Location: 62 West 45th Street, New York, NY
Number of employees: 22 plus 8 summer interns
Number of years in business: 15
What they do: AC Lion is an executive search firm that specializes in staffing sales, marketing, product, and ad operations teams for digital media, internet advertising, marketing solutions, and other high-growth companies.
Why it’s great: In a business where a large percentage of the employees are in sales, it can be near impossible to avoid a cutthroat competitive work environment. Yet, AC Lion has managed to establish a sales culture that fosters team support as well as individual success.
“I think the number one reason why people come to work here is because they understand that a lot of other sales environments in recruiting can be very cutthroat and everyone is out for themselves,” says founder and CEO Alan Cutter. “While we promote competition, at the same time, we are always talking about family. We believe that when you talk about each other as family, that we become like one big family. If that person sitting next to you is not your colleague but actually your brother or your sister, you’re going to treat them a lot differently. You’re not going to stab them in the back. We believe in the concept that what comes around goes around, and we promote that all the time. Don’t worry about the immediate payback, but look at the future. If everyone has that philosophy, and I’m constantly talking about that philosophy, then everyone can be successful. And those that don’t have that philosophy don’t last here.” Weeding out cutthroat competition among employees has helped sales increase 33 percent over the past year and a half.
There is an emphasis on celebrating success and team building that includes an annual “play day,” when the entire staff heads to a beach club or upstate, team trips to the movies or Dave and Buster’s, and staff vs. interns volleyball games. According to staff members, even small gestures, like ringing a bell every time a deal is closed, help to create an atmosphere of recognition.
All levels of employees at AC Lion have access to the CEO and senior management. Cutter believes the open, level culture helps the business maintain a rapid rate of change, which allows the business to grow. Before founding AC Lion, CEO Alan Cutter worked in large companies where the rate of change was glacial. “If you came up with an idea, it was very hard for the management to give over control to you. They always wanted to be the ones that were controlling everything. One of my favorite movies is Jerry Maguire. And when I started, it was like that line, ‘Who’s coming with me?’ A lot of this culture is based on frustrations with previous work environments. So, when I started this company, I wanted to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship and at the same time to give people the ability to manage from within.”
Cutter believes the key to running a business successfully is to not only be open to change and to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice yourself, but also to encourage employees to do so, too. “It’s so important for not only you to see the bigger picture of what’s happening out there in the marketplace and then make that shift, but also to encourage your employees in the same way,” says Cutter. “If you just do what you’ve been doing for 20, 25 years, you end up dying.” He points to an example of a pivot his company took in 2000, when they went from a search firm that exclusively recruited engineers to also recruiting salespeople. “This is before the internet bubble burst and pre-9/11, but we saw the writing on the wall. Internet companies were doing really well; but they really weren’t selling products, they were really just getting eyeballs onto the websites. So, an employee suggested we start placing salespeople, too. It was a complete 100 percent pivot from being exclusively an engineer search firm. It was a completely different database and a completely different knowledge set. Then 9/11 happened, and a lot of recruiting firms completely went out of business because they were caught off guard. We survived.”
Daria Meoli is the Executive Editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org