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In 2012, American Partners Inc. earned a ranking of 371 on Inc. magazine’s 5000 fastest-growing companies list, with a three-year growth rate of more than 1,000 percent and an increase in revenue to $25.6 million in 2011 from $2.3 million in 2008.
Founded in 2007, American Partners is a recruiting company that specializes in business intelligence, performance management and data warehousing industries, focused on Hyperion, Oracle Business Intelligence and SAP platforms.
Thomas J. Leonard, co-founder of the firm, freely admits that he is not a technology geek. “Though we work in technology, we are not technologists ourselves,” he said. “We are sales people that have a system in place that allows us to identify top talent in the marketplace and bring that to our clients.”
The majority of new business comes through building trust with clients, Leonard continued, and instilling a sense of confidence about your company. “You do what you say you’re going to do, and you build a track record. People like that.”
When asked what the secret sauce was to American Partners’ rapid growth, Leonard cited the firm’s ability to secure top talent and working to develop that talent, all while showing employees appreciation whenever possible. “We owe our success to the people we hire and the amount of training we invest in them,” he said. As a company, he continued, “we have a strong family environment and commitment to our employees.”
Recently, Leonard said, American Partners started its first employee share-option plan, enabling every one of the company’s 23 employees to have some kind of ownership. “We invest in keeping our employees happy,” he said.
In addition, the company has kept its focus on the niche market in which it performs well, and hasn’t gotten sidetracked.
“We hired good people, identified the right niche markets, and [outperformed] our competition in those markets,” Leonard said. The key to success has been doing what American Partners does best. “We specialize in specific software products – Hyperion, Oracle and SAP – and we don’t get outside of our range.”
American Partners’ ability to concentrate and specialize has proven to be another key factor in the company’s rapid growth. “Our concentration has enabled us to gain market share for the products that we support. And, we’ve hired intelligent people to execute the plan.” As a result, he said, “we have seen explosive growth in the markets that we specialize in.”
In the future, Leonard said, American Partners has identified other potential markets in the IT services industry to explore, but there is no sign of slowdown in the current market niche.
“The biggest issue we face now is our inability to hire and train people quick enough.” Over the next 12 months, Leonard conservatively projects that American Partners could grow its workforce by 25 percent. “If we’re aggressive, we could move it to 50 percent, but that starts to get complicated, with a need to expand our existing infrastructure,” he said.
Leonard said the company has begun to explore more use of social media sites as a way to identify new clients, but emphasized that the majority of business comes through the company’s ability to build trust with its clients. American Partners does make an investment in doing four industry shows a year.
“We go there in order to see our clients face to face,” he said. “We often find we have a captive audience [for our services].”
The company’s location in downtown Pawtucket has proven to be a competitive advantage for American Partners, according to Leonard.
“There was a huge advantage for us being located in Pawtucket when got started, because of the economic situation. The rent was affordable, there were tax incentives from the state [from locating in an economic redevelopment zone], and there were also training grants from the state that we were able to take advantage of,” Leonard said.
As a result, he continued, “we were able to keep our expenses down, keep our overhead down, and put the focus on hiring top talent.”
Leonard feels committed to Pawtucket and the Ocean State for providing the significant advantages that helped his company to be so successful. American Partners donates to a number of local charities to support the community, he said. “We are committed to Pawtucket and to Rhode Island,” he said.
There is a lot of competition now entering into the marketplace, with new companies popping up, but Leonard feels confident in his continued approach to achieve future success. “I attribute our success in large part to the quality of the talent we’ve been able to hire,” he said. “And, the fact that not as many companies are as ‘niched’ as we are.”
In looking to the future, Leonard has also acknowledged his own changing role, now that the company has moved from a startup to a successful, growing business. “I’m a poor manager,” he said, “but I’ve brought in people to cover my weakness.” The company has also done a fair amount of succession planning, he continued, “moving salespeople into roles as team leaders, which is critical to success of the company’s future growth. Over the last five years, we’ve developed some great leaders. We stretch people, pushing them out of their comfort zone, asking them to take on more responsibility. It’s OK to fail, but it’s not OK [to fail] to try.”
The bottom line for Leonard is to avoid making the work plan any more difficult than it needs to be. “People tend to over-complicate things. We have a a simple plan: hire intelligent and talented people.” •CEO (or equivalent):
2011 REVENUE: $25,584,963
2009 REVENUE: $6,000,000
3-YEAR GROWTH: 326%