As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Bisceglia.
Sean has specialized in accelerating growth and establishing leadership positions for companies in the HCM industry, with a focus on launching disruptive technologies. He has founded and led four companies that achieved rapid market acceptance and global distribution of its products and services. Bisceglia’s business success began 25 years ago when he founded TFA, a technology-focused ad agency that achieved significant success. TFA was sold to Leo Burnett in 1998. After TFA, Mr. Bisceglia partnered with William Blair Ventures to acquire Corporate Project Resources, Inc (“CPRi”) where he doubled revenues in less than 2 years. In 2007, Mr. Bisceglia founded TalentDrive where he formed one of the first technology-enabled staffing businesses in the industry. In 2013, Mr. Bisceglia founded and became CEO of Scout Exchange, a platform for marketplace recruiting that serves Fortune 500 companies. After leaving Scout Exchange, Mr. Bisceglia joined Sterling Partners as an Operating partner on a $250M Education Opportunity Fund. In 2018, Bisceglia became Cheif Executive Officer of Curion.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
From selling seashells on the New Jersey shoreline as a 10-year-old to selling companies a few years out of college, I’ve always gravitated towards business. I started my first company, TFA, with a loan from my father. After a few years of growth and momentum, I sold TFA to Leo Burnett Worldwide, making me the youngest executive vice president in the company’s history. Ever since I’ve been leading and building value within companies.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Actually, what I found to be difficult came later on in my career. In 2007, I founded a resume search technology platform. After the recession hit, it became clear companies experiencing waves of layoffs did not need a resume search program. Though my advisors suggested I fold in 2008, but I didn’t walk away until 2011. Giving up doesn’t come naturally to entrepreneurs, but it’s just as important to know when to pull the plug on a company as it is to have the skills to run a company.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Yes, in my early days I read Company Manners by Lois Wyse, which really influenced the way I lead. When everyone participates in contributing to the big picture, it makes all the difference. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is also an incredible read for anyone in the consumer insights industry.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I started my companies because I wanted control over my own life. I also love what it feels like to build a company from the bottom up, or coming in and creating positive change and building value. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch all the hard work you’ve poured in starting to pay off.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Hard work is undoubtedly the foundation of a successful business. There’s no way around it. Sometimes it can even feel all-encompassing, but at the end of the day, the reward and thrill of succeeding are worth it. I also prioritize hiring people that are smarter than me. Such an integral aspect of leadership is building a team you trust to have your back. If you have those people, the ups and downs don’t shake you as much.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Being a leader both at work and at home is very important to me. Wherever you are, people’s eyes are on you for guidance and support. My wife and I were on the verge of being empty nesters, and now we have three kids under the age of 24 living with us. Though these times have been very hard, I’ve tried to live by the quote “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” as much as I can.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Maintaining culture and motivating employees has proven to be more difficult over remote channels. There’s a level of fatigue that comes along with digital-only interaction that I think we’ve all been struggling with. Even so, as a company, we are trying to stay as consistent as possible with our communication and encouragement. I’m trying to continue working on the company rather than in the company. Right now, that’s involved a lot of strategy for our newly launched mergers and acquisition initiative.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We limited news to once a week because the constant onslaught of COVID-19 information just didn’t feel constructive. We’ve been spending more time on faith-based activities. I’ve found it also helps to focus more on what you can do for others who have it harder than you. We’ve been pouring into organizations such as Top Box, Feeding America, and Giveback Garden. Being involved with non-profits serves as a much-needed reminder that there’s a lot of unity in the world right now, not just pain and fear.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think it’s too early to tell what opportunities will arise. Adjusting a 50-year old industry built on science on consumer decision making to a totally new market feels a bit like turning around the Titanic. It really is going to be a learn as we go situation for us all.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Honestly, I think American’s attention spans are too short for this to hold people’s focus for too much longer. With the election drawing closer and hopefully a vaccine on the horizon, I would be surprised if COVID-19 is affecting our day-to-day lives in the next 12 months. However, I do believe our current hyper-focus on hygiene will create long-term patterns and habits.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We need to stay calm nothing positive ever comes from panic. We also need to be realistic. There’s no silver bullet that’s going to fix the economy and bring us back to where we were we all have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Our facilities have reopened with adapted safety protocols, we’ve moving forward with our M&A strategy, and we are continuing to build of network or partners and clients.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Take it one day at a time. Looking at the 2020 fiscal year as a whole right now feels intimidating, so do whatever you can do today that’s going to put you ahead tomorrow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was around 15 years of age, my father told me, “You don’t make any money working for someone else.” I remember these words in every new venture.
I also encourage my family to live by the 3 “G’s” — Good, Graceful, Gratitude.
How can our readers further follow your work?