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People Persons

EMERYVILLE — If you ask Eugene Lupario how his company, Silicon Valley Staffing Group, is doing, his answer is simple. And it’s always the same. “We’re doing OK.”

Even though the company expects double-digit percentage growth in revenue this year, has a record number of clients, and is considering expansion into Jacksonville, Fla., Lupario and co-president Steve Allen aren’t going to uncork a champagne bottle anytime soon. Just years removed from the toughest times, they know it’s important to keep their heads level regardless of how well they’re doing. In 1996, the duo opened the company in Sunnyvale. Riding the growth of technology in the Bay Area, they provided companies with technology professionals.

“Pretty much those who would go in to make your telephone and computer work, we found,” Lupario said. But just as they thought nothing could go wrong, the floor dropped out from under them. The combination of the dot-com bust followed by the 9-11 terror attacks and a downward-spiraling economy quickly brought the company back to Earth. In 2000, the company hit about $15.5 million before seeing the revenue cut in half a couple of years later. If they were a hospital patient, their status would have been “critical,” Lupario said. “Suddenly the world was a different place, and without saying anything to each other, we knew we were in trouble,” Allen said. Staff was laid off, and just surviving day-to-day became the priority. Still, even though there were struggles “underneath the hood,” Silicon Valley Staffing Service still kept a strong front. And Allen and Lupario had the confidence they could turn it around. It was then that Allen came up with an idea to create a new area of specialization.

“We needed new clients and we needed to change the world we dealt mostly with, so we looked closely at health care and banking because those were two areas that were doing well,” Allen said. “If we could find a way to provide stability, maybe we could make this work.”

Ultimately they chose banking, and today that makes up the majority of their placements. Technology now makes up about 10 percent. The only areas they don’t specialize in are paralegal and creative, such as marketing and copywriting.

Cathy Richmond, a manager at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in Walnut Creek says she has hired about 12 to 15 people through Silicon Valley Staffing for both temporary and permanent placing.”They’re really good, because they take the time to get to know the candidates and understand what kind of resumes they are sending us,” Richmond said. “Other agencies just shove resumes at us, but because they’ve gone through the initial screening process there’s a bit more trust with what we get from them.”

Allen and Lupario try to build their reputation by really focusing on the needs of both the clients and the candidates. For example, one issue other recruitment groups often have is workers don’t finish the contract they’ve been assigned. Silicon Valley Staffing Group will often pay an incentive when milestones or assignments are completed.

“It was just an idea we came up with to make everyone happy, and let us stand out among others,” Allen said. To be placed costs the candidates nothing. The costs go to the client, which is a percentage markup that depends on the job.

A company such as Wells Fargo might pay a direct hiring fee. Silicon Valley Staffing Group will identify and screen three prospects that might be a good fit for a position. If they’re hired, the client might pay 20 to 25 percent of the first year salary.

Also, even if a candidate comes to their door looking for a job who they know within minutes isn’t a good fit, they’ll take them through the process anyway.

“We want them to leave feeling like they had a good experience, so they don’t talk bad about us later, or might suggest a friend try us out who does have the skill sets we want,” Allen said .

The company employs 25 people distributed over several offices across the United States. Besides Emeryville, they have locations in San Jose, Sacramento, Phoenix, Chicago, and Dallas. Because they are branching out more, they’re also in the process of trying to re-brand the company. In addition to Silicon Valley Staffing Group, they often use the acronym SVS.

By going through the rough times, one of the biggest changes is how they spend their money.
“We are a lot more careful about the business and how we spend the money,” Lupario said. “We always feel we’re just a few phone calls away from being knocked down a couple of rungs.

“It used to be when we had a great idea, we’d say, ‘Let’s do it,’ now it’s, ‘That’s a great idea, lets take a look,’ ” he said.
Lupario realizes that times are tough for many small businesses right now. The best advice he can give others is to not be stuck in your ways, and be able to adapt.

“If you are an automotive business, and your specialty is Rolls-Royce, when things go bad you better pick up some other auto lines or you’ll be in trouble,” he said. “When we offered different Group and thought differently about ourselves was when our business changed again for the better.”

Silicon Valley Staffing Group
Owners: Eugene Lupario and Steve Allen
Employees: 25
Address: 2200 Powell Street Suite 510, Emeryville
Phone: 510-923-9898

Contra Costa Times
Section: Business
David Morrill