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A desire to excel Featured

10:16am EDT October 10, 2005

Dion Deloof left his job at a large, stable company to start Anteo Group — named for the Latin verb for “to excel” — and that’s exactly what he and his partner James Yeagle intended to do.

“We left relatively comfortable jobs to pretty much betting the farm,” says Deloof, president of Anteo Group, an information technology staffing and consulting firm launched in 2002. “It was a leap of faith.”

The leap paid off. Anteo Group has grown to $10 million in sales and the company, started in Deloof’s basement with just three employees, now employs 80 in offices in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and London.

Deloof’s goal is to grow Anteo Group to $50 million in sales and open offices in New York and Chicago. And he believes his employees — his biggest asset — will help him reach that goal.

“If we keep our eye on the goal of making sure every employee is pushed and has lots of runway in front of them to get better, then we will continue to grow,” Deloof says.

Smart Business spoke with Deloof about the challenges of gaining new clients and of seeking out the best employees during a period of rapid growth.

How is Anteo Group different from its competition?

We only work in the software sector. We look and feel like a true consulting company, but we do it at staff augmentation rates.

For example, one of our clients is The Weather Channel. If they want to hire two software developers and they get a normal recruiter, they will see about five to 10 resumes, conduct five interviews and try to narrow the list down. That is pretty time-intensive.

We meet with them and understand their technology better than our competitors more often than not. We then come back and suggest one or two candidates. Ninety percent of the time, one of those two candidates is going to get hired.

It’s really understanding who truly is going to fit in the role and making sure who we present is truly qualified.

What challenges have you faced as your company has grown, and how have you met them?

No. 1 is hiring great people internally — and we are recruiters. We’ve been fortunate in that 90 percent of our employees have been referred by other employees.

We historically don’t hire people who have experience in our industry. Our view is if it takes us four months to get someone up to base level but they have great character, great motivation and great drive, I would rather take those four months and train them and have a great employee for the next five or 10 years than take someone who knows the industry inside and out but I am not convinced that they are an exceptional person.

Operationally, at our rate of growth, it’s been a challenge to make sure we have credit lines and credit facilities in place, which, as a small business, if you try to start in the middle of a recession or down times, is very difficult.

I must have met with 10 or 11 banks or similar financing companies. Even if you’re a 12-month-old company doing $3 million in sales, getting a bank to actually give you a credit line is a great challenge when you are asking for a $2 million credit line.

We hit one point when we went from $2 million to $8 million in sales last year. I was on the phone with the bank begging them to increase our credit line by $500,000 just to meet payroll because we were growing so fast.

Also, when we get an opportunity to get in front of a client, they see the difference that Anteo brings to the table, and we almost 100 percent of the time get a shot at that business. But getting a chance to get in front of that person, and I’ve been in this business for about 13 years, is harder than it’s ever been.

You just can’t cold call a manager anymore because nobody answers their phones. Getting access to those senior people when you’re not a name brand is extraordinarily difficult.

How do you get that access?

It’s partly on the marketing side. We sponsor software user groups. We sponsor other events, like Women in Technology.

We also ask our consultants and current clients outwardly for their help. We basically say, ‘Hey, if we’ve done a great job for you, please refer us to anyone you know in other companies or within your own.’

In the past, we would not be asking that, but now we are pretty open and we try to be close with clients. Referral is pretty much the only way we can get in front of new clients. Even with our growth rate, and we are growing pretty fast, it’s still difficult to get in front of a decision-maker.

What has been the largest contributing factor to your growth?

Without a doubt, it’s our people. We’re in a very mature industry (where it’s) hard to differentiate yourself. Recruiters have been around a long time, and there are lots of them.

We like to think that we hire great people with great intentions. They’re the ones that clients know, love and trust, so they always come back to that person they had the relationship with. HOW TO REACH: Anteo Group, http://www.anteogroup.com