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Life is a Beach for IIPE - International Executive Research & Search

No snow days: Entrepreneur, recruiter, sourcer Karen Russo moved her business from Stamford, Connecticut to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Karen Russo, President IIPE -TotalPicture Radio InterviewKaren Russo

Over six million Americans have jobs that depend on US-Mexico trade. Karen Russo talks candidly about business opportunities in Mexico, Brazil, and throughout Latin America.

Welcome to a special Talent Acquisition Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio with Peter Clayton reporting. International Executive Research & Search -- IIPE -- is an international search and candidate research firm based in Playa del Carmen Mexico. Joining me today is Karen Russo, president of IIPE. Karen is a member of the Pinnacle Society, the nation's premier consortium of top recruiters within the direct placement and search industry.

Karen Russo - TotalPicture Radio Transcript

Welcome to a special Talent Acquisition Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio. This is Peter Clayton reporting. Internationally Executive Research & Search IIPE, which is, is an international search and candidate research firm based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Joining me today is Karen Russo, president of IIPE. Karen is a member of the Pinnacle Society, the nation's premier consortium of top recruiters within the direct placement and search industry.

Karen, welcome back to TotalPicture Radio. It's been a long time. When I first met you, you were running a successful executive search firm based in Stamford, Connecticut. Tell us about your evolution and decision to focus on sourcing, research and list building.

Karen: IIPE stands for Investigaciones Internacionales de Personal Ejecutivo. We call it IIPE for short for a lot of really good reasons. I migrated into the research industry because I saw that there was a need for clients to want a different methodology around search. There was just a lot of talk within corporate human resources departments about non-traditional methodologies or building search firm practices within their human resources organizations. At that time, the economy was starting to kind of fall down a little bit on us. Things were starting to slide downhill. I started the business in 2007 and while 2007 was a record year for us, we did almost $3 million in executive search that year, I still felt like clients were missing something; there was something more that they wanted.

So we started the research business to offer them an alternative service to either complement their in-house recruiting efforts or to complement maybe other search professionals while they're out looking for talent and finding top talent. I saw the need and I saw that clients were ready for something a little bit non-traditional, a little different.

Peter: So why move your business to Mexico?

Karen: Selfishly, I like living on the Caribbean.

Peter: That ain't bad.

Karen: It's really been a great thing. I actually was thinking on the way over here, why do we have such a successful operation, and I have to think that the people that work with me all have migrated there as well, and they love living there. So we are so happy that we like what we do every day. We go to work in a place that we love every day. I think happy people are happy employees and productive employees; not that everybody should move their business to the beach, but we really have a great culture at IIPE, a very focused and fun culture.

Peter: Tell us a little bit about your staff, Karen. I'm assuming they all speak English.

Karen: They do. Most of them speak more languages than me. I'm on my second, having now become fluent in Spanish. I studied Italian for several years. Most of my employees speak at least two languages. They're college-degreed and I have a couple of people that are studying other languages right now because language is very important to us.

We do have certain technology that assists us with other languages. We do some backend work with certain technologies in different countries like Japan, China and actually Portugal and Germany. We have some backend technology that helps us and assists us to do searches in other languages when we're doing Boolean search strings, for example. Most of the people there are at least bilingual.

The other really cool thing about them is I try to find people who are naturally curious, focused on getting results but not happy with the only result. You have to have an inherent nature to be super curious and not happy with one answer because in sourcing, if you're happy with one answer, then you really have only kind of peeled only one layer of that onion and there's so many layers when you're doing sourcing, to different ways to search for things that you have to ask yourself the same question many different ways. So divergent thinking is a key critical requirement in somebody's make-up.

Peter: Explain to the audience - not everyone who listens to this show is in the recruiting industry - what is the difference between sourcing and recruiting?

Karen: I've been in the business over 20 years and when we started in the recruiting industry, you were given a book and you looked up a bunch of phone numbers and there were people's names in this book. It could have been anything from a Yellow Pages or to a directory or where you literally went into a company, into a corporate headquarters and wrote down the name of the company and then just started to call.

So that was the pre-stages of doing recruiting because you were then putting together prospects. So the prospect part, the gathering the data, the list building of the names of the people that you need to then recruit is the frontend of the recruiting process. Years ago, we've kind of put all of that into one person and many companies have different business models. Some of those models are they have business development people and then they have their recruiters. Some companies have full-service where everybody does everything. My search firm in the United States was a full-service firm, still is a full-service firm. But now you have to kind of break out the sourcing element because sourcing is a totally different animal than it was. With the internet, with blogs, with data, with news feeds, with the amount of information that's coming at people, there's so many different sources to find information about people that a recruiter would spend all of their time sourcing and looking for those impossible names. As I said, kind of going back to that divergent thinking, not being happy with all of the answers to the question of who is my best target. In sourcing, you need to ask yourself those things. So there's so many different sources that you use.

So a recruiter is a person, in my mind, who makes the phone call, has the pitch, knows what needs to be said to hook a prospective candidate into a process, somebody who's maybe not that happy in their current opportunity or in their company or feeling stagnant. So that's the person who has to have the right kind of dialogue. They have to be creative. They have to think on their feet and they're more on the communications side of things.

Where sourcing has kind of evolved and it's sort of separated out, the recruitment process where sourcing is now a little bit more technical and analytical in nature and very thoughtful, you have to ask yourself lots of questions about who is that target audience that I want to pitch to, and who is that person, and where am I going to find them is the other big question. There are so many venues. We used to go to all these business meetings and conferences and now where do we find people? We find people on social media and not just on social media, but on blogs and on webcasts and on podcasts and all over the place.

So you have to know where to target the intelligence, where to go for that data and where to find those people and social media obviously is a big source.

Peter: Speaking about social media, Karen, let's talk a little bit about LinkedIn and how successful LinkedIn has become at helping recruiters locate passive candidates. What capabilities or advantages does IIPE offer beyond what a recruiter can accomplish using the LinkedIn Enterprise account?

Karen: LinkedIn is only one source and of course they won't like that I will say that they are not the magic bullet. There is no one magic bullet to finding people because social media is vast. The interesting thing about LinkedIn Recruiters is it is a useful tool and it is helpful. It does carry people through a process. Connections are still connections and you still, at the end of the day, no matter what your data shows up, in LinkedIn Recruiter, you still need to go out and validate the data, make sure that that person who says they're at this particular company on their LinkedIn account is on that LinkedIn account. Many people close their profiles down on LinkedIn because they're starting to get wise and don't really want to be contacted.

The other thing is then you have to go out and find them, you have to actually make the phone call. Where are they? What's their phone number? What's their direct dial? What's their email? Sometimes their email is already on there.

The difference between LinkedIn and using an outsourced research firm like IIPE is that that's only one source. When we go in and develop a Boolean string, we are developing a string that goes out and sources a vast network on the internet, associations, memberships, conferences, other forms of social media. Wherever somebody might exist on the internet is where we're finding our data. So LinkedIn is only one source. So it's only one place to find competitive talent intelligence.

Really, Google is the better venue but you have to be well-trained to use Google. In order to use Google, you have to be well-trained in developing your strings and targeting your strings for either competitive intelligence against the competitive companies that you want to develop target data against or against the specific candidate.

Peter: There are a number of companies stateside that offer pretty much the same kinds of services that your company does, research, name generation of qualified candidates, sourcing. What is your differentiator, Karen? Why would I call a company in Playa del Carmen to help me find an electrical engineer in Minneapolis?

Karen: First, there are companies all over the world that do what we do. Some of them are $10/hour and some of them are $120/hour. So the US-based firms tend to be more expensive than we are. We are typically 60% less expensive than an American-based research firm. But yet we're not the $10 search firm.

Our data is 100% validated upon delivery. So we would rather provide our clients with 50 or 100 good qualified names that are well-targeted, that when you pick up the phone, you are getting that person on the phone and they do what you're looking for them to do; than to give you 500 or 1,000 names and your recruiter spends the entire day calling and not finding people on the other end of the phone. In fact, we are hired by companies who buy large lists, voluminous lists that are not well-validated and we actually do data scrubbing for them and clean up that data. So we're really good at finding people, finding where people last existed and where they might be.

So one of the key differentiators, aside from the fact that we're not as expensive as the US but not as low-cost as some of those other firms that don't provide...

Peter: The ones in India that...

Karen: Yeah, they don't provide validated data. We provide 100% validated data.

Peter: Which is huge because anybody who has ever bought a list knows that unless it's really well-scrubbed, the data becomes obsolete in weeks, right?

Karen: In weeks, in days sometimes depending on the person. The biggest thing is that as a recruiter myself and having spent hours and hours doing recruiting myself, getting a list either buying it from a firm when I had my own company or having my researchers prepare a list for me or just doing it myself, it's demotivating for anybody who has to call and sell an opportunity and be excited about it, to call 15/20/30 people on the list and not get the person that they're looking for. Then it creates distraction and a lack of focus. And how do I know this?

Peter: Exactly...

Karen: Because I'm a recruiter.

Peter: If John no longer works there, do you know where perhaps he went to work? So now you start going down those rabbit holes.

Karen: Exactly. The other thing, going back to LinkedIn, LinkedIn is a huge distraction too, even for recruiters, because if recruiters are working on multiple assignments, they'll be on LinkedIn Recruiter and I'm guilty of this myself. You'll be in Recruiter, you'll be looking at LinkedIn and you'll find this person, but this person is connected to that person. You really need to talk to that person too for something else that you're working on.

When you're working with a sourcing firm, the sourcing firm is targeted to your specific project. That's where all of their attention and their focus is on. So if they're working on 35, 40, 50 or 60 hours for you on that project, that's your project and that's where all their time is dedicated too.

I find having had experience and having a recruiting firm for 17 years, I see where people have gotten distracted over the years. I would want to hope that I learned by my mistakes and the mistakes of other people by developing a firm that really stays very focused because internet research can - people lose their focus very easily.

Peter: I read on your blog that over 6 million Americans have jobs that depend on US-Mexico trade. So let's talk a little bit about business opportunities in Mexico and throughout Latin America. You look at what's going on in Brazil, it's a huge developing economy.

Karen: Brazil's wild. It's super busy. It's an incredibly competitive marketplace. My clients really struggle to keep talent. There are definitely retention issues going on there. Human resources has to work really hard on retention strategies there right now. It's just a growing and thriving economy. It's one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In fact, Mexico and Brazil are growing 2 to 3 times faster than the United States even now. I don't know, the GDP is, for Mexico for example, the net change is like 5%, almost 6% where in the US it's only 2 or 3% change.

I think that there's a lot of business out there. I have many, many clients moving. There's obviously manufacturing facilities, information centers, technical and call centers that are going out to Latin America so you have a lot of those populations moving out there for cost containment. But there are a lot of companies that are just going out there because they're building business there. I have tons of banks contacting me right now who are opening up in other countries, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Argentina. Actually, one of my researchers works in Argentina right now. We have him based down there just to kind of have our Latin American presence established and the rest of us are in Mexico.

Peter: Let's take this a step further, Karen. For companies who are expanding into Latin American markets, what are some of the legal or cultural hurdles that they need to be aware of?

Karen: I just developed a strategic relationship with Global Benefits Associates. They're here in Westport actually, with Terry and Mary Cortesi. It's interesting. I rely on Mary quite often. I've known her for a very long time. In fact, I placed her many years ago. I rely on Mary very often to provide me with competitive data in a particular market.

In Latin America - now Global Benefits Associates, they only work in global emerging countries and they have a wealth of information on the legal policies around labor law, the union policies that are required within certain industries in different countries and also the compensation and remuneration packages that exist in these different countries. The requirements are pretty interesting, very, very different from the United States. In fact, the United States is the only country that doesn't require companies to - they don't mandate a vacation policy. We're the only country - I think Japan also - but in every other country, vacation is part of your benefit package.

So just as that as an example, when I started my business in Mexico, I was super challenged in learning those laws and labor policies to make sure that I on-boarded my employees appropriately through the right contracts, severance agreements, remuneration packages, standard benefit programs and of course vacation policies. So I think that many companies are unaware of that and they do struggle with the on-boarding process and knowing how to pull all of those things together and having local people down there to help facilitate that process and help work through those issues. I actually do have many partners in different parts of the Latin American countries as well as in Mexico and Central America to assist me on that.

We have right now, three different strategic relationships with firms that help us when our clients need on-boarding and of course I know Mexican policy, but I don't write labor law.

Peter: I have a question for you. Given your background and all of your experience in recruiting, why not operate as an RPO or a recruitment process outsourcer?

Karen: I've always been a boutique provider. I don't know, maybe that's the big machine thing that I scare away from. I shy away from the big machine thing. Who knows where IIPE is going to go. I think by the end of this year, it's very possible we'll be up to 10 recruiters. We're about to sign a very large contract with a pretty big company in the search industry, so we will need more resources to accommodate that. I think I like the idea of employing strategic partnerships with people who are really experts in their field, like a remuneration expert in Brazil or search professional in Brazil in a certain industry, or remuneration experts across different countries.

I also like working with boutique firms and other entrepreneurs in the search industry to help strategize with them about their projects and their search initiatives. Very often, we're strategizing together when we're building out a project. I'd like to think that with my years of experience in the recruiting industry and running a practice as well as the fact that I am a Pinnacle member and considered one of the top recruiters in the country, I really would hope that my clients would look to rely on me to help them to strategize when they're perplexed over the way something might be going in a search. So I find that a lot of fun.

Peter: Just a couple more questions for you, Karen. You had mentioned to me that you're working with a company called Next Level Exchange on a series of training videos for recruiters. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Karen: Yes. Next Level Exchange is a company that was started by Jeff Kaye. Jeff Kaye is the owner of Kaye/Bassman in Dallas, Texas and they're one of the top 10 search firms in the country right now. He put together this company with an amazing team of professionals, Karen, Daryl, just an amazing group of people, that have put together training foundational videos on how to be a successful recruiter, how to on-board a new recruiter, new hires. It really walks any new owner, any business owner who wants to on-board new people through a recruiting - how to teach them how to be a recruiter because very often, we're working desk (21:36) people. But it also has not only foundational training but advanced level training and different tiers for owners and managers. I just did one on embracing change, so really more for somebody who's already an owner. They really are trying to help the industry be a best practice firm, be a best practice organization, be a best practice industry in the recruiting industry and really helping people to understand and work with integrity and ethics and just best practices.

I think their program is wonderful. I have my new recruiters - I have two people that I'm training and recruiting right now in Mexico. They are using the program and it's really been helpful. I just think it's really more for best practices and I think anybody, if you have an in-house search team or external search team, I think anybody could benefit by listening to their videos.

Peter: What haven't we discussed that you'd like to share with the audience today?

Karen: I think that when you're doing sourcing and a lot of people have a lot of questions about sourcing and am I doing it correctly and am I using the right tools. I do think that there's aspects of it that's a work in progress, but I think sourcing - it's great to have a great list and it's great to have a big list. If you can get a big, great list that's even better, but it has to be a well-targeted list. I think that where companies fall short in analyzing who to work with or if they should be internalizing their function is being able to know if they're analyzing the profiles so that they're targeting the names that are going on that list specifically. That's something that really needs a heavy and well-trained eye to do and really somebody who's pretty good with not only Boolean search strings but analyzing backgrounds and profiles.

So it is a work in progress and it does require a lot of training. I know we've spent a lot of money on our training of our employees and we continue to do so. I encourage people that are going to have their own search, research departments or sourcing teams that they really maintain an environment of continuous learning for them or they won't be successful.

Peter: Great. Karen, thank you so much for taking the time this week with us today on TotalPicture Radio. It's really been great to see you again here at Westport.

Karen: Great to see you.


Karen Russo has been a hands-on executive search and human resource specialist since 1985. Karen started K. Russo Consulting, Inc. in 1996 to specialize in the internal and external communicators of an organization (i.e., human resources, public relations, communications, marketing and social media).

Constantly seeking ways to become more efficient and provide premium services, in 2007 Karen launched IIPE International Executive Research. IIPE is a Latin American based candidate research and search firm covering all industry verticals and disciplines across the globe.

A recognized authority in her field, Karen has appeared on WABC Eyewitness News, and has been quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fox News On-line, and local television media. Working Women's Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards named K. Russo Northeast Regional Finalist in its Best Employer Category and Karen was also a finalist in 2008 Enterprising Women of Year Award.

Karen is an AIRS Certified Diversity Recruiter. Since 2001, Karen has been part of the esteemed Pinnacle Society, the nation's premier consortium of top recruiters within the direct placement and search industry. Karen's personal billings have been 980k. Her memberships include the Society for Human Resources Management, IACPR and NAPS. She is an industry speaker, sharing her expertise on best practices in recruiting and as an entrepreneur. Karen is a featured speaker on Next Level Exchange. Karen earned a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Pace University.

Peter Clayton

About Peter Clayton

Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.


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