Finding short-term solutions to build long-term relationships

Susan Kandalaft of Executive Solutions talks about building a placement business on relationships and quality

Susan Kandalaft is president of Executive Solutions Ltd.

Susan Kandalaft
Susan Kandalaft

What is Executive Solutions and what do you do?

Kandalaft: Executive Solutions is a Calgary-based, boutique staffing firm that specializes in all types and levels of positions, primarily in the office, including temporary, temp to hire, contract and permanent placements. Our searches can range from reception to executive assistant, office manager, accountants from junior to controller or CFO, HR, project managers, professional, executive placements, etc. We do almost everything except light industrial (labour placements) and IT.

Our claim to fame is our unique, proprietary interview and testing process that really drills down the candidate’s area of expertise and strengths, and areas for development, as well as their attitude, personality to discover what really makes them tick. This allows us to place people in the right position and with the right company!

We truly pride ourselves on our long-term relationships with both our clients and candidates who have often been on both sides of our business. Some of our favourite clients are candidates we’ve placed into their position or better yet placed by one of our competitors. Because we really go deep in our interview, we really get to know our candidates and genuinely make a concerted effort to match them with our clients to ensure the core values and philosophies are in alignment and that the placement is a good fit for both sides. This results in long term, successful placements that stick and long term, successful relationships that are solid and genuine.

What do I do? Depends on the day and what’s happening in the office. I could be on the phone or at the client site taking an order, helping Logan fill a temp assignment (often for the same day), assisting Melissa and Logan with reference checks, negotiating a payout with a client on one of our temporary employees or on the phone booking meetings with prospective new clients. There are only three of us here and we all work together as a team therefore it is imperative we all jump in to help one another out.

Up until a year ago, I ran a desk, meaning my main focus and role was as a recruiter in addition to running the company. From day one in 1995, I interviewed every candidate who came into Executive Solutions. However, I finally decided to hand over my desk and recruiting hat to our senior recruiter, Melissa, so I can now concentrate on building the business.

Executive Solutions has been fortunate over the years to sustain itself without a sales team. However, due to the downturn in our economy it’s necessary to get back out there to rebuild and refresh our name and brand.

However, I am still very hands on with the day-to-day business but learning to trust my staff  and to let go.

What’s the history behind the company and why you became involved with this business?

Kandalaft: Executive Solutions was founded in 1986 in a much easier time and less competitive market. I joined the company in 1995 after returning to work from a maternity leave after having my first son. I was absolutely adamant that I was not going to return to the staffing industry as I was extremely burned out and exhausted from my previous position with a competitive staffing firm.

I applied to Executive Solutions as a candidate, specifically applying for a part-time, HR position with one of Executive Solutions’ clients. When I called the previous owner of Executive Solutions after my interview with her client to follow up, she gave me the option of either working for the client at $12 hour or working for her for $20 hour. I happily accepted the client job at the lower salary.

Being a little surprised by my answer and beginning to understand how serious I was about not getting back into this crazy industry, she sweetened the pot and asked if I would just help out for a couple of months while she went on an extended vacation.

Reluctantly, I agreed and 25 years later, I’m still here and the 100 per cent owner. Recruitment really gets in your blood as you make real connections with people and are in a powerful position to build and grow other people’s lives. There is nothing more gratifying and rewarding than placing an excellent candidate with one of your favourite client companies!

At Executive Solutions, we are known to our clients and candidates for our down-to-earth, professional and personable style. We work very hard in providing the best service possible in a collaborative and honest fashion with the mission to build unstoppable teams while having some fun.

I guess like another company we all know, I liked the company so much, I bought it.

What are the biggest challenges in the industry today?

Kandalaft: The threat and rise of artificial intelligence. Commoditization due to vendor management systems. Increase of fly-by-night recruitment firms charging ridiculously low fees and lack of adherence to code of ethics.

Government interference as we have seen in Ontario. The ever-changing employment laws and legislation that affect the temporary side of our business. Unemployment insurance – believe it or not – as unemployed candidates on EI don’t want to work on a temporary basis (lots of misconceptions and confusion around the rules).

What are companies looking for in an executive?

Kandalaft: I will change the word executive to employee because we don’t just place executives. In almost 30 years of working in the staffing industry in Calgary, our clients (hiring manager/employers) are still searching for the same qualities in their people. We’ve learned that regardless of the position and level of the role, there are common characteristics that the rock star employees possess. As a result of this experience, we’ve designed and customized our in-house proprietary assessments based on these desirable traits – attention to detail, common sense and logic, attitude, coachable/team player, work ethic and personality.

Of course, honesty and integrity are givens and always of the utmost importance, as well as being dependable and reliable. Companies are trying to be a little more flexible these days but 99.9 per cent of the time when we ask the client what’s important for their new employee to be successful this is what they tell us.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received on being an entrepreneur?

Kandalaft: As cliché as this may sound, it was the flight attendant analogy to put on your own mask first. As an entrepreneur, your day never really ends so if you don’t look after yourself first. Eventually you will burn yourself out and everything else will suffer. This is a very hard lesson to learn as we don’t always have boundaries and often feel guilty for taking a break.

Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.

© Troy Media

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