Chris Sutton was willing to take a chance to revitalize Clover Global Solutions LP to be in an optimum position for a comeback of the oil and gas industry after the 2007-09 recession.
He and his wife, Carolyn, were partners in Clover, the 11th company they had owned throughout the years, so taking action to secure a company’s future wasn’t a new experience.
“Business had really flat-lined,” Sutton says. “There were no new job orders coming in and we didn’t want to lay anybody off. So we huddled down and had a survival meeting for a couple of days and turned inward. We made two commitments that year. One was that we were going to try to reinvent how sourcing up occurs. The second was that we were going to understand and exploit social media.”
For the first goal, Sutton had a good handle on the problem. He and his wife had owned Clover since 2000 after coming out of early retirement to help out at the company. He quickly discovered where the bottleneck was in hiring after reading thousands of resumes and trying various technologies to match them to opportunities in the industry. He knew he needed a tool that would optimize the process. Second, he wanted the company to get on board with social media — a vehicle he didn’t understand at the time but one that he could see had great potential.
Here’s how he put it all together and grew the company’s revenue from $1 million in 2000 to $60 million largely since 2009.
Invest in the heart
When business goes soft because of an economic downturn, it’s time to put on the thinking cap. Clover had established a niche as a staffing company for the oil and gas industry, so why not exploit that niche and find a better way to serve clients?
The heart of Clover was its process to match job seekers with job opportunities. If that process were faster, the company would have an advantage in the highly competitive staffing market.
“The first to market is oftentimes the first to win,” Sutton says. “Second place goes home. Either you hire them or you don’t. How fast can you do that and do it accurately is really the race to the client’s door with the right person.”
Sutton decided to divert the company’s entire $200,000 marketing budget, plus an additional $50,000, into developing a technology tool that would accurately match job seekers with the oil exploration and production companies that had openings.
The result was a program called Clover One World that houses data and searches for matches among thousands of alumni from a number of companies. A company with an employment opening can go in and find retired previous employees who may come back as a mentor or team leader.
A key feature of the technology is that it profiles alumni with a type of intelligence that involves several factors. Software developers in Mumbai, India, and in Texas created Clover One World after about 14 months of work.
“While most people search through resumes with a tool such as a Boolean search, much like you search the Internet with words, our program matches just the exact skills with what the job needs, one to one,” Sutton says. “Much like you search on the Internet for a plane ticket and you continue to refine it with selected questions like when you are going to depart and one-way or round-trip, our system is combing the candidates to profile exactly their skills, competencies and current experiences to what our industry looks for in that position.”
Any new venture requires significant research, Sutton learned new approaches by studying the experiences of similar fields.
“We studied the medical industry, the IT industry and people buying on the Internet,” he says. “We just put how people buy on the Internet, their user experience, and applied that to how our clients and candidates meet each other for job opportunities. We coined a vision of Matchmakers.com meets the website for Classmates.com. You have company alumni who have a unique competency and a common theme, and you need to put them together in a Web-enabled process.”
Having computers do the searching has added a whole new dimension to the task.
“It’s no longer reading prose and coming up with a bunch of matched words,” Sutton says. “It is what I would call ‘hiring science.’ We rarely look at the resume itself until it is ready to present to the client.”
Once you remove the chore of reading resumes to find a match and instead have a computer system do the work, the speed of the task increases phenomenally.
“We now are able to submit a candidate in about an hour instead of two days because we are not drowning in reading resumes all day long,” Sutton says.
Think thought leadership
With the search/match tool in place, Sutton next wanted to use social media to drive the brand. However, although he knew it was an important strategy, Sutton says he had no idea going in to this project how to exploit social media.
“We didn’t even know what that meant,” he says. “Really. We didn’t. LinkedIn was just starting out, and there was a trend warming up to Facebook.”
Once you have decided that you want to head into an unknown territory, you need to find a guide. To that end, Clover turned to a husband-and-wife start-up company in New York City for help with social media.
“We were maybe one of their first customers; they helped us brand through social media,” Sutton says. “We got a lot of attention from them. We still are very close. I give them a lot of credit for bringing us along in the hike. We didn’t know what we wanted. They were fairly new to the industry, but they had the expertise.”
Sutton had questions about what he was getting, but had no doubts it was the right move.
“How do you qualify somebody to do business with them when you don’t know exactly what you are buying? You shake hands and hope it works,” he says. “We had to learn what that meant. And we do every day, if you can recognize that it is such a dynamic thing that’s developing in the business landscape. You are trying to figure out how it works every day.”
While many may think of social media as tweeting on Twitter and posting on Facebook, it may offer greater opportunities to a business. Clover utilizes it in two key ways, the first of which is to find qualified people as candidates. Sutton says that today, more than 60 percent of those coming to the company to be considered for a job are coming from a form of social media.
Profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook are a gold mine for locating the right people.
“There is a tremendous reliance today on the seasoned, professional, technical person who has the knowledge and experience but who may have retired,” Sutton says.
Social media can also provide thought leadership. Clover offers several blogs on its website that pertain to the oil and gas industry. Contributors include those in the Clover database.
Sutton says that contributors blog in their areas of interest, researching and writing information and facilitating that information to groups of a similar kind. Bloggers present the information in a way that is as forward thinking and contemporary as possible, covering topics such as, “Where is oil today, and what does that mean to the people in North Dakota?
“You try to present the contemporary areas in the particular skill sets that we support,” he says. “So we support a lot of geologists. There is a lot of information about the new geology of drilling. We have 300 people in our company that, in one way or another, are a resource. Thought leadership comes from all parts of the company. We have subject matter experts in several of the areas of the oil and gas industry. Sharing their opinions and views on topics is good for the brand.”
Get the mindset
It takes some personal fortitude to plow a field that has never been touched before. Sutton says it also takes one other significant factor.
“It takes a lot of confidence,” he says. “Our team has passion, commitment, so really, I am not needed here. I like to think I am, but when you look at everything we do, I look at whether they are committed, and that they have the passion and the idea. If I check those two blocks off, what am I going to do? Applaud them on the sidelines?
“I just ask them if the revenue is predictable, and we talk about that. I think having the capability to respond to these opportunities and the quality of the people you have is a critical success factor.”
Maintaining enthusiasm and not getting overwhelmed by trying to stay with the latest and greatest presented by the competition requires a particular mindset.
“Some of it is, ‘Don’t strike the windmill,’” Sutton says. “You just can’t compete. Know that and acknowledge that and move on. The other part of it is to be as good as you can be in the space that you are in. The space is so big in the people business. Globally, if you carved out a particular niche, it would just be to be as good as you can be in the niche.” <<
How to reach: Clover Global Solutions LP, (281) 994-5900 or www.clovergs.com
The Sutton File
Clover Global Solutions LP
Born: Burbank, Calif. I took a lot of heat in college about that. … ‘Beautiful downtown Burbank,’ as TV’s ‘Laugh-In’ show commented.
Education: Arizona State University, with a major in political science and a minor in psychology
What was your first job?
I started working at 9 years old with a paper route in Burbank. It was The Los Angeles Times, a morning daily. That meant delivering the papers before school started. All my brothers had paper routes. I really enjoyed working and that was my first business.
Paperboys got what was left of the revenue — if everybody pays you.
My first job was as a buyer and project support person for a global engineering and construction company called Ralph Parsons. It was right out of school.
I had several jobs and businesses with my wife. I probably could retire but I don’t know what I would do with myself.
Whom do you admire in business and why?
Michael Dell. He’s a comeback kid. He started with very little and built up a huge organization, brought it back into its market share, and it’s poised for good comeback. And it’s Michael Dell, that’s why.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
Maybe the best way to answer that is we try to create success through integrity, philosophy and our agility in our performance. I heard that from somebody else when I first came to Texas. I wrote it down in and live by it, as well. It’s plastered all over the walls of our company.
What is your definition of business success?
To have a team that has a passionate commitment so I am not needed, to have revenue for the company that is predictable and that we can respond to opportunities with the money and the people that we have.