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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 7, 2009 9 years ago

Niche Change

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Hire Velocity, a Tampa search firm, hopes its switch from Fortune 500 clients to medium and small businesses will generate more revenue.

Hire Velocity, a Tampa search firm, hopes its switch from Fortune 500 clients to medium and small businesses will generate more revenue.


Valeri Marks has been chief executive officer of Hire Velocity, a five-year-old Tampa search firm, only since May. But she is convinced that her privately held firm has two distinct advantages over her competitors: technology and market focus.

Marks has taken Hire Velocity's client focus from large, Fortune 500 companies to small-to medium-sized firms.

Why? Because many of the big companies are shrinking, laying off employees. Job growth is happening in medium- and smaller firms.

“Big companies are laying off thousands of people,” Marks says.

Hire Velocity also focuses most of its time on Tampa and Atlanta, two growth markets. And it narrows its job search services to heath care, technology and retailing.

Besides that, Hire Velocity is leveraging technology by pulling potential job candidates from social media sites, such as Linked In, Twitter and Facebook, and from more than 200 job boards.

The goal is for Hire Velocity to look at more candidates and do it less expensively than other firms. It will have to keep its expenses in line because it charges less that many competitors, up to 50% less.

The strategy is reasonable, if tricky to pull off, but begs the question of why Marks would want to join an industry that has taken a beating during this economy? Most companies are not hiring.

“I want a change to do something different and make a difference,” she said. “This is a very exciting time. In this economy, you have to decrease costs or increase revenue. You have to also deliver more value.”

As the economy has slowed, Hire Velocity has taken its own hit and has shrunk its staff from the 40 people it had last year to about 26. It placed 2,000 people last year and had revenues of about $2 million.

“This year, we're ramping back up again,” Marks says.

In love with Tampa
Marks began her career in telecommunications and became president of Ameritech's Interactive Media Services division, launching the company's entry into the Internet marketplace with the development of the Online Yellow Pages site and ISP service. Following the acquisition of Ameritech by SBC (now AT&T), she led SBC's national Internet division and its 1,000 employees.

After leaving SBC, Marks ran private technology companies in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Florida, coming to Tampa in 2006 as president and CEO of New Homes Realty, a private equity-backed online real estate company that was later sold to Lending Tree.

Marks had worked with a Boston-based venture capital firm, Alta Communications, that would bring her into companies that it would invest in so Marks could improve them or turn them around.

For seven years, she ran technology firms in Boston that Alta invested in. But in the case of Hire Velocity, Marks did the research and made the move on her own.

“My family fell in love with Tampa,” she says.

John West, the chairman and CEO, remains chairman but granted the CEO title to Marks. Byron West, the founder, remains president.

Marks, 51, was a math major from a small college and got her MBA from the University of Michigan. She has been a sought-after CEO for her leadership skills in adding value to companies.

Despite the struggling economy, the need for search companies is still there because some companies may only have one person, or no person responsible for recruiting.

“They don't have the staff and the team,” Marks says. “In this case, we go in and free their team up.”

Hire Velocity does that two ways: It offers its staff to do recruiting, find candidates and narrow them down for clients. Or it sells its custom software, Velocity, to clients to allow them to do it.

When a company advertises job openings on its Web site, if someone clicks on it, they are actually linked to the Hire Velocity Web site. It manages the process. Hire Velocity makes the process more professional. It helps winnow the number of applicants down to the best five or, more typically, three candidates to help the client's human resource manager.

The company's chairman, John West, 53, is an experienced hand at finding ways to help businesses recruit and design more efficient ways to find the best people to hire.

In 1987, he founded and ran the technology staffing business System One in Tampa. After growing it to 17 offices nationwide and $120 million in sales, West sold System One to Monster/TMP Worldwide, where he became group president. He formed Lion Investments, which invested in business services. He also served as CEO of Acclaris, where he is now chairman.

West is now focused, with Marks, on building Hire Velocity because mid-sized and smaller businesses need more cost-effective ways to find good talent and manage the hiring process.

Word of mouth
The company markets itself mainly through referrals and the Internet. It realizes that despite checking qualifications, references and doing interviews with various staff members, hiring is still a leap of faith for many companies.

“It is an art, not a science,” Marks says. “There are challenges along the whole process.”

What are the jobs in demand, according to Hire Velocity? They are in information technology, digital media, computer programming, inside and outside sales and health care staff that support doctors and nurses.

To fill those positions, Hire Velocity builds business models to serve its different client sizes.

It faces a host of competition, from mom-and-pop independents to giant public companies. Hire Velocity is confident that with its technology linkages to social media and its small staff, it should be able to beat most competitors on price.

“In addition, everyone is doing everything the same way, so we believe we can make a difference,” Marks says. “This industry is very ripe for change.

Despite this unique approach, the biggest challenge for High Velocity has been making presentations to companies who are still hesitant about hiring the firm to help it find candidates because they are unsure about the economy.
High Velocity wants clients that will make at least 15 hires a year.

“They don't know when the market will come back, so there's a hesitancy in the marketplace,” Marks says.

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