Making the tough job matches
METROWEST BUSINESS – by Pamela J. Podger
Framingham – Lee Silver is the quintessential corporate matchmaker. Thriving on challenges that stump other executive recruitment firms, his L.A. Silver Associates is gaining a reputation for snaring executives with unusual credentials.
Need a U.S.-educated computer specialist who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, plays a Chinese form of bridge called mah-jongg and is willing to live in Beijing?
Silver unearthed six candidates in four months, in what he said was the longest time yet for him to fill a slot. It typically takes 60 to 90 days to locate suitable candidates.
Domestic placements are the meat-and-potatoes of his Framingham-based company, which recruits upper-level executives in the computer, engineering and financial fields. Environmental and Civil Engineers for the Boston Harbor cleanup project are currently the high-demand positions to fill, Silver said.
“The (computer) industry was choking on the lack of seasoned professionals. Traditional recruiting, open houses and referrals had some results, but not the quantity and quality they needed,” said Silver, 49, of Framingham.
Jet-hopping and trans-Atlantic phone calls, however, are necessary for roughly 40 percent of his recruiting work, Silver said.
Western Europe has computer engineers “who look to the United States for opportunities to join a state-of-the-art company as a 20th century pilgrim,” Silver said.
His lasso encircles executives in Canada, Europe, and the Far East who work abroad for U.S.-based companies. Or he woos Swiss, Belgium or British nationals to executive slots with New England firms.
“Many high-tech and manufacturing companies thought the world ended at the Atlantic Ocean. So they sent expatriates overseas,” Silver said. “They learned with a bloody nose, by being financially in the red, that it was better to find people abroad to manage their companies.”
Foreign nationals are culturally sensitive to the local ways of doing business, Silver said.
“In West Germany, Italy and Japan it is not always the guy with the lowest price or best product who wins a contract, it’s the trust factor that becomes the element of the deal. You do business with whom you trust,” Silver said. “The typical American who went to France, Belgium or West Germany couldn’t penetrate the market because he didn’t understand the culture, the traditions or the way of doing business.”
Silver’s latest twist is acting as a go-between for companies seeking joint venture candidates, both domestically and abroad. “We were asked to search out an entire company to do a joint venture in West Germany and the United Kingdom. We never knew we could do that until the matching of the companies was completed,” Silver said.
His 17-employee staff currently works for about 60 companies, including MetroWest heavyweights Digital Equipment Corp., Dennison Manufacturing Co., Perini Corp. and Zayre Corp.
The company earns a limited retainer while searching out a suitable executive and receives the bulk of the commission when a candidate is hired. Referrals account for roughly 80 percent of the business at the $1.5 million company, Silver said.
“This is not an arms-length company, but an ‘arms-around’ company. This is not a casual relationship with clients, although some (clients) are dormant,” he said. “At the end of each year, I measure the results of my business by how much fun I’m having.”
Silver said he draws from his 20 years of experience as senior vice president of human resources at Zayre Corp. in Framingham.
Candidates “were surprised that I called them in their hotel room in Moscow of some other Godforsaken part of the world. Later, without identifying the client, I meet with them face-to-face to discuss skills, abilities, credentials and gauge their management style,” Silver said.
As a matchmaker, Silver must evaluate the personalities of the candidates and the companies. “Part of the trick is knowing the company’s style. I become, in essence, the external human resources person. I must know the corporation’s personality and culture.”