Russ interviews the founding partner & CEO of Abaco International, an executive search firm for companies with multi-national business with international search needs. Marie Guillot was an early graduate of the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and credits her academic training with giving her the nudge to pursue her dream.
Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on the show and I'm very pleased to have with me Marie Guillot, the founder and CEO of ABACO, International. Marie, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Marie: Russ, thank you for having me.
Russ: You bet. Well tell us about ABACO, International.
Marie: ABACO, International is a global executive search firm and we focus on multinational companies that are located here in Houston with a major presence but who have international search needs for their leadership.
Russ: I've done some background checks and man, it's an impressive company and I'm curious, what triggered the idea for you to get into the business and start a company in executive search?
Marie: Well, I have a background that was very entrepreneurial, working with a lot of companies getting started and launching their businesses and at some point with my entrepreneurship degree from University of Houston, I always wanted to start my own company.
Russ: Okay. Well, and cool and the entrepreneurship program at the University of Houston now called the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, my goodness. We featured them many times on the show; ranked number one in the country, probably three or four years out of the last five or six years - that must be quite a good feeling that they're ranked so high and that you came through the program.
Marie: Well, we're very, very proud of that and what the Wolff Center has done and the number one ranking. My class was the second class to graduate from the entrepreneurship program at U of H back in 1997 and so we were really pioneers in this and this was at a time that universities weren't entirely sure you could teach entrepreneurship but we've proved that otherwise.
Russ: Right, well I've had Bill Sherill on the show; I've had Ken Jones on the show and Dan Steppe and it's really impressive. So why do you think they're so successful out there?
Marie: Well, you know, I don't know how the other programs compare to U of H. That's been my only experience but I can tell you what my experience was there was that with having an entrepreneurship program - and at the time when I did it, this was only the second class -
Marie: - and this was something very new.
Marie: I mean and, you know, it was kind of an experiment, even for the university and to have gone through the university and gone through, you know, marketing and finance and everything, many of the students that found their way into entrepreneurship found a place that they were finally home.
Marie: Because the other disciplines of the business school really train you to go into corporate America and what if you're someone who could be extremely successful starting a business but you don't fit in corporate America. You're meant to be an entrepreneur. And this gives those people a place to go and complete their degree. There's a lot of people that if they hadn't gone through entrepreneurship, might not have completed a degree but they go on to create businesses that employ other people. So that's a really special thing and it's now, obviously, something that other universities have taken up and there's entrepreneurship programs everywhere, now. But it wasn't like that when I was in school at U of H in the second year class.
Russ: So, I mean, but still, deciding on a path of executive retained search - what was it that motivated you to head down that path?
Marie: Well, you know, going back to the entrepreneurship program, a lot of the training that we get in there is really learning how to develop your vision and determine what it is that you wanna do with a business.
Marie: And the search industry is something that really kind of ticked all of the buttons of things that I was interested in and it allowed me to design a business that I truly love to be in.
Russ: Okay and being in the energy space today, my goodness, it's gotta be awfully exciting. There's so much energy demand and so much new innovation happening. Is it prime time?
Marie: Oh, absolutely. You know as much of the country went through kind of a struggle in '08 and '09 and certainly the energy industry has its ups and downs -
Marie: - but I tell you, it's a great time to be in the business and we're on a real up-side of a cycle and it's very exciting in the recruiting industry to be working with the energy companies.
Russ: Okay and you primarily focus on the top level, the executive level of these companies, correct?
Marie: We do. We're placing their trained executive leadership, so it's anywhere from the director level up to the C suite, vice president, senior vice presidents - a lot of these companies are looking for leadership as they venture into other parts of the world or as they expand over into the eastern hemisphere and we handle that as well.
Russ: Okay, so expanding into the eastern hemisphere must be kind of challenging. When you're placing somebody internationally, do you end up traveling there as well?
Marie: No, we don't have to do that -
Marie: - with the use of technology, we interview many times and we narrow down to a short list. We're able to conduct the interviews by video conference.
Marie: Which is very effective and work with our clients to do that as well. We have had fantastic results locating talent outside the US to the point that our clients say that they've never seen such a great slate of candidates and that we've done far better than when they tried to use a local firm.
Marie: And I think there's a reason for that.
Russ: Wow, now I know speaking English is becoming quite prevalent now but do you find yourself at times having to communicate in a foreign language with someone, a prospect or a company leader?
Marie: Well, because we focus on multinational clients that are headquartered here in Houston or have a major presence here, their requirements are that for their leadership, they really have to speak English.
Marie: It's usually the common language.
Marie: So the interviews ultimately have to be conducted in English. There are also local requirements where they might need a local language but we are part of the global network where we have access to people who can interview them in the local language and check those skills as well. Ultimately, though, as in the leadership positions that we place, they'd need to speak English.
Russ: Okay. For our audience, let's say somebody doesn't really know what retained search is. They might think, "Well, she's a headhunter." Describe the difference between retained search and just kind of people that help people get jobs.
Marie: Okay, well there's a big difference and I think a lot of times people look at recruiters and sort of put them all in one bucket.
Marie: There's really quite a big difference of what the business model is on the back end of that. With retained search, it's not just about how we get paid or when we get paid, it's really about knowing that we have a deep relationship and a partnership with our client and that we're going to be able to work on this search from beginning to end and really do a quality job. So when we do that, we're not digging through a database of people or an old stale database; we're actually going out and doing original research looking for candidates and we're not looking for posting a job. We're not looking for unemployed candidates. We're looking for the top talent that is in their competition or in complementary industries and pulling that talent out of there for our clients.
Russ: And you're actually working for the hiring company. That's who your client is, right?
Marie: Our client is the hiring company.
Marie: And so a lot of people get confused and think that we take individuals and go find them a job.
Marie: And that's the opposite of what we do. We actually are partner with the company that hires us who might need, for instance, a Vice President of Business Development or a Chief Operating Officer, and we really understand their requirements, what's unique about their company, and we go out and market and sell that position and find top talent to bring into their firm.
Russ: What's it like? How do you do that? How do you find - you know you're looking for a high level business development person and you know that these other companies have somebody like that. I mean is it an industry secret how you find them and talk to them and persuade them to consider this new opportunity?
Marie: Well, it's a bit like being an international spy or a special agent, I guess.
Russ: Okay, okay.
Marie: There's definitely a technique to it. So first of all, it's identifying the companies where we'd wanna pull from.
Marie: It's doing investigative work to find out who is their top talent -
Marie: - and what are people saying about them and then identifying those individuals and approaching them in a way where we can gain their interest and their trust and talking to them about a potential opportunity. So we're really people that assist people in their career and so when you're contacted by a recruiter, that's a real privilege. Not everybody gets, you know, contacted by a recruiter. If you've got recruiters calling you all the time, don't see them as an annoyance; see them as you must have - some people must be saying some really nice things about you if recruiters are on your trail.
Russ: Really cool. Okay. So I do know that there's some large international executive retained search firms. So how do you differentiate yourself?
Marie: Well, how we differentiate is that we're actually a boutique firm, so we're not the size that they are. We're not trying to be the size that they are. But because we're very selective because we're very selective about who we work with in the industry - so for instance in the oil and gas industry, you divide that up into many sectors. You have drillers; you have pipeline companies; you have the majors - we don't pick everyone in every sector. We usually pick one or two and then that way we can partner with them and go really deep working with them. So then we're free to recruit from anybody else in the industry, which leaves us without restrictions, whereas some of the bigger firms who work across the board and work with everyone, are gonna have restrictions that we don't have.
Russ: Okay, really cool. All right before I let you go, Marie, I have one last question. Let's imagine a young aspiring entrepreneur is watching right now; what kinda general advice would you give him or her?
Marie: To an entrepreneur I would say that the biggest advice is to understand what really drives you and come up with a business that is where your passion really is. Something that you're really, you love, that gets you out of the bed in the morning, and gets you really excited to go and do it 'cause you're gonna spend a lot of hours doing it and you shouldn't follow anyone's passion but your own.
Russ: Marie, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us here on The BusinessMakers Show.
Marie: You're welcome, Russ. Thank you so much.
Russ: You bet. That's Marie Guillot, the founder and CEO of ABACO, International and this is the BusinessMakers Show heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.