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:       Hi and welcome to the Journey Up 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 Alonzo 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, um, yes, 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,


Speaker 3:          you know?


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.


Speaker 3:          So, Amazon Echo hing for the owner and have at 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.


Speaker 3:          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.


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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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006: Brad Semotiuk – Preserving your Brand Identity & Fueling Growth while Building an Offshore Resourcing Company

Why is it important to trust the right people as an entrepreneur in the staffing and recruitment business? David discusses the importance of taking risks, outsourcing, and valuing people in the staffing business with CEO Brad Semotiuk of Pure Staffing Solutions.

A special thanks to Staffing Future for sponsoring this episode! If you’re interested in growing your staffing business through technology and innovation strategy, set up a consultation today!

You always need good people to power your business.

 Show Notes:

  • How Brad “fell into” the recruitment and staffing business  (1:56) 

  • How helping a friend with his recruitment business led to a promotion (2:41) 

  • Why marketing just wasn’t for Brad (4:17) 

  • Brad describes a “typical client” in his staffing business (5:18) 

  • How Brad managed his order fill issues (5:55)

  • How Brad learned to see failure as an opportunity in his business (6:43) 

  • How Brad faced logistic challenges with outsourcing in India (7:30) 

  • The importance of having a team leader that you can trust with your outsourced staff (9:03) 

  • How Brad delegates so that his personal time is less impacted with offshore logistics (11:12)

  • How will AI impact the future of offshore recruiting? (13:17) 

  • The ways that Brad motivates his staff both on the mainland and in India both financially and otherwise (14:22)

  • Strategies for creating a positive culture in a staffing and recruitment business (16:34) 

  • What are the important qualities Brad looks for when hiring staff? (19:00) 

  • The personnel structure of Brad’s staffing business (19:53)

  • How does Brad solve problems and issues in his staffing business? (21:44) 

  • The biggest problem that Brad has faced recently as a CEO (24:05) 

  • Why completely outsourcing your company is a bad idea (24:52) 

  • How does Brad achieve a work-life balance as a CEO (25:33) 

  • The two personal characteristics that Brad feels you need to have as a CEO of a business (28:28) 

  • Why it’s important to realize that everybody won’t always be happy (29:12) 

  • An accomplishment that Brad is most proud of as a CEO in his staffing company (30:01) 

  • What success looks like a year or two from now for Brad’s staffing company (32:22) 

  • The Quick Fire Round 

    • Brad’s best skill as CEO of his company? (33:22) 

    • Brad’s worst skill as a CEO? (34:03) 

    • Brad’s favorite book (34:35) 

    • Something that frustrates Brad about clients (35:37) 

    • Something people don’t know about Brad (37:52) 

    • If Brad wasn’t in the recruitment and staffing business, what would he do? (40:22)

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:  Hey everybody, this is David Alonso! On this episode of The Journey Up, I met with Brad, who is the CEO of Pure Staffing Solutions. Brad is a really impressive guy. What I like about him is just how open he was throughout. You move him, listen to him about how he's opened his team. I kind of get a sense that that's how he's built really good business, you know, for a while. Sticking with his core values along the way. He works hard, has a lot of patience, and that's why he's been successful over a long period of time, and he seems to treat people the right way along the way. And that's what a good CEO does. For me, it's about how you make your money versus how much, and Brad really does seem to have this nailed.

David Alonso:  It's pretty interesting because he talks about having some really tough decisions to make, big resourcing issues that he couldn't deal with the U.S. Team. So he built out an offshore company of his own, and you can hear about how he did it. He really breaks it down, you know what he did and look. He had a problem, the same positive to make that change with future. That's what being a CEO is all about, taking risks and having the guts to make tough decisions along the way. Now, if you missed any of the previous episodes, please do subscribe in the normal podcast channels and you can also head up to Instagram to find them at the dot journey dot up. And if you have a good CEO that you work for and you think would be great for the show, please DM me there. So for now it's over to Brad to hear about his journey up.

David Alonso:  Hi Brad, welcome to The JourneyUP podcast. It's great to have you.

Brad Semotiuk: Thanks dude. Great chat to with you.

David Alonso:  Great. So I'd love to start this off and kick this off just by hearing a little bit about your journey up and how you founded Pure Staffing Solutions.

Brad Semotiuk:  Getting into the head hunting business and recruiting business.

Brad Semotiuk:  It's not really one of those companies that you you wake up one day and it's like, oh man, I really want to get into recruiting. I think that's the way to go. It's one of those businesses that you fall into. I mean, that's exactly what happened to me. When I graduated university I actually went out, I was working in marketing for a big insurance company, and then I left that job and I was supposed to actually become a stockbroker. And that was back in the days of 1999 when the tech bubble was going crazy. I had a job as a broker lined up with Merrill Lynch, but they said I wasn't gonna start for three months. I went off and traveled through Southeast Asia with a friend, came back and then that job kind of just fell to pieces.

Brad Semotiuk: So after that I did a little bit of day trading, on my own for a probably what a year or so. And then, at the time I had a friend who was working in the recruiting business and, and I saw the potential that his company had and what I decided to do was I actually took the owner of that company out for lunch and I kinda said, hey, like I understand this is your company, this is what you do, this is what you can do to take it from A to B or C then to D. And I kind of laid a roadmap out for him. And really the next day I got a call back from him and I was hired as their managing director, running a employment agency where little to no experience there. And that was really an interesting time in the business as well.

Brad Semotiuk: I kind of went in and was giving that company an online presence. It was kind of the days when email was just starting and, and employment agencies were transitioning from fax to digital resumes. So it was really an exciting time to get into the business. I worked there for a year and a bit and then I figured it was, it was time to go out and the, and I guess as you say, build a better mouse trap. I love the business and, and saw the opportunities that it presented and went out and started my own thing at that time. And that was, that was 15 years ago. So, uh, things have been changing since, since day one to where we are now. But yeah, I mean it's been an awesome journey.

David Alonso:  So your whole career has been in recruitment, not one job outside of it?

Brad Semotiuk:   Well, I had the job in marketing for an insurance company but my heart really wasn't in that job. It was just kind of one of those things where you apply to whatever after university. And that's kind of what happened to feel my one year off and take my time. But in hindsight, it was a great opportunity because I got to work for a big company, huge company where you actually get to see all the policy and all the red tape and all of the BS that I absolutely do not want to ever have at my company. I didn't like having to wear a suit to work every day. I didn't like having to shave everyday, it was just one of those things that was great experience in hindsight, but really it wasn't the job for me.

David Alonso: Congratulations on 15 years. So that's actually a hell of an achievement, that's fantastic. Let's talk about Pure Staffing. What's a typical customer for you?

Brad Semotiuk:   So we we're a full service agency and we work really only in Canada. We work with primarily manufacturing clients, work with the automotive, food, pharmaceutical, oil and gas engineering, utilities. Those are kind of our end, our end users of our services and our bread and butter for, for candidates that we supply are skilled trades, really a lot of skilled trades. Then we do engineering and operations, though types of positions as well.

David Alonso:  Fantastic. I noticed in 2017, you started an off shore company based in India. What was the reason behind this? Can you give us idea of what led to this, and your thoughts behind the whole process?

Brad Semotiuk: Yes. We really needed support, one of the big issues that we're facing right now is that we just don't have enough firepower to fill the orders that were given from our clients. We pride ourselves on providing fast results for our clients and always finding that our time to fill wasn't where I wanted, where I wanted it to be. So we really need to add firepower to our recruiting team to be able to source better candidates quicker for it. So I saw that as a way to, to quickly scale their business. About a year and a half ago we actually tried outsourcing through another agency that was over in India and we tried, we took on three recruiters at that time and really we failed miserably with it. We didn't get any results whatsoever. We wasted a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of effort and really failed. But we kind of put our heads together after that we saw that failures and opportunity, we figured out what we did wrong and we knew how to improve it and we went ahead and we actually started our own outsourcing company over in India. Yeah, about a year ago. And that kind of solved all the, all the problems that we were facing and addressed all the issues. And we've had incredible successes with it right now and it's been, it's been absolutely fantastic for us.

David Alonso: That's good. Congratulations. And what was the logistics side of it? Of actually going out there setting up. What kind of challenges was tell me a little bit about that.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, well the key was getting the right person in place to kind of be our lead on the ground there.

David Alonso:   How did you go about that? Did you pay a fee for that or did you do your own recruiting? And I say that just because obviously if that's in the U.S. you do your own recruiting, but in India, how did you find that person?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what, we had a couple of our employees here in Toronto that had done similar work with offshore agencies back in India when they were living in India and they had contacts. So it came down to the true recruiting way of, we just network the network network until we found the right person. I mean, we interviewed a ton of people before we found the right person. And then when we got that, we've got that right person in there. We jumped all over them and they'd been building our team very quickly for us. And they've done a great job.

David Alonso:   I mean, it sounds like you've kind of not looked back since you, you did this, um, you also mentioned like time to fill and that was the bit that you was trying to improve. Give us an idea of like the impact of that sales-force or percentages have gone up by, you know, tell me like a little bit more detail...

Brad Semotiuk: So it's been unbelievable. Our recruiting team has almost tripled in size since we started since we started using it. We just have so more eyes and so much more coverage on every single order they were able to present that many more candidates who are to our clients.

David Alonso:   So you've gone out there, you set the team. I presume you've done many visits back and forth. What about like the company culture, you know, what has it kind of affected that in your Canada office? What's the culture like in India? You trying to kind of mirror the two? How does, how does it kind of affect company culture?

Brad Semotiuk:   Yeah. You know what, I, I'm absolutely not trying to mirror the two cultures or Indian culture versus the culture that we have here. Uh, it's, it's very different. I mean, you look at their history, you look at our history, you look at the hand that we're dealt with and you look at the hand, they're dealt with very different culture. So I'm not trying to, I'm not trying to put our culture into that office. Obviously I don't want them to have the same values that we have as, as, as, as an employer. And that they pretty much run with it on their own. We give our operations manager in there kind of full autonomy to, to run his team. I mean, obviously if we, if we think that anything needs drastic changes, then we'll, we'll address it. But he knows his people, he knows his culture and we trust him to lead and guide the way that we want it to be, to be led over there. Over here, I mean, our, our culture is the same. The one thing that it, that it has done, uh, is that I, I could say it's probably led to some more friendly competition, uh, as well. But I mean I think that's quite natural between all within all employment agencies. I mean now where it used to be just competition between our office where people would be trying to fill similar roles, um, with each other. Now it's kind of led some competition between the two offices to fill roles.

David Alonso:    Great. And you obviously you track time to fill across both areas. Is there one in particular who's leading at the moment?

Brad Semotiuk:  In terms of positions that we're filling right now? Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, are the skilled trades, it has been unbelievable. I mean, we've been able to fill so many more skilled trades positions at a much greater pace than we were before or right now in our market they are, they are worth their weight in gold right now. It's, it's really, really difficult to find qualified straight, skilled trades people right now.

David Alonso:  Wow, that's incredible. How has it impacted your actual day to day work yourself? How much involvement do you have to have with the offshore team? I know you've got someone in place there. Just give us an idea of how your personal days actually impacted. Has it freed you up more or where are you at with that?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what, we've got a couple managers in our office here in Toronto who kind of act as the point of contact and who do more. So take more of a leadership initiative with those teams. One of our managers, actually both of them have gone over to India within the last year. One spent a few weeks over there training. The other spent two and a half months to train. So they're taking more of an active role than I am. I'm just kind of overseeing both operations and then doing more of the more of the strategy work for both of our teams. Now that our Indian team has a year under their belt. I mean it just gets so much easier. We have so many more people in there who are experienced, they know the Canadian culture and they know how our business works and they're able to provide support for their colleagues over there.

Brad Semotiuk:   Whereas for the first few months, I mean we had to be completely hands on. It's the same thing with hiring a recruiter here. You hire a recruiter here, you don't expect instant results from them. But really the sweet spot of a recruiter that I, that I see usually comes at year one when they're you want in a business that's kind of when they start to get it, that's when you can read a resume quickly. That's when you can determine if, if somebody on the other line is feeding you complete BS. So usually around year one is when you kind of realize that the fruits of your labor, of, of all the training that goes into getting that person up to speed. And that's what we're seeing with that office right now. Now they are kind of, they're firing on all cylinders and some of the numbers that they're putting up are incredible.

David Alonso:   And I presume this is had a positive impact on you guys in the, in Canada being able to go out and actually pick up new business because you've got a much stronger resourcing team.

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh, for sure. Adding these pieces allowed us to go out and pick up some, some big clients. Absolutely. And it's really freed up people's time.

Brad Semotiuk:   So we hear it all. We know everything about AI now is, is in our daily lives, uh, how we hear that the recruitment market is going to be impacted in the next one, two to five years. How would you kind of feel and what's your viewpoint on AI and how is it going to actually affect the future of offshore recruiting?

Brad Semotiuk:  You know what I mean? You hear that there's always something different every year that's going to impact the recruiting industry and it's going to kill the business. I think that our business is always going to need good people working there. Really, at the end of the day, it's going to be the people it's not going to be the AI. Sure the AI, is going to offer you all kinds of tools to help you work more efficiently, more effectively. But at the end of the day, it's still going to need good people to, to power your business. When I first started, I mean it was going to be, the Internet was gonna was gonna kill the recruiting business. So the job boards Monster was going to kill the, the job the recruiting business. And there's always something that's going to be there. But I, as far as I can see and, and in my, in my opinion, I mean I think we'll always need good people in. We're always going to be a, it's always going to be going on strong.

David Alonso: So we spoke a little bit about culture. Let's kind of flip it and just talk about, you know, how you motivate your staff at Pure Staffing. So from a sales perspective, is there a way that you motivate your teams differently between India and the US. I presume there's obviously different scales of commission and so forth, but is everything you do to motivate Purely financial or does like, you know, are you actually working on different sort of culture related topics that you can bring into your daily daily work and so forth, you know, do incentives that have, or any schemes that you have for your teams help with motivation?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, I mean, sure. We've got he re, we've got a good, we've got a good commission a really good commission structure in here as well. I mean, on top of the base salary, it's kind of interesting. When we first started our business, we had everybody on, on straight commission. Um, when they work, and our businesses is kind of evolved. We've kind of found out that that wouldn't work for us. Um, so we Kinda, we had to do, we went in and we had to offer salaries, to everybody plus a commission on top of that, you just felt that you had, you had more control. So we motivate with a decent commission offering. We also motivate with a good culture in our office in terms of, uh, I mean family priorities. If you've got to take your kid to pick up your kid from daycare early, that's not an issue.

Brad Semotiuk:  You've got to come in late because your, your child has a medical appointment or, or you need to take your spouse to the, to a doctor's appointment, that's no problem. You need to get out to your kid's sporting events, take a take your day off. A lot of our also a lot of our, a good portion of our employees here, uh, in Toronto weren't necessarily born in Toronto, so they've got family back in other, other countries. They want to take four weeks or five weeks and go home to visit their family. It's kind of, it's different things like that that I feel helped motivate the team as well. Uh, along with a very, we've got a very supportive and a very, uh, I guess you could say casual atmosphere as well. I mean, you're my summer retired flipflops... T-shirt. You just want to, I just want everybody to feel comfortable when they, when they walk into the office and I want everybody to get along well with all their team here.

Brad Semotiuk:  And I feel that we've done a really good job at doing that. We also do monthly incentives if our team hits different sales targets then we'll go out and we'll do, we'll celebrate the victories with our team. Most recently we went and played Bingo with everybody and we will, we've done barbecues at my house, we gone out for meals. So there's all different kinds of things like that that are, they, they're, it's rewarding, but at the same time you build your team and it's a team building exercise.

David Alonso: I mean they can pretty much pick up and go anywhere within a day or two. So it's gotta be the right environment for them to be successful for sure and for them to come into work,

Brad Semotiuk:  At the end of the day. I mean, you treat people the way that you want to be treated yourself.

Brad Semotiuk: Before we hear more, we're going to take a quick break as I'd like to introduce you to consultancy business called Staffing Future. This company, advises staff and firms and covers a wide range from technology and innovation to process and team planning. If you don't know these guys, check them out today.

Staffing Future:   Staffing Future provides technology and innovation strategy for the staffing industry. We are experts at qualifying and understanding the areas that your staffing business can increase efficiency, reduce costs and source more effectively. Do you have questions about emerging technology like machine learning automation or deep web sourcing? Are you concerned your sales team don't have the most effective CRM tools or that your recruiters aren't getting results from traditional job boards? Or like most of us, are you just spending way too much time and money on Linkedin? At Staffing Future we know the products that can solve these problems and how they can fit in with your business. We are designed for the SMB market with an affordable subscription based consulting program where our team can work with you in as little as two hours a month. This model allows us to consistently drive your technology forward without interrupting your day to day operations. At staffing future. We have a passion for technology, but we have a bigger passion for using it to make you money. Find out more information at The Staffing, Future dot com.

David Alonso:   So what do you actually look for from these guys that you're internally hiring for the US in particular. What characteristics are you looking for? What is the typical person who works and is successful in your company? What do they look like?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. You know what? We, I look for grinders uh we look for grinders. We look for hard workers. We don't need that person who finished top of their class and, and won all these different scholarships and was absolutely amazing. I just want someone who's going to kind of put their nose to the grindstone and not be scared to pick up the telephone, not be scared to face rejection. Somebody who's going to work hard day in and day out. The analogy that I like to use in terms of hiring is that I'm in Toronto. I'm a Canadian, right? I'll use a hockey analogy. We don't need to hire that first line center. I mean at third or fourth line grinder. It's really what we want and from my experience in this business, those are the people that are, those are the people that succeed the people that the people that work hard and kind of and eat what they kill.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Well, being a Brit, I kind of don't really get that analogy, but I certainly can pick up on the uh, the reasoning behind that one. What about actually someone's going to come in and do new business. So you know, you can be a grinder, you can be great a resourcing and lets, when you look at these people, how much of an expectation that they're actually going to bring in new business? I mean, does everyone have to bring a new business or have you got that broken out into account managers versus new business salespeople? Just give us a little bit of an idea about how you kind of structure it there.

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, so we've, we've kind of have a couple of different layers. We've got Pure recruiters, so all they're doing are sourcing candidates. We've got Pure account managers, so all they're doing are liaising with our clients and managing the accounts and doing sales. Then we've got people who are working somewhat of a 360 desk who are managing accounts and recruiting. But typically the way we hire is that we hire, we hire people as straight recruiters, they learn the business and then when they're ready to make a jump, then we can move them into an account management type of role and then into a team lead type role. So there is kind of a direction and there is a career path for you when you do come into the company. I mean some people, some people realize that they never want to get into account management, they don't like the sales side of things. So they'll do well enough on the recruiting side and they'll stay in the recruiting side the whole time.

David Alonso:  Okay, that makes sense. And so, I mean, you've been doing this now for 15 years. You've had your fair share of uh success. From what I can see. And no doubt there's been some difficult times along the way how the kind of problems get solved genuinely within the company also, how does it work? At what point do people bring things to you? Are you actively involved in everything.. Can you manage to kind of delegate a little bit so you don't have to be involved in everything. Where, where are you at and how are kind of problem solved within business?

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah. You know, early on, early on I was actively involved in any and all of the decisions that were made. But I realize that, I mean, if you really want to grow your business, you need to trust the people that you bring on board and you need to trust them to make the big decisions within the company. So they're more, lately as we've grown and as we've seen a huge company growth, there's been a lot more delegating, um, and a lot more, I shouldn't say delegating, a lot more trust of, of people just to do their jobs. And I and I mean the people that we have on our team. If you're on our team, I, I trust you and I trust the decisions that you make and I trust that you would make a decision that, that I feel and not just me, that the rest of the team would, would respect and want you to make as well.

David Alonso: I'm presuming presumably a lot of that is actually you letting go and saying, Hey, Mr Client, I've got this person they're going to look after you on a day to day basis. I mean, presumably a lot of is with you having to give up some of that ownership over a client as well. You can't manage every single relationship. Right?

Brad Semotiuk: Of course. I mean it's like, it's like any entrepreneur out there, right? Like, I mean you get a little scared at first when you lose that control. Most entrepreneurs out there I could say, are control freaks, I would absolutely have seen myself that way a long time ago. But I think that over the years I've mellowed out. I've mellowed out and I mean, and thankfully, I mean we've put the right people in the bottom. You're a company. We've got that. I've surrounded myself with some of the top people that I feel that are in the, in the recruiting business right now. And I mean there are people who have made great decisions since day one of being with our company and they continue to make great decisions and, and as long as they do, I mean, they're going to be empowered with these decisions and, and help and help grow and help fuel what we need to get bigger and stronger and better and faster and higher and all those good things.

David Alonso: Let's talk about some of the problems you face, your seen, you know, you've definitely been through recessions and so forth as well and you'd come out the other side and hopefully we're not going to go into one or two shorter notes anyway, but tell us a little bit about some of the stuff that you have faced in the past. I mean it's a really important piece to come over as CEO and to actually get through give us an idea of sort of things you have had to deal with.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, I mean really like from a company side, the biggest problem that we had recently was not being able to fill the orders that were given. I mean it's, it's not a bad problem to have, but from the outside looking in, it is a bad problem to have because if you're not filling and I mean someone else is going to be filling and when someone else is filling this job, it's quite easy for them to say goodbye to you. So that was one of the big problems that we had lately was with not being able to fill and to give coverage to, to the orders that we had. And I mean, and we address that, we address that by starting up our onshore or offshore company. So I wouldn't say that is one of the biggest, uh, issues that we've faced recently.

David Alonso:  Not being able to deliver to your client is, is always number one, is there an argument to say, you know, let's go 100% resource in the India and not have it in house.

Brad Semotiuk:  no, you always need to, you always need to have somebody in house somebody to have a say. That's not, not a way we're looking. You've got to kind of be able to touch and feel your candidates, get out and your clients and get out and meet your clients for lunch or drop by their plant, their facilities, their manufacturing plants. Take them to baseball games or give them tickets to basketball games. You know, those kinds of things. You really have to be local to uh, to connect with your, with your clients. I feel, um, so no, that's not, that's not what we haven't played at all.

David Alonso:   Okay. And you alluded earlier to your dress code, flip flops, shorts on certain days, that type of stuff. So you strike me as someone who is finding the right balance between working hard, being successful time in the family. So how'd you kind of make sure you do have that work life balance? Is it certain time that they stopped working, switch on the phone? You're probably a bit more of a bad situation now when you first start it or they self to do that. So do you have any rules that you kind of abide by to give yourself that freedom to be with the kids and so forth?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, in all honesty, since since day one, I never, I didn't put in insane hours like here though, you hear those stories about people sweating the 15 16 hour workdays. I never, I never did that. I mean we took advantage and I worked hard during the hours that I was in the office and still work hard with the hours that I'm in the office. But in terms of work life balance, it's insane. I have a seven year old boy and a nine year old boy. We're both like competitive sports and I coached both of them. They both like competitive baseball and they both like competitive hockey. Right, right. So I am, I'm leaving the office in good time every day because I'm going straight to the hockey rink. Like today's a, today's a perfect example is both of my kids have hockey games. I have two different arenas.

Brad Semotiuk:   So it's a divide and conquer. My wife will take one boy and I'll take the other boy I'm leaving work and then we meet back at the home and slap together a quick dinner before we go to bed. It's, but it really, I'm with those sports and kids sports these days is just gotten absolutely ridiculous. I would say that I'm looking at probably six days a week where I'm either at a baseball diamond or at a hockey rink right now, so, and really, and really let me readdress it earlier. That's kind of the corporate culture that, that we want. I mean, I want people to have a good work life balance as well. I don't want people to only be dedicated to their job. I mean, you need to be in order to succeed in anything. I feel that you've gotta be well-rounded. I mean, I think that kind of helps to it.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Great. But it sounds like you've got a Friday night free and a Sunday free, and that's probably about it, but I'm sure you wouldn't, I'm sure you wouldn't have it any other way.

Brad Semotiuk:  Exactly. I love it. I absolutely, I absolutely love it. I would not want in any other way.

David Alonso:  So work-life balance is obviously something you've kind of managed to get hold of that. With that, I would definitely say that's a real sort of personal strength that you've got. What else do you, would you use to it? You know, there's a lot of, there's a lot of people out there, influencers who, uh, you know, trying to start their own businesses up, that type of stuff. They want to be a CEO. The trying to figure out how to start a business. What personal characteristics do you think you need to actually be in business for 15 years? A long time, right? Especially in one business, you don't really well to it. So what sort of personal characteristics do you need?

Brad Semotiuk:   I think you need patients, number one. I think you need to realize that Rome wasn't built in a day. I don't think you should ever try and rush things. Most important. Don't, don't rush important decisions. Don't rush those important decisions that you know, real impact your business big time. For example, don't rush at key hire. Don't brush a huge technology decision that you need to make. You really need to show patients, show patients on that side. You need to have integrity. I think you'll always, you always need to operate integrity. If you don't have integrity, uh, you shouldn't be in business,

David Alonso:   so I'll make you money. It's kind of how, how you make your money.

Brad Semotiuk:   Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Once again, it kind of goes back to that adage of you treat people the way that you want to do that. You want to be treated yourself. I think you need to realize that you're not going to make everybody happy all the time and you're going to, and you need to accept that. So you need to be accepting. At first I wanted to make everybody happy. I want to call that everything to bend over to make everybody happy. Then you realize that that's just not sustainable. That sometimes you need to, sometimes you need to say no. Sometimes you need to take a couple of liner and a tough stance on things and sometimes you just need to say goodbye. Sometimes you need to say goodbye to your own internal staff. Sometimes you need to say goodbye to your current clients who you're working with.

David Alonso:   Correct. Yeah. And you know you've won many awards, right? So as a company, what are you most proud of over the last sort of 15 years?

Brad Semotiuk:   You know what I'm probably most proud of in terms of awards, I'm probably most proud of our community service awards. We won that twice. Uh, and that was through ACSESS, which is basically the Canadian Staffing association. And we won that because of all the work that we did by giving back to the community. That's kind of what we show from, from above and what we kind of expect of our, of our employees here.

David Alonso:    Describe ... can you give us some examples, sort of things that you've done?

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah, well, a perfect example is my, my coaching, my volunteer coaching of all my kids. Although my good sports teams really, like if I looked, if I looked at how much time that that takes up during a week, I mean it was, it's probably, it's probably 50 to 60% of the time that I spend it at work as well. It's just, it's just an incredible amount of time that that goes into, into volunteering for, for kids sports. And, uh, and I've also, I've taken on roles of, uh, at one point I was a convener of a, it's called the tidbit soccer program here. Uh, I did that for two years where the biggest, it's Toronto's biggest micro soccer program. So for kids age four to six, there were a thousand kids that were in this program. I had 300 volunteer coaches and I had 12 conveners that I was responsible for for those, for those two years. In all honesty, I know you'll probably hate hearing this being from the UK, but I mean I don't even like I just kind of all just kinda fell into one of those volunteer job.

David Alonso:  Is that, is that one of the National Team's struggling? Is that what we signed? Right,

Brad Semotiuk:  exactly. Why exactly are you looking at it as going to be hosting the World Cup? So we'll get a team through. Right,

David Alonso:   right. Yeah, absolutely.

Brad Semotiuk:  Yeah. One of those things where I kind of, I grew up with some awesome like volunteer coaches and everything that they really had a big impact on my life and my father was a big sports coach and heavily involved in athletics as well. And I mean, it's a chance to make a difference in other people's lives. And so, I mean that's what I, that's where I spent a lot of time and give back a lot of my time with the community on that side.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Congratulations. Are those similar thing and I know a lot of those parents really do value that putting the time in and um, being with those kiddies. So that's really, really great of you to do that. Congratulations on that. Um, the company, obviously the date thing successful, the next sort of 12, 24 monthd from a structure perspective, the offshore team, what's success gonna look like for you? What, what are you sort of first kind of goals and ambitions? Where would you like to be in say 24 months with the business?

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh, we're going to be, we are, we're kind of, we're growing like crazy in terms of staff number right now just with our, with our offshore team, it's so much easier for us to scale our business. We don't need to worry about adding more real estate and more infrastructure here with our, with our current office, we've got enough space or we're, we're able to quickly add to our team and that, and I mean if, if you look at our, our growth curve over the last year, um, I think that we're going to follow it and we're just going to keep getting bigger and we're just going to keep adding numbers, um, adding numbers to our recruiting team.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Fantastic. We've definitely seen the model definitely seems to be working for you guys. Congratulations. Okay, well let's, uh, let's finish up on a little quick fire round. I get, uh, get to know Brad the man a little bit more. What would you say your team would say is your best skill?

Brad Semotiuk:   Ooh, my best skill. Um, at the time, that's a tough question and I think that I'm approachable. I'm, I'm easy going, uh, but only to a certain point. And if that, if that could be a best skill then

Brad Semotiuk: and patience, right. I think patients by the sounds of it as well

Brad Semotiuk:   and I am patient. I'm accepting. Yeah,

Brad Semotiuk:  that's fine. I think you need to have a lot of that in recruitment. How about one of your worst, uh, skills or characteristics or they say on Brad's a nightmare on this particular point?

Brad Semotiuk:   I'd probably just say I'm someone stubborn and if you ask me if you asked my wife as well, I'm sure she would, she would be one of the persons to agree to that as well. If when I get something on my mind, I kind of get tunnel vision on it regardless of how good of an idea it really is or, or isn't. I'm sort of somewhat stubborn at times.

David Alonso:  Well, to see are you going to make the decision? Sometimes you've done it, a lot of people around you to kind of, sometimes I find smaller that often you've got to go for it. Until you see it be successful. Sometimes fail. What about motivation? Where's your go to favorite books, video, podcasts, anything particular you're reading at the moment?

Brad Semotiuk: yeah. You know what my, my go-to favorite motivation, what would be The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ... absolutely incredible. Read, uh, about kind of, you know, go into your dreams. Um, I picked that book up actually when I was over in Southeast Asia, like 18 or so years ago. Somebody passed it onto me and I, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it in, I finished it in one day and now I pass that along to all kinds of different people to read. Just a fantastic read and other go-to motivation for me is on my desk. I've got pictures of my family and pictures of my kids and that it really, I mean, I, if I'm, if I'm, if I could feel myself kind of getting somewhat distracted, I'll take a look at them. And I mean, really that's why we do these jobs, right? We do our jobs for our families, for our kids and uh, so we'll take a look at them and that helps motivate me as well.

David Alonso:   I agree with that completely. What about your clients? What is something that frustrates you about them?

Brad Semotiuk: Ooh, that's an easy one. Um, when we get ghosted, went home. Yeah. Like, no, we need this. We need this quick, quick, quick, quick like this and send them off all kinds of candidates to them. And then just crickets, absolute silence on that end. And they just, and they just kind of disappear from us. So that's probably the most frustrating thing to work with in a client is there's one that has awful communication.

David Alonso:  Yeah. Yeah. Tough. Right. But also, I mean in today's labor market, right? I mean with candidates being so hard to kind of move out and actually place, I mean, you, you'd expect the clients to be more quick off the mark. You'd expect them to be more available to hear some feedback about what they need to do, but certain clients just, um, they still stuck in their ways. Right. They're not, they're not able to hire those people because they're not moving quick enough. Never understood that. And to be fair, that's still, that was my issue back 15 years ago when I think of recruitment. So it doesn't sound like that's kind of changed too much over the years as well.

Brad Semotiuk: No, and I don't, I don't think that'll ever change David. It's always gonna I'll always be, there will always be the case. And then, and in fairness, I mean we just, we never know the true story of what's happening with our clients at that time. Because it could be something bigger behind the scenes that's leading to the silence but, but yeah, but I mean if that's the case, just communicate, communicate with us. I mean the same with it. Same with candidates. I mean, that's the most frustrating thing too, is when candidates bails on interviews and, and don't tell us like, we don't care if you're not interested in a job, you're not, you're not hurting me. Let me know. Let us know that you're not interested, interested in this job. We won't go ahead and waste our time and our client's time setting these interviews up that year that you're going to bail on. Just just be honest and be forthright and be forthright with us from the beginning. It's that, that's another big issue that I have a tough time with and frustrates me.

David Alonso:  Well, human nature, I'm afraid, I guess on that one. Um, you're, you're, you're very open guidance, really clear tell us something that not many people kind of know about you.

Brad Semotiuk:  Ah, hey. Um,

David Alonso:   you can, you can pass on any of these, right?

Brad Semotiuk:  No, I don't. I don't know. I don't feel the need to pass it. Actually. I really liked it instead of like this question, this, this allows me to kind of talk about some of the completely obscure things that no one would know about me. A couple years ago I ran a sub 25 k on the treadmill. It was, yeah, I was sitting, I go to the gym, me and our recruiting manager here, we go to the gym almost every day at lunch. And one day we were talking just, I don't know, just being guys talking to each other about how fast we think we are and, and, and is it possible to run like at this kind of speed. So we looked it up and we looked at what the pace was on the treadmill that you had to run to, to get to get a sub 20 minute 5k. And I trained a couple of days for it and then I was like, I don't need to ttrain any longer. I just went for it and uh, did it that day and then like, and my body just fell apart.

David Alonso:  I was going to say the afternoon wasn't very productive by the sounds of it.

Brad Semotiuk:  Oh my gosh. Oh that afternoon wasn't productive. And then I, I couldn't walk for like two weeks. My Achilles were gone, my knees were gone, my hips were gone. I was not made to go at that speed, but it was one of those little like challenges that I had and the goal then myself, so, so I did it there. Um, yeah, that's, yeah. Oh, exactly. And it's, it's the one time story, right? And now this is my, this is my opportunity to tell that story. So it was worth it. I like, I like collecting art. I like art. I've got some Group of seven original pieces that I've picked up over the years and most recently I've bought myself a, a new DJ controller tractor. The Tracktor S8 like a big pimped out DJ controller cause I figured that like I'm ..... I just want a new hobby of something. I love music. So I've got this, I got this DJ controller that I'm kind of a, that I'm kind of teaching myself how to use, just waiting for a big blowout party with, with all my friends then, or blow the doors off at some point.

David Alonso: Got an excuse to throw one. And certainly actually the whole podcast because it could have been just about your, uh, things that, you know, not many people know about you. So there's definitely a lot to uncover about Brad here, but we'll move on to the next one. What about, um, recruitment? You've been in it all your life, right? So, um, if you weren't doing recruitment, do you have any idea what you would've liked to have done?

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah, I probably see myself in a, in like they're in the real estate business or in some kind of finance, finance, investment type business as an entrepreneur. And I'm a risk, I'm a risk taker. So I see myself in some kind of risk taking venture with real estate investing or, and financial investing of, of some sort or I mean the look at the opposite end of the, of the spectrum. I could see myself doing something completely different like running a B and on an island or running a five inch off somewhere on an island. I don't know.

David Alonso:  Back to the shorts and the, um, and the a deck shoes, the flip flops. It's definitely something where the background, there's no doubt about it. Yep. Exactly. Well, Brad, you've been amazing. Thank you so much for your time today. It's been a real pleasure to, to get you, get to know you more and really welcome your openness, um, and your awesome advice. Thank you very much for being on the show. Yeah. My pleasure, David. Great talking to you. Thanks so much. You're welcome. Thanks very much.


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005: Louis Song— Scaling your Recruitment Business to Success

Are you struggling with scale? Louis Song, the co-founder of Proven Recruiting shares how to successfully scale your staffing business as well as how he and his partner created sustainable business growth with a positive culture by making strategic investments.

Thank you to CloudCall for sponsoring this episode! Integrate your telephony communications and streamline your recruitment business with CloudCall

 Show Notes:

  • How fear prompted Louis to start his Proven Recruiting business. (1:05)

  • What does Jujitsu have to do with it? (2:01)

  • How can you scale your business in order to make it successful? (3:31)

  • Why is it important to have a solid system of management and leaders in place in order to successfully scale your business? (4:30)

  • What are small steps to growing your business that competitors often overlook? (6:39) 

  • Louis discusses specific training techniques he uses in his business and how he learns from his clients. (6:55)

    • Louis offers his approach to the challenge of staff “buy in.”

  • Why is it important to be “people-centered” rather than “profit-centered” while running a recruitment business? (9:18)

  • What does “culture” mean to Louis and how can you create a motivated culture in your business? (12:54)

  • Location and scaling your recruiting business and how location can impact success. (14:22)

  • Branding, cold calls, and social media? Louis discusses what his approach is. (15:50)

  • Personal characteristics that Louis believes all aspiring CEOs of recruiting businesses should have. (17:50)

  • Why a good business partner can help your business grow. (18:35)

  • What are some challenges Louis faced while running his recruitment business and how did he overcome them? (19:23)

  • How does Louis define success? (22:33)

  • Louis offers advice to his younger self and others starting a business. (23:14)

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:  Hey everybody, this is David Alonso. And on this episode of The Journey Up, I met with Louis Song, who is the Co-Founder of Proven Recruiting. I had a great time doing this podcast where not only did Louis walking into his business, but he also introduced me to another passion of his: Jujitsu. Now this video podcast is also available on Instagram at the JourneyUP. Now what struck me about Louis throughout was his openness. He really spoke about his business life passionately. He also spoke about the good times, but as importantly also spoke about the bad times of being a CEO, which I really appreciated. There's also some really great advice along the way that he gives about how to build the right type of culture in your business and some tips and tricks along the way. The audio for this podcast isn't the best for the first minute or so, so please bear with it. And let's now head over to hear more about the JourneyUP with Louis Song. Tell me about how you started the business.

Louis Song:  You know, when I think about the business, I think a lot of people think that there was like some grand idea or in some pretty business plan that we put together. But, you know, ultimately, uh, I think it was honestly my fear. You know, fear of what my life will turn out to be like stayed in the corporate environment and answering to The Man and saying, "yes sir, yes sir" and continuing that path. And there was one day where I saw one of the corporate vice presidents and he was just the beaten down guy. He just wasn't happy and he just constantly was just saying yes to everything and I saw my future and I thought, Ooh Shit, I don't want to be this guy. And ultimately that was part of the reason why I started to create something where I liked going to work.

Louis Song:  I liked being able to wake up and live with my decision and and being in the corporate environment, it just, I couldn't do that. And so, you know, frankly, it's part of the reason my starting to do to do Jujitsu is because, there was a point in time when I was actually doing stand up Kung Fu and that kind of stuff and I was driving by primal Jujitsu when it was back on there in Mira Mesa and I kept seeing the sign like I wonder what would happen if I got to the ground or somebody tackled me and on top of me afraid and, and you know, a lot of my things in life, my success in life, my journey in life, it's really been about being afraid of something and said, "you know what, I don't want to be afraid of let me attack.

David Alonso: So, it looks like we are getting ready, to get some guys to come in ...do you want to get warmed up?

Louis Song:   Yeah, I'm looking forward to you rolling with us.

David Alonso:  I'm not sure about that. Alright, let's do it.

David Alonso:  So we are now back from the Jujitsu Academy we are at the office of Proven Recruiting, I'm here with Louis. Thank you so much. That was a real experience to say the least.

Louis Song:  Glad you made it.

David Alonso: I've never felt that sort of pain. So, I'm feeling more comfortable about where we are today. So, I see your office and there's some really excited guys in the office. One of the things that I've really have sort of noticed in the staffing space is that so many of these firms, they just can't over like the five or 10 employees. So you guys are scaled. I mean, what makes a difference when somebody can scale to, you know, to 50 to a 100 to even 250 people. So how does that work and what advice can you give to these people?

Louis Song:  I'll tell you when we get to the 200 but you know, just getting even the 50 I think it's sometimes a miracle, but I think the early on idea was that Ingram and I weren't going to be doing the business itself where we weren't going to be doing the business of recruiting and account management and sales. You took the first 18 months of actually not getting paid, not paying ourselves. And we invested that into hiring people to do the recruiting, to do the sales, to do the account management. You know, for, for those guys out there that are still working a desk, if they can't get off the desk, I don't see how they're ever going to grow the business. And that's, that's the biggest challenge that I see.

David Alonso:  So, you've done this completely organically, no VC, no investment money,

Louis Song:  No, just me and Ingram.

David Alonso: Incredible, incredible. And you know, your growth here. So at what point do you think like guys like yourself need to be surrounded with people who've got more experience? Right? You know, obviously when you start an off, you'd probably bring in a senior recruiter or some grads, when do you need to put in that management structure to help you scale?

Louis Song:  We actually grew really quickly for our first six years and grew to almost $20 million nine offices, including one in, I think your hometown, London, and Washington DC as well. And it ultimately came crashing down back to two offices because we didn't have the management in place. It was just me in Ingram and then everyone else. And so from those lessons we hired some other people. We put some managers and directors in place and that's allowed us to grow sustainably. Uh, and, and now we've got a leadership track for it for our junior people. And I think that's when you've got to start looking at if you really want to grow sustainably, you gotta have other people leading as well. And that was the mistake that we made in the first time.

David Alonso:  Okay. That makes complete sense. Okay, so you've got a quote where you mentioned to me before, you know, it's not the big movements that you do in life, it's all the little small steps that you take to get there. Can you kind of elaborate on what your, what your, what you meant by that? I thought was fascinating.

Louis Song:  Well, you know, just like we were at Jujitsu earlier today, and I think I was sitting on top of your chest at some point.

David Alonso:  I remember that.

Louis Song:  And you know, there's, there's little things that you can do, maybe not to move your opponents, move your competitors, but little things where you move your body and move your, your elbows and the way you breathe. And I think there's little things that you do every day in business and, and, and it's how you treat people. What's the trading that you do? It's, you know, the types of customers that you go after. It's the type of industries that you, you're, you're into. And all those things make a little bit of difference instead of like, okay, we're gonna make this big grand thing to open a brand new office. Or are those things, you know, but are you doing the little things in terms of training? Are you doing a little things in terms of returning phone calls and, and all the things that happen on a day by day basis that honestly a lot of times are invisible to your competitors, to everyone else.

David Alonso:  Yeah. I mean, one of the things that's really impressed me, Oh, you know, speaking off camera is that the amount of effort and time you put into a training plan for your guys? You know, I think that's the thing that really sets you aside. Can you give us some ideas, you know, just share a little bit about what you do on a daily, weekly basis for these guys as far as development. Let's talk about that first.

Louis Song:  Yeah. Um, you know, it's, it's probably one of the things that that does set us apart when people ask us what's, what's different, what's better about Proven Recruiting? And I would tell you that almost every single day that there's training going on, we don't do one on Mondays because that's the start of the week. And so we have our first job order meaning for every single team. But on Tuesdays we have sales training at eight o'clock, on Wednesdays we do next level exchange training where people watch videos the night before and then we discuss them at eight o'clock on Thursdays we do roleplays. So we role play every situation from tell me what's different about Proven Recruiting, the candidate declines an offer and picks the counter offer. How do we deal with that situation? We role play it through that . On Friday we have probably one of the more unique things, which is a book club and we're currently reading The Culture Code, previous books that included Grit, Take the Stairs by Rory Dayton as well as um, Start with Why by Simon Sinek. So there's a lot of different things that we cover and that's just the little bit of the training that we do. There are lunch and learns that we do every other week, uh, covering finance and accounting and then technology subjects. And then we also do offsite training at UCSE connect as well. Um, so that's just a, a little bit of the stuff that we do.

David Alonso:  Do you do anything to kind of prepare your guys for like actually dealing with clients? I mean, there's obviously role pays that you do. Do you have any sort of engagement with clients that come?

Louis Song:  Sure, Last week for example, we had the head of talent acquisition. Come in from Shipt who's one of our biggest clients right now. She came in and did training with us from eight o'clock until nine 30 last Tuesday. And basically she acted as if, and she was, she is a customer and we had four or five different groups come in and basically go through the process of doing a client meeting and Ingrid, myself and some of the other leaders and directors, we sat back and we watched how these guys prepared what they said, how they structured the meeting with the follow-up was, and from that we learned that there's a lot of stuff that we're not doing right and, and that's on, that's on me and Ingram, that's, that's on us for not doing the right training for not setting the right expectations on how we should be conducting our client meetings. And so, you know, that kind of stuff is stuff that we do on our, on a regular consistent basis for our, some of our lunch and learns. For example, we've had clients come in to teach us about their company, their technology, and then it gets our recruiters bought into how to recruit for them as well.

David Alonso:  And do you feel like, you know, you obviously got all this development for these, for your staff, you know, is this a hundred percent buy in, you know, did you find that some people just, you know, the book club ...they might not be so keen or do you feel that when you're hiring these guys, you're, you're, you're, you're hiring a certain type of personality to fit the business?

Louis Song:  You know, um, it's a hard one because not everyone's going to buy in the same way. I think there's, my wife and I actually were talking about this last night because one of her friends is having issues with keeping staff in this millennial era. Okay. And the challenge I think is you've got to be able to connect what we do at an individual level with the employee. Why are they here? One of the, one of the first questions I ask in the first five minutes of our onboarding session is what are you going to do with the cash? Okay. You know, you're not, is it, is it to help your mom? Is it to, you know, go back to school? Is it the pay off student debts? Is it the pay off your credit card is to save money to buy a house because ultimately I can show you the, the activity that you do is connected directly to how you're going to ultimately buy a house, pay off, pay off student loans, whatever it might be. Maybe it's to help animals in the world, right?

David Alonso: But why did you do that though? Do you get a sense that, you know, these guys are coming in, they want it, they want to learn hundred grand, right? Everyone thinks is easy, but are they really willing to actually realize what they've got?

Louis Song: It's not about, in my mind, it's not about the hundred grand. It's what you do with a hundred grand. What's the significance of that money? Everybody wants to do something with the money. And so some people maybe want, they want just a big $100,000 in their checking account. But others, I think there's, there's something that people want to do with it and I need to know what that they know because when it gets hard, when they're sitting here going, this job sucks. I hate doing this. You know, I don't love recruiting. And I think that's something that most people get wrong is I don't love recruiting. I love what recruiting has done for me. I love what it's provided to me, but I don't love recruiting. People kind of suck sometimes and you know, lying, cheating, stealing, whatever, you know. But that's humanity. And so you got to remember what these kids are here for, what our employees are here for. And it's not to make us richer. It's to help them to achieve whatever goals they have in their lives. The flip side of that is I do also think that, you know, we have to connect it to a higher purpose, purpose beyond profit. And so you know, we get an opportunity in the recruiting business to help people every single day with a new job and you know whether that job is a better commute or more money or better software, a better culture. We get to do that and sometimes we forget because it's all about closing the deal and making money.

David Alonso:                    Before we hear more from him to this song. We're going to take a quick minute break as I'd like to introduce you to a telephony player in the staffing recruiting sector: Cloud Call. If you don't know these guys, check them out today.

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David Alonso:  So let's talk about the team. Okay, let's talk about two things. Let's talk about what you feel culture is. Okay. What makes a culture, I can see the guys and they are all committed. So you know, everyone bands the word culture around. So it, so what does that mean to you? And also, um, you know, when you, when you are recruiting these people, you know, what are the main characters that you look for?

Louis Song:  I'll refer back to the book club that we just, we recently talked about and currently rereading culture code. And one of the fundamental things that talks about in terms of culture is the culture of safety. And you know, whether you call it safety or trust, but I think that's the foundation that you've got to start with and trusting your employees, trusting your people to do the right things. And if, and if they don't have that trust in us, they don't go out and be creative. They don't go out and challenge the status quo. And I think that's honestly a fundamental difference between us and let's say the larger company, maybe not the guys downstairs or somewhere else. I'm sorry, the second part of your question was, I mean, how'd you kind of sell your vision to these guys? Well, I honestly don't sell the vision as much as it is.

Louis Song:  I asked them about what they want to achieve. I go back to, you know, I, I, I talked to them about what do they want to achieve, what is the thing that they want to do with their careers? And then we talk about how what we do can help them achieve their goals within the context of their lives. And so it goes back to them as opposed to, well, can you help us make us a $30 million company here? Can you help us do $6 million and, you know, eat it. And it's like they don't care. Employees don't care about how much the company makes unless, unless they're owners.

David Alonso: So, so you've got guys in Dallas, La and here. So is there any difference between like hiring or, you know, growth plans just because of the types of people that you can attract and what's the labor market like in San Diego versus Dallas?

Louis Song:  You know, I'm in San Diego, the, it's, it's a, it's a, an amazing place to live, but you know, we're, we're really with only two fortune 500 companies here in San Diego with Qualcomm and, and Sempra. And so beyond that, there's, you know, some great companies here, but they're not the fortune 500 and so there's a limited number of amount of opportunity from a business standpoint. Whereas in Dallas, you've got at least 50 fortune 500 companies and you've got a lot of opportunity to, you know, and, and there's a lot of competition, but there's a lot of corporate headquarters there. And so there's a lot more opportunity from a business standpoint to go after those companies. And so in, in Dallas you've got, you know, from a tax standpoint, from a business friendly state, you know, there's, it's a great place to work and to do business, but it was also 108 degrees that last week.

David Alonso:  That's right. So it's pretty hot here today.

Louis Song:  It's hot here, but you know what? We can, we can drive five minutes ...10 minutes from now and get to the ocean. You can drive for, I dunno, 10 hours and not get to the ocean when you're in Dallas. So, you know, there's tradeoffs. And so, you know, you've got one of the hottest markets in Dallas, whereas in la you've got a very different market where our other offices where there's, it's very disjointed because of the fact that there's so much traffic and people aren't, you know, you could be five minutes away but an hour away. And so you can't work the same way you do as in San Diego as you do in Dallas. And people are much more, uh, sensitive to commute in, in, in LA than they are here in San Diego or Dallas.

David Alonso:  Okay. I get it. So let's, let's switch gears a little bit. I'm, I'm curious to ask a couple of questions just around, you know, how your sales guys actually ramp up or you know, if you're looking to scale a recruitment business or you're looking at taking like SDRs and hitting the phone and cold calls, is that even work nowadays or you know, how much of an impact do you think social media branding, creating content, how far does that get you to the next stage of the business cycle?

Louis Song:  Well, again, I mean we're, we're, we're going to be basically about 20 million this year, 50 employees, nearly 200 consultants. You know, our, our goal is to get to, let's call it 200 people over the next three to five years in terms of core employees, 500 consultants out over the next three to five years.

David Alonso:  And do you see that growth mainly in the Dallas area. Where do you think, you know,

Louis Song:  I think this, most of it's going to be in Dallas and Los Angeles. San Diego is the core of the business right now. It's 80% of the business, let's say, you know, 18 out of the 20 million right now, or maybe not that high, but it's still a significant part of the business. But the growth really is in those other cities rather than in San Diego. And, and honestly, it's about the people. If we can get the right person and people, number one, we need the right leadership in scene in LA and in Dallas. Once we have that, we can fill in with the others, but we've got to have the right leadership from a management standpoint and then the right leadership from a sales standpoint to get the right clients on board. I think it all goes from there.

David Alonso:  So today it was a great learning curve. Right? I saw you in your real place at home. I can see how passionate you are. One of the things I do think you've got is longevity, right? To be a black belt is obviously a huge commitment to get there. But you know, our fascinates want to ask, you know, to become a CEO and to stay in this business for so long. Right. It's a tough, it's a tough job. A lot of downsides to that as you grow. But What do you think the main characteristics, if someone wanted to start staffing firm tomorrow or any business, what do you think the core values they need to have, give them some tips and tricks about what they need to get there.

Louis Song: I mean, number one, I think, you know, I've had people ask about getting into a business that they know nothing about. I think that's one of the biggest mistakes of like going to start a Subway restaurant when you've never worked at a Subway restaurant. Um, I worked at another firm, K Force for 11 years before starting this firm and I met my business partner there and I worked with him for 10 years before we started and came off on our own. And you know, I think that was true of the most important things that I could've done is learn the business. Number two, get the right business partner. I think without either one of those two things I would have failed miserably on my own.

David Alonso:  Interesting. So, you think always have a partner. So if you, if you had another business, would you do it alone or would you know always want to partner?

Louis Song: I always want a partner. I mean, you know, there are times when when Ingram, and I disagree, I think shit, I could've done this on my own, but then there are others when I'm like thank God and most of the time it's thank God I've got a business partner and I think it's like a marriage. You know, it's like raising ... raising kids, right? Sometimes you're like, I can't stand the way my spouse is. But other times like thank God I've got this partner with me because they're pushing me and holding me up when times are tough.

David Alonso:  And on that note I can see, you know, super successful right now. I can see that, you know, this place is buzzing when I walked through the door and see how passionate people are. You know, you mentioned before that you had nine offices, I think one in London. So you know, it hasn't always been perfect or I can see there's been some issues. Do you happen to share some of those sort of darker times and some of the stuff that you really had to dig deep to...?

Louis Song:  Sure. I mean, you know, those other offices there were opened by a number of, those were open by friends, former coworkers at K Force. And you know, unfortunately we had to make some really hard decisions to close some of those offices or almost all of those offices because the cash wasn't coming in the door. And then it became,

David Alonso:  ….and is that billings or is that just typically bad debt? I mean, is it cash? Is Cash for walls? What was the reason for that,

Louis Song: I mean it was, it was a combination of, you know, one client went south and another company wasn't paying on time and then all of a sudden we're losing $100,000 a month. And you know, again, it's just me and Ingram. So we're having the float at now we're all of a sudden having to go to our own home equity lines of credit were writing a hundred thousand dollar check at $200,000 check. And we're looking at our, oh my God, we're now squeezing tight. Like, oh, we're going to make this tough, you know, and we're gonna have to, we're closing offices, we're having to lay people off. And that was no fun at all.

David Alonso:  Um, when they see success, they think it's easy. Right. It's really tough times. That obviously happened through those times.

Louis Song:  Yeah. And you know, I, I wish it had been different. I wish, you know, I blame myself... Ourselves for not being ready to have as many offices as we did. We didn't have the processes in place, we didn't have the systems in place, you know, to be able to open up those offices. And frankly, I didn't have the commitment in place. I had two young kids, I wanted to be home. I didn't want to go travel to each of those offices to be there to supervise and to see how things were going. And so, so things went awry and we weren't there.

David Alonso:  Even more reasons to have good people around you.

Louis Song:  Yeah.

David Alonso: And what's your viewpoint on like, you know, a grown up business with big logos versus you know, less clients, bigger logos versus loads of SMB clients that you know, you can kind of depend on for regular business? I mean, I think ultimately kind of both for, I mean, what would be your ideal?

Louis Song:  For us it's, it's a little bit of both. Yeah. I think the, the big companies can provide a lot of revenue, but you know, we've got a situation now where one of our, our biggest client actually from a revenue standpoint is late by three weeks. Okay. And so are our AR with them, our accounts receivable with them has ballooned from $300,000 to over half a million dollars. And so they tell, they're telling us they're going to pay us on the 31st but you know what? We're sweating, we're sweating because it's what if, what did they decide? Because their fiscal year ends at the end of July. Okay. So you guys might be able to figure out who it is yet, but what did they decide? You know what, we're going to wait another three weeks and we're going to add another hundred 50,000 and all of a sudden becomes closer to $700,000. Our line of credit is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. And then that's for all of our clients. And so, you know, it's like, oh my God, what do we do? We're going to have to tap our line of credit again. And that's, that's, you know, that's makes my stomach churn.

David Alonso:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for sharing that. It's amazing. So, you know, I'm always keen to kind of understand like the man behind the business and so forth, but you know, when people say what success looks like, is it, you know, is it just great revenue? Is it a mixture of personal life balance? You know, if you're going to sort of fast for the next two years, you know, what is success actually to you? What does it mean?

Louis Song:  You know, that's always, I think an individual question. Um, you know, some people define success by financial wealth. Um, you know, I, I personally think it's I'm able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. And you know, both as a company and as an individual, I don't have any debt and you know, I can focus on helping, you know, the way that I like to put it is elevate life through meaningful work. And I can help people every day, both internally in the next eternally elevate life through meaningful work. And it's a core part of how I define success. Helping everyone else get better.

David Alonso:  And if you could look back now, you know, a younger Louis, right? Start in his career, what would you tell him?

Louis Song:  Breathe. Yeah. Dude.

David Alonso: Do Jujitsu 10 years earlier?

Louis Song:  No, I think about this question to before and I'm, my biggest advice to my younger self would be breathe and relax. Don't be so hard on yourself. Keep working as hard as you're working. Keep doing what you're doing. But breathe, relax. Don't, don't be so anxiety ridden and worried about what the future's going to hold. Keep working your ass off. Keep learning, keep trying, keep making the and keep doing it. But relax and knowing that it's going to be okay.

David Alonso:  Well, Louis, look, thank you so much for today. It's been a real pleasure to get to know you more as a man of your next book we write tomorrow. Um, I've really enjoyed getting to know you. Show me the a Jujitsu Academy. It was amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate everything you've done to that. Thank you.

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