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Q&A: Chris DeCapua, owner of Dawson Recruiting

Posted by Kitty McConnell on March 14, 2014

About Dawson:

Staff: Approx. 80
Contracts for job placement: 1,200 to 1,500 weekly
2013 revenue: Approx. $70 million  
 

Tell us a little bit about your company’s history:

Our company was started in 1946 to help soldiers returning home from World War II. My father, (Joseph DeCapua) he’s 72, and he came down here when I was 6 months old. He had been working for a similar company in Cleveland.

He came down to Columbus because my mom was from here with the idea that he was going to go work for someone or start his own business. But he didn’t have two nickels to rub together. He noticed this one company, Dawson was basically shutting its doors.

It had traded hands a couple times (from the founding Dawson family). (In 1966) he took over the responsibility (for paying bills due) and they handed him the keys.

You and your brother David bought the business from your dad?

In 1999, we signed the paperwork to make the transition complete.

You grew up watching your father run the business—what did you learn in those years?

How the business was doing on a month-to-month basis affected our home life, in a sense that, one month we’re buying clothes at Lazarus, the next we’re buying them at Schottenstein’s. I saw the peaks and valleys of running a business.

I learned very early on that I did not want that, so I worked to create a business that was less volatile, more residual income. For example, we used to place people and get fees from companies. We still do that, but every month you’re starting over again. What I’ve really put a focus on is building our temporary/contract business so that if I come in here on January 3 after not being in the office for two weeks, our business hasn’t missed a beat.

I made a decision that we were going to build a business that had value, something that we wouldn’t have to come in every month and reinvent ourselves.

What has your growth been since you and your brother David acquired the business in 1999?

Revenue was $24 million when we bought the business. We did $60 million in 2012, close to $70 (million) in 2013.

To what would you attribute that tripling in revenue?

In 1999, we had offices in Cleveland and we had seven offices in Columbus. We now have no offices in Cleveland and two offices in Columbus. We’ve done the opposite of expand. Our focus changed--we are 100 percent focused on Columbus, Ohio. We’ve decided that we are going to be specialists. I would say just having a very narrow focus on what we wanted to be good at.

What role has technology played in Dawson's growth—you have an online resume, for example.

That’s been a piece that we kind of invented, my brother David’s behind that. But we’ve always been very innovative.

We want people when they walk in the door—a lot of them have been to other staffing companies—we want them to say, ‘Holy cow, this is different.’ Because when people come in, they’re nervous, they’re uptight, they’re not sure what to expect, so we really, really want people to feel very comfortable here. We’ve worked very hard to differentiate ourselves, (beginning with) our office space.

It’s a really beautiful space—you spent $3 million on it?

That’s probably about right, all in all that’s about what we spent. We wanted a place where people want to be. My philosophy is: The strongest motivator you can have to motivate somebody to do a good job is take care of them. That to me has proven to be a very strong motivator to keep people working hard.

Do you gauge your success in that regard on the number of people who return after their contracts end?

Yes and no. I gauge it by the fact that we added $10 million in growth from 2012 to 2013.That’s all the measurement I need. We haven’t hired any other sales people.

Our philosophy is, we are 100 percent a relationship-based company. …We hire the people that people want to work with, they want to be friends with them, they like talking to them. We grow as our customers grow—we haven’t hired a bunch of salespeople to go out and blanket the market. We’ve grown because the companies that work with us are doing better, they have a need and they trust us. Our largest clients have been with us for eight or nine years.

You couldn’t have chosen a better time to refocus on Columbus—the city has been outpacing state and national employment 

There’s no doubt about that and to be honest, that’s part of the reason why we made the decision. We bought this building with the idea that we want to own this market. When you think about a job in Columbus, Ohio, we want to be the first one that pops in your head.

 

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