Selecting the right retained search firm isn’t easy.  If you’re in the multi-unit retail or restaurant industry, there’s a strong option for hiring key people in supply chain and finance

In this episode, Mike Suderman, the Founder & President of ASCENT Select shares key advantages of choosing them which includes: 

  • Guarantees presentation of at least 2 Qualified candidates in 45 business days or retainer is refunded  
  • Personally visits all clients at no extra charge 
  • Very small hands-off list so they have a far broader audience to recruit from 
  • Charges a flat fee so there’s no incentive to present higher-paid candidates 
  • Has an objective process to assess cultural fit and improve odds of success 


Read more about the importance of effectively aligning candidates with their positions.


The Transcript

Brad Wolff: 00:00            

Welcome to the “It Is About You Podcast”. Today I’m honored to have as my guest Mike Sudermann with “Ascent Select”. Mike, welcome to the show!

Mike Sudermann: 00:51                               

Thanks Brad! Yeah, great to be here.

Brad Wolff: 00:59            

So what kind of organization is “Ascent Select”.

Mike Sudermann: 01:04                               

Well Brad “Ascent Select” Is a “Executive Search and Outplacement Firm”. We’ve been in business, we are coming up on our 8 year of business, I’ve been in the business for 14 years. But I find that being in the Executive Search Business, I’ve never really met anyone that went

Mike Sudermann: 01:24                               

Straight out of high school or straight out of college in the Executive Search Business. There’s always one or two of those outliers there, but most of us, they get into this industry are introduced along the way in our career. And that’s what happened with me. I had spent the first 15 years out of college working in a couple of different capacities predominantly and coaching and teaching different capacities of coaching and teaching and was involved in a lot of network groups and so forth and sales and that sort of thing. And somebody introduced me that I met in a network group, suggested that I talked to her new boss who had just, she had just taken a position with an Executive Search Firm of a Boutique Firm and she thought of everyone that she knew I would be the absolute best person ever to be in this firm.

Mike Sudermann: 02:26                               

And honestly I was working in corporate for a while and had worked with some recruiters and I wasn’t really impressed and I just didn’t want to go down that route. She bugged me for about three or four months. And finally I said, you know, if you quit asking me, I’m going to go meet with your boss, but I just need to get this off my plate. I’ll appease you, went and met with this guy and a week later I was putting my notice in and offered me a base salary plus commission and told me I could, you know shoot for the moon and you know, whatever. And it would be a really great thing. But I’ll tell you the funniest thing about this pulled deal when I reflect back on it is that when I joined this boutique firm, he, the guy that hired me said, you know, you have 90 days to make a placement.

Mike Sudermann: 03:25                               

And Brad, you know, when you’ve spent 25 years in the Search Business. You know how hard it is to do a full life-cycle, full desk. You’re marketing yourself, you’re trying to talk to hundreds of people to see if he can get a piece of business. And then if you do get the piece of business, they have to agree upon the terms and then you have to hunt Dale and the candidates. And it’s difficult to do all of that in 90 days. But I was so green to the business, I didn’t really, you know what I didn’t know. So I said, okay, what if I don’t make it 90 days? And he said, well just shake hands, we’ll see at church and you know, it’s cool. I said, okay, I’ll give it 90 days. And I just crank that, I got the blessing from my wife and I literally, I realized very quickly that it was going to take seven days a week, 10 hour days, maybe 12 or 14 hour days.

Mike Sudermann: 04:20                               

And at the end of that time period, I had one and a half placements. He shook my hand and said, we’ll see at the Christmas party, which was in about six months. So I got my stay of execution then that was almost 15 years ago now the Executive Search Business, as you’re aware of, takes a variety of skillset to be successful. And it just worked for me, I’ve been blessed to be in the industry and been very successful with it, but it’s as you know, it requires salesmanship and coaching and teaching and the ability to.. A massive work ethic. I mean I don’t know any really successful executive recruiters that are working less than eight hours a day honestly!

Brad Wolff: 05:14            


Mike Sudermann: 05:15                               

I mean that’s a 10 to 12 hour day.

Brad Wolff: 05:17            

Absolutely! There’s no question about it.

Mike Sudermann: 05:20                               

That’s a short history of how I got into business.

Brad Wolff: 05:24            

So that was the entry point. So can you share a little bit about what are the things that make your organization because the initial organization that you started with is not your organization.

Mike Sudermann: 05:38                               

Yeah! That’s a great question.

Mike Sudermann: 05:40                               

One of the challenges I had with my previous organization was that there was never any emphasis on building relationships with clients. We never met with the clients ever. We’d sign these big, and I would always say, well, let’s go meet him. Let’s have face to face. I mean, that just seems logical to me. We want to build the relay. “Oh, No, it’s a waste of time and money and blah, blah, blah”. So very early on in the search business that for the boutique firm I was working with, I realized that while I was learning a lot from this mentor, if you will we had a complete 180 you know, business not only business ethics, but the way we wanted to run the businesses. So I left after five and a half years and started my firm and right out the gate some things that we’ve been doing ever since is we, and you and I discussed this, one of the things we do is we meet all our clients face to face on our dime.

Mike Sudermann: 06:53                               

We pay for it! “Ascent Select” pays for the travel, the hotel. We take, our clients help to dinner. I think people are signing off and on agreements to do executive level search. It’s just our part of our process. It’s built into the system and I’ll tell you, it’s paid off in multiple ways. I have a client out in near, it’s in Northern California, a little city called Benicia, California, And he was opening a CEO of this company and he’s opening a location up in Antioch, California. And I was talking to him and I said, I want to come out and visit you. We’ve just signed this Search Agreement, I want to come out and visit you and so I flew out. It took me 14 hours from Greensboro, North Carolina to get to Antioch, California.

Mike Sudermann: 07:47                               

I literally sat in a conference room, a big round table, the CEO, CFO, COO and the Head of HR. And they all said, you know, we’ve been working with the Search Firm about 30 minutes down the road for the last dozen years or so. And they’ve not one time come out to visit us ever. And they’re literally 20, 30 minutes down the road and you come all the way out from North Carolina and met these guys for an hour, hour and a half. What took the CEO to that, and yeah. I don’t know, eight years later we’ve done six, seven searches. The CEO sold the company. He’s on my board. We’ve maintained great relationships. I know his wife, I’ve met his kids. So I mean, you know, it’s a phenomenal relationship we have. He does references for work firm. And you know what? I spent all day and about 1500 bucks flying to Antioch, California and I have a lifetime friend and great relationship.

Mike Sudermann: 08:52                               

So that’s a big piece of what we do, the other thing that we do, which I have always felt is super important, is making sure that all our candidates fit culturally, technically you know, dynamically with an organization. I think Forbes wrote an article, I think it was Forbes magazine maybe 10, 12 years ago about the fact that I think the number is 89% of all new hires that fail. The key is 89% of those that fail in a new job fail not because they aren’t, they don’t fit the job description or they don’t fit the technical aspects of the position. They fail because they don’t fit the team dynamics or the culture of the organization. 89% of those people that is absolutely huge and there’s no company out there on the planet that wants to spend or invest the time, the money and the energy and Executive Search Firm to bring somebody on board to their organization for that person to ultimately not work out.

Mike Sudermann: 10:11                               

Right? I mean, that’s just not what they want. They want that person to stay, whether they do it through our firm or any other firm or anywhere else, they want the person to stay for a long time. But as a result of us making sure, and we have processes in place to do it, but as a result of ensuring that our candidates meet technically and culturally with an organization, we have a placement longevity rate of over three and a half years. So everyone we’ve placed, which is over 300 direct hire placements there, the average length of stay is three and a half year.

Brad Wolff: 10:51            

And I want to highlight that Mike because that is really a big deal. Companies make a big investment and hiring an executive search firm because they want a different result. And when you’re able to bring that type of longevity due to processes that you have, that everyone isn’t doing, meeting the client, having a way to objective, really gauge fit within the team culture, those are things that really bring a tremendous amount of value. So I want to highlight that as something that isn’t just the norm now. If you would, what is it that you focus on? What is your area of focus or niche?

Mike Sudermann: 11:31                               

Yeah! I appreciate asking that, we have over the years, we, you know, like a lot of firms, they want to cover everything. They wanted to do everything. And I’ve just found that I’m a specialist. I’ve always been a specialist. Our firm focuses on finance and supply chain and that’s all we do. And there’s a huge benefit to that. We did a search maybe four or five months ago for a client outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. They’d spent six months on this project by themselves. They hired a couple, two or three contingency firms. They found out about my firm. They said, look, you know, we’ve had offers the Cline, we can’t find anybody in the market know it, you know, whatever. And I said, well look, you know, we have different processes which we can talk about in a minute, but we’ve already talked about a couple of them that we have different processes we deploy in our search and we’re specialists in within a specific niche and we were going to work 14 hour versus got to do to help you fill this role. Well, long story short, from the day they sign the agreement to the day the offer was accepted was 36 days.

Brad Wolff: 12:55            

Yeah! That’s incredible. There’s a little bit of luck when it’s 36 days too though in all fairness.

Mike Sudermann: 13:00                               

There was, I’m not going to say it was luck.

Brad Wolff: 13:02            

Luck is part of it but I mean you’re bringing luck too, but I’m just saying 36 days is kind of highly unusual.

Mike Sudermann: 13:08                               

It’s besides some of the project-based recruiting we do the which we’ve done project-based recruiting where we’re literally hiring people or helping our client hire people, you know, four or five people a week. Which we can talk about later. But it’s one of the fastest searches that were done. But there’s a huge but and a still, we didn’t work nine to five, Brad, you know, we’re working, you know, eight in the morning at eight, nine o’clock at night. I tell my clients all the time, some of the best conversations I have with people are after hours. Yeah, they can’t talk.

Brad Wolff: 13:44            

So you’re going above and beyond. You’re committing that you’re going to do what it takes to find people that other people aren’t going to find because they’re not going to do what it takes.

Mike Sudermann: 13:52                               

They’re not, I mean, I’ll learn a long time ago when I mean, I learned a lot of great things from my previous firm, but that last phone call you make at 5:30, six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock. I don’t really call anyone past eight. But yeah, between six and seven people are typically eating dinner. So I’ll call up until six, take an hour off, do whatever start calling again. It’s from seven to eight or on the weekends you know, it’s the little extra stuff. I mean, you say it’s luck. It is luck. It is.

Brad Wolff: 14:28            

Well, 36 days is luck. What you did that allowed the 36 days. What I’m saying it’s highly unusual, even if you do everything right for 36 days, but what you did that wasn’t luck is what allowed for the 36 days. That’s what I was trying to say. Because if you do everything right you’re there’s still going to be a cycle that’s going to be usually longer. So that’s when they look that long, they probably thought you were like some magician when they know I don’t expect this every time.

Mike Sudermann: 15:00                               

Well, I tell people that too. I said, you know, we can do it quickly, but everybody, every market’s different. Every position’s different. We can’t guarantee that. But the point being is we’re boutique, we’re small. We can you know, we don’t, our office hours are not set by us. They’re set by what our clients need to get done because nobody hires our firm because they want to spend three or four months looking for somebody to fill out over.

Brad Wolff: 15:34            

Right! And they’re making a commitment to you, so they expect the commitment back. So Mike, we talked about supply chain finance. Is there any particular industry or industries that you specialize in within those areas?

Mike Sudermann: 15:50                               

Yes! So we specialize in Multi-Unit Organizations, Retail Organizations, Restaurant Organizations, or the bulk of our business. We spend a lot of time in the food and beverage restaurant industry,

Brad Wolff: 16:06            

Because that is retail, those restaurants is our retail. So there’s a retail commonality with all your needs.

Mike Sudermann: 16:15                               

That’s right! We just sent a proposal out last week sometime for a company that has 14 restaurant units right now they’re going to have 25 or 30 next year. They’re growing fairly quickly. You know, those are multi-units. I mean, once you get into over 10 of anything, you know, you have logistics issues, you gotta have a pretty decent team around you for, you know, restaurant organizations or retail that a store that’s generating a million or two in revenue that adds up very quickly and they need high level people in the organization help run those companies,

Brad Wolff: 16:59            

They have some complexity when they have that many units.

Mike Sudermann: 17:03                               


Brad Wolff: 17:03            

Absolutely! So that’s a really good point is that you are really focused and know that Multi-Unit Retail Type of industry. And that it sounds like add some real value in your ability to produce for your clients.

Mike Sudermann: 17:18                               

Yeah! I mean just as some examples of some case studies we had, we did a project-based recruiting. We did a project-based recruiting for a retail organization in mid-2018, about a year and a half ago. We did 30 searches for them in 3 months. All contract as far as I know, everyone is still there. We did a.. We had a retail organization when I first started my firm in 2011, we did 60 searches and that in the first six months I own my business. From June to December of 2011, we did 60 searches. And in the course of the next year and a half, we did another hundred, 125 searches for them all project based, which is a really, a different piece of the business for us. I mean, we can do the one-off searches for one person, but for companies that have multiple positions that they are needing to fill, it’s an economical way to fill multiple positions without doing, you know, if you, let’s say you charge 25%, we don’t, I’m just saying hypothetically, you got a hundred thousand dollar job, 25% fee, that’s 25,000.

Mike Sudermann: 18:46                               

Well, if you have, you know, 10 of those you need to fill. I mean, you want, I mean this is 250,000. I mean, let’s be real. I mean, people don’t want to spend that kind of money. Companies don’t want to, on 10 roles. So what we do is, we do a flat fee investment. We figure out time versus value, what’s going to be involved with the project. And in this case, this retail organization in 2018, we did 30 searches. It was very economical for them. It worked for our firm or work for them. And it was very successful. And we did that with we’ve done that with multiple companies. So it’s a unique way to help everybody out. It’s very entrepreneurial centered and we I feel very strongly about making those options available for our clients.

Brad Wolff: 19:43            

So it sounds like you’ve got some real flexibility to be able to provide a volume of positions using your model with that we talked about at a rate that is much lower per position where it’s basically a volume discount that works on your end to end there.

Mike Sudermann: 20:02                               

Yeah! Absolutely! That retail group we did in 2018

Mike Sudermann: 20:04                               

If you just priced out all 30 of those searches and they literally, the salary range was from 75 to 85,000. There’s some VPs in there or 250 to 300,000 a year jobs and our whole team work on this project. If you piece each one of those out, if there’s a little over 2 million

Mike Sudermann: 20:25                               

And feeds, if it was one.

Brad Wolff: 20:28            

Right! And that causes some hesitation.

Mike Sudermann: 20:31                               

Yeah! Of course! So as a big firm with not a tremendous overhead, we can come in and we can say, look, you know, we can save you 60 or 70% on that and everybody is happy as a clam.

Brad Wolff: 20:46            

So yeah! So you’re willing to find a way that everyone wins. So, Mike, as we’re wrapping this up, what are some of the other unique things that your organization does that isn’t just standard in the industry?

Mike Sudermann: 21:01                               

Well one of the things you know that we do, I will say that..

Mike Sudermann: 21:10                               

I know people are gonna, might find this hard to believe, but we have over 90% job acceptance rate, it’s very unusual. We’ve never really had anyone decline any opportunities that we’ve any positions we’ve offered, we call it a job offer acceptance for job acceptance, not a job offer. We don’t make job offers. Everyone we work with accepts another thing that we do, which I think is very unique is we require the hiring manager to have what we call a three to five, which is a three to five minute phone call. Once a week with me or one of my senior members of my team. But typically it’s me and this eliminates the need for a spreadsheet or any sort of email or type of communication about where we are in the search. We get to discuss verbally what’s going on with the market is we can address any concerns that the client has.

Mike Sudermann: 22:20                               

We can share with them what we’re seeing, what we’re experiencing and so forth. It’s real time. I cannot tell you how many of those conversations I’ve had on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon because typically we’re working with a senior level finance person, a VP, senior needs the CFO level individual who is our hiring manager and they, you know, it’s very difficult for them to talk between the hours of eight and five or six or seven o’clock at night. So we do those after hours. Our biggest deal is that we are we provide a flat fee investments, were not paid or incented based on a percentage of the base or total compensation package. We create a proposal that includes a flat fee investment by our client. They know exactly what the cost of the search is going to be going into it regardless of the, the salary for the client. Oftentimes, you know as well as I know Brad, I mean this is a candidate driven market right now. You might have a salary range of let’s say 95 to 120 for a role. But the market bears that, you know, you’re not going to get any one for one 25 or one 30. You’re not going to be penalized for that based on working with “Ascent Select”.

Brad Wolff: 23:47            

And that’s a big deal that the client are working for the right person, not for the higher fee. That’s it.

Mike Sudermann: 23:54                               

Yes! It’s a huge plus. Here’s the last thing I’ll share with you because I know we’re running out of time. We have a very unique candidate presentation guarantee and it goes like this. Once you engage our firm, we will present at least two candidates and 45 days or less.

Brad Wolff: 24:18            

Wow! Because that these searches takes a long time, that’s amazing.

Mike Sudermann: 24:23                               

If we failed to do that, we will refund the deposit and they can do whatever they want to do. So it keeps, here’s the deal Brad. It keeps us accountable to do the search

Brad Wolff: 24:38            

And that’s clear. You’re making their search a high priority rather than, you know, we’re working on it when in reality they’ve got other higher priority searches. So they just say, Hey, we just haven’t found anyone but works at work. You’re basically putting your money where your mouth is and say, we’re not going to take this search unless it’s a top priority for you. You’re going to get what you get.

Mike Sudermann: 24:55                               

You’re going to get the full attention because if we fail we got to refund your deposit.

Brad Wolff: 25:01            

That’s a huge investment loss on your end to give back that money because you don’t produce.

Mike Sudermann: 25:08                               

Absolutely! And in the eight years I’ve owned “Ascent Select”, we’ve never refunded a single deposit ever.

Brad Wolff: 25:15            


Mike Sudermann: 25:17                               

But you know, it’s just, again, companies are hiring us for results, right? They’re not hiring us to you know, willy-nilly around for two or three months.

Brad Wolff: 25:30            

And they’re not hiring a contingency firm. So they’re making an investment rather than just saying here, see what you can do.

Mike Sudermann: 25:37                               

Absolutely! I mean, you get what you pay for, don’t you? I mean if you want a low rate and you want to go with contingency and I mean we always know contingency firms are presenting job applicants. They’re posting the position on CareerBuilder or Monster or some other, you know, indeed are they’re going to ZipRecruiter and they’re looking for job applicants. And the clients that we typically work for are, we are discovering people now. We have a huge list of go-to people on any search because we are in a very finite space of finance, ops and supply chain. Right? So we have our go-to list of a couple of hundred, 300 or so in each category and we’ll call all those people and they’ll refer people to us, etc. And we’ll do that. Or we will discover new and you know, other people, but we are not really a..

Brad Wolff: 26:43            

You’re not job posting to see what comes to you?

Mike Sudermann: 26:44                               

Job posting, we’re not presenting applicant, I mean the people that our clients are hiring, they want somebody who is experienced usually, you know, seven to 10 plus years as a college degree, a management experience, maybe an MBA or a CPA or both. There are credentials that are required in the supply chain and logistics industry. They want that, those credentials, those people are all working. They’re all busy. They’re well paid. They are not looking, they’re not applying for jobs. If they are, they’ve been terminated for some reason or another. And I’m not going to say that just because you’re terminated doesn’t mean you’re not good. Because occasionally we come across somebody who’s fantastic that you know, was pink slip for one reason or that they were reorg out or the company was acquired and everyone lost their jobs. There are writing circumstances, but 95% of the people that we present to our clients are working a well-paid and we have to root them out. We have to extricate them out.

Brad Wolff: 28:00            

Right? So they’re paying for you to find people not to just present applicants. So, I’m curious because you’re a small boutique firm and certainly you know your clients have the option to go to the big name national firms. What is one or two key advantages that go into a small boutique firms like yours offers to your clients over the big nationals?

Mike Sudermann: 28:26                               

The number one advantages are hands off list is a minuscule, I mean, you take a Korn Ferry, Heidrick & Struggle, any of those others that are well known they have hundreds if not or really have thousands of clients, right? Well, if you have integrity in the Search Business, you don’t recruit from your current clients. So I don’t know how those organizations I don’t know where they’re necessarily like finding their people because if they have a thousand clients, they can’t recruit from any of those clients.

Brad Wolff: 29:03            

And I want to highlight that as a huge point, is it gives you a much bigger pool of candidates that you can search for. And keep your ethics that they would not be able to do if they hired a large national

Mike Sudermann: 29:18                               

Yeah! I mean 80% of our business probably, we’re probably more than 90 10 rule. We have so much, we’re very fortunate that we have tremendous amount of repeat business. I mean just trying to told you a little while ago, 30 searches with us. That’s not the first time they’ve done that. I mean we have multiple, we have repeat clients on a regular basis. Of course we’re always trying to add a new ones every year. But our hands off list is extremely limited.

Brad Wolff: 29:50            

It really opens up the possibility for you to produce that you wouldn’t be able to have had large.

Mike Sudermann: 29:55                               

Absolutely! That’s a big one. The last one I would share with you very quickly is and it’s back to making sure that are not only a good technical fit, but a good cultural fit with our clients. So in our process, we do not, anyone that’s presented any candidates that are presented to a client will fit both technically and culturally.

Mike Sudermann: 30:24                               

So it really helps eliminate the fear of making a bad hire. You know, that’s the number 1, I call it the number one fear of all hiring managers making a bad hire. So I want our hiring managers to be extremely comfortable with making sure that, you know, they know coming in that the person is a good technical fit and a good cultural fit. And lastly, I’ll wrap up by saying we don’t just present and then wait for our clients to email us back. We require a conversation. Yeah! So many people, so many companies rely exclusively on email and texting and no one talks anymore. So we’re highly communicated. We want to talk to our clients about candidates. We want to know what they like, what they don’t like. We have regular conversations as I alluded to with the three to five call once a week and so forth.

Mike Sudermann: 31:23                               

So collaborative partnerships is what we’re looking for with our clients.

Brad Wolff: 31:28            

That’s awesome! And Mike, if you would, what is your website if you would share?

Mike Sudermann: 31:32                               

Yeah! Our website is www dot ASCENT SELECT dot com somebody said to me recently, you mean like scent? Like S C E N T and I said yes, but put an A in front of it, A S C E N T Select dot com.

Brad Wolff: 31:56            

And is there any books or anything else that you want to let people know about that they can,

Mike Sudermann: 32:02                               

Sure! I have a book. I’m writing the second edition right now. It’s called “The Executive Leap: Breakthrough Strategies to Land Your Next Top Job”.

Brad Wolff: 32:20            

And who is that most applicable to?

Mike Sudermann: 32:23                               

This is applicable to anybody who wants to make a career transition or I have universities giving this book to their student body right now. For the seniors in college that you know, need to embark on their first opportunity. You can, you can learn how to write your resume, LinkedIn optimization. How to Interview Strategies, cover letters all along. It’s like, it’s a field guide, if you will,

Brad Wolff: 32:59            

To help people land the right job.

Mike Sudermann: 33:01                               

That’s right! Or leap into a bigger and better position. Maybe they are what their current organization and they want to go from a Senior Manager to a Director Level or Senior Director Level. There are case studies in here and by the way, I have a podcast called “The Executive Leap Minute” which is based on the book. It airs daily on iTunes, Googleplay, iHeartRadio and Alexa so they have access to that as well.

Brad Wolff: 33:35            

The Executive Leap. So this is applicable also to people that want to grow and advance even in their own organization. So it doesn’t mean getting a new job necessarily.

Mike Sudermann: 33:45                               

It does not mean, yeah!

Brad Wolff: 33:46            

That’s a good point. That you cleared

Mike Sudermann: 33:49                               

I’ll tell you a quick case study. I know we’re running long, but there was a gal that hire me to help her with some coaching. She read my book and she wanted some one-on-one attention. She’s with a large organization in Memphis, Tennessee and they deliver packages, but that’s all, just keep it at that. She was applying for a position in our current organization and she followed all the directions in the book and with a little bit of my coaching and she literally leaped a position level from where she was and she made a over, I won’t give you exact numbers, but it was over 30%. In fact, it was over 35% more in total compensation in the same company, same spot, same route to the office every day, just by utilizing the principles that I have in the book.

Brad Wolff: 34:52            

And she should have given you a percentage of that, but that’s a different amount.

Mike Sudermann: 34:56                               

That’s a different amount.

Brad Wolff: 34:57            

That’s a whole new business line.

Mike Sudermann: 34:58                               

That’s a whole another deal.

Brad Wolff: 34:58            

And I’ve learned a lot from our conversation.

Mike Sudermann: 35:08                               

I appreciate your time, Brad. Thank you so much for having me.