Oscar: I’d like to welcome to the studio today, Harris Katz, CEO of Tek Partners. Thanks so much for coming today.
Harris: Thanks for having me.
Oscar: On behalf of the Entrepreneurs Organization South Florida Chapter congratulations for earning a prestigious spot on the Inc 5000 2014 list of the fastest growing companies in the United States. Congratulations.
Harris: Thank you.
Oscar: Tell us a little bit about Tek Partners.
Harris: At Tek Partners our job is to provide proven talent to our clients and companies that we represent, mostly in the information technology and healthcare for permanent opportunities, contract opportunities and project opportunities.
Oscar: When did you start the company?
Harris: We started in 2002. To a lot of people’s advice not the best time to start a company after the tragedies of 9/11 and the economy in a recession, but the timing seemed right as far as opportunity to leverage to start the company at the time.
Oscar: Did you have a background in that space?
Harris: I’ve been in the space now about 19 years, I was in about 10 years. Always had entrepreneur blood in me, my father had started two companies on his own. Always taught me to do something, be the best at it and then try to do it better than everybody else out there on your own. I was looking for the right time, the right people around me. I actually founded the company with my partner, Vito Scutero, back in ’02. We actually met back in college at UCF and we’re fraternity brothers.
Harris: Our careers paralleled each other and the same two companies prior in different cities until we came together here in South Florida.
Oscar: Is there a lot of competition in your industry?
Harris: There’s a ton of competition. You have your large billion dollar companies all the way down to your mom and pop. Somebody out there who maybe was in the business and then has a relationship to find talent and then will go off on their own and try to start something, so there’s competition everywhere.
Oscar: What is unique about your business?
Harris: Our business is about people. It’s not just about technology. Everybody will say, okay, you’re in IT, so yes, you have to have a certain skill set there, but in our business they’re also looking for the people behind the technology. Our core values surround honesty, ethics, uncommon work ethic, really trying to find the soft skills in people to put into the right companies. They’re not programming in a different location from the company, but they’re integrated with the rest of the full-time associates, so they really have to fit in.
Oscar: When you launched did you have a detailed business plan?
Harris: Yes, we did and we always joke around about it because we went to college together and we learned about putting together a strategic business plan and you have to. Out of the gate we decided we weren’t going to do this unless we could put together a strategic plan to be a $100 million plus company. We didn’t want to be a mom and pop shop. We wanted to be able to compete with the national firms, but starting on a local level. W put together a very intricate, strategic plan that today extraordinarily enough has followed a lot of the steps, a lot of the divisions that we said we would create over the years and a lot of strategies have been carried out. We’re real proud of going back. We’ll go back and look at our business plan and we actually wrote a new one back in 2013, a new three-year strategic plan moving forward.
Oscar: Interesting. My follow-up question was did it take months or years before your plan was obsolete, but apparently in your case it held true.
Harris: It held true and planning is huge. One of the core values that we had from the onset was in our industry what’ll tend to happen is people will go out and start their own companies because it’s not too hard to do it especially if you want to do full-time placement because you’re not payrolling anybody and you can charge some pretty large, hefty fees without having a lot of cost to doing business. For us that plan to be a $100 million plus company took a lot of work from day one. We had to have a way to pay our associates because we were in contracting from day one, so we had to set up strategically with a business partner to help us on the backend. Extraordinarily enough we’ve grown today to close out the year probably $155 million plus and we’ve been 100% organic from day one.
Oscar: Amazing, so let’s talk about that. You talked about having money for payroll, for this, for that. How did you finance the launch of your business?
Harris: Not paying ourselves. Basically, just taking enough to pay our bills. When I had started I just had a newborn, my first boy was on the way. My wife I had met in the industry. She was a recruiter, I was an account executive. My partner, Vito, just putting everything back into the company. One of the things in our business plan was to … The goal was to build a very successful, strong financial foundation because we knew there’d be challenges along with opportunities down the line, so we put a lot back in, we continue to today. Every year when we’re in Q4 and we’re putting together a strategy for the upcoming year, we’re talking about what we’re going to reinvest back into the company, how we’re going to grow our company and how we’re going to do it from a financial side.
Oscar: You’re running a fairly large business at $155 million. In your opinion can a company outgrow its management team?
Harris: Yes, 100%. I said years ago this is my first time running, not just a $100 million plus company, but a $25 million company, a $10 million company. This is the largest company I’ve ever run and Vito and I both said that along the way we’re going to do whatever it takes and more to continue to keep the success of the company above the parallel of our associate’s aspiring career. If it means ultimately one day replacing ourselves with people and seats that can do a better job, we’re going to do that. For the time being we’ve been able to bring together leaders in the company that we’ve met through over our 15, 20 years in the industry together to sit around that corporate boardroom table to leverage on each other’s ideas and aspirations to continue the company to grow to where we are today.
Oscar: What is the culture in your company?
Harris: Starting with one thing you’ll see in every job description, life’s about the ride. We’re in the people business, we put a lot of hours in. We believe that you get one shot at life and we owe it to ourselves and our associates to make it the best possible ride out there, so we work very hard. Like I said honesty and ethics are two big criteria that goes into our culture. We’re dealing with representing people in their careers and I don’t know the last time you looked … Since you were an entrepreneur the last time you looked for something, but maybe when you did you’ll probably confide in your closest friends, your family, and if somebody’s lucky enough your recruiter. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it.
Now from a business standpoint it’s a great addition to the overall business plan because when you earn the right to work with somebody and be within that circle you’re finding common denominators between you and that candidate. A relationship is developed there if it’s done the right way and it’s followed our Tek Partner’s methodology of doing that. Usually in IT people are changing positions every year to three years. Your candidates become your clients, your clients become your candidates, so you can talk to my competitors and if they’re doing it right as well the contacts that you make in the industry can turn into a career for yourself.
Oscar: That’s fantastic. You mentioned you work very hard. What does your work schedule look like today, a typical day in your life versus day one when you launched your company?
Harris: Day one when we launched … I’ll start off by saying this is a 25 by 8 business. With technology today you can have technology working for you in your sleep to make you more effective in recruiting candidates, finding new job opportunities out there. In the beginning it was constant. When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting something and it was Vito and myself sitting back to back, we get a job requisition, we both turn into recruiters. We don’t have enough job opportunities out there, we’re both account executives leaning on each other, making it one placement at a time, making sure we’re making it the best possible experience out there.
We’re representing ourselves to the industry as maybe something larger than we actually are. To gain from day one that respect in what we do. Just going 25 by 8. Today, 13 years later it’s still a 25 by 8 business in my head and it’s something I’m always talking about since my wife was in the business for so long. It’s something we’re constantly talking about and bouncing things off of her and her experiences and her advice, but we’ve been able to accomplish probably my biggest personal goal and to make the company bigger than Harris Katz and Vito Scutero. Make the company large enough with a support mechanism in place to where god forbid if something were to happen to us the company goes on.
We’ve done that by seeking out the best talent out there, by having a business plan in place to make sure we retain the best internal talent out there in order for the company to grow. My day is get in early, be as planned and as efficient as possible, so then I can at 5:30, 6:00 I’m at either football practice, basketball practice, attending my three boys and getting the family time done as well. That’s something we really take pride in is that we haven’t lost touch of the commonsense and the people aspect of the business.
When it comes to managing our associates one of our criteria is we manage them from not just a professional level, but a personal level as well. Understanding the challenges of life whether it be family time, whether it be training, whether it be they need to take care of themselves to make themselves happy and that we take into the workplace. Our company has been blessed with a lot of awards over the years, but the one that I focus on most off is the best places to work. That tells me that I’m doing my job to ensure that we’re creating the best environment for our associates.
Oscar: What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make since you’ve launched your company?
Harris: It’s easy. When we started the company back in ’02 the company was actually
launched because one of the companies that we worked for at the time, a large publicly traded company, faced a huge challenge in that the country was in a recession at the time. A decision was made that they had to take care of the stockholder first and there had to be a lot of cutbacks internally with their people. In our business as I was saying earlier it’s based on relationships. You’re dealing with a very intimate relationship with your candidates. When a lot of those professional recruiters, account executives were removed from their positions the company couldn’t respond as it did prior.
When we started the company in 2009, I don’t know if you remember the country hit another recession, a lot of economic challenges and we were faced with a lot of the same challenges that we saw back in ’01, ’02. A lot of our competitors were at the time doing those same things, letting go of internal associates, making cutbacks. We really had to look in the mirror and say, okay, what launched the company, what are we going to do now that we’re faced with the biggest challenge that we’ve seen in the last six years. We responded with a strategy.
We had a strategy that we put across to the company called the dash for cash. What we did was we said if we do one dollar more in revenue in 2009 that we did in 2008 everybody from the front desk receptionist all the way up to the top would get $1,000 in cash at the end of the year. We also went campaigning to our clients and we said we know there’s tough economic times here. We’re going to do what we need to do to partner with you. If we need to push back invoices at times, if we need to take some price cutting for the amount of time and we are going to return to those prices [inaudible 00:13:01] back once economic times return, we’re going to do that. We told our internal staff that nobody’s going to be let go for as long as we can before the economic turndown.
What happened was we do all this because we said to ourselves why we were in the business to begin with. We’re in information technology, we’re in healthcare. Two aspects that … I don’t care which vertical industry you’re in it has to leverage those two business units. Companies need talent. I don’t know if there’s a company that exists today that survives without information technology, so our bet was on that. By Q2 what we saw was a quick turnaround in business. One because a lot of our competitors responded the same way that they did back in ’02 and they let go talent, we were first responders. We had the people in the seats to respond to the demands of the marketplace and we took market share from a lot of companies in the industry.
Number two, the demand for consultants went through the roof because people weren’t ready, companies weren’t ready to start making the long-term investment into full-time hirers, but the need for doing the day to day to keep IT running was there, they had to hire long-term consultants. We saw our headcount as far as our consultants go through the roof. Q3 continued and Q4 and going into 2010 which was a record year for us, everybody says wow, 2010 was a great year. I’ll always say 2009 was the year that we really drew a line in the sand, had to look in the mirror and say are we going to be hypocrites to our original business plan that founded the company or are we going to stick to our guns and our people to look ahead and see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s really what I think has launched us to be where we are today.
Oscar: Fantastic. What one word describes you as an entrepreneur?
Harris: Tireless. I come up with a lot of words, scared. I don’t come from a very lucrative background. I’m from New York, from the Bronx, moved down here, my dad in ’84 and my sister. I’ve had a lot of financial success over the last couple of decades and I fear failure. Today as CEO of Tek Partners it’s my responsibility for everybody’s success within our company. Today we have about 155 associates internally and over 1,100 consultants nationwide and their career, their aspirations as I was saying earlier, I’ve got to make sure our company is ahead of the parallel of their aspirations.
Every hire that we bring onboard I personally sit down with them the first day for a couple of hours to go over our company’s history, expectations. We have a kick off meeting every January where we lay out the strategic plan of the company for the year ahead and every hire after that I go over a quick version of that because they’ve got to be on the same page that we are. When we make that hire I’m telling them on that day one, yes, we’re going to give you a methodology, we’re going to give you training on how to succeed, but we’re taking accountability day one by making that offer to you in your career here at Tek Partners, it’s that important.
Oscar: Who instilled a thirst for learning in you?
Harris: My dad. I’d say my dad, people around me that I envied that were more successful than I was, that I thought were smarter than I was. Always considering myself the underdog and wanting to be as good or better than anybody out there. I guess, just life in itself, the challenges that it throws at you and what you want. I think every entrepreneur has to have a thirst for education, has to have a thirst for experience and has to have a thirst for success. Through that you have to have that quest for knowledge. You go through life and you have your experiences and you learn from it, you learn from your mistakes, you learn from your successes, but a true entrepreneur is also going to know that everybody goes through those things and I can really learn from a lot of other people to surround myself with as well.
Oscar: As a leader how are you making a mark within your company?
Harris: By delivering. Everything that we say as a company we back up in a process or a methodology. When we started the company we said, okay, how are we going to retain the best and brightest out there? How are we going to be able to face the challenges, so we don’t lose the Harris Katzes and the Vito Scuteros one day because they’re going to be entrepreneurial, they think they can be more successful somewhere else. As being a leader I’ve got to follow through on that and we’ve accomplished that by always learning to make sure that we’ve got the most aggressive comp plan out there, the best work culture or the best training, the best career path that we possibly can.
This way we can educate and make sure we’re giving that to our associates to keep them here. Being a leader is really responding to what, I think, your associates want and being able to deliver above all success. We have a joke in our office and at past companies that I’ve been at, it’s deals cure all problems, business success cures all problems. That’s not entirely true because you’ve got to have a fun, aspiring culture around you, but yes, if you’re hiring people that are financially motivated for success and if you’re hiring people that are honest with integrity, with an uncommon work ethic, all of that can turn around to be successful at the end of the day.
Oscar: Of course. Can you give me an example of something cool that you’ve done either personally or professionally, so cool.
Harris: I’ll give you another four letter word synonymous with cool and it’s called TWIY. TWIY, you don’t know what it is because you don’t work with us or you’re not there yet, but what TWIY stands for is the world is yours and it’s an acronym that came up when we decided to put together our president’s club. Most companies have a president’s club, their top producers, some kind of trip or high reward that comes at the end of the year and ours is TWIY. Where the name comes from is kind of funny. I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Scarface.
Harris: No reference to this, but after Mr. Montana offed his boss and had his arm in his sling and he’s overlooking Biscayne Bay and the Good Year Blimp’s coming over with the world is yours. That message on the world is yours and we try to give to every associate that. That’s what this really offers you, that’s what we want Tek Partners to offer you that the world is yours. We’re going to give you every opportunity to have the world at your feet and accomplish everything that you want in life out of it. From a cool statement, TWIY.
Another cool thing is what we do, we get to help people in their careers, we get to help people put their kids through college, build that house. Whatever their aspirations are we get to do that side by side with them, so it’s a cool industry. It’s not just about I’m a people person or I like people, it’s intimate. You’re making tough decisions and one of our core values is to have the courage to excel and the word courage you usually see synonymous with our veterans out there, our people defending the country every day. We use the word courage in our one of our statements because it’s not always rosy, it doesn’t always work.
We could pull somebody out of a 10-year career and put them somewhere that we feel is a phenomenal opportunity because we know the client, we know the role, we know the candidate and something goes wrong. You got to have the courage to face that. You’ve got to have the courage to call the four candidates that didn’t get the job. It’s easy to call the one person to deliver good news, but you’ve got to be respectful and call the other four and help them through it and help build them and find the right opportunity after. It takes a lot of courage to be in the industry.
Oscar: Fantastic. If I say the words to you trust and respect, what does that mean to you?
Harris: Everything. Our business is all trust, all respect. It’s a very sensitive time when people are moving from one opportunity to another. As we’ve been talking about today, trust, trust that we are representing them the best way, trust that we are doing everything we can to find out everything about the opportunity we’re putting them in, trust that we’re going to be there for them when things go bad and respect, treating everybody with respect. I’m a big karma person, I’m a big believer in I am going to work extremely hard, I am going to be strategically planned, but you know what, I also need lady luck to be there. I’m a big believer that if you’re a good person and you treat people with respect and you let people treat you with trust and come through for them that good things are going to happen.
Oscar: Wonderful. Final question, tomorrow morning you wake up and just for a moment your business is gone. What’s the next type of business you’re going into?
Harris: The next type of business. It’s funny, living here in South Florida, you can talk to my wife, she says I’m crazy. We have a residence in the Keys as well and I don’t know if I’d open up a bar down there and then become a part-time charter fisherman down there, but I love this business. One of the exciting things is that I may do it all over again because every day, myself, Vito, we wake up inspired, we think about this 25 by 8. It is not a monotonous business. You’re putting people with people and anything and everything happens.
There’s nothing you can … We talk about experience. I’ve always said when I’m finished here I want to write a book, 101 things that can go wrong in a staffing transaction. It’s always that one thing you didn’t think of, what would happen. People in my industry, we have a habit, we can tell a story after story after story because it’s about people and it’s important, it makes an impact on you. I may turn right back in it or I’ve always said I love to teach companies on how to utilize staffing firms the best way because I think a lot of them undervalue staffing companies and don’t get the true value that they should because they are paying the high fees. There’s a way of doing it the right way and obviously there’s a way of doing it the wrong way.
Oscar: It has been an absolute pleasure having you in our studio today. You’re exceptionally inspiring and again on behalf of EO South Florida I’d like to congratulate you for your ranking in Inc and we look forward to seeing you again in the near future.
Harris: Thank you so much.
Oscar: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
Harris: I appreciate it, thank you.