Original article published here in the Daily Gazette
Recruiting firm keeps focus to weather the tough times
Sheila Greco of Sheila Greco Associates poses in her Amsterdam office.
AMSTERDAM It’s not part of her normal job, but Sheila Greco, a recruiter with her own company in Amsterdam, is finding herself doing more and more career counseling.
The Amsterdam native doesn’t mind. She started as a career counselor in New York City, so she knows how to help people spruce up their resume and actively search for jobs.
“I have no problem helping people do that,” she said.
Meanwhile, Greco’s company, Sheila Greco and Associates, which employs roughly 30 people, is working its way though the third recession in its history.
Greco said the company was going strong throughout 2008 until September, when things halted.
“It was like a light switch,” she said.
The human resource industry began to see smaller organizations go out of business, mostly mom and pop operations that focused on a particular industry — especially those that focused on the financial industry.
“The strong will survive, and in this business that seems to be the case,” Greco said.
Anna Brekka, senior director of Kennedy Information, a New Hampshire-based organization with offices in New York City that follows and trains the recruiting industry, said recruiting companies that do executive recruiting, such as Greco’s, have said that the last quarter of 2008 was tough and they are expecting 2009 to be tougher.
Brekka said the industry has experienced a 12 percent increase in the last five years, but it is impossible to tell what will happen in the future because companies don’t assess themselves yearly.
Need for executives
Most C-level employees — CEO, CFO, COO and so on — move within two to three years, Brekka said, so recruiting for those positions is still going strong, but recruiting for nearly all other positions is tough in this economy.
Brekka said many companies are experiencing hiring freezes; however, most companies can’t operate for long without a C-level employee.
“Certain positions that you can’t operate without, that doesn’t change,” Brekka said.
Recruiters that recruit for just one industry are especially vulnerable, Brekka said, and while boutique operations are going under, larger recruitment companies are also flailing.
Global recruiting firm Heidrick and Struggles recently cut their work force by 15 percent, she said.
Greco currently has 2,100 clients worldwide. Her 30 employees often work nights assisting clients along the Asia-Pacific rim.
Her firm specializes in pharmaceutical, health care and retail industries, and her clients include Nike, Sears, Wal-Mart and Deloitte and Touche.
Greco worked in New York City before returning to her hometown to start her own company in 1989.
“I had no idea that the company would be like this,” she said.
Sheila Greco and Associates has four main branches: research, recruitment, competitive intelligence and the company’s special executive tracker.
Greco said she started researching potential employees for clients and generating databases of qualified people. The company now has seven databases.
She then got into recruiting people for her clients. From there she began to work with her clients to study their competition.
She now has her specialized SGA tracker, which is a database that tracks executives in 1,100 publicly traded companies.
While Greco said she doesn’t have any Capital Region clients, she is negotiating with two health care companies and is trying to work with Beech-Nut.
“We’re always making changes so we succeed,” Greco said. “We want to come out of this strong.”
This is the third recession that Sheila Greco and Associates has had to weather in its 20-year history. Greco said her motto in times like this is “under promise and over deliver.”
Greco does see a silver lining amid this recession for her industry. In hard times, Greco believes it is more important than ever for businesses to have the best possible people, and clients will turn to her to seek them out.
“There are a lot of people out on the street right now so companies are looking at the competition to pluck out their A players and get rid of their B players,” she said.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that jobs in human resources and recruitment will increase by 17 percent, faster than average, through 2016. As baby boomers retire, it is predicted that there will be an increase in demand for people to replace them, which will increase the demand for people to look for and train potential employees.
For now, however, Greco said her company is surviving by making practical business and personal choices.
In running her business, Greco tries to work like Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, who cut the bottom 10 to 20 percent of his work force at the end of the year.
“At times like this you really need utility players. You cannot have people that can do only one thing,” she said.
She said she’s not sugarcoating the situation for her employees, either.
“Small companies are like a family, as most companies are, and they have to believe in you and trust in you,” she said.
Greco is also reducing her fixed costs including renegotiating contracts — especially those for health insurance. She is in what she called “hunker down mode” and thinking cautiously about every decision she makes.
“I always pretend I’m poor, I always work like I’m just starting out and I always give it 110 percent,” Greco said.