Archive for December, 2011

There’s No Shortage of Talent During a Recession

Meet Lynn Zuckerman Gray, founder and chief executive officer of Campus Scout, LLC.  Founded in 2009, Campus Scout partners with employers to assist in recruiting top caliber talent on undergraduate and graduate campuses.  In doing so, Campus Scout reduces the money and manpower employers have had to invest in recruiting.

“Our target clients are small to middle sized businesses that hire at the college graduate and graduate levels and do not have in house campus recruiting teams or have teams that are small and can use outsourcing support,” explains Lynn.

Campus Scout also offers services to students seeking to make themselves more attractive candidates in a difficult job market.

Lynn earned a B.S. in Psychology from Tufts University and went on to obtain a J.D. from Cornell Law School.  She practiced corporate law for three years and then left practicing law behind to join a real estate investment banking firm.  Lynn became known in the real estate investment banking world for her expertise in a niche commercial mortgage lending business called Credit Tenant Lending.

One day Lynn received a call from Lehman Brothers offering her the opportunity to build a Credit Tenant Lending group for them.  Lynn accepted and spent more than eleven years at Lehman.  As readers may remember, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008 and is one of the most recognizable casualties of this recession.  When Lehman collapsed, Lynn lost her job.  This loss was the catalyst that put Lynn on the path to entrepreneurship.

Lynn acknowledges that she always had a “creative spirit” and has a talent for “continuously developing new ways of doing things.  Nevertheless, she describes herself as an “accidental entrepreneur.“  In hindsight, Lynn recognizes,“the Lehman collapse probably sent me on the way I should have been going for quite some time.”

The inspiration for Campus Scout came from recruiting work Lynn performed at Lehman.  “I had been recruiting, training and developing Millennials (Generation Y) at the rate of 10 to 15 college graduates per year.  I had always loved teaching both to our recruits at Lehman and at seminars over the years up at Cornell.”

After Lehman’s collapse, Lynn joined the faculty at NYU’s graduate program, teaching courses about Management and Advanced Recruiting of Millenials.  During her research for the recruiting course, Lynn discovered that 60% of entry level recruiting was not done on campuses and the recruiting process itself was very inefficient and ineffective.

“When I spent some time thinking about what I really loved to do and had succeeded in over the years, I decided to tackle that 60% entry level recruiting market and build a team of front office experienced professionals to provide quality services at an attractive rate.”

Lynn’s business plan is based on a strong belief in the economy’s recovery.    “Sometimes I analogize Campus Scout during this economy to opening an ice cream store in winter.  People don’t buy ice cream in the winter and people don’t need a recruiting firm when they aren’t hiring.”  Despite the tough economy, Campus Scout has found clients.  Campus Scout attracted its very first client, a European private investment firm with a large presence in New York, with an advertisement on Linked In.

As the economy improves, Lynn hopes Campus Scout will acquire a large list of clients relying upon them to visit campuses and identify candidates for hire each year.  In addition, Campus Scout will attract clients looking for training services and students looking for career advice and guidance.  Campus Scout’s client list will include not only U.S. companies, but also those in Europe and Asia.

While developing and launching Campus Scout, Lynn had the support of 28 fellow unemployed financial services professionals enrolled in Fast Trac New Venture, a short and intense training program for new entrepreneurs sponsored in part by the Kauffman Foundation.  “We were about 80% unemployed financial services professionals and it was like an investment banking Noah’s Ark: 2 from Goldman, 2 from Lehman, 2 from UBS, and on and on.”  Within three weeks, Lynn developed a business plan and logo for Campus Scout and began work on the company’s website.  “But most importantly, I had the support of 28 amazing people who were going through the same process testing out a broad spectrum of ideas and three incredible business coaches from Kauffman.”

Lynn and her classmates also benefited from the global press’ interest in the Fast Trac program.  The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC.com, Canadian public radio, Spanish public television, French public television and one of the leading Japanese financial newspapers all featured pieces about Campus Scout.  “This attention from the media really gave us a jump start on establishing our brand.”

Lynn shows her continuing appreciation for the Fast Trac New Venture program now by participating as a facilitator for the program, assisting new entrepreneurs jump start their businesses.

“Of all of the things that I have accomplished in my career, including originating and completing billions of dollars of complex transactions, there is nothing that I enjoyed more than recruiting and helping young talent succeed.”  Now Lynn is able to feed this passion every day as owner of Campus Scout.

Lynn, your optimism and success is inspirational.  Best wishes for continued success.

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet

A Blooming Flower in the Essex Street Market

Meet Rona Economou, owner of Boubouki, a Greek food stall located in the Essex Street Market in New York City.

Boubouki is a Greek word.  Translated into English, it means flowerbud.  “I had another name in mind that sounded similar but, when I looked up LLC names it had already been taken.  I like the sound and it actually fits.  It’s a very sweet name.  Flowerbud.  Kind of like my business is blooming or flowering right now,” Rona explained.

Rona did not anticipate becoming an entrepreneur and business owner.  Her education focused on the law rather than business.  In 2001, she graduated Fordham Law School after attending SUNY Binghamton for undergrad and began working as a litigator at a midtown law firm.  As a consequence of the economic downturn, the firm initiated a large lay off in 2009 and Rona was one of many who found themselves suddenly unemployed.

“When you have a ‘real’ job, all you talk about with colleagues is ‘if it wasn’t for my healthcare, or if it wasn’t for this or that, I would do this or that.’  Once I got laid off, I had no excuse not to pursue something else.”

That “something else” became Boubouki.  The inspiration for Boubouki came from the Essex Street Market itself.  “It just sort of happened one day.  I knew I wanted to work for myself but I had no idea what form it would take.  I was visiting the market one day and it all just crystallized in my head.”

Rona grew up enjoying delicious, home-cooked food.  “Cooking is something I have always enjoyed.  I was surrounded by women on both sides of my family who are really excellent cooks.  I grew up eating really delicious, fresh food.”  Now she shares these delicious foods with Boubouki’s customers.

From Tuesday to Sunday, Rona arrives at her 7 by 7 foot stall at around 7:30 in the morning and begins cooking.  Although Boubouki’s hours are not set in stone, Boubouki generally starts serving its customers at 10am and remains open until 6:30pm.  On the menu, spinach pie, a chickpea salad and feta flat bread, butter almond cookies, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake and pear cake.  Boubouki also offers baklava on the weekends.  Each item is priced somewhere between two and four dollars.

Rona enjoyed practicing law, but she admits there was one aspect of her job that she disliked – the isolation.  “The thing that made me unhappy was the lack of social interaction.  I was in my office all day by myself.”

Isolation is not a problem at Boubouki.  Although Rona is the small company’s sole employee, the hustle and bustle of the Essex Street Market offers a sense of community.  In addition, since its opening in August of 2010, Boubouki has attracted regulars who stop by the stall to talk with Rona and purchase their selections for the day.

When asked about her plans for Boubouki’s future, Rona responded “I have no idea.”  Right now, she is focused on enjoying each day as it comes.  She’s happy to come to work every day and is enjoying Boubouki’s success.

Sourtosweet was lucky enough to visit Rona at Boubouki around lunchtime on a weekday.  The smells of the market itself, and in particular Boubouki’s offerings, were irresistible.  Unable to select just one item, sourtosweet sampled the pear cake, the chocolate chip cookie and the feta flat bread – all wonderful.

Rona, best wishes for continued happiness and success!

If you are, or someone you know is, pursuing a passion despite this tough economy, please contact me here.

© sourtosweet