On a conference room wall at Harvey Hohauser & Associates
in Troy, a couple of shelves display give-away promotional coffee mugs that clutter so many kitchen cabinets. Not all that inspiring, really. But these mugs symbolize where the search firm has been, and where it's going.
Todd Hohauser, president of the executive recruiting firm, shows off the mugs as if they're trophies or awards, and he has a full story for each empty cup. "This shows the breadth of the stuff we do," says Hohauser, son of company founder and CEO Harvey Hohauser. Porsche, Schostak, Franklin Bank, Mack's, Durolast, Tweddle are part of the eclectic display. They are gifts of gratitude from satisfied clients.
David Sokol hasn't sent a mug, but he is thankful for the job that the headhunters at Hohauser brought to him, making him director of benefit services at Wilshire Group
in Troy, a subsidiary of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Sokol, 43, of Oakland Township, has been the hunter and the hunted.
After leaving Michigan in the 1990s to become an army officer at West Point and working in Delaware for several years, Sokol decided to return to his home state. He knew almost no one in metro Detroit business circles, so he set about finding and interviewing headhunting firms - not waiting for them to come to him.
"My feeling is you don't want just anyone schlepping you around," says Sokol, who went on to an executive-level career in group employee benefits.
Then earlier this year, unsolicited, Hohauser put its sights on Sokol, who was happily working as an executive at Humana
. He wasn't looking for a change, necessarily, although a restructuring at Humana would require more travel, with the undesired effect of taking him away from his three sons.
"Hohauser was really good at digging and doing research on me and my field. They realized this was the position for me, probably before I did," Sokol says.
Hohauser often hears the gratitude, especially when the firm offers jobs in-state. "They'll say, 'You mean I don't have to leave?' " he says.
Sokol felt that way. He wanted to move to the next run of the career ladder and stay in metro Detroit. "I feel very confident that there's a lot of opportunity here in Michigan," he says. "I always say metro Detroit is like living in the biggest small town in the world. Forget six degrees of separation. Here it's really only two degrees when you start getting into C-level positions."
The cultural mix of the Detroit area is also appealing to job candidates. "Another thing I like about Detroit is it's such an international place," Hohauser says. "It's good to be comfortable working with all cultures."
There are 20-30 recruiting - headhunting - firms in metro Detroit, some well-established, some with full staffs, some one person working from home, some specializing in finding executives, like Hohauser, others finding employees in certain lines of work.
Headhunters can be hired by a company looking for qualified job candidates or by job candidates looking for employment opportunities. Generally, the recruitment business in metro Detroit is seeing new growth in the fields of medicine and technology, but there's still not the amount of work to go around that there used to be. Already a competitive lot, recruiters have found themselves battling for clients more often as the economy has puttered and the Internet has become a more prevalent job connector.
"It's very rare for me to be the only search firm talking to somebody and there's always bidding wars, going up against another search firm," Hohauser says. "And with the Internet, we often wind up with clients that went that route and wished they hadn't."
Luckily for 25-year-old Hohauser & Associates, the mugs and other gimme promo goods are still being gifted by clients saying thank you for that prized executive. Not long ago the world of marrying executives and companies was strained. "The death of our business came in the fall of 2008," Hohauser says.
Hohauser, like so many businesses, flapped its sails in the economic storm that saw a stock market and banking crises, the near collapse of U.S. automakers, mortgage industry struggles, and more. What saved the company was being small and agile, and working with businesses that were reinventing themselves for life after the auto industry.
"It really was dead until July 2009," he says. "It took off once the health care debate was finally over. Until then there was analysis paralysis."
Hohauser is healthy again, thanks to the growing number of Michigan companies that have reinvented themselves, hit on innovations, and creatively taken a bite of the new and changing economy.
Where automotive clients were once the company's bread and butter, the firm now works regularly with companies in the fields of medical, health, technology, and aerospace.
"We've definitely seen a trend away from the auto industry and auto manufacturing," he says, though lately there's been an uptick in auto business.
He credits the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's financial support of incubators such as Detroit's TechTown
, Ann Arbor SPARK
, Macomb and Oakland counties' Automation Alley,
and Southwest Michigan First
. "It's really benefiting these businesses and making them grow," he says.
The companies hired by Hohauser normally don't have a built-in process for finding executives that can guide their companies through growth and change. Salaries start at $125,000, and the job titles are usually the ones that go by acronyms. Candidates come from a database that contains some 10,000 resumes, researched, backgrounded, and categorized, as well as from networking and fresh searches started when a job opens. Some of Hohauser's current searches include: bank CEO, director of philanthropy, president of aerospace, VP of medical products, and president of health and beauty aides. For a complete list, check out the company's website
"The businesses we work with have been busy focusing on their knitting," Hohauser says. "They haven't had time to figure out how to find people to help take them to the next level."
His eight-person firm provides all the legwork, including matrices, evaluations, and interviews, including observing employers and job candidates for personal chemistry, which suits the sociology backgrounds Harvey, the CEO, and Todd.
Finding the right exec entails an 82-step process "that scares the hell out of our clients," Hohauser jokes.
It's three phases, really, he says.
- Understanding the company culture by going in to the company, learning its history, observing, meeting employees, and figuring out what kind of personality traits will mesh.
- Understanding the candidates, what they need and want, where they've been and want to go, and getting to know them.
- Making a match that is guaranteed to work out for at least a year or your money back.
A money-backed guarantee?
"In 25 years," Hohauser says, "we've only had to do that a handful of times."
Kim North Shine is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Her previous article was Building The Future: Metro Detroit's Young Architects
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All Photos by Dave Lewinski