Getting Ahead

From Account Executive to CEO: How a Culture of Continuous Growth Helped Launch This Leader’s Career

Larry Dolinko, CEO of The Execu|Search Group.
Larry Dolinko, CEO of The Execu|Search Group.
| Courtesy of The Execu|Search Group

When Larry Dolinko met with The Execu|Search Group in 2001, he had no idea he’d still be at the company 20 years later—and as the CEO, no less. “Prior to meeting with the company, I was not familiar at all with the staffing industry,” he recalls. “My roots were in advertising and I had envisioned landing a role doing print sales in media.”

The Execu|Search Group is a recruiting firm, and Dolinko was initially hired to sell staffing services to creative departments at advertising agencies. Since joining the company, he’s been encouraged to grow his career through opportunities that “have allowed me to take risks,” he says.

Those risks have enabled Dolinko to work his way up to the top leadership role of the company, which is rapidly expanding into new markets.

Here, he shares why The Execu|Search Group is ideal for someone just starting out in their career, how he rose to the challenge of leading through the pandemic, and the importance of embracing change.

Tell us about your career path at The Execu|Search Group. How did you earn your first leadership role?

My first leadership opportunity came when my largest client at the time, a pharmaceutical company based in New York, merged with another company. They wanted to continue to partner with us on staffing needs, but were moving their entire operation to New Jersey, a market where we did not yet do business.

I had spoken with senior leadership and presented the situation as a real opportunity—not only for myself, but also for our organization to expand our geographic footprint.

I was living in New York City then, but began working out of a temporary office space in New Jersey with the goal of building out our candidate pool, something I wasn’t doing in my previous role. Although this was new ground for us, I was asked what resources I needed in order to be successful and I was provided with them—and then some!

This was leadership saying to me, “We see this as a real opportunity, and we’re going to invest in you.” And as CEO, I carry that sentiment today for the rest of the team. I encourage them to think outside the box and come to me with creative ideas, especially since we work in a relationship-driven environment that is always evolving.

How has the company helped you grow and develop throughout your career?

I have always been given the tools and training I needed to be successful here. Even as I prepared for my transition into my role as CEO, I was provided a leadership coach to work with. For this, we surveyed my peers, supervisor, and direct reports about my leadership abilities, including my strengths and my weaknesses. Together, we then identified key gap areas that I could improve upon before jumping into my new role. This exercise not only helped me become a better leader, but also helped me take the next step in my career as CEO.

What do you love most about the company culture?

We work in a collegial, energetic environment where people are valued and the sky really is the limit. People are always willing to help out their peers, offer a new idea, or collaborate, which are things that can’t be found everywhere.

Even though our employee count has tripled in size from when I first started, we’ve stayed true to our roots. While we’ve grown significantly, faced new obstacles, and introduced a new leadership team over the years, our family-oriented environment and strong camaraderie has remained constant.

How does your company provide career advancement opportunities for employees? How do you see employees benefiting from these initiatives?

We’ve gotten to a place where career advancement comes with the opportunity for people to take on additional responsibilities within their roles, and we’ve done a really good job at providing a roadmap for what those next steps look like.

We also provide opportunities within the organization where people can transition into entirely new roles. Over the past 18 months, we’ve had 25 employees transition into a new role where they feel their strengths are better suited—providing them an even better chance for career advancement.

Why is The Execu|Search Group a great place for someone early in their career?

We hire people to be here for their entire career. And I truly mean that. We are deeply committed to hiring entry-level talent and supporting their growth as they embark on their career journey with us. That’s why we believe a strong onboarding experience is critical. We want every new hire to be able to launch and lead very successful long-term careers, and to do that, we need to start off on the right foot.

Whether someone is a recent college grad or an individual with minimal industry experience, they are given the tools and training to learn the business, boost their confidence, and help them become active in our company’s culture. One of the most impactful ways we do this is through our mentorship program, where we match the new hire with a more senior employee. By shadowing successful and long-serving staff, new hires get access to very hands-on training and a built-in support system.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

We recently announced our expansion to the West Coast, which marks a milestone moment for our growth. With an initial foothold in Southern California, we are able to operate coast-to-coast and advance our strategic objectives in new geographic areas. I am extremely proud that we were able to accomplish this long-term goal by leveraging our core business, complementary sales channels, and existing relationships, while staying true to who we are. Now that we have a strong foundation, we’re looking forward to expanding our team to further support this growth.

Growing our pharma and tech divisions is another exciting priority. We are currently exploring new organic and inorganic investments and other expansion opportunities across these verticals in existing and new markets.

You became the CEO shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. What did this experience teach you about leadership?

It wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t change one thing about the way the transition happened. It was sink or swim in a short period of time. From a leadership perspective, it was important to make smart—but also quick—decisions about our offices and whether to close, as well as how to provide our staff with the technology they needed to be successful in a remote capacity. These were things we never needed to think much about before, and I needed to figure it all out in a fluid environment that was changing daily.

To help mitigate some of the stress and uncertainty employees were feeling, I also felt it was important to be really transparent. We held weekly town halls to communicate important updates about the business and financial performance, spotlight people who were going above and beyond in their day-to-day roles, and ensure we were focused on everyone’s physical and mental health. It was a lot of learning on the job, but I was able to lean on other members of our leadership team for help. It was important that we were united, and that all employees felt our support.

This experience has also taught me the importance of being able to embrace change. Prior to the pandemic, I had become used to working a certain way—especially after being with the company for 20 years. If you would have told me three years ago that I would be OK with a hybrid-remote work week, I wouldn’t have believed you! I think that goes to show you that leaders need to be able to pivot in a changing environment. It was really important for us to be able to provide our employees with a hybrid environment, especially with the strong results we were seeing. Trust goes both ways; our employees have shown us that they can work from anywhere, and I hope we have shown, through our actions, that they can trust us to navigate evolving times.

What lessons or skills did you learn in previous roles that have helped you become the leader you are today?

In earlier roles, I was really impulsive. Being decisive is a trait that has helped me on my path to leadership, but I have learned the importance of being more thoughtful and deliberate. I can still make quick decisions, but I first make sure I know all the facts and have heard all sides. As CEO, I need to be able to think big picture in order to make the smartest decision for the company as a whole.

I’ve also learned the importance of making bold decisions. If we want to keep moving forward, we need to embrace change, listen to new ideas, and feel comfortable taking risks.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

“Less is more.” I got this advice from a big client I was trying to break into for two years. When he finally gave us an opportunity, I asked him what we could do to differentiate ourselves from their other staffing partners. He told me that if we focused on what we specialize in, our success would be much more profound than if we tried to support them across all aspects of their business.

His words still resonate with me today. My interpretation is that we cannot be everything to everyone. If we can stay in our lanes, and do really great work in the areas we specialize in, other opportunities will naturally come. This is also why we have structured our business lines in the way that we have. We strive to be subject matter experts in our industries and the verticals we serve, and we are strategic in the new business we go after. Employers and job seekers continue to work with us because of the credibility we have built over the years. They trust that we are being honest and that we have their best interest in mind.