Oscar: I’d like to welcome to the studio today Steven Sadaka of Steven Douglas Associates. Welcome and thanks so much for being with us today
Steve: Thank you very much.
Oscar: Steven On behalf of the Entrepreneurs Organization, South Florida Chapter, we would like to congratulate you for earning your ranking in the 2014 INC. fastest growing privately held companies in the United States. Congratulations.
Steve: Thank you.
Oscar: How did you do that? How were you able to get such a fantastic ranking?
Steve: The market has helped. Okay Since 2009 we placed both professional people, accounting, IT, HR, Sales and marketing. Even though the unemployment rate may say it’s six percent right now, the talent for the demand for accountants and IT people is probably under one percent. There’s a very strong demand from corporate America to hire these people since 2010 actually.
Then you combine that with, we’ve been in the market for thirty years. My senior leadership, I’ll put up against anyone in South Florida. We’re like the 800 pound gorilla in South Florida and the market’s helped, so that combo has really … I think this is the third year in a row we’ve made INC 5000.
Oscar: That’s fantastic
Steve: Which I think is a testament to both the market and to my team.
Oscar: What is your ultimate vision for your company?
Steve: Ultimate vison for my company. Well our game right now we have a three year game. We’ll be at thirty-five million in sales this year. Which has actually double … more than double 2009 where we took a thirty-five percent hit. Our game right now is to be at fifty million in sales within three years. About a ten to twelve percent growth rate. And growing within our existing locations and our existing disciplines.
Oscar: You mentioned you’ve been in business for thirty years.
Steve: Thirty years.
Oscar: What’s changed during those thirty years when you first got into the business to where it is today?
Steve: Well when I first got into the business I was on Brookell Avenue. If you wanted to go take a client out to lunch in Fort Lauderdale before cellphones, it would be three and a half hours of wasted time in the car. That’s one thing that changed.
We were just getting fax machines back then, so we had to hand type resumes on an IBM electric typewriter. We had to courier it overnight to make sure the resume got there first the next day, there were no fax machines, there were no emails. I think the speed at which things move compared to thirty years ago is just incredibly different.
Oscar: Do you remember your first client?
Steve: I actually remember my first client, who we did do work with recently, Garson Preston the CPA from Miami Beach. When I started the firm they were actually my first client. We recently just did work with them again after thirty years.
Oscar: That’s amazing. How did you establish credibility early on?
Steve: At the time I started the firm I was twenty-five, which was a little young for being in business. I established credibility by not taking on too much work, and making sure whatever I took on I actually delivered on. It was a year to two year process to get clients to really trust you. It was just really one step at a time, doing a good job, coming back and then they give you more work, and more work. That’s how we actually grew because they’d give us work in other divisions and I didn’t have people that could handle that, so then I would just hire people.
We started out placing accounting people and then we did a great job, then they wanted to hire IT people. I ended up hiring Steve Callisher twenty-two years ago, who still runs my IT groups to handle the IT side. Just doing a good job in one area was able to have us expand into different areas with the company. Now we do IT, we do accounting, we do HR, we do sales and marketing, and we do operations, both on a fulltime basis and on an interim and or temporary contract basis. What’s unique about our model is we’ll place people from the CFO, match who are the persons in my company place the CFOs. Steve Callisher who heads up my IT group place the CIOs, but then we could go all the way down to senior accountants, programmers on the IT side, and then also place people on a temporary or interim basis.
That breadth of level of people, and also fulltime or interim under one roof is actually pretty unique in south Florida.
Oscar: Absolutely. Of those five divisions is one more challenging than the others?
Steve: There is a large shortage of people in both IT right now and accounting. We’re getting candidates now in accounting and IT that are getting five other offers. The challenge right not is actually not finding the clients to hire, it’s actually finding the candidates. There’s a shortage of professional candidates, that’s the challenge.
Oscar: With top tier talent of your baby boom generation retiring, is that creating an unusually challenging environment for you?
Steve: I think what happened is four or five years ago companies during the recession stopped both hiring and they stopped training. They cut back on both of those. The four, and five, and six year people now they weren’t necessarily hired back then and developed back then, so there’s a shortage of that talent right now. Obviously just with the demographics of the baby boomers there’s a shortage of talent across the board on the professional side.
Oscar: What habits help make you as successful as you are?
Steve: What habits?
Oscar: What habits.
Steve: What habits, planning. I like to plan my day the night before so I actually know what I’m going to do, what’s critical. Another habit I’ve learned only the last couple years is being able to say no more often. Making sure I’m working on the parts of the job that’s the best use of my time. Making sure that I have team members that can handle the stuff that I should not be handling, and saying no. Being much more focused on what’s important I think has been a developed skill, rather than just saying yes to a lot to things.
Oscar: You mentioned time, how is your typical work day changed since you first started this company thirty years ago?
Steve: The early morning meetings and the late night dinners I just don’t do as much. I’m getting old and I really don’t want to do a 7:30 breakfast anymore. Thank god I have young people twenties, thirties, forties that will do the 7:30 breakfast, and could actually work all day and go out to dinner with a client. I find my key time during the day, I would say between nine and four is really just high performance time.
I also don’t necessarily entertain my clients on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m more just with my friends. When I started out it was seven days a week, my clients I was entertaining, I was playing golf. Don’t have to do that as much because we now have two hundred people work for the firm, so there are people that can do that part.
Oscar: That’s great. Have you ever turned down a client?
Steve: I actually turn a lot down recently.
Oscar: What would be the reasons?
Steve: They don’t appreciate my fees. They actually want us to be the best and the cheapest, and I didn’t necessarily think that’s a good combination. If they don’t want to pay our fees. We actually have a process that we’ve developed over the years, a talent acquisition solution that actually is refined on how to hire great people in a timely manner. There’s certain things the client needs to do to have that work. They need to give us timely feedback after they interview a candidate. They need to communicate with us what they like and don’t like.
If there’s a client that’s not communicating, not getting back to me with timely feedback, won’t make offers that we consider market, then it’s going to be a total waste of our time and their time, and we fire them. We fire them and we don’t work with them.
Oscar: What is the toughest decision you made in recent history?
Steve: Firing people, firing sales people. We recently closed an LA office, we had it opened for about two years. It was breaking even, but managing LA from south Florida on a three hour time difference, it took up a lot of bandwidth. A lot of our offices are on the east coast. It wasn’t making money and the decision was how long do I give it, verses cut, cut. Even though we weren’t losing money on it, it just seems it took up a lot of our bandwidth. One day I just came in and I said, “You know what we just need to close the LA office.” That was a tough decision because the guy who runs it he’s a great guy, he’s ethical, great family. It just look like it was taking up too much of our bandwidth.
Oscar: Steve I would like to make an investment in your company. I would like to give you one million dollars to your company, I’d like to know how you would deploy those funds?
Steve: That’s a good question, one million dollars. One I wouldn’t need your one million dollars right now.
Oscar: Your holding out for more money?
Steve: No, you know it’s interesting, we’ve spent the last year really updating our website and internet presence. We invested in that which is really complete and we’re getting a lot of traction there. I would have said that, we’ve done it. You know it might be just if we attracted some great talent as potential employees for us in other cities, I would probably use you’re one million dollars to fund that for a year or two so it wouldn’t have to come out of my pocket.
Oscar: Fair enough. If I gave you magical powers and you had the power to go back thirty years from day one of the start of your business, and you could change any decision you made, strategic direction, a hire, anything at all, what would you like to change?
Steve: I would have hired my current leadership team a lot earlier. We were a nice mom and pop size firm, ten to twelve people for I’d say a good twenty years. Then brought on eight years ago Matt Shore and Mark Viner. We brought on Jack McCarthy on the IT contract side. We’ve gone from six million in sales, we’ll do thirty-five million in sales. This is in the last seven years, eight years. I would have brought them on sooner. I also would have gotten rid of unproductive people sooner, as opposed to letting them stay around.
Oscar: Same magical powers-
Steve: Does that come under magical powers or is that more like foresight?
Oscar: Here comes the foresight question. I’m handing you a crystal ball, look in it and tell me how the business climate will change affect your business over the next five years?
Steve: When I look ahead I wonder what technology is going to do to get people hired. That’s the thing that actually keeps me up at night. There are so many disruptive technologies out there, you look what Uber is doing to the taxi business. I’m wondering is there going to be a matching database or technology, or crown sourcing, that’s going to be able to supplant us. Because companies right now are investing a lot in their accounting, IT and talent. I know the demand for talents there. I’m just wondering is there a disruptive technology that’s going to put us out of business. That’s what I’d like to see the crystal ball, if I had a crystal ball that’s what I’d like to know.
Does that answer your question?
Oscar: It does, fantastic answer. What one word describes you as an entrepreneur?
Oscar: Fair enough. If you were looking for guidance or you wanted to brain storm an idea, who would you go to?
Steve: I’d go to my team, so Matt Shore, Mark Viner. Go to my wife, my team, and then depending on the field. I have a nice circle of people I’ve developed over the years, someone who might have expertise in that area.
Oscar: Who inspires you?
Steve: Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs who everyday are creating something from nothing.
Steve: By the way also good sales people inspire me. Sales people can’t ever rest on their laurels. It’s like every day they come in, they may have a disappointment and they keep going. Good sales people inspire me.
Steve: Tenacity. Now they talk a lot about grit, grit is the ability to take a hit and keep going that inspires me.
Oscar: Steve great leaders are always learning, what is the best source of your knowledge?
Steve: I actually, similar to EOA, once a quarter I do a course put on for entrepreneurs called Strategic Coach, it’s based out of Toronto and Chicago, and I’ve been doing it for about eight years. Its CEOs or entrepreneurs of companies working on tools to how to increase productivity. How to enjoy your job and make more money and have plenty of free time. Which are three nice combos. Make more money, have free time, and enjoy it. They talk about if you’re doing that, why do you ever think about retiring.
Oscar: Of course, of course the trifecta. How does your company make a mark within your industry?
Steve: I think we’re just known as doing a really good job for our clients. If you ask our competitors they know we’re a formidable competitor, that if we’re handling a search we’re going to come through.
Oscar: What is the coolest experience you’ve either professionally or personally ever had?
Steve: Having my daughter get married this year.
Oscar: That’s wonderful.
Oscar: Looking back your thirty year career, what was the singular, most boldest move you’ve ever done?
Steve: I think it’s actually starting the firm when I was twenty-five. I had my grandfather living with us, he worked for the post office for thirty years. I remember talking to him about going to start my own firm, and he goes, “Well you’re not going to have any benefits.” It was that move of going from a family of long term employees, to taking a risk and actually starting my own firm at twenty-five. I think that was the boldest move.
Oscar: In what ways do you develop trust and respect with your team?
Steve: Being up front with them obviously right. Letting them know, there’s sometimes it’s actually all about me, and it’s like I want you to do this for me, not trying to make it like it’s for them. Being upfront and honest with my team. Also all the leaders of our firm, all the division leaders are also accountable for bringing in business for the team. We don’t want to just provide office space for our team members, we actually want them to get value out of being part of our team. One of my responsibilities is to bring in searches and clients from my wealth management team. Then Matt will bring in searches for his accounting and finance team. I think they see the value of working with us, and that we’re upfront.
They also do know that we always try to do right for the client, so it’s not like we’re trying to cut corners with clients. I think that would build cynicism on your team.
Oscar: Sure. Steven Douglas Associates goes away today in a nice way, tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up and what kind of business I would like to know, would you start tomorrow?
Steve: I like the business I’m in right now.
Oscar: Excellent, excellent. Steve it has been an absolute pleasure having you with us today in the studio. Again on behalf of EO South Florida, congratulations on your ranking with INC. Thank you so much for helping to encourage entrepreneurship in the south Florida market. Thank you so much.
Steve: Great, thank you very much.
Oscar: Appreciate it. Thank you.