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Episode 1: Six Feet Away and Closer Than Ever

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At Vaco, we say we do life together, and this is life. As we all navigate the challenges of a global pandemic, we wanted to share more about how Vaco is responding during this unprecedented time. With that in mind, Jerry Bostelman, founder and CEO of Vaco, recently sat down with Amanda Henley, chief marketing officer, for an in-depth discussion. Here are the highlights from this episode:

Can you tell us a little bit about how Vaco is helping its employees and clients navigate work and life given the current situation?
This is an era like nothing that we’ve ever seen. Historically, we’ve been through crises, but it was usually financially driven. This is a reaction to rapidly changing habits, so we’ve been working with three themes with our clients, candidates, and consultants.

First and foremost, we’ve been through challenges before, and we always come out on the other side, so it’s going to be okay. And then, two, I cannot remember a time that required two seemingly different things in equal power. One, we need flexibility, and then, two, we need to bring strength. We need the flexibility to allow each of us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, so that our health can be strong as possible through the season. And we need the flexibility to take care of all the rest of the facets of our life as we’re going through changes as families, as friends, as members of community.

Vaco is a company known for being so relationship based. So during this time of social distancing, how are you keeping employees, consultants, and clients close, and are there any positive stories of that that you’d like to share with us?

It is an interesting time, because we always think about the community that we build at Vaco, and really what we feel today is six feet away, yet closer than ever. It was certainly an adjustment. I remember when we first went to video calls, there would be a lot of neck shots from people not quite sure how to set the camera up, or you might see a very clear logo on a sweatshirt or whatever shirt they were wearing. But now that people have started to figure those things out so quickly, it’s creating conversations that I don’t think we’ve ever had before.

We also have to lean in a little bit harder. Even on this call, Amanda, I typically enjoy you sitting across from me every day and I’m used to seeing your smiling face, but now I have to listen more intently to hear what you’re saying and to really give you my attention. So I think that is magical. Two, it is amazing how quickly we’ve reacted to the tools of the day to create that community we crave.

So why do you think it’s important right now that we stay closer than ever? And how do you feel that this current environment will shape our business relationships once this is all over?

It’s vitally important that we stay connected today. In 2009, we hit a brutal crisis where the banks had $1 trillion one day and then they didn’t have it the other day due to a real estate Ponzi scheme. This era is so full of variables, we’re all grasping for the constants. When will it end? What are the risks to the people we love? There are so many variables for us to get through it; we have to control what we can control, and ultimately, what we can control is the way we show up and the way we contribute.

Ultimately, it’s going to take us all working together to figure some massive challenges out. How are we going to re-enter the world? How are we going to be able to keep our businesses strong? And then how are we going to take the lessons that were so hard earned from this and become better than we were before we went into it?

Your leadership in taking this time to figure out how we’re better on the other side of it is one of the things that I’ve been most proud of. Jerry, you, Jay, Brian, and Todd have done something pretty remarkable during this time of uncertainty. Can you tell me how you all came to that decision, and how that’s helping to keep us all closer than ever?

We took a hard look and deferred a portion of our compensation. And we do this through every crisis we face. What are the challenges ahead, and then what do we need to do to make sure that we don’t lose a single person destined for the duration at Vaco? What do we need to do to make sure that we rally around the family and hold onto those players that are destined to retire at Vaco? And this one’s interesting, because we see our business remaining strong.

Clients, when we entered this challenge, were so understaffed in the disciplines we served. It isn’t like they hired everybody that they needed the next day; they’re still hiring people even through this challenge. Two, the businesses were strong for the most part that we served, and they needed consulting help through that era. That hasn’t changed. That work still needs to be done.

Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you’d like to add or any final thoughts for today?
This challenge is different than anything that we’ve ever faced. Like every challenge we’ve faced, Vaco will be stronger on the other side of it. But this time the lessons are more hard earned than they’ve ever been before. They’re going to come at the expenses of losing people that we love, might be grandparents, might be somebody closer. So it’s really important that we’re mindful and we take the lessons of this era, because they came at such a cost.

This is the era of fears, and I think that’s another thing. The one thing that I have come to realize through this is we have come more authentically. Maybe it’s the video, maybe it’s just the emotional time that we’re going through, but one thing I have realized, as I said earlier, with Vaco’s first tenant is “outlaws welcome.” As I come more completely and vulnerably as my complete outlaw, so many are coming back in the same way, and it’s a measure of what I give and what we give back. I think that speaks to the closeness that we’re appreciating and evolving through this era. So let’s cry away, Amanda. I do the same thing a lot.