Marks: Recruitment expert says personnel can outweigh planning for new business
By Brian E. Clark
Strong business plans are important for a start-up, that’s a gimme. But perhaps even more crucial to a nascent firm is the team assembled to lead the company.
So says Sue Marks, a serial entrepreneur and investor who is founder and CEO of Brookfield-based Pinstripe, a national leader in recruitment process and outsourcing.
“I’ve had my own share of successes and failures, which I like to call ‘learning experiences,” she says. “And a lot of them have to do with the management team.
“You can have a mediocre business plan with a solid management team and it will execute well,” says Marks, who will speak at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Wisconsin Entrepreneur’s Conference, which runs through Wednesday at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.
“Or you can have a great plan with a mediocre team and it will fail,” she says.
Marks says she will also advise new-business owners to “hire higher” and “fire faster.”
And on the subject of the climate for entrepreneurs in the Badger State, she said conditions have improved considerably over the past few years.
“I think the environment has never been better both here in Wisconsin and internationally,” explains Marks. “I don’t say that because the sun is shining and everything is fine with the economy."
In fact, she says she sees continuing challenges in terms of the economic environment and the availability of bank financing.
“Mostly, I think that in times of turbulence like this, many great companies begin because organizations and people are looking for completely different ways to do things or not do things at all or have technology do things for them.”
She said that creates great opportunities in the marketplace for those who can fill the needs.
“With the technology that’s available today, it’s a very exciting time to be an entrepreneur,” says Marks.
Though the environment for entrepreneurs has improved, much remains to be done to bring Wisconsin in line with other Midwestern states and start-up hotbeds like Boston, California’s Silicon Valley and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.
She says she wishes that public investment funds would do more to back Wisconsin companies and that she would support – cautiously – a requirement that they use a set percentage for fledgling Badger State firms.
“I think that’s a key ingredient of Wisconsin’s 20-year plan to be a great place to live, work and play,” she says.
Marks – who calls “complete overconfidence” a key to being a successful entrepreneur – would also support expansion of credits for angel investors around the state. And she praises Gov. Jim Doyle for boosting the program during his two terms.
“This groundswell of activity is really important and we need to do everything we can do to continue that. Ohio has some interesting things to going and I would encourage everyone to look at the Ohio Economic Development website as well as others in the Midwest.”
Marks says she believes the state and national economies are on the mend, ever so slowly.
‘I wouldn’t say it’s bouncing back,” she says. “It is inching back. In our customer base – and we only service a couple of Wisconsin clients – we are seeing an uptick in their job requisition activity.”
She said that’s an indication companies are beginning to hire back part- and full-time employees. Temporary staffing firms – such as Milwaukee-based Manpower – also are reporting increased business, she says.
Though Wisconsin, since January, has gained back more than 30,000 of the 190,000 jobs it lost during the recession, she says it will take several years for that entire number to be achieved.
Moreover, she says, the economy has changed. Which means that many of those same jobs – some of which were shipped abroad because of lower labor costs – will never return.
“Organizations that downsized so dramatically during 2007 and 2008 have stayed slim for a long time,” she says. “And they’ve found other ways to get things done. As jobs come back, they may not come back the way they were or in the locations they were.”
Place is now less important, she says, because so many jobs can be done anywhere.
“Accessing talent will be much more flexible in the long term,” she says.
On a down note, she says she does not believe the economy will soon return to “full employment,” which some economists peg to a 5 percent jobless rate.
“I believe it will be more like 7 or 8 percent because of frictionless changing markets that we are going to see. The nature of work is changing significantly.”