For Mary Younggren, big life changes have led to big changes at work. After a divorce, she moved back closer to family in the Twin Cities, which led her in 2002 to buy the staffing and recruiting firm where she worked. More recently, after the death of her mother, Younggren decided to reshape and simplify the firm, called Advent Group Inc., which had two arms — Advent Talent and Advent Creative. The biggest change involved ending Advent Talent’s relationship with Tempforce, an Atlanta-based franchiser. Today, Edina-based Advent is relied on by dozens of Minnesota firms searching for people to work, from executive suites to warehouse floors. She talked recently about the challenges of remaking her own business, the difficulty of recruiting people in the ultratight Minnesota job market and the superhero personas she and her colleagues take on in their office. Some excerpts:
Q: What did you learn by going from an employee of the business to becoming its owner?
A: If we think back to 2002 and the economy at the time, we had a very robust business in mortgage staffing that was related to the economy at the time. I was in an infrastructure of a very high volume franchise. And then the volume changed [in the housing crisis]. So I had to consider the multiple locations that we had at the time and the expenses that we had. I had to manage through the expenses of payroll, benefits, leases, do we need locations and all of the things that I had never paid attention to as an employee.
Q: What was the benefit of the relationship with Tempforce for so many years?
A: It enabled me to be in this business as an owner without some of the responsibilities of an owner. To get in and understand the management of the expenses was my first tier of learning as an owner. Now, being independent, it’s the purchasing of services that were previously part of a big organization. That’s the second tier of learning.
Q: What was the benefit of making the change?
A: It was an extremely positive experience to have the support of this national entity. At the same time, I can use the analogy of a marriage where people grow apart from each other. As we got more of our identity and more local-feeling and more boutique, we grew away from that big structure and bigger identity. The real benefit to us now is freedom. We can be nimble. We really cater to the client. If they need something, we can do it. We don’t have to ask permission of someone else’s brand. It’s our brand.
Q: How did it benefit you personally?
A: It simplified my life. Running two companies, two sets of books, was becoming very complicated. Losing my mom was a big thing. I really feel like that drove the decision. It really helped me as a business owner to simplify and us as a company to have one unified system.
Q: What was the biggest difficulty in the change?
A: The technology. That whole infrastructure. We had two separate databases and we merged them to one new one from a local provider who has been a great partner to us. But it’s the learning of that new system for me and the team that has been more difficult than expected. We can’t call talent without our technology because that’s where their phone numbers are. For me, who started in this in 1983 when I was in the phone book calling companies and having paper applications, it’s just so frustrating at times.
Q: Many Minnesota employers say they are having a hard time finding people these days. True?
A: That is true. What we find ourselves in is a talent war with other recruiters. The companies are telling me they are in a talent war with other companies. Minnesota is a place where there are more jobs than people. The trend is we are having to recruit and go after passive candidates, people who are not in an active job search. That is a very different approach than during the recession, when you could put up a posting and receive hundreds of résumés in response.
Q: What can you and employers do about that?
A: Make the hiring process simpler. For us, we’ve employed Skype interviewing and do more connection externally before bringing the talent in. People are busy. They’re applying through mobile devices. The speed of the process is another thing I see clients really modifying. Baby boomers think, if someone wants to work here, they better go through some hoops and sell themselves. But those processes are, in some cases, leaving [employers] out in the cold. And so we see clients starting to move more quickly.
Q: Everyone in your office has adopted a superhero character and some of them really get into it. Why is that and which character are you?
A: We have a daylong team-building event every year, where take a look at where we are and set goals, and we always have a theme. Our theme one year was based on the movie “The Incredibles,” and we talked about how we have to be superheroes to our clients. So it’s this thing that has kind of stuck. I’m Frozone from that movie because he kind of gets them where they need to go fast.
Q: How does that pay off?
A: We use it in some of our marketing and in some of our discussions with prospective clients. And I think we retain people with, not just that, but the overall esprit de corps. It’s a fun group and having people stay with us keeps clients coming back. Even though it sounds kind of cheesy, we live what we hear and we have an identity as a team.