Today is the 15 year anniversary of my recruiting agency Salmela. I am typically a future facing fellow, but this anniversary feels worthy of retrospection; a little look back.
February 2006: Torino, Italy. My brother Chad and I had been hired by NBC to help produce all the biathlon programming for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. It was the first time NBC would broadcast the entire biathlon race program. We were living the dream, bumping into our sports and broadcasting heroes around every corner. There was Al Roker, Katie Couric and Bob Costas at the NBC compound. Bodie Miller, Mario Cipollini, and Picabo Street at the Sports Illustrated party, and of course, our biathlon sports family.
Three years earlier, I had decided to leave the US Biathlon Team coaching staff after 11 seasons and there hadn’t been a day that went by where I didn’t miss the thrill of that job. I was over the grind of 200 days on the road, away from family and friends, but I missed the thrill of the chase; the chance to make history on any given day.
Coming back into the Olympic Family felt like a warm embrace. Being on the broadcasting side of the Olympics felt like a new flirtatious relationship. It was equally thrilling to help my brother and his play-by-play announcing partner deliver a winning call for millions of viewers.
On the homefront, the transition from coaching to the “real world” had come with many surprises, fits, and starts. After abruptly leaving coaching without a plan in place, I landed in a pharmaceutical sales role. The years of travel, lack of resources, and then even fewer resources after the 2002 Olympics had taken their toll. It was time to move on.
Although I was living the dream in Torino, there was a massive question inside my head, “What am I going to do with my life?” I had been laid-off by Eli Lilly in January. My wife Kara was also working through her own transition from Olympic athlete to first time mother and ski shop owner. We had a two year old daughter, a second child on the way and no income. It had become clear to me that the corporate world was not a good fit. With so much stacked against us it’s remarkable (if not a bit foolish) we didn’t just take jobs.
It was in this Northern Italian city where my plans to start a recruiting agency took form. During this dreamy three week stint in Italy I carved out time between biathlon productions, hockey games, speed skating events, meet-ups & medal ceremonies for old friends to write a business plan, buy a recruiting franchise, and second-mortgaged our home.
On March 29, 2006 Kara and I launched Med Search Network (rebranded to Salmela four years ago thanks to our brilliant team member, designer, and copywriting star, Peter Juten). Six months later we made our first placement, a Director of Synthetic Chemistry for a pharmaceutical start-up in Vancouver, BC.
As I piece together this timeline, I wonder how we persevered all those months without revenue or even any promise of success. Entrepreneurs often say they would never do it again if they knew how difficult starting their company would be. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I can relate. I had a strong desire to craft a life that was mine; that I owned and controlled. However, those early months and years were challenging, but only in retrospect. Relishing the “we almost didn’t make it” is a part of so many business origin stories. Those mistakes become the guideposts for success down the road. They become critical touchpoints.
After eight years as a solo recruiter and our kids out of the toddler stage, we hired our first employee, Megan Weizel, who just celebrated her seven year employee anniversary last week. She took a similar leap of faith joining a husband and wife team, but her gamble paid off. Megan is now a top 1% recruiter in the industry. Then came Mickey Pearson, Kate Horvath, Meghan Hurley, and new addition Dana Carpenter, MD, a candidate I placed ten years ago. All are impressively productive recruiting professionals with unique contributions to the growth of the company. Our teamwork is our strength. The support, sharing, collaboration, and remarkable efficiency are second to none. Our long-term clients embrace our approach and our candidates, for whom we serve as long-term career strategists.
What does 15 years in business mean? Durability? Doing the right thing? Treating people right? Being effective and consistent on deliverables? I think it’s all of the above, but there are other less definable qualities that support longevity in business. Sometimes these qualities are not always good for the bottom line. Integrity, honesty, authenticity, ingenuity, creativity, and accountability are a few that come to mind that serve longevity over short term gains.
Founders are fickle and I salute those who put up with us. The wounds and scar tissue we bear from the start-up phase can be tough for teams to navigate. I am thankful for my team for navigating those waters with grace. They support me much more than I support them. It’s in their nature. It’s tough to care more than the most caring people you will ever meet. My only barometer for success is their success and their pride of being a part of this 15 year legacy.
Then there are the multitude of candidates and clients we’ve had the privilege to support over 15 years. The work you do is important for health and humanity and it’s been an honor to have been a small part in that effort. From helping launch the PD1-Inhibitor class, to important HIV and rare disease work, to the Covid vaccine launch, we are reminded every day that matching the right talent to task makes a difference and saves lives. Thank you for continuing to partner with us. We adore and appreciate you!