The ol’ college try Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

When Cary McMillan and his peers were choosing a name for their corporate and business tax consulting firm, they wanted something that conveyed a collegial atmosphere of interdependence.

“True Partners Consulting — we picked that name on purpose because we want to be partners with our clients, we want to be partners with our people, we want our people to be partners with each other,” the founding partner and CEO says.

To facilitate that culture, McMillan has grown the 175-employee firm organically, bringing in new hires one at a time. The practice has allowed him to mold employees into active participants within the collaborative environment and has helped boost revenue from $8 million in 2006 to $23 million in 2007.

Smart Business spoke with McMillan about how to target the best candidates to fuel successful organic growth.

Q. What is the benefit of organic growth?

While it’s a lot faster to grow through acquisition, I think it’s more effective to grow organically if you can.

Building a culture of collegiality, interdependence, quality, trust — all the words that sound good on paper — is hard to do, but it’s a lot easier to do if you bring these people in one at a time. If you bring people in, you get a chance multiple times to reinforce the values and vision of the company.

You get to do it when you’re recruiting them, you get to do it when they come here one on one with them, and they get to participate in the building of the culture.

Q. How do you find the best employees to facilitate organic growth?

You have to make sure that the home front is secure. The most important part in recruiting is to make sure that you’re creating the right culture, the right environment, the right atmosphere with the people that you already have.

The best way to find the best employees is to have a group of employees that already work for you being your real disciples out there, and when you send your people out to help recruit, really the best example of what you’re looking for is who you already have.

Q. Where do you look for these employees?

We would love to get everybody right out of their university degree, so people that have master’s in accounting, master’s in tax or people with law degrees, that’s who we recruit out of college. Some of them come here as interns to get work experience before they graduate, and we’re very fortunate in that virtually every intern that we’ve brought in has come back as a full-time employee after graduation. Some we bring in directly as they’re graduating from college.

The inexperienced people are people that we get to teach. It’s the most organic of the organic growth. We hire people, and we teach them about our culture, our values, our vision, our beliefs, and they’re not bringing a lot of baggage with them.

Q. What is a common recruiting mistake?

People, when they recruit, they tend to try to find people who look like themselves — similar backgrounds, similar experiences, similar demographics even. I think the most important thing to remember is that the success of America is more dependent upon diversity and the integration of immigrants into our society than any other country in the world.

When you go on campus, you have to have an extremely open mind, to look at candidates who perhaps don’t have the same background as you and, in fact, in some respects, their backgrounds may be difficult for you to relate to. They might actually be from a foreign country themselves, or they don’t speak English as their primary language, or they didn’t participate in the same activities you did in college.

Q. How do you make sure you’re targeting the best graduates?

The most important thing is to spend time on campus with the staff and the faculty. Help teach classes, help give presentations in front of the honors societies, pitch in — the schools are always looking for firms to help support the activities to make the students’ and the faculty’s life more interesting on campus.

Then you’re very likely to develop a good relationship with the placement department, with some of the key faculty, with some of the professional honorary societies. Those organizations and people can really get you in touch with the best students, and you get a chance to interact with them in a more informal way than the kind of high-stress, one-on-one interview.

If you just think you’re going to go down to some school and somebody’s just going to give you the secret handshake and tell you, ‘Here are the top five students. Go get ’em,’ you’re crazy, because it doesn’t work that way.

For those that put in the effort, you get the reward.

HOW TO REACH: True Partners Consulting, (312) 235-3300 or www.tpctax.com