't something they had to train or educate themselves to.

David Alonso:    And when you're looking for recruiters internally, is there any, any advice about how to unearth those natural gifts on interviews?

Sharon Hulce:   I make everybody do the same thing I make everybody do here is make a list of all the things that you are really passionate about and actually it can be piano, it can be your family, it can be, it doesn't have to be work related. It can be anything that when you think about it you just absolutely really, really love it. And then the other piece is, what are the things that you just have always been good at? You didn't have to take a class, you didn't have to study. Like I always use my example. For me it's I'm just intuitive. I just have a really good spidey sense and I've always had that. And my sister, I says that I'm like my father, that my father had a really good intuition. So for me, my spidey senses what really helps me in this business, because I can usually cut through the wheat and the tape and figure out what the, you know, I always say somewhere in the middle lies the truth. So for me it's figuring out what is the truth.

David Alonso:    And you're someone who's in the Pinnacle Society. For those who don't know that, I'd love you to share what that is, but I'd love to kind of understand what those traits are that why they are there, is it purely tenure, amazing to making the most money? What is it actually gets you into, to, to be in the Pinnacle Society?

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah. You have to be nominated to be a Pinnacle Society and it starts with raw billings. So it is production. There's no question that there is a production component and it's a pretty hefty minimum that you have to achieve every year. So a lot of people are not as tenured as I am simply because people don't always run a desk as long as I run a desk. I am passionate about the business itself. So I'm still on a desk full time. But you have to bill on a desk. And then the other component really is what do you bring to the society? So at the top 80 recruiters in the country and it really is about what is a core learning that you can bring to this group. So you know, all high tide rises all boats and that's the theory of Pinnacle is great and great and great equals greater. So they are always looking to who are the thought leaders within our industry and how do those thought leaders help to innovate as a group of 80 all of us to make us better and better.

David Alonso:    It's interesting when you talk about thought leader and innovation, so forth, you know you're running a desk super busy from what I can see, how do you even get time to think? Where are you finding this time from? That's why I always wonder, when I look at someone life like, so active. Do you manage your day in a very strict and certain way or are you someone who commit, you know, is it coffee at six-thrity and looking at emails? Is there a process that you follow or is it...

Sharon Hulce:   Oh yeah. I'm a very regimented daily person. I start my day at four, I workout at four. It helps but, I'm an early riser, but I also go to bed early. But at four o'clock I work out... By 6:30/7 at the latest, I'm at work. My quiet time is from seven to eight. That's when I organize my day. But I am a list maker, so I have a constant list of things that I need to get accomplished. And then I run a pretty regimented day. As far as, um, when, you know, I have a calendar, I have an assistant who really is, thankfully I have an assistant who's amazing and she manages all the moving parts of my day. So she'll give me, if I have a board meeting the day before she'll have me and say, you need to read this tonight. So all of that is pretty much planned out.

Sharon Hulce:   The good news is, you know, good, bad or indifferent. I am single so I have a lot of time that's quiet time when I get home and I work a lot. I work probably 80 hours a week. I don't have a lot of hobbies. I travel a fair amount and that's sort of my hobby is I have a daughter that she and I love to travel together. So we do a third quarter, we go somewhere and that's my downtime and that's where I rest and rejuvenate and then I back at it again and put in another 80 hour week. But you clearly love to work. I do. I love what I do and that it really helps when you find your life's vocation. It's really not work.

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David Alonso:    Do you have advice for, it's interesting that you're still running the desk and you're still passionate about it. Most people kind of after five or 10 years of trying to like build the team, not run a desk and so forth, just curious why, why you didn't do that? Because you didn't want to stop doing it because it's just first and foremost. You enjoyed it. I mean, there must've been a point where you thought about, right now I want to build a different structure, for instance.

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah, I, you know, I've thought about it probably a lot in my 23 years of doing this. I actually went off a desk for three months and I just about went insane and I always say it's the control freak part of me. I like to be able to be that final gut check on candidates. So by running a desk and having that closed line of sight with my clients, I really can get to the right person. I think the other piece of it is, it's just being honest. I mean being transparent. I liked the money of running a desk. I like to be able to earn the kind of income I can earn when I run $1 million desk. So for me, if I get out of the game, I'm probably not going to be able to earn as much money as I like to earn by being able to run a test and I think I'm good at it and it doesn't feel like work to me. To me it's the challenge of the hunt.

David Alonso:    I admire that 100% and I would say also you definitely are a thought leader in the industry from what I can, what I know about you, what I've heard about you. And so forth. And even to some of the quotes that I've read going back some time and like this one here, um, three years ago: "Talent will be harder to find and we need to hire based on what they can bring versus what they have done." So definitely right. So I mean I know that you, somebody mentioned before about your clients, you'd like to educate them and you've actually kind of indicated maybe they have to comply a little bit because that's how you work and that's the right way in my opinion to be so. But how'd you, how'd you get them on board?

Sharon Hulce:   You know, I think a lot of it is we don't take a new search unless we visit. So we spend a lot of time inside our clients doors. We do not, this is not a phone business. Everybody says it's a phone business and it is a phone business to some degree where that's our daily communication. But if you don't really get to know everything about your clients, it's really hard to an impact to the level that we want. So I'm on a plane train or automobile a lot and I try to spend significant amount of time getting to know my clients. Um, I'm pretty outgoing, so I like to have a lot of fun with my clients and we build a really nice friendship on top of being people that work together. And I think that for me it's getting to a point where without it being offensive, we have candid conversations about how I think we can be the most impactful.

Sharon Hulce:   And a lot of times it's you see something and you know that the person is right or some change in something would be the right move. But it's really helping to get them to a place where they also see it. I've had a lot of nice arm around the shoulder walks with a lot of my clients saying, I know you would like to stay and I know you would like to stay in your office, but your 80 years old and you're hiring a new president and you need to move on to your office to give them significance. So that kind of conversation. I've had lots and lots of,

David Alonso:    Keepin' it very real. Obviously you hire nationally, right? It's not just in Wisconsin.

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah. We work nationally.

David Alonso:    When you are taking all your new people internally, you run a desk full time in running the business. I'm not sure what help you get as far as genuinely what people and processes you've put into place there, but how are these people buying your philosophy? Do you put them on a certain induction plan? Is it just shadowing you? How does it work for new people that joined the business?

Sharon Hulce:   Well, I think at our core hungry, humble, smart help, you know... We're big Patrick Lencioni fans, the ideal team player. I do believe those three competencies of hungry, hungry, of course in our business it's important. It's important in any sales business, right? I'm humble and that willingness to admit that we don't know everything and also to help each other or you know, admit when we don't know and ask others for help. And then smart and smart, isn't raw intelligence. It's really the emotional intelligence piece of what we do. If we stayed true to that core, the learning curve is not hard is when we don't stay true to that core and we make our own mistakes. Don't get me wrong, we've hired a lot of people that I'd like to have, you know, do overs so nobody's perfect. But I think when we stay true to that core and we really investigate those three things, if we can find people that have those three things, they integrate into our culture pretty quickly.

David Alonso:    Mm. And um, the people you have working for you are the future people and so forth. You know, that everything we read about is, you know, technology, AI... Recruiters are dying, blah, blah, blah. What was your kind of take on it? I mean, everything you do is up close and personal. How can that ever be replaced? I mean, did you have any fears for the future?

Sharon Hulce:   You know, I really don't. It's funny because I think about people are always talking about AI and all this and first of all, I don't have that many years to work. I'm going to work probably 10 more years. So, you know, good luck replacing me in 10 years because it's going to take a while for all that to take effect. When I think about the fear factor, I think it's more a level of frustration that people have as opposed to fear. So for me, I'm not fearful of where our business is going. I always figure, um, person to person contact, we'll always have a place in hiring of talent. I don't believe that will ever be replaced by a machine or someone who can't get at that emotional piece. I think people will try to, and then we will add them innovations. I know there's a lot of gamification and all this stuff going on right now and I think all of it has a place and I think all of it is an interesting thought.

Sharon Hulce:   But at the end of the day it's, I build a relationship review and you have a relationship with me and I think that's what helps to really just sort of seal the deal. So I think there'll always be a place, but I'm also not naive that, I mean I look at the 23 years and starting with no internet and you know, going to the library and going, looking up in the town was registered and ordering the yellow pages from every town we worked in to today. I mean that just, that transition alone has been tremendous. So I have no doubt that by the time I leave this business will look very, very different.

David Alonso:    Yeah. For someone who's got great tenure, who's been around, um, you've obviously learned a lot. They say that and um, you've grown and you've probably had some amazing ups and downs that have shaped the person you are today. I won't ask what you've learned, cause I think the list will be huge. Is there any sort of, any of the mistakes or uh, maybe share a few of those with us or,

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah, so I would say I'm, and I'll do this from an owner's perspective. I would say to certainly I hired the wrong people and I've hired the wrong people because I put too much emphasis on the aggressive piece. And not enough on the connection and the emotional attachment that they could have in telling stories.

David Alonso:    What'd you mean by aggressive?

New Speaker:    Sorry. Well, so I like people who are motivated by money. I don't look at that as a bad thing, but I do think there's a difference between confident with a low ego versus confident with a big ego. I would say years ago my focus was video bigger the swagger the better. So then there was always this fight on no, you have to understand what's behind the curtain, you have to understand how, how they'll integrate it in the company and that their swagger was all about making money.

Sharon Hulce:   So that was my bad early on. And even up until not all that long ago, I had sort of that trajectory of I would hire people that I thought could just get at it and would be aggressive, but not necessarily, I didn't really understand, did they have the emotional intelligence to be good at this business? Um, and then my other fault, and this is, I still am probably guilty of this, although I am getting better is I keep people to want to, if it's obvious that they are not a good fit and it's obvious that um, this is not their life vocation, I would be remiss to make them stay. A lot of times they stay because it's comfortable and we do have a very fun culture. We do a lot of things are really, we have a very unique culture where we play as hard as we worked. Yeah. So people like to stay here, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's good. So I have a leadership team in place that really keeps me pretty honest on people and we did just put in place a chief culture officer that has a line of sight on that as well as helps with making sure that our culture is always growing and strong.

David Alonso:    Hmm. That's very interesting. Do you not find that, you know, it's so easy to recruit for your clients, but recruiting for yourself just, I mean I, I used to have my own recruitment business. It was great. It was so straight forward the minute I had to take on consultants or I just, I go, I get too emotional and I go for the people I like versus it's just not a good fill.

Sharon Hulce:   That's why I think it's good to have somebody who like us to help them because they do exactly what we do for our own organizations and that that's it. We hire people we like and I worked really hard to, you know, I have several people who have a line of sight on, I don't ever hire in a silo and we really do try to make sure that they emulate those three characteristics. And I mean there's no perfect person, but emulate those characteristics as much as possible because there'll be a good producer, but they'll also be a good teammate. And when we vary from that is when we end up saying, you know, we should all listen to our own gut. I have a pretty strong spidey sense. Yeah. It's funny because I'll hire people that everybody else likes and, and I'm like, I just don't know. But everybody likes him. So ... it ended up not being good.

David Alonso:    That one always comes back, doesn't it? No doubt about it. So what are you most proud of? If you could pick one thing or probably not just one thing, but you know, most of one you could share.

Sharon Hulce:   So I would tell you, I'm really proud of my team. I have a really awesome team right now, the best team we've ever had. And that's because we have a really strong team of people who really work as a collective unit. We don't have any big egos wandering around. We've had that again in the not too distant past where it was, you know, one person on an island and they shut their door and they didn't interact. And this is, this is the best team we've ever had as far as people helping each other to be successful. So I'm very proud of my team. I'm proud of my daughter. She's doing amazing. It's her first year in college and I'm very proud of her. She's just great. And I'm, you know, I'm proud of where I am today. I mean, I grew up on a dairy farm. You know, a young girl and I'm really proud to say that I have my own company and it's successful and it's been a hell of a journey. So I'm really proud of that.

David Alonso:    Yeah, I've seen you've got plenty to be proud of us for sure. And there's no doubt about it. It's interesting cause you mentioned culture and um, I've always asked this, you know, you clearly have a culture. How would you describe the culture? Is it, you know, you mentioned about it's a fun place to work, that people are on board with your ideas. It's kind of hard to kind of summarize what your culture is cause you've either kind of, got it or you haven't, you know, and I always find that that does come with tenure and sticking around long enough to create it. You know, if you're turning over people under a year, you know, it's a tough one.

Sharon Hulce:   Yeah. I described this to everybody who interviews here. I know we are sort of a collective group of dorks. We do the goofiest ,goofiest stuff and we laugh a ton doing it. So we have a ton of fun just being big dorks, but we also have a culture. We work extremely hard. We also have probably a culture and that's culture is already thrown from the top down of perfectionist to really, really, really work hard to get it right. And when we don't get it right, we beat ourselves up more than a client, whatever, beat us up. So we keep going until we absolutely get it right. So whatever it takes, but we also have a culture of whatever it takes to, to make it right.

David Alonso:    Bit of feedback. It really does shine through in your, on your social posts on when I look for your videos, you know, if people who are listed, we want an idea about, you know, how to be social on social, I think you're a great, perfectly, um, place to come people to be a reference on how to do things. So super congratulations on that. So we know how amazing you are, obviously. Clearly. What about the a and the, I have a list as long as my arm on this one. But tell me about the little traits that might annoy people in your company about you.

Sharon Hulce:   Oh Lord. And that's going to be the long list. So I actually know these because we talk openly about it. So I'm a perfectionist. I mean I really am. So I drive people crazy cause you know, I have recruiters that work with me and they'll work really, really hard to bring in resumes or within a minute I go no. And I don't even always give them a long answer as to why I just like no, they're not a fit. So that would drive me crazy. And I know it drives them crazy cause they work really hard. And then I'm like no. So that whole perfectionist piece, um, I think I'm better now, but I had to do a long look in the mirror of myself, learning how to be a better teammate, you know, not just be the leader, but on a daily basis. I'm really more a member of the team because I run a desk and we work together. So instead of having my leader hat all the time, sometimes I just need to have my teammate hat and making sure that I do that. And that doesn't always happen. So I'm sure that annoys them too.

David Alonso:    Well, you're definitely kind of someone who exudes passion. Right. I was curious to ask because it seemed very passionate about, um, Shall We Dance? You'd like to tell us a little bit about that. It looks like it was so much fun.

Sharon Hulce:   Oh, it was one of the best experiences I've ever had. So there was two reasons why I wanted to do it. One is I used to be a police and fire commissioner, so I knew that the sex trafficking and domestic violence was even within our area was a huge issue. So for me, I wanted to be able to raise money to help with that because unfortunately it's a bigger issue then people would even want to admit everywhere. So that was a big part of it. But then so I grew up, like I said, I grew up on a dairy farm and the only thing we had available was 4-H. That was it. There was no dance lessons. There was no, I mean we didn't even have a lot of sports for girls. I was a cheerleader. So because of that I never had a dance lesson and I do not consider myself very graceful. So it was a huge take myself outside my normal nine dots to learn how to do west coast swing. Wow. What we did.

David Alonso:    Wow. Well yeah, I mean it's, and it presume it raised a lot of money.

Sharon Hulce:   We did. I think we raised almost $40,000 and uh, I had the best, best death partner ever because he made me laugh every single day for six months. Is that a national thing or was it just local? This city happens to be a local line, but they are doing it all over the country. It's kind of off the dancing. But the stairs that the is on TV sort of same, same philosophy.

David Alonso:    I think I've actually seen that, um, there's an incentive similar where we are in, in sneakers, in California. There's, there's obviously a lot of that here. Yeah, it's definitely a big thing for sure. Um, it doesn't seem that you need to wake up and someone to give you motivation that you seem to have plenty of that. Do you have like a go to motivation book or podcast? Anyone that when you're feeling a little bit low that you'll pick up and try and get motivated by?

Sharon Hulce:   So, um, I read a ton. I'm always reading, so I will tell you that I love Tony Robbins. Um, I went to Jack Canfield's train the trainer and when I was a young girl, meaning 19, I actually went to Zig Ziglar, born to win seminar, loved that. And he was just an inspiration until he passed. And now we've been doing a lot of work with Patrick Lencioni so I'm never going to be an expert in everything, nor do I ever consider myself an expert. So I do look to other people who have words of inspiration or if there's challenges that we're having within our organization or other organizations, I look to reading material, podcasts, all of that to try to find, I'm a big believer in the information is out there if you just look for it. So my job is just to look forward so, and it also helps me to remain more of a thought leader because part of this business, part of what I, I mean it is going to evolve whether I go with it or not. So for me, I'd rather be the leader of it instead of following other people's lead.

David Alonso:    Yeah, that's great advice. And you're right, there's so much information out there and I think that's one of the things have employees, you know, when they look to their owners, there is a little bit of a case that, you know, there's a lot of information out there also for you to look at as well as come to me. So, um, I think people are kind of picking up on that. Um, it's been a real pleasure. I do have one kind of last intriguing question to throw at you. You mentioned 10 years, I'm not so sure about this 10 year mark. Is there like a compelling event in life that you'll say you're done?

Sharon Hulce:   um, retirement age.

David Alonso:    Oh yeah. That doesn't mean much. Right? You can still place through that I guess. But

Sharon Hulce:   you know, I um, my intent and my daughter keeps telling me she has no interest in doing what I do.

David Alonso:    That's where I was going with this.

Sharon Hulce:   Again, you know. Well she might, she has all the right, she has all the right swagger to be a good recruiter. So I would like to work long enough to give, she's a freshman in college so she's got some time. So I'd like to give her an opportunity to do that if she so chooses. If she doesn't, there's no pressure to do it. I'll uh, you know, obviously find a successor. I would tell you I at least want to work tomorrow. I might work more than that cause I really do love what I do and I, I healthy and I feel great. And you know, all of that. So I don't have any reason from a physical standpoint or mental standpoint to not be in the game. But that might change. I might, you know, I have these friends that we have a word every year. We're always looking for what is it that is next. And uh, my friend always says to me, even you'll never ever retire, you'll just have a new thing. So I might get to the point where I want a new thing, I don't know. But for the next 10 years for sure it will be this thing. Yeah.

David Alonso:    I was just curious cause you mentioned your thoughts and I kinda figured there must be some sort of subplot going on in the background there.

Sharon Hulce:   Well there's a sub plot in a mom's life.

David Alonso:    Well I have to say it's been a real pleasure. I've kept you actually longer than I anticipated, so I do. I knew that would happen. I'd love to meet you in person one day. So San Diego and shore pass across. But thank you so much for your time today. It's been a real pleasure.

Sharon Hulce:   Thank you too. It was great.


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