How MRG Came to be

 

Thirty years in business sounds like a long time, yet it feels like we just started yesterday. My wife, Judy Shawver, is from the Quad Cities and after we had our first child, I wanted to get out of the family drug store business; Judy wanted out of the law firm where she had worked for six years. We moved to the Quad Cities so Judy could go into partnership with her Dad. I was not sure what I wanted to do but after speaking to a recruiter who had purchased my mother-in-law’s condo, he thought I could be good at the recruiting business.

I started out recruiting for the banking industry and worked with banks in the rural areas mostly in Iowa and Illinois. One day I got a call from another recruiter from Rockford, Illinois who asked if I would consider working for the Furst Group. The Furst Group was a talent management company that worked in the areas of retained and contingency search, outplacement and they had a very successful staffing company. Tom Furst hired me and I reported to Dan Cataldi who actually never interviewed me, but we hit it off from day one.

Tom Furst had heard about me from the senior leader of the bank where Tom was on the board of directors. I went to visit the banker after talking with him on the phone several times and I was the first recruiter he had ever met in person. Tom wanted to expand the Furst Group into Peoria, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines, Iowa along with the Quad Cities. I was hired to make that happen working with Dan Cataldi who was an operational person and knew how to set up new offices.

In the Quad Cities, Dan came in and looked for office space. He heard from the realtor that a company was having financial problems and wanted out of their lease. Dan went into the office suite an told the owner we would take over his lease but we wanted all the furniture and equipment. Reluctantly the owner agreed and we were off and running.

Dan Portes in the early years.

Dan Portes in the early years.

Shortly after joining the company Tom Furst decided to sell the company to a packaging company that manufactured Sucrets, Altoid boxes and other candy wrappers. Clarcor had a great deal of cash and wanted to diversify into the service business. We were part of their expansion plans, which included adjusting to PO’s and having manufacturing people now running a service company. It certainly was not a marriage made in heaven but Tom was happy about selling his business for a premium price.

One day I was having problems calling into the office in Rockford and finally someone called me back. There was a group on the Outplacement side of the business that traveled to Colorado to handle a large downsizing. It was a Friday and they were on their way back home. One of them wanted to visit his parents in California so Tom Defoe switched plane tickets with him and Tom ended up going through Sioux City, Iowa. Unfortunately that plane crashed and split right in front of Tom’s seat. He bravely jumped off the plane and walked into the hanger with only a few scratches. The whole incident was amazing because the plane flipped over several times before coming to a stop so Tom could jump off. Tom has a tremendous fear of heights so his move was even braver than others who also jumped off the fiery carcass. The whole incident was made into a movie about the great response team that saved 169 lives. Clarcor also was great because they sent the corporate jet there to pick him up.

Only one year passed under Clarcor when Banner Industries attempted an unfriendly takeover. Clarcor decided to shed the Furst Group so Tom bought back the company at an extremely discounted rate. Those of us in management wanted to be part of the new ownership structure and while Tom told us he appreciated us and needed us, he was not interested in sharing ownership. Dan Cataldi and I then decided to leave the Furst Group and started the Management Resource Group, LTD. (MRG) in the Fall of 1988. We were officially were open for business in 1989 in Rockford and the Quad Cities.

The name came from our desire to be a resource to management in a number of different areas. We wanted to extend the services we could offer and build a company around the ideology that if you had an opportunity or a challenge MRG could possibly help; however if we could not, we would be happy to give you the resources you could turn to for help. We differed from the Furst Group in that we only did retained search work and we added assessments. We hired a great psychologist to our staff and began providing coaching, conflict resolution, team building, retirement planning and HR consulting.

Shortly after we opened, the Davenport Bank sold to Northwest and selected our firm to handle the large downsizing. We hired Heidi Schultz who ended up heading outplacement services for us and later we hired Mary Jones as a counselor. Dan Cataldi was the EVP at the Furst Group so when Tom decided to buy back the company and exclude us from ownership, Dan started networking to see if there were other opportunities for him. He  met Stan Jaros who owned the largest independent outplacement firm in Chicago. Stan introduced us to Career Partners International (CPI), which was a new company formed of independent outplacement firms. The goal was to sell large projects and provide a seamless product with one point of contact in the outplacement arena. We were the first small market firm to join CPI which has now grown to be one of the largest outplacement consultancies in the world. Dan didn’t join Stan’s company but one of Stan’s biggest clients was Amoco Oil who decided to close their credit card division in Des Moines, Iowa and he referred the business to MRG.

We opened a new office in West Des Moines and for three years most of the work was with Amoco; altogether we served over 500 people. Unfortunately we decided to leave the Des Moines market. The person running the Des Moines office was a great counselor but not a great business developer. Without leadership and time it seemed like the right decision to exit. Admittedly, we were wrong and should have stayed and built a successful office there.

From the Quad Cities we were able to pick up business in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor and began to work with Rockwell Collins. It was not because of a strategic decision but out of opportunity that we opened an office there in 1991. The opportunity came when Rockwell had a major downsizing letting go of more than 1200 people in what was the largest outplacement project we had done up to that point in MRG’s history. We successfully completed the project and remained in Cedar Rapids until two years ago.

Dan and Stan remained close over the years and eventually we sold the Rockford office to Stan and he sold his business to Lee Hecht Harrison. Dan and I remain friends but he has retired; we now have just the Quad Cities office and are still an active partner in CPI.

Even though I have mostly focused on some outplacement stories, our search business has clearly been the largest segment of the practice. We have worked in transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, financial services, insurance, nonprofit, wholesaler and distributorship and aerospace companies. We have worked mostly with C-level positions but have also handled positions at the Vice President level working with people throughout the US and in 7 different countries. I’ve been told by clients that due to our rigorous use of assessments and tests and the process we have implemented, we are the most thorough in the industry. I’m proud to say we have positively affected hundreds of people and companies in our 30 year history.

 
 
Dan Portes