Talent Titans Interview with Ryan Atkinson, President at Direqlink


Suky: Good morning Ryan and welcome. As part of our ongoing series, Talent Titans, we’re looking at insights from leaders within the industry. I’m really excited to hear your take on some of the issues facing recruiters today. You have personally run the gauntlet so to speak in the recruitment industry having worked as a Practice Manager, started your own company, which you then sold, and now you’re onto something totally different. Tell us Ryan, what was it that led you to start your own company?

Having spent nine years working for the same staffing company, I felt that my learning curve had really slowed down, and that I had reached the ceiling on what I could achieve.  I also had a vision of what the ideal staffing company should look like, and it wasn’t where I was.  Walking away from everything I had built was one of the hardest and scariest business decisions I ever made, but ultimately, I knew it was my only option if I wanted to fulfill my aspirations and reach the next level in my career.


Suky: So then you operated your own company successfully for approximately 8 years. Had you grown as big as you could in your mind? What motivated the sale to S.i. Systems?


Ryan: I believe that we probably grew almost as big as we could have within the operating structure we had created to that point.  Had we not been acquired, we would have needed to make some fundamental changes in our organizational structure to set us up for the next phase of growth, including hiring some key executives and establishing an advisory board.  We might have even started looking at growing by acquisition ourselves.  When S.i. came knocking, we weren’t actively looking to sell the company, but we were definitely at a crossroads in our journey where it made sense to keep an open mind. Ultimately, we had such a great story to tell and were such a strategic fit for them, they eventually put a number in front of us that just didn’t make sense to turn down.


Suky: Merging with another organization you undoubtedly gave up some control over the business. Talk to us about your personal transformation during the next year and half?


Ryan: Staying on with S.i. for about 16 months after the acquisition was interesting to say the least.  Even though I was used to having the final say when it came running my own business, I was quite comfortable and prepared to move into a supporting role after the acquisition.  I made it my mission to add as much value as I could, and to learn as much as I could about the dynamics of running a much bigger company.  I learned a great deal while I was there, including how the various executive roles (CFO, COO, Board of Directors, etc) function and interact with each other, the value of creating a robust internal training program, and the power of effectively using your own data to develop insights and strategies for running and growing the business.

I was hopeful it would be a long-term fit going in, but I realized after a while that there were some fundamental differences in personal values between me and the President, so I made the decision to move on rather than execute on strategies that I just wasn’t comfortable with.  With that said, I am grateful for the experience and feel that my executive leadership skills improved greatly as a result.


Suky: I think most people would agree that life is a journey and you are no stranger to the trials and tribulations of running a recruiting firm, selling a business, and now here you are again creating a new business to help service the industry that you grew up in. Perhaps you’d describe for our readers the transformation to your current company and what it is that continues to drive you toward new goals?


Ryan: After my stint at S.i., I had the luxury of being able to take a nice break from work to reflect, recharge, and to really do an analysis of the recruitment industry today to see where the biggest challenges and future opportunities might be.  I spoke to many employers, agency owners and candidates about their challenges with the industry and discovered that there are still so many inefficiencies and friction points that prevent great placements from happening.  Employers are tired of getting bombarded with infinite calls and emails, listening to sales pitches, managing countless different contracts, only to find that they still struggle to hire great people.  Likewise, agencies are equally frustrated with how difficult it can be to cut through all the noise and establish credibility in a crowded market.  It’s an outdated and broken system, and we have developed an awesome platform, called Direqlink, that really streamlines the entire process to deliver better candidates more quickly and create a win-win for both sides.


Suky: It’s clear that you’re in tune with the recruitment industry and with the development of DireqLink you appear to be bought into the idea that the business is moving toward an online automated fulfillment model. What do you say to people that have not accepted the “Intelligent Online Services” that are available today, and are determined to keep it a very manual and personal business?


Ryan: I am a huge believer in the personal relationship aspects of recruiting, especially when it comes to identifying, influencing, negotiating and managing passive, higher quality candidates through one of the biggest decisions of their lives.  These are essential skills that professional recruiters bring to the table and they can never be replaced by technology.  But we also now live in an age where technology makes it easier, faster, and cheaper for buyers and sellers to exchange the right product at the right time and the right price.  You only need to look as far as Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Amazon to see great examples of online companies that have transformed their respective industries for the better.  My goal is to increase overall wallet size for the recruitment industry by providing a platform that brings the entire ecosystem together in such a way that it becomes the most effective way for employers to hire top talent.  I’m excited to say that we already have several success stories to prove it!  


Suky: Ryan, if you had the opportunity to go back and do it over, is there anything you would have done different, and why?


Ryan: As you stated earlier, life is a journey.  I am at a very happy place in my life right now, so it’s tough to regret any of the decisions that have led me to where I am today, even the bad ones.  If there is one thing I could go back and tell myself to do differently, it would probably be not to worry so much, especially about things that were completely out of my control.  Needless worrying causes stress, anxiety and burnout and I think it’s something that only gets amplified when you have the weight of running a business on your shoulders.  It was something I really had to fight to overcome through the years, but in an ironic way, it probably also kept me from ever getting complacent and helped contribute to my success. Now that I’m a little older, I find it easier to keep things in perspective.  I believe that if you do the right thing and treat people the way you want to be treated, any problems you have will always work themselves out.

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