Tom Gimbel – Staffing Agency Owner

October 8, 2007
Posted in interviews
October 8, 2007 Terkel

Tom Gimbel, CEO and founder of the LaSalle Network in Chicago, IL, relishes in “being an advocate for people who are looking for jobs.” Directly out of college, he quickly learned, through experience, what he did not want to do. Soon, through collegiate networking, he found his way into the staffing business, and has not since looked back. After staggering success at his first post, Tom set out upon the world himself, and quickly proved he belonged there.

Although he could have continued working for someone else, Tom held specific goals dear, and is not the kind of man to wait for someone else to fix what he wanted fixed. Although starting his own company led to periods of extreme stress, Tom persevered and continues to help people find employment in the Chicago area. He says about work, “It’s possible to be passionate about anything, but a lot of people think they have to so something.” He finishes simply, “you can find a way to apply your skills to anything you want, just have fun every day, regardless of what you do.”

Interview: How I Started a Staffing Agency

I always knew I’d be in sales. I own a staffing firm focusing on Accounting & Finance professionals in Chicago. 

It’s possible to be passionate about a lot of things.  Where people get shifted is when they believe they have to do something.  You think you got a degree for four years, and that this is the road I have to take, and you think it’s the same role at every company, but it’s not.

What people have to realize is that if you’re not happy in what you’re doing, you can find something that you can use your skills in a more applicable way to make you happy.  But you have to a) do it fairly early on or b) you have to look at the situation and realize you’re going to have to take a financial step backward ten or fifteen years down the road.  To find your passion is hard.  To make a change on something you’ve been doing when you have kids, a family, a mortgage is hard to make that change. 

My deepest fear was purely financial.  That I’d lose everything. I mortgaged my house as collateral to start the business.  I was newly married.  I was afraid everything would just go to hell in a handbasket.  What would I do?  I year after I started I’d get tons of resumes from people who started their own web design shops or started dotcom companies.  People didn’t want someone who had been president of their own company for a year and a half and failed.  That was probably the scariest thing was what would happen if I lost everything.  But I was young so I figured what the heck.

The low point was in late March, early April of 1999.  We’d been in business for about seven months.  I had two people I started the company with and neither one could I get motivated to really push as hard as what I was doing.  The problem was, one I’d known for a little while that he was getting dragged down by someone we’d just hired to fill a spot.  We realized we had to make a change there.  And at the same time, I would never do it in retrospect, but I took a week off because it was my father’s 60th birthday.  We all went away to Arizona for 5 days.  While I was there, I remember I didn’t sleep a wink for five days.  I was thinking, ‘We’re not going to make payroll.  I’m $50,000 out from maxing out my line of credit.  Who am I going to sell this piece of shit thing to?’ 

When I got back, we pushed the other employee out the door.  She decided to quit.  We made it a situation where she’d be better off leaving.  We hired someone else and our revenues went up four times in less than three weeks.  After that, we never looked back. 

I think at the end of the day I realized I hadn’t maxed out the money.  I didn’t know another way.  I didn’t know when to quit.  I looked at it and said the principles are still good.  The feedback from clients is still positive.  The feedback from candidates was good.  There was something wrong with what we’re doing. 

When we made that personnel change, while I was afraid for it to only be two of us for a short period of time, the positive energy that came from that, it really affected my decision making process for the next three years of having the right staff on board.

What one person’s quitting is another person stopping something and starting something else.  The one thing I’ve learned is I’ll never be in somebody else’s shoes and they’ll never be in mine.  So you’ve got to go through your life and make the decisions that are right for you at the moment.  And have as much fun as you can when you’re doing it. 

The advice you get from them, it was good for them at the time of their life that they went through. I’ve come across a lot of successful people where I thought there would be an epiphany on how to do things.  But really, they’re just opinions at the end of the day. 

I watch that movie Sliding Doors with Gweynth Paltrow.  Did you ever see that?  She makes that train, her life is completely different than if she doesn’t make that train.  You know what?  You go to the bar tonight and you where that shirt and the girl likes that shirt, you’re getting laid tonight.  If she doesn’t like that shirt, you’re going home with your dick in your hand.  That’s kind of the way I look at it.

Every decision you make will have lingering effects in your life.  But you’ve got to make that choice.  It’s in business, it’s in life, so my feeling is you have to have as much fun every single day with what you’re doing, and if you’re not liking it, you’ve got to make a change.  Life’s not short.  It’s the longest thing any of us will ever do.  But you only go around once and you’ve got to have as much fun as you can.

The monotony exists in every job.  People are looking at what you guys are doing and are probably saying, ‘Oh what a great job.’ But you’re interviewing people over and over and over again.  Eventually it’s the same exact thing. 

You can make it different by the people you choose to do it with.  And I look at the same.  Today I’m meeting with the bank.  Next month I’ll be meeting with the bank.  The month after that I’m meet with them.  For me where I try to derive the fun and what gravitates me to this industry is two-fold.

Starting the company, I’m fortunate to pick who I go to work with every day.  I know that I like them and what they bring to the table for us.  It’s exciting for me.  The industry is great because we get to be advocates for people looking for jobs.  There’s a few things it can affect people in their life.  Marriage, divorce, relocation, job change, having children.  We get to play a role in one of the five biggest things in someone’s life.  And that’s a career change. You spend 60% of your life at work.  There’s something very rewarding about that.  The fact that you can make a living doing that is even better.  We have a lot of fun with that.

It was a cultural problem.  More than that, the big complaint that so many employees have at all corporations is that they don’t want to be micromanaged.  When you start at a corporation, you want to create a culture that’s unique and healthy so you don’t micromanage people.  Which means that you’re trusting the way you’re going to do things the way you would.  Quite frankly, no one does something the way you would and least of all, if you’re not on top of someone to make sure they do it.  I gave enough rope for someone to hang themselves and they did.  And it ended up biting us in the ass.