Oscar DiVeroli: I’d like to welcome to the studio today Gene Holzer, CEO of Ascendo Resources, welcome.
Gene Holzer: Thank you Oscar.
Oscar DiVeroli: Gene, on behalf of the Entrepreneur’s Organization South Florida Chapter, I’d like to congratulate for earning a prestigious ranking on the 2014 Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held companies in the United States. How did you do it? Tell us a little bit about Ascendo Resources.
Gene Holzer: Sure, it was some journey, let me tell you. In terms of Ascendo Resources, we specialize in the placement of accounting, finance, financial services, HR and IT professionals in both temporary as well as direct hire positions. In terms of the journey, it was blood, sweat and tears, started out at a kitchen table calling former clients, building it brick-by-brick, hiring at the right time, being aggressive, but taking calculated risks at the same time.
Oscar DiVeroli: Many entrepreneurs I have spoken to over the years, including myself … I started one of businesses in my bedroom, you started in your kitchen. What motivated you to launch your business?
Gene Holzer: Sure, having worked in corporate America for over 10 years you get sense of the landscape, how your individual voice or opinion is not heard very well. At some point you decide, “I have a sense of this business. I have the solution. There’s a need in the marketplace.” In terms of the recruiting and staffing space, Ascendo Resources is really based on relationships, building those long-term relationships with both our client companies as well as our candidates. That’s what differentiates us from out competitors.
Oscar DiVeroli: When you launched your business did you have a detailed business plan?
Gene Holzer: We did not. I had a more co-founder as well. We started the business together. We had a lot of ideas in our head. We did put some on paper. In terms of those MBA classes, we did not generate a 20-page document on what needed to be done. Now, prior to opening up Ascendo Resources we had done executive recruitment with some national firms. We gained the experience and knowledge of the industry already. We were able to apply the things that we learned and liked from those companies. Then put our only little spin in terms of the relationship piece and the customer service piece that lacks in our industry.
Oscar DiVeroli: Absent a business plan, but full of fantastic and exciting ideas. How has reality differed from those initial set of ideas?
Gene Holzer: Not that much. A lot of the values we started out with we’ve maintained. Now, Ascendo Resources has eight offices from New York, Atlanta, Charlotte, five in Florida, including Tampa, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. We really institute those same values that we started out, when there two, three, four of us. Now there are 70 recruiters within the organization. It’s those same customer service, working on getting the perfect pairing between the client company as well as the candidate. It really hasn’t changed.
Oscar DiVeroli: Do you remember your first client?
Gene Holzer: I do. I do. It was [crosstalking 00:03:24] … It was referral from an individual I had worked with in the past, and an individual out of Miami that I placed in a position years ago. She contacted me and said, “I need an accountant. I need temporary accountant.” I said, “I’m on my own my now.” She had called my cellphone. She didn’t know where I was. We had just started the business maybe, a few days earlier. It was just the right timing. The right place. The right time.
Oscar DiVeroli: Is your business …
Gene Holzer: Oh, let me interject. I’m sorry-
Oscar DiVeroli: Please.
Gene Holzer: One other thing. I still have the checks, the first two checks we received. That was one of the clients. I still have the photocopies of the checks sitting right on my desks. It’s a lot of good memories-
Oscar DiVeroli: That’s great.
Gene Holzer: From back in those time.
Oscar DiVeroli: Does that motivate you or inspire you?
Gene Holzer: It reminds asif you’re in your house, and you have old photographs of when you were younger or your children were babies. You just look at that and say, “I remember when that first check was so valuable.” It just gives you that … it re-energizes you.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure. Now, you have eight offices. Your business is very much I’m assuming, a very touchy-feely relationship based business. Am I relatively correct?
Gene Holzer: Sure.
Oscar DiVeroli: Have you lost any of that with having so many offices?
Gene Holzer: Perhaps, I’ve lost a little bit on the individual level. Now I have to put the mindset of I’m a business owner. I’m not necessarily an executive recruiter 24/7. I still have clients that I interact with and certainly I service. Now my role is specifically, more about growing the business, and working with our managers and sales team, in terms of providing that customer service to their customers. A lot of times I’ll go with some of our sales people on client meetings. I’ll be back up support, and do some training’s behinds the scenes. That’s how the role has changed.
Oscar DiVeroli: When you make recommendations to staff positions for some of your clients, is that process matching the right person with the right position? Is that more of an art or more of a science?
Gene Holzer: It’s a little bit of both. There is definitely, a certain science, of you need to be competitive in terms of your compensation. If you’re hiring for somebody you need to have thorough job description plan. Sometimes managers realize that they need to get approval to hire somebody, so there’s certain things.
The art is where you’re acting as a counselor. You really are acting as a go-between. They may say, “I want these 10 items.” You as a recruiting professional really have to narrow that down to three key points, and explain to them the nuance, that Candidate A might not have exactly what they’re looking for. There are certain attributes that that person has that’s going to make them more of a successful long-term employee. It’s a little bit of both. You have to mix and match.
Oscar DiVeroli: How did you finance the launch of your business?
Gene Holzer: We didn’t. Interesting, I frequently tell the story that when we received the tax ID for the company it was in September 2008. It was the same day the Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. I remember turning to my wife, who was home with the kids, and I said, “Not the best time to open up a business.” We weren’t really able to take out a lot of money in the business. We put a little bit of money in the business. We used our savings essentially, and made sure we met payroll and those important things that entrepreneurs have to focus on. All of sudden things start catching up. As your sales increase it gets a little easier.
Oscar DiVeroli: Your company has experienced explosive growth. Was there a need to finance the growth of your business?
Gene Holzer: There really hasn’t. We’ve been self-funded from the start. Recently as we’ve become more successful of course, that’s when the bankers start coming to you and saying, “Here’s some funds.” We’ve taken advantage of that at this point. We’ll probably use that for our next stage of growth. When you start a business in 2008, 2009, banks are not interested in loaning you money, to a brand new business. If people remember.
I also remember at the time I had some equity in home. I remember getting letters saying, “you’re line of credit is no longer open.” When you start out a business you really have to budget your personal finances.
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure.
Gene Holzer: You might have to change your lifestyle, eat some ramen noodles, so to speak, and really pave the way for their long term success.
Oscar DiVeroli: My food of choice was macaroni and cheese.
Gene Holzer: Okay, great.
Oscar DiVeroli: In the early days. What was the toughest decision you ever had to make sense the launch of your business.
Gene Holzer: A lot of our toughest decisions come down to personnel. We’re really a team-based, family recruiting firm which is different from other firms. Our competitors are a little bit more Shark Tank. We’re a lot more family friendly. In the last two years we’ve been named by Florida Trend Magazine as Best Places To Work For. I don’t refer to our staff as employees, they’re really colleagues. It’s difficult when you have someone that’s not performing at acceptable standards and to let them go especially, if they’ve been with you for a little while.
We try to give people as much time. We have as much patience as we can, but at the end of the day we’re running a business. I’d say that’s always the challenge, is cancelling people out, letting people go.
Oscar DiVeroli: You obviously, have a very, very successful business. You’re an absolutely highly confident entrepreneur. I’d like to make an investment in your business. I’d like to invest $1 million dollars into your company. How would you deploy those funds?
Gene Holzer: We would really use those resources for expansion, looking for new markets. I mentioned earlier, we’re in eight different cities. We have multiple lines of business: accounting, and financing, IT and banking. We would probably use those to grow some of those newer cities; New York City, Central Florida which have been recent investments, and target other thriving cities across the country. It’s really the success of Ascendo and the individuals there, about finding the right people, and how do you get the right people? You have to compensate them, right?
Oscar DiVeroli: Sure.
Gene Holzer: Attract them. That’s how we would leverage those resources, if you’re willing to give us, sure.
Oscar DiVeroli: Listen, today’s your lucky day. You not only get a million dollars, but you’re going to get some magical powers, and with those powers you now have the ability of going all the way back to day one of your business, all the way up to current. You have the ability, the unique ability of reversing any one decision that you’ve ever made. What would that be?
Gene Holzer: Interesting. That’s difficult question for me, in the sense that I don’t live as lot in regret. I know that we’ve made mistakes. There are multiple people we’ve hired that wound up being disastrous. I would say some of those individuals that we provide a short-term investment for, without naming names. I would go back and say, “Don’t hire that person.” Other than that, we’ve really or myself, I live for the moment, and look to the future. I don’t really focus on or dwell on the mistakes. We’ve learned from those mistakes. We just keep moving forward and try not to repeat those mistakes, try to look for those signals that maybe, “Hey, remember when that happened? Let’s not do that again.”
Oscar DiVeroli: I heard a word in there that you said was ‘future.’ You look towards the future. In your last remaining moments of magical powers, let’s fast-forward five years. How has the business climate changed? What is that going to do to your business, five years from today?
Gene Holzer: Sure, difficult to predict obviously, business climates. In our industry it’s very volatile based on the economy and the job market. My expectation over the next five years is more job growth in probably the next two to three years and probably a slow down some. One of thing I can guarantee you is there will be another slow down, there will be another recession. That’s what happens. I just don’t know when. We don’t know when that’s going to happen. We have to poised, and ready and have the right team in place.
I would say from a financial standpoint, next year we’re looking at revenues in the $25 million range. Five year from now we want that to be a $100 million. That’s where our goals are. That’s where I would expect us to be in that five, six year time frame. You can’t control outside event’s there’s wars and other horrible events that will effect it and normal recessions. Outside of that, that’s where I expect we’ll be.
Oscar DiVeroli: I’m sure you’re going to make it as well. What one word describes Gene Holzer as an entrepreneur?
Gene Holzer: Hard work.
Oscar DiVeroli: That was two words.
Gene Holzer: Sorry.
Oscar DiVeroli: That’s okay.
Gene Holzer: Hard-work.
Oscar DiVeroli: Better. Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?
Gene Holzer: They can be both. Myself, is I definitely, was not born and entrepreneur. I came out of corporate America. I work for some of the largest companies in various roles. That’s who I thought I wanted to be. I learned some life lessons from my father, who also was in corporate America and then, was let go after 30 plus years with a watch and a little bit of severance. He had to turn it around and build a business from nowhere and created a very successful business. Now, he’s happily retired and doing well. There was some of this life learning. For myself personally, never really had the entrepreneurial bug, just fell into it. Once I got a taste of it I’m not letting him go.
Oscar DiVeroli: Good for you. Who do you go to today if you’re looking to brainstorm an idea, or problem solve, or just look for overall general guidance or advice? Who’s your go-to person or team?
Gene Holzer: We have partners at Ascendo Resources. We’re setup in that structure. We make a lot of decisions with either two, four, maybe, even more people involved in decision making. One thing I know is that I don’t know everything. I can’t live on an island. I have to work with my colleagues and make some decisions, run things by them. We do that to each other, it keeps us in check. It’s not one person, it’s a committee, so to speak.
Oscar DiVeroli: You’re a leader. Great leaders are always learning. What is your source, your primary source of knowledge?
Gene Holzer: For me it’s probably a combination of just experience, life experience, work experience. Certainly, I read financial information. I read what’s going on in the Stock Market and so forth. I do have an MBA. I am classically trained in business. I’d say the biggest factors is definitely day-to-day. You pick up something new from people around you. Don’t be afraid to take people’s ideas, not steal, just take. Tell them you’re taking it, like, “Great idea, good. I’m using it.” I do that all the time.
Oscar DiVeroli: Isn’t that the highest form of flattery?
Gene Holzer: Yeah, I agree.
Oscar DiVeroli: As a business leader how do you make a mark either in your business or in your community?
Gene Holzer: We’ve actually in the last couple of years have gotten much more involved in the community. We work with an organization called Feeding South Florida. They are a part of a national chapter of making sure that those that are food deprived are getting meals. That range is from the elderly, the homeless or young children. We get very involved in their events. Actually, they had a contest back in the beginning part of the year called the Hunger Games. Ascendo was right in there. We won the Hunger Games, we won the award. It was a combination of doing a food [sword 00:15:49], and collecting cans in the office, and financial donation. There was a race, 5K race. All those things.
It’s not just giving back to the community. We also feel like that’s part of our family culture internally. That’s what makes it interesting, is that we do things as an organization outside of work. It’s not just about the numbers it’s about getting to know each other, bonding. Our office is a very excited about Halloween. We have our own internal Halloween contest. The different offices compete against each on what themes that they’ve come up with. They’ll be pictures of that on social media. We like to those kinds of thing. Certainly, Feeding South Florida has been a big thing for us. We really enjoy partnering up with them.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great what do you think the boldest move or decision you’ve every made in your professional life?
Gene Holzer: Certainly to start Ascendo Resources, to become one of the co-founders, leaving a study income, being the primary bread winner of my family, that was by far. Putting the chips on the line and saying, “You know what? I’m going to do this.” As a business owner, those decisions evolve. Expanding into other markets. We were first a few years ago maybe, two years ago, we were just in South Florida. We just had three offices. We were doing well. We were gaining market share. We were very profitable, and all those good things. Are you satisfied with that? We made the bold decision, “Let’s go outside a market. Let’s build and develop teams we don’t see everyday.”
That definitely, was a big bold business decision. We’re catching on, cashing in on it right now.
Oscar DiVeroli: Good for you. Good. If I say the words ‘trust’ and ‘respect’, what does that mean to you?
Gene Holzer: Whether it be for business or personal reasons, those are two of the key words that I look at as a human being on this planet. We always talk in the office about relationships, and if people can’t trust that your word is your bond, and that what you say is what you’re going to do then it’s not really … your word is not really worth anything. How you’re going to have that long-term relationship without trust. Respect is something that I hold very high, it’s earned. You need to prove yourself to people everyday in what you do. I find those two values for both business and personal very important.
Oscar DiVeroli: Final question, tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up and just for a moment I want you to pretend that your business in no longer in existence. What’s the next greatest mountain you’re going to climb?
Gene Holzer: I would certainly look for another opportunity. Now, do I have some money in my bank account at this point?
Oscar DiVeroli: Of course, you’re a successful entrepreneur.
Gene Holzer: I’m a successful entrepreneur. I may do a little traveling in the short-term. I’m sure I’d want to get back on that horse and find another opportunity somewhere. It wouldn’t be right away. I would definitely take some to think about it. I love what I’m doing now. I hope that doesn’t happen tomorrow.
Oscar DiVeroli: Where would you travel by the way?
Gene Holzer: Europe, Asia, everywhere.
Oscar DiVeroli: Great, great. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you in our studio today. Again, on behalf of EO South Florida, congratulations. You have a tremendously successful company. You’re ranking on the Inc. list is well deserved. Thank you so much for helping to spur the entrepreneurial spirit in South Florida. Thank you, pleasure.
Gene Holzer: Thank you, pleasure.