MIDDLESEX NEWS – by Lisa LaBlanca
Framingham – From his corner office in the Crown Building, Lee Silver can dream up deals – and get them done – in Brazil, Mexico, London and Singapore.
After the biggest year ever for his executive search firm, L.A. Silver Associates, Inc., Silver hasn’t forgotten the tough times.
It was right after Michael Dukakis’ failed presidential bid that the 26-person firm he had built up from scratch fell with a thud. “As soon as Dukakis lost the election, it was like my business hit a wall at 120 miles an hour,” Silver said last week in an interview in his Rte.9 office overlooking tiny Sucker Pond.
By Jan. 1, 1989, half of his clients canceled the jobs the company was working on. Others ended up in bankruptcy court, and Massachusetts high-tech industry he had been concentrating on “had a major stomache ache.”
Silver drastically cut his workforce: He and vice president Gay Spiegel are L.A. Silver Associates now, and the focus of the business has turned from Massachusetts to Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, Canada and Latin America.
“We aggressively and assiduously went after a few markets,” Silver said. “Clearly, we recognized early on that hardware wasn’t an area that was going to go through growth.”
The key industries became software and telecommunications, and Silver’s timing was right. As companies began to expand in Europe and elsewhere, he was able to place directors of international operations. When those went well, the firm got the jobs of filling secondary positions, such as managing directors for different countries and sales and marketing directors.
Making contacts overseas often means getting into the office at 3am to call executives before they get to work, but the upside is that with English the language of business, it’s possible for a U.S. based firm to handle searches for overseas clients. “It really doesn’t matter whether you’re in Framingham or London or Paris,” Silver said. “The key is my persistence and taste level in evaluating an executive’s skills.”
The firm’s size has made a difference in teh kind of recommendations it makes. Silver and Spiegel recently met with the president of a company that was looking for a vice president, but they felt he didn’t express the company’s vision very well.
Instead of a vice president, the firm ended up recommending the board of directors give the president a different function and hire a new president. That’s what happened, and silver and Spiegel said that a bigger search firm might not have has the same approach.
“We’re tiny,” Silver said. “When we make a commitment, we make a commitment.”
The firm’s business has started to swing back to Massachusetts. Silver predicts that 1993 will be the year that software and telecommunications companies emerge, the fruit of those left behind when hardware giants like Wang and Prime Computer Corp. tumbled. “All these talented peole who got thrown out of their jobs by this tremendous wind that blew in Massachusetts are in their workshops and garages dreaming, and some of those dreams will come to fruition,” he said.
L.A. Silver is investing in some of them, doing searches for the companies in exchange for a piece of them. The company has equity in six companies, half in the U.S., and half in other countries; two have gone public and a couple aren’t doing so well, but Silver said that’s part of the risk.