In this episode, you’ll learn about SharpSearch’s key differentiators:
- Proven success in filling key positions for Long Island and Metropolitan NY companies. This includes both Local and National Searches.
- An extremely broad and deep database of contacts and relationships on Long Island and Metropolitan NY.
- An extremely talented and highly experienced group of recruiters throughout US who specialize in multiple areas: Sales and Marketing, Finance, Logistics, Not-For Profit, Human Resources, Manufacturing, Construction, Technology, etc.
Brad Wolff: 00:01
Welcome to the “It Is About You Podcast”! Today I’m honored to have as my guest Don Levine with “Sharp Search”. Don, welcome to the show!
Don Levine: 00:13
Well, thanks for having me on. I’m looking forward to this.
Brad Wolff: 00:16
So if you would, share a little bit about yourself and your organization “Sharp Search”.
Don Levine: 00:23
Well, I prefer in the beginning to talk a little about myself because myself is who works with my clients. I started in this business back in 1976 at a Contingency Recruiting Firm called Fortune Personnel. I was trained beautifully in the Contingency Recruiting Business, which at the time was really, there were really just 2 choices. You either work as a Contingency Recruiter sending paper out. We didn’t have internet, we didn’t have fax machines. You mailed, you talked on the phone, they gave you a phone book. They said go out and find clients and then go and make phone calls and run advertisements and get candidates and make a match.
Don Levine: 01:17
If you made the placement, you made money. If you didn’t make the placement, you didn’t make money. And I was paid $75 a week. I guess plus all the gum I could chew or whatever. But at that point it really was working every night until 9 or 10 o’clock. I lived within walking distance of the office and that’s how I learned the business. I ultimately went to work for someone who was more sophisticated, a man named Chuck Oliver. And he did Contingency Recruiting, but he taught me the true value of relationships and the fact that his business was built on the fact he had worked at Grumman on Long Island for about 15 years. And all of those people went out and started their own companies. And as a result, he had a slew of clients based on relationships. And that’s when I learned how that works.
Don Levine: 02:17
I outgrew that because I wanted to grow the organization differently. I wanted to go into Engagement Fee Search and Retain Search. And that was not what Chuck had built his business to do. So I partnered up with Miles Weiss and Miles and I had that idea. We were on the same page. He had a company called “Sharp Placement Professionals”. He ultimately left, he moved to Florida and I bought him out. So Sharp Search is an outgrowth of all of that starting from back in 1976.
Brad Wolff: 02:55
Awesome! So , that gives quite an overview including things that so many people today don’t remember is those days when you had actual phone books, you mailed resume and you didn’t have any of this technology. It really was getting on the phone and calling a lot of people. So this is something that some people don’t believe actually existed, but I think you’ve given evidence that it actually did exist.
Don Levine: 03:22
There’s a quick funny story. In 1978, the owner of fortune personnel had bought a Newfangled Machine called the Fax Machine. It ran, it took 6 minutes to send something. I spoke to a new client to ask me if I have one. I said yes. He asked me to fax the resume. The individual whose resume I sent, they liked better than someone they were about to make an offer to. They had my candidate come in from Johnson and Johnson. They made the offer, they hired him and the candidate and I are still friends.
Brad Wolff: 04:02
That is fabulous!
Don Levine: 04:03
The first fax machine placement I made.
Brad Wolff: 04:06
Well yeah I remember those days too and I don’t miss fax machines. So tell me what excites you most about what you do?
Don Levine: 04:16
What excites me most about what I do very candidly is that when I’m successful with a client, that client almost always remembers me.
Don Levine: 04:27
You know, I was taught in the beginning that clients and candidates will forget who you are, which was why when I got into more of a relationship business, I understood that that was not the case. The most exciting thing to me, I just had something happen recently. I had a client I had worked with for many years. She had worked at 3 or 4 different, very high-end organizations, Dow Jones, Univision. She then went to a couple of places where they were not going to pay fees. They did not have a need of what I did. She then moved to another company and out of the blue after I would say 5 years, gave me a call and said, Don, I have an opening and I know you’re the only one who can fill it. And I’ve had multiple experiences like that.
Don Levine: 05:21
I recently just placed a COO with someone who I had met 15 years ago, had never worked with, and she called me and almost said the same thing. Don, I have a job that I know only you can fill. And in both cases they were very difficult placements. One took 6 months, one took 4 months, but ultimately we were successful. That’s what makes me most excited.
Brad Wolff: 05:45
I get it! And that is something that not everyone can do for sure. What do you see Don as the Keys to your Success at Staffing and Recruiting that you Unique and Valuable?
Don Levine: 05:59
Well, it all depends on the type of opening. Example, if someone is on Long Island and I’m on Long Island and very candidly, about 70% of my placements are made on Long Island. Although I do, I’m working on a job in New Mexico right now.
Don Levine: 06:16
I’ve worked on positions all over the country right now Long Island is the key to my success. I’ll give you a quick story. A client who eventually became a high tech company eventually became my largest client. I was called in. I was the first time that I said to this client, I want to work on an Engagement Fee Basis. The HR person sort of laughed at me and said, well, we never did that. We don’t do that. So, he said to me, we have a very difficult opening. I want to send you in to meet with the Vice President, Senior Vice President, actually a manufacturing. If you can convince him to give you an Engagement Fee up front and work on an exclusive basis, then we’ll move forward and let me tell you something.
Don Levine: 07:12
He’s going to give you a hard time. So I went in, I sat with him. His name was Rick the Senior Vice President. And he asked me a bunch of questions and I answered those questions the way we in the Recruiting Business answer the questions. I work with my clients better, I know more, I have a large commitment to my clients and I’m going to use the word “blah, blah, blah” because that’s what he was here.
Brad Wolff: 07:42
Don Levine: 07:43
So he said to me, I said to him, Rick, you don’t look very impressed. He leaned back and he said, and he used a couple of epithets that I won’t repeat here, but you so and so recruiters all have the same line. He said, you tell me why I should hire you and why I should pay you up front.
Don Levine: 08:02
I said, you were hired recently about a year ago, correct? He said, yes, I think you were hired by a headhunter. From what I understand up in Massachusetts. He said, yes. I said, how did they handle the relocation? Did they just say, “well, you know, I know Long Island is expensive, but we’ll make them pay for it. Don’t worry about it. I know it’s a negative, but we’ll make it work”. He said, exactly! I said, I’ve lived here my entire life. I love Long Island. And let me tell you something, one of the key things that I do is when someone, it has to relocate. They come to long Island. My wife Bonnie and I take them out for dinner. If they bring their kids, we talk to the kids, I have kids and grandkids, we do everything. It takes not only to make the Long Island move be something they can handle, but we do everything we can to make it something that they’re excited about.
Don Levine: 09:00
And since your opening is going to require that someone’s going to move. And we ended up placing four people from out of town with this organization over the next year. One of the keys is going to be to make Long Island exciting and a place that people want to move. He leaned forward. He said, go out and tell Bob that we agree. I’ll give you whatever you need upfront. You’re my guy. That’s a story about differentiation.
Brad Wolff: 09:32
So basically, you’re kind of like the “Long Island King” for bringing in the really hard to find people?
Don Levine: 09:38
Well both if it’s a relocation? Yes! And if it’s not a relocation. I recently got a call from an HR person who I had known years ago, again, someone I had known years ago and she was working on a job and she was told that she has to find this person. And she worked and worked and worked on it and she worked on it of course, through LinkedIn.
Don Levine: 10:02
And she started to laugh because she said, “Don, 3 quarters of the people who I was looking at on LinkedIn were connected to you? So I said to myself, why should I be doing this search? If Don knows all these people, why don’t I just call him, get permission to pay the fee? It was the Vice President of Customer Service Position. Get the permission to pay the fee and give it to Don. I’m wasting my time. And that’s exactly what happened.
Brad Wolff: 10:32
So it didn’t sound like you tried to talk her out of it?
Don Levine: 10:34
No, didn’t try and talk her out of it.
Brad Wolff: 10:37
Good for you!
Don Levine: 10:38
And this is a job where they were not going to relocate, which is why it was critically important to her that someone who was from Long Island and understood Long Island and was successful here in as a high-end VP of Customer Service was going to be someone who Don could track down.
Brad Wolff: 10:57
So bottom line is with your a 100 plus years living in Long Island, you have more connections probably than any other Recruiting Firm in Long Island.
Don Levine: 11:06
Well, I don’t have a statistic to prove it, but everywhere I walk in everyone goes, Oh, there’s Don. One of my candidates once told me that there was a group of, of guys standing around in a high tech company and I had just placed this individual at that company and he walked over and some people were talking and someone mentioned my name and the individual whose name is Bob, who I’m still friends with and comes to meetings that I run said to me. I looked at them and I said, “Oh, you mean you’re talking about Don Levine, the Psychotherapist of the technical world on long Island?” And they all smiled and said, “yeah, that Don Levine”.
Brad Wolff: 11:47
That is great! So your database of contacts in Long Island that you’re to draw on to find people that aren’t necessarily answering ads are being found other ways, brings you a tremendous amount of value to organizations in life?
Don Levine: 12:02
Yes, but not only the fact that I know who they are, I know who they are and there’s a difference.
Brad Wolff: 12:10
And they’re more likely to return your call than if I just call them, right?
Don Levine: 12:13
Brad Wolff: 12:15
Okay. I would hope so.
Don Levine: 12:18
There’s no question about that.
Brad Wolff: 12:19
Yeah! I actually believe you on this one. So in terms of other things that differentiate you from other Recruiting Firms, what else comes to mind?
Don Levine: 12:30
Well, everything that I just said sort of summarizes what that is. What are other things I do? I’m tied into big brothers big sisters. I do a lot of charity work. I was on the board of the urban league. I just went to a meeting last night of minority millennials on Long Island. I was on the board of the mother’s center, which was an organization called momentum that my wife was part of for many years.
Don Levine: 12:59
I’ve been the President of the Organizational Development Network of Long Island, which was an industry group I belong to “Challenge A Business Advisory Group”, which is a very high end group of individuals where we don’t call it, we are not a networking group, we are sort of a relationship group we pretty much know if I don’t know someone, someone in his organization does. And my ability to network and get to know people here is something that I think is very valuable along with a commitment to success. I mentioned a few minutes ago that I talked, I had a couple of positions. One was 4 months, one was 8 months. I’ll give you an example of my commitment to success. I had a position with a high end “Not-For-Profit”. They were looking for a Revenue Director, a Revenue Cycle Director to collect money.
Don Levine: 14:03
The first person I presented, both I and the CFO felt that she was absolutely perfect. Upper management was not convinced, the CFO and I kept that, kept her in mind. We went through 6 months of other interviews and eventually I had kept in touch with that original candidate and eventually we talked the upper management into meeting with her again. And very candidly, I gave her some insight into what some of the issues were and it had to do with, she was nervous and she didn’t present itself correctly. I presented her again. She went in, she blew them away. She’s been there for 2 years and she’s ended up collecting $3 or $4 million that was sitting there doing nothing that they couldn’t collect for 2 years. So, what I think that shows is a commitment to making the placement and the commitment to success, no matter how long it takes. And no matter what I have to do, I will make sure that my client gets the right person.
Brad Wolff: 15:21
Great! And you know what, as long as your fee was less than $3 million, they got a good return on investment.
Don Levine: 15:27
Oh! And it was Not-For-Profit. So I gave them a reduced fee.
Brad Wolff: 15:30
Okay! So it was less than 3 million in your fee?
Don Levine: 15:32
A lot less than 3 million.
Brad Wolff: 15:33
Okay! So Don, what if an organization who really lacks what they’re hearing about what you bring to the table is outside of Long Island, what do you bring to the table with organizations that may be outside of that want your help?
Don Levine: 15:50
Okay! It’s a very good question. You know, having been in this business for 40 years I’ve made a lot of context not only in terms of candidates and clients, but people who do Recruiting.
Don Levine: 16:03
So I have a network of about 15 different recruiters who work with me on an ongoing basis, depending on the opening and depending on the location. As you may have figured out from this conversation, I’m a generalist. I don’t specialize in sales and marketing, or logistics, or finance, or insurance, or anything like that. I’m a generalist. I was told at the beginning of my career that that’s a big mistake. Don’t be a generalist. If you want to be successful, you have to specialize in an area. And in the beginning I did specialize, but then as I explained, when I learned that my strength is the relationships that I create, I decided that if someone from Dow Jones calls me and says, I need a Media Executive and I’ve only worked on one or two media jobs, I’m going to continue working on that job as long as she has confidence that I’m the person to do the job.
Don Levine: 17:13
So as a result of that, I’ve had to grow a large coterie, if you will, or group of people who specialize in different areas. My specialty is an ability to understand my clients and understand what it is they need, the culture that they have and how best to fill this position. I then have people out there, as I said, I’m just working on a job out in New Mexico for a company that does some manufacturing. It’s a startup. And I’ve brought in two of my recruiters who specialize both in those areas of expertise in sales and marketing to medical as well as they are both located on the West Coast. So the, all their connections are on the West Coast, which is what my client wants.
Brad Wolff: 18:09
So that’s a really good point about your ability to help clients get the right person outside of Long Island. And it sounds like you actually do specialize, you specialize in how to connect with and understand what people are really looking for and how to find it. So your specialty, you do have a specialty but it’s not in a specific industry or occupation.
Don Levine: 18:31
Well, yeah, I’m married to a psychotherapist. So…
Brad Wolff: 18:34
Well yeah, I was going to say that’s, that should be a requirement when choosing a recruiter.
Don Levine: 18:38
Brad Wolff: 18:39
Don Levine: 18:39
The definitely be a requirement by us most is. I’ve had an ability to understand individuals. I have another business. I do Job Search Counseling and Career Counseling. I don’t advertise it. It’s something I do really as an adjunct. If a friend of mine calls and says, I have a cousin who’s a financial hedge fund person and the hedge fund world is dying and he wants to move into something else, I will, they can retain me.
Don Levine: 19:09
I certainly understand how to help them do that kind of work back about 15 years ago, I had hit a wall, if you will in my business. And I went to work for an organization like that on a consulting basis and you know, went through what did Henry Ford say? Show me someone who has never failed and I’ll show you someone who can never succeed. I failed. I was hit with doing my best to keep all of my individuals in all of my employees who were working for me to keep them going at a time when we were not doing the right enough billing. And I went into major debt and so I went to work for this other organization, worked my way out and actually we talking relationships. I got a call from a company, a not for profit company that was about to declare bankruptcy, but they had a need for three or four different individuals.
Don Levine: 20:11
And this person said to me, “Don, you’re the only person who I know who’s insane enough to work on these jobs. I need you to work on these jobs”. I said, “fine, right now I’m doing some other work”. He said, “how much do you need upfront?” I gave him a number. He said, “no problem”. I said, “well, I probably didn’t give you a big enough number” and I went back full time into doing what I’m doing now and made all of those places.
Brad Wolff: 20:40
You know I just want to add, I want to call attention to what you just said about failure. And I think that’s such a big deal. The ability to learn from and the resiliency and adaptability to deal with failures and not hide from them to me is a hallmark of the most successful people I know. I’ve learned more from the biggest failures and I had for my biggest successes. So I really want to call attention that someone who really says I’ve never failed either now is lacking some learning that is key, whether or not being honest. So I want to commend you and share in that that basically you just invested in another degree is another way to look at that failure. It was just a heavy painful learning experience.
Don Levine: 21:25
I have a fun story about failure and at that point when I went back into working full time in the placement business and the recruiting business, I was driving my daughter’s 1996 Altima that had a big dent in the back and we didn’t feel it was worth fixing because I gave up my Lexus, I gave up, you know, whatever it was and I had to work out of all this debt.
Don Levine: 21:52
So you want to show success. And when I would go out to lunch, let’s say with a Vice President or a CEO of an organization, I would meet them somewhere and I made sure to park far away so that when we walked out of the restaurant, we know, I’d say, where are you parked? And go right over here. Oh great! We walk over to his or her car. He or she would get in their car. I let them drive away and make sure they were gone before I walked back to my daughter’s car. Okay. And then went home. Ultimately, as I said, we worked out of it and I was more successful after that. Probably learning from being as humble as you can be.
Brad Wolff: 22:39
Also the character that you didn’t declare bankruptcy or other potential options to eliminate the debt.
Don Levine: 22:46
Never even considered. I paid everybody.
Brad Wolff: 22:49
Yeah! And that’s a big deal because you know, you probably had other options that you didn’t lack because of your value. So Don, I really want to thank you for sharing not only some of the things that make you really valuable to potential companies that are hiring, but also to get to know you personally because I think that’s a big part when someone’s hiring someone as they’re a Recruiting Partner. I think knowing what that person’s like and character is a big aspect of value that isn’t just a commodity, that everyone is the same. And as we leave, what is your website?
Don Levine: 23:30
Well, if you want to, if you’re interested we are www dot SharpSearch, that’s S H A R P S E A R C H. Sometimes it’s tough to say, but it’s easy to spell “www.Sharpsearch.Com”. I invite you to take a look at it.
Don Levine: 23:48
Of course, I’m on LinkedIn. I’ve got multiple thousands of contacts on LinkedIn as you know.
Brad Wolff: 23:54
Within Long Island alone?
Don Levine: 23:55
On Long Island alone and you know, we’ll, you’ll look at, you’ll see that I’ve never had a problem meeting someone for the first time. If I say, let’s meet at Panera or let’s meet at X Y Z restaurant, I’m 6 foot 2 and I look like Steve Martin and no one has ever said, Oh, I couldn’t find you. Okay. Although I do think that I’m, I’m a little better looking than Steve, but you can make that judgment for yourself.
Brad Wolff: 24:25
Hey, you might even be funnier than Steve too.
Don Levine: 24:27
That I don’t think so.
Brad Wolff: 24:29
So as we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to add on that we have not discussed?
Don Levine: 24:36
Well, first off, I want to thank you for this opportunity. I’ve never done anything quite like this.
Don Levine: 24:42
I’ve made a commitment to integrity and I’ve made a commitment to success that I am very proud of. And if anyone wants to call me just to have a conversation about how I can help them with a Non-For-Profit or with their industry organization here on Long Island, I’d be more than happy to do that. And certainly if anyone is looking for, if you’re about to bang your head against the wall, because let’s say you’re an HR person and you’re a CEO, keeps saying, how could we can find a good marketing person? That’s when you pick up the phone and call.
Brad Wolff: 25:24
And if I’m ever in a situation that I’m really being pushed to move them to Long Island, I’m going to call you to help me get excited about moving to Long Island. How’s that for a deal?
Don Levine: 25:34
It’s a deal.
Brad Wolff: 25:35
Okay! Don, thank you so much for your time and you have yourself a fabulous weekend.
Don Levine: 25:41
You too. Take care!