Stewart Kelley & Associates works nationally to find top-performing executive-level talent for their clients. Brian Kelley the CEO shares what makes them unique including that they’re.

  • Willing to do “retained type” searches on a contingency basis 
  • Always hunting down the top talent for clients rather than running ads 
  • Always looking for ways to help clients succeed beyond making placements including helping them find new customers

Read more about how to build strong relationships with clients and win them over in recruiting.


The Transcript

Brad Wolff (00:01):

Welcome to the, it is about you podcast today. I’m honored to have as our guest, Brian Kelly of Stewart Kelley and Associates. Brian, welcome to the show.

Brian Kelley (00:14):

Brad, thank you for having me on.

Brad Wolff (00:18):

Absolutely! So if you would share a little bit about yourself and Brian Kelly and Associates.

Brian Kelley (00:23):

So how we started the firm. It’s a younger firm right now. We’re only about our fourth year in and how we started out Stewart Kelley & Associates was just to be that difference. You’re going to hear that quite a bit throughout the industry as you know. So you always do hear folks say that we are the difference. But how we got into it was just through bad hiring being on the other end of it. So what I did to start out is I surrounded myself with folks that had been doing this for many years. So I got them to join me. We started the firm and to just start this out, we got into the executive side and that’s one of the big things that there aren’t a lot of executive search firms out there that truly are the executive search firms. And we can probably say we are one of them. So but when we started out it was to be a big difference and to really work with our client base very closely and to help them actually grow their business.

Brad Wolff (01:30):

So that’s a great point. Brian, when you say actually are an executive search firm, would you share a little bit about what an executive search firm is versus what people often refer to as an executive search firm?

Brian Kelley (01:41):

Sure. I just had a, it’s funny, I just had lunch with somebody last week and they’re from a large search company and we were talking and, and it kind of the joke back and forth the table was, you know, you call yourself an executive recruiter, but how many executives have you ever really place? And they said, well, I don’t think I’ve placed any and I go, correct. Do you use that phrase all the time? Because it sounds fantastic to say you’re an executive recruiter. An executive recruiter is a person that truly is a person that places executives into roles and works with companies throughout the United States to actually find that talent and to place them and not just a place to also work with them, you know if it’s helping out with their resumes and so on. There’s quite a bit of a background that goes into placing executives and actually even on finding them. So being an executive, a recruiter takes quite a bit and it’s by knowing the industries, knowing the positions, so there’s quite a bit that goes along with that. So

Brad Wolff (02:45):

That’s a great point, Brian. And if you would, would you define what is an executive versus a non-exec?

Brian Kelley (02:53):

An executive would be anywhere from a director-level all the way up to a CEO or president level. Everything beyond that would be what we call the support staff. So that would be any folks that have a management level position or down that doesn’t have a manager following their position. So got it. So if you would tell me a little bit about the journey that’s brought you where you are today as CEO of your company. To start the company out. Like I said earlier, it was one of the things that is on the other end within working with companies that I was with prior. You would always work with search firms or a staffing firm and you would actually get all these people sent to you that really did not even qualify for the position. And one of the biggest things that got to me all the time was that the people they would send to you, you would think to yourself, boy, you and I met, we talked, and, and now the people that I have in front of me on this, on this resume is, has nothing even close to what we’ve discussed.

Brian Kelley (04:00):

And you know, that was a big difference in the motivator to really clean that up and want to come in and to work with clients and really finding a, not just a talent that’s on a piece of paper on that job description, but making sure they fit on the culture side of it as well. And the executive leader’s outlook. Because if you don’t match all these things up, you have to remember that even, especially on an executive side, anyone you place, if they don’t have that same mindset as the executive leadership, that person’s going to have a hard road going forward doing their role. So you have to make sure that everything you’re doing and listening to making sure that fit is right. That’s everything you have to combine. So that’s a big part of what we do and putting people forward. We want to make sure that that role is actually that true 100% match before we put people forward.

Brian Kelley (04:56):

So robots are big motivators too, to move forward with that. That is a great point, Brian. So tell me what excites you the most about your organization? What really excites me the most is to see folks that we can actually place and to see what they do. So in saying this, it’s great to see people that can go into a role like maybe a vice president of operations. We get to see this person go into the organization and here before they actually get placed where they’re at today in a company. And then to places, VP of operations, get that person in there and to hear how the culture has changed for number one. Number two, to start hearing how they’re streamlining the roles and to start getting maybe departments working together and to really see that company change in many different ways.

Brian Kelley (05:51):

Not just in, you know, the culture, but just watch it grow. And that’s from the people themselves because that’s the person they were looking for. That was the one that they were missing. And then now they have that person. So is that impact that your work does a lot of excitement. That’s what drives me. And that’s what I love about working with the folks we do. So if you would let, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what makes your firm unique relative to other firms like yourselves. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? One of the most unique things and you can call me crazy and that’s what we do continue to search. So that’s one of the crazy things that most people tell us and we are, because we’ll do a consent search and you know, instead of a retained search.

Brian Kelley (06:40):

And that’s what makes us unique. And working with that you know, we do get the opportunity for folks if they don’t have to retain us all the time. And we do this not all the time, but it’s all dependent on the size of the company, the actual position itself. And we know if we can you know, make that gamble on our side if it’s going to be worth it or not. We’re pretty confident that we have a great connection basis out there and the folks that we work with. So we’ve been very fortunate. We have a very high placement rate and a success rate. It’s, it’s just been wonderful to work with that. And it’s just not a local, but as well as nationally. We work with so many great people. So that’s probably the one unique thing that I think most people when I tell them that they, they go, you’re an executive recruiting firm and you’ll do a continuous base.

Brian Kelley (07:34):

And it’s like, sure, we do them. Why would they, why would the client want to do that? I’m married, for a client. They think about it, I’m there if it’s retained, they owe us the money upfront within 30 days and so on. And it keeps moving throughout our agreement for a client base safe as a smaller company. Maybe they would want to do this because they’re not quite sure. Maybe if they can you know, get this position going and everything. You got to put it on hold in this way. They don’t have to pay upfront. You know, I, I never retained search and they have kind of an out, if I give you anything, it helps. So you’re willing to take that risk as a bottom for me. I am willing to take that risk. Sure. Terrific. Terrific.

Brian Kelley (08:19):

So what areas do you focus on? Any particular niches within the executive search area? We’re pretty open. We’re kind of a generalized area on and at industry-wise we’re, we’re pretty much open as well. So we work with many folks. If it’s in leadership and manufacturing to folks that are in its industry. So there’s quite a bit that we work with. We’re generalized on that side. Got it, got it. So what, how, how do you go about finding the right people for your clients, Brian? It’s by having the connections right away. That’s the biggest thing is to make sure that you have that connection base. And not just having a connection base, as I said earlier, is by going off a job role. It’s every single day. I’m either networking and it would folks face to face if it’s WebEx or if it’s on the phone, making sure we have these right people.

Brian Kelley (09:16):

And even when we don’t have a role, we’re working with these people throughout the United States and to make sure that they’re qualified and going forward. So if we don’t have the role today, maybe tomorrow I will. And that’s what really qualifies them out by getting to understand a, personally, as I told you earlier, you can put anything on a piece of paper, a job description, and you can find many people for it. But to find the right person, what you’re looking for is the difference. So for that, that’s where we’re always constantly working with folks throughout many different industries and the executives hunting versus running ads. Can you share a little bit about your philosophy or, we don’t run ads. So what we do is we head home we are the true blue old-schoolers. So if we don’t have anybody with them our CRM system, we go out and we start headhunting for those folks.

Brian Kelley (10:09):

And then we know pretty much who’s within that industry. So if we’re looking for somebody you know, if it’s maybe a chief marketing officer and maybe we’ll use a, an example of maybe somebody in the legal industry. So maybe it’s a law firm, you know, for us, we usually will work with the top 15 to top 10%. So we usually start looking through that range at what we want. Now, if it’s a smaller company, we know to start back and we’ll often start coming down a little bit on that. So that’s kinda how we work. But we do the old school. Yeah, we were at advantage for you from your client’s point of view. Why is that an advantage? Because I’m a, I’m a huge data person and I’ll tell you that. You have to remember that anybody that places an ad, you know, I should say a company when you get somebody to answers on an ad, what is the first thing on that side of the person that can say he or she is already on a mindset of believing their company because they applied for the ad, they applied for the role.

Brian Kelley (11:14):

So you have to remember that if I don’t have you within our system or some works with me, we’re calling you. You’re actually very happy at your job right now. The company you’re in, you’re very happy. So what I’m doing is I’m giving you an opportunity of a new career path though. I’m describing to you a new path that can start growing what you’re doing today, growing into that new role. If maybe it’s a bump up in a promotion or if it’s a lateral move, but maybe in a better you know, industry and so on. Maybe you can grow your skill sets. So what that’s gonna do, it’s as far as you getting placed over with our client, you’re going to stay a lot longer and you’re going to do a lot more as far as performance base on that side. It’s, that is a that is an excellent point about hunting versus running ads.

Brian Kelley (12:04):

So what else does your firm do that really adds value to your clients, Brian? Sure. On the other side too is one of the things that I’m really big on is by helping them as a, maybe a secondary salesman. And it’s gonna sound weird on this, but to give you an example if we take a new client on and we visited them, we’re inside, they’re a company. Maybe they’re giving us a tour within their facility. Maybe give you a quick example, like a manufacturing facility. We’ll walk in, we’ll look up, I’ll look up at the lights and go, Oh, it’s dim in here. You know, where it’s cold. And now the first thing, can I go, do you know, I’ve got a client that does lead lighting or I’ll go, he was pretty cold in here and I’ll look at the heating and got everything, looks like it’s a hundred years old.

Brian Kelley (12:57):

I’ve got a client that manufacturers’ eaters. So what I do for them as a client base, I’m always looking for new clients for them. So always looking, how can we help with the near products or their services? And we have clients you know, that do printing and marketing. And so on. So it’s always looking, looking to add value beyond just a placement. Correct. Him, I’ve been approached by doing that to be hired as a sales rep for any of these companies. It’s funny, one time I did it was that was actually a lighting company said, why don’t you just become a rep? He goes, you guys, we’ve had two people call us already. And I go and now dinner coming to ramp. I go on my plate already. I go, no, thank you. Well, that’s an indicator of how well you’re doing and adding value if they start posting you to come to work.

Brian Kelley (13:49):

So what’s the greatest success story that you’ve been a part of? Probably the biggest success, for me that I was part of was actually right when we started this firm. We, we were actually called upon from a very large client that had a hard time finding a role, actually finding the right person, I should say. They were using a large search firm that is ranked in the top three. And they just were coming up empty-handed and they said, yeah, we’re getting the people that are a, they filled the, you know, the whole job description did, but every time we interview them, ditches, not the right people. So again, for us, we sat down with them to make sure we have a huge check, was what we go through to make sure that these are the right fit.

Brian Kelley (14:43):

We did meet with them, decide, you know, this is the way we’re going to go on the search. We did and I want to save this within three and a half, four weeks. We had the right candidate in the spot and not just, you know, the person, but they loved them when they went through there. And to kinda hear, you know, on the client-side, tell us, you know, just for, you know, we we’ve been searching with, with these top firms and you know, you were recommended and then the find somebody in such a short time and, and, and again, not just the person on the, on the paper, but to find this person come through. It was unbelievable. So for us, that was a huge success and to learn

Brad Wolff (15:29):

That is big, that is a big success. And I know having been in the search business for many years, that look, there isn’t anything that, that they can do that you can’t also do. Correct. That’s the thing, that’s the thing that it’s important that companies realize there’s no magic sauce that they patent that you can also provide. And quite frankly, you have a strong motivation being an owner in the firm to come out and be successful and continue as an ongoing client as they have needs.

Brian Kelley (16:00):

That’s correct.

Brad Wolff (16:02):

Now I’m a big believer that failures and obstacles are some of the things that make us who we are. Do you have a particular failure or obstacle?

Brian Kelley (16:08):

Well, you’ve overcome that’s been pivotal to your success? Failures. Boy there’s been many you know since we’ve

Brad Wolff (16:16):

And given that we don’t want to take an hour, can you pick one? Yeah. If we start talking about failures, we can, we can spend the rest of the day sharing failures. Right.

Brian Kelley (16:28):

I would say probably one of our biggest failures like most companies we tried growing fast, you know, that was, that was my fault. Personally. I will admit that on your podcast here that that was my fault. We were doing well and I thought, well, let’s keep growing and let’s keep building. It’s all, it was on my mind and had an opportunity to acquire another firm and that didn’t go through it. It just fell apart and, and I can tell you right now that that was the best thing that ever happened because right from that point I said, I’m done trying to grow so fast. I’m done trying to become a big person as far as having X amount of people working with us. Let’s stay, you know, who we are and what makes us unique. And since that didn’t acquire, it’s been the best thing that ever has ever happened. Uso we’ve been able to keep going forward and, and keep delivering the quality that we do. And it was kind of just an eye-opener I guess, but it was a big mistake for definitely not just me, but you know, for our firm. So it wasn’t,

Brad Wolff (17:47):

Yeah, the ego of just getting bigger is bigger, can really

Brian Kelley (17:50):

Take over if we’re not careful, can it, that’s true. That is true. So,

Brad Wolff (17:56):

Brian, as we’re wrapping this up, is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t discussed?

Brian Kelley (18:02):

You know, as far as our firm, we, we really are one of the people that I should say one of the search firms that are out there that really are a big difference. You can go on my, on my LinkedIn page, it says where the Jerry Maguire, you know, of the search firms. And I really believe in that and I really thrive on that because we aren’t a difference. We just say, you know, just speak, when did you do it? The past few minutes here. We, you know, most firms don’t do what we do and it’s, we’re kind of we don’t want to be part of the other firms either. So we are that unique, a search group that will go out there and nationally and, and builds upon these roles. And we’ve been very fortunate for that. It’s been working so, and you know, it’s one of the biggest things that make us unique.

Brian Kelley (18:59):

So, and it’s clear talking to Brian that you have the passion and the conviction about what you do and what you bring to your clients. That’s very clear. I get up every day loving this job, this, and I can tell you that I have personally met with the folks that have gotten into this industry. My competitors give you a little bit of insight. I have 54 staffing and recruiting firms within a two and a half-mile radius of our office. And I have met with other folks either for coffee or for lunch. And one of the biggest things is this industry can eat you up quickly. You’ve got to really love it. And, and not just by placing people but actually having the drive to want to do it. And for us, the size we are, we’re, we’re able to do so much more. And, and that’s, that’s that be a huge motivator for me. And that’s why, yes, what you’re speaking to me today is how I was yesterday and the day before. I am always super, super excited to do what I do every single day. I love it.

Brad Wolff (20:11):

And I’m sure that comes out when you’re talking with clients and prospects and candidates. So Brian, thanks so much for sharing your time and expertise with me today. And I hope you have a fabulous day and I think your audience is gonna love to know some of the things that really make you tick and come alive as value for them.

Brian Kelley (20:35):

Well. Again, thank you very much for having me on.