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Talent pull Featured

8:05am EDT November 28, 2005
Ron Severo experienced the usual pains that go with a start-up business taking off like a rocket, such as cash flow woes and finding qualified employees to staff his IT consulting firm, Pyramid Consulting Group.

But Severo wasn’t about to let those things handicap his growth. To get the right human resources, he offered a generous compensation package, including a rich menu of benefits.

To beat the cash crunch and keep pace with his payroll, Severo lived lean, took on partners and built his receivables to earn a bigger line of credit. He acknowledges that the staffing issue isn’t one that he’s totally solved, but he’s convinced he's on the right track when it comes to attracting and holding onto top talent, a key component for his company’s success.

And people will be his key asset, Severo says, as he takes his firm from strictly IT consulting to providing more profitable, comprehensive business solutions to his clients.

Smart Business spoke with Severo about how he attracts and retains the best employees to help grow his business.

What was the most difficult part of Pyramid Consulting Group’s rapid growth?
What’s frustrating to me is finding people with good communications skills that can do the work. I struggle with that every day.

I think there are two reasons. People are afraid to lose their jobs because of the economy. It frustrates me a little because I want to say, ‘You think your job’s secure, but your company’s laying off how many people a year?’ You just haven’t gotten hit yet.

If you don’t take the risk now, you may get let go and you’re not going to have the skill sets then. That frustrates me because I can’t find people, I can’t convince people to come on board. It’s very cutthroat. Companies are nickel and diming in a sense just to throw bodies at an engagement, and that’s not what we do. We’re not a body shop.

Now that your business is established, it still a challenge to get good people?
More now than before. What happened before was when companies were doing a lot of layoffs, there were a lot of people out there in 2002 and 2003.

Back then, there were a lot of good people out of work. Before that, if they were unemployed, that was a red flag. Later, we didn’t [care] because employers were laying off because they were trying to cut costs. It wasn’t about how good someone was, it was about how much someone was making.

So we found a lot of good people. There were probably 50 companies that did what we did, but only 10 or 20 had good relationships. The rest were just body shops. They ended up falling by the wayside, so we were able to get some of those good people.

How important was having top talent to your success?
That was really key to our success, especially in a down market. I think a lot of people focus on the wrong things. They think it’s about money and we focused on good staff, trying to give them good benefits, trying to take care of them.

I had a silent partner that helped me make my payroll because the bank wouldn’t help me with that. That lasted about six months. I started closing deals with companies saying, ‘Listen, pay me as an employee every two weeks, and I’ll cut the margins in half.’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll cut your invoices quicker if that will help you.’

What was the most important thing you did to inspire your employees’ confidence and loyalty?
Always being there. If I called one of my employees in at 1 o’clock in the morning, I’d be there with them. I always paired up with my employees.

To them, I acted as a peer, not a boss, but they knew I stepped in as a boss when needed and made the decisions. To me, I don’t think that ‘Rule by fear’ and ‘I’m your boss’ works anymore.

What makes a consultant want to show up for work and enjoy work is the people they work with and report to. I think that’s what helped us grow. They knew I stood by them and they also enjoyed working with me. I think earning the respect of the staff and not acting like a boss is key to that.

What is the best way to hold onto top talent?
I think treating people fairly, having integrity and honesty with everyone we deal with. But in order to do this venture, I also believe in giving ownership and equity to the key people.

That’s what people are looking for, to feel like part of a family. I put plans together for everybody to have stock ownership in the company. One thing I learned is that if you’re not greedy and you’re fair, you’d be amazed at how much further you can take your company.

How to reach: Pyramid Consulting Group, www.pyramid-group.com