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Rochester Top 100: Wellington Steele

Recruiting, outsourcing Wellington Steele’s focus

Written by Matthew Daneman, Staff writer, democratandchronicle.com

If you’re a technology-centric company, your chief product is usually some service or piece of software.

If you’re a recruiting and outsourcing firm primarily serving those tech companies, like Wellington Steele & Associates, your chief product is very smart people who know Python and Java and Cisco technology.

“We have nothing without those people,” said Wellington Steele President Edward Leva. “Nothing. They are very, very important.”
And to that end, Leva said, “We take very, very good care of our people. I am nuts about that. We try to offer as competitive a comp package for everyone we can. We’ll also make sure, if they need time off, if they need medical coverage, if they need to leave early for something …”

Added Executive Vice President R.J. Gaudu, “We try to treat them like true in-office employees, not contractors. A lot of project-oriented contract people feel like they’re gypsies, guns for hire. But you don’t build any loyalty, any cohesiveness. We don’t have rogues.”

The Henrietta recruiting/outsourcing firm does both contingent hiring with a focus on the technology world as well as recruiting for companies.

“There are companies that will engage our firm: ‘You know our culture, you know us, you know the business. This is what we’re going to need,’ ” Leva said. “And there’s the other side of the house: ‘I need a software engineer with seven years of experience’ and we help them find contract hires. We’re definitely those two spaces.”

Wellington Steele’s client base and placements primarily are in upstate New York, though it has workers as far away as the West Coast and South. “Companies with a national reach, we have to have national support for,” Gaudu said.

And the company is targeting downstate New York for expansion in the next few years, Leva said. And it has aims beyond that.
“Do we want to take it nationally? Sure,” Leva said. “But right now it’s making sure we’re doing things the right way here first.”

The Rochester Top 100, which annually recognizes the fastest-growing privately held companies in the nine-county region, is sponsored by the Rochester Business Alliance and KPMG. Here is an interview with Wellington Steele’s Leva and Gaudu:

On acquiring talent:

Leva: Strategy is everything. How you go about recruiting is everything. We do market analysis. We use social media. We try to regionally find out where some of these folks are the most so we can go in and tap the resources. We’re networked. You have to leverage those networks to find really good talent.
Gaudu: A lot of our best consultants refer their best, frankly. The people we took at Kodak recommended the best of the people still in Kodak. Once you’re networked at a high level, quality refers other quality.
Rochester is a much bigger technology incubator area than people might realize. There’s a lot of high-end jobs. You tend to hear a lot about the layoffs. You don’t hear a lot about the database development or database security company that has 25 of the premium developers in the country. A lot of opportunities.

On the competition:
Gaudu: There are virtually non-stop calls from competitors pounding on the same directors and the same VPs (saying) give us a shot, give us a shot. All you have to do is stumble and mess up once and the door is opened.
The type of Fortune 500 clients that make up the bulk of our big repeat clients, it’s quality, not dollars. They can get more productivity-wise with a resource that costs $5 more an hour.
Leva: We’re a very high-touch organization. We really want to make sure we understand the needs of the people we’re doing business with. If you ask me, that’s probably the separating thing for us. We take the time to understand the culture of the people you do business with.
Gaudu: It’s much more business consulting that recruiting. We’re not a body shop (throwing numerous résumés at a client’s job opening).
Leva: We’ll be on site at a client just so our consultants can have access to us once a week. Maybe it’s payroll issue, maybe it’s a paid time off issue. They need to be able to reach us. They don’t need to go to their development manager to talk about an issue with PTO in a company they’re not even W-2’ing with. That’s received a very favorable response in the marketplace.
One of the greatest things for me, I sat in a development meeting on a project coming down the pipe for an existing client, and the client said, “Eddie, what do you think it’s going to take to staff something? How many development folks you think we need?” That’s what charges me. Not so much, “I need a network administrator, can you go get that guy for me?”

On Wellington Steele’s origins:
Leva: John and I knew each other prior. I was working for a national firm and John was somebody I used to do business with. That national firm left the area and offered me a job in Boston and I wasn’t in a position to move. John and I were talking one day and said, “You thought of starting a company?” We met for breakfast one morning at the Bruegger’s Bagels in Perinton — I’ll never forget it — and Wellington Steele & Associates was born. We didn’t have any laptops or any hardware to do any noting so we borrowed a pen from a waitress and started jotting things down. I wish we saved that napkin.
Gaudu: At that time I owned a small computer networking company, Ed found all my engineers and technical people. He was my professional contractor supplier. We said we could probably turn this into a business with other companies that do similar stuff. I thought there was a similar batch of customers to me who’d use those services.

On the Wellington Steele name:
Leva: Do we have to share that? It’s sort of a hidden secret.
Gaudu: Do you remember the old TV show “Remington Steele”? We thought of a lot of names that sounded professionally attractive for consulting. We had a list of eight or 10 first names and eight or 10 second names and we kept matching them to see what sounded like a professional trustworthy consulting organization.
Leva: Everybody in this industry was this one word, sounded like a pharmaceutical company. And (Gaudu) said we have got to be different. We can’t be the next pill on the market.
On building up the business, and now and going forward:
Gaudu: It was taking meetings every day. It was elbow grease, the first three years. We had an OK first year, broke even. We’ve never had a losing year in 11 years (raps knuckles on tabletop). But it was just hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and meetings and referrals.
Leva: (And during the recession) you need to still be out shaking hands, letting them know that “when things turn around, let us be your first choice … instead of one of the giants.”
Gaudu: We doubled the business the second year. Fifty percent in the third year. Then people started calling us.
Leva: We’re not there yet. We’re not even close. We could probably be twice as big as we are now.
Gaudu: (We have) much bigger plans.

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