Curt Hensley founded IMPACT Payments Recruiting in 2000 and now serves as the Chairman of IMPACT Recruiting Group. Curt’s background includes leading the expansion efforts of Natural Data, a technical recruitment firm. While there, Curt began relationships with TSYS Acquiring Solutions, American Express, Hypercom and several other transaction processing leaders. TSYS Acquiring Solutions later rewarded IMPACT with a multi-year agreement to administer their entire recruitment effort.
Curt is a graduate of Indiana University and attended Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis. He and his wife moved to Arizona in 1997 and currently reside in San Diego with their three children.
Tell me about your background.
I’m from Indiana. I went to medical school, like my dad and uncles, but I didn’t care for it. So I moved to Phoenix, Arizona for my wife’s career as an interior designer and ended up working for an IT recruiting company called Natural Data. I was motivated to succeed by a drive to prove myself and also to prove that quitting medical school was the right move.
What did your parents do?
My dad was a doctor and my mom was a teacher who ultimately quit to raise me and my two siblings.
Tell me about your early career.
I moved to Phoenix, Arizona after quitting medical school and getting married in 1997. When I started at Natural Data, I was promoted from recruiter to account manager within five months and was running our Portland, Phoenix, and Los Angeles operations less than a year later, at the age of twenty-five. I ultimately left to start my own company, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, in 2000.
How did the concept for IMPACT come about?
In August 2000, my first client for my company (now IMPACT Payments Recruiting) was the second-largest credit card processing company in the United States, called Vital Processing (now TSYS Acquiring). I landed a contract to handle all of their recruiting for one year, so my income was secure right from the start. I conducted their COO search and noticed that all of the top industry executives attended one trade show each year in Las Vegas called the Electronic Transaction Association. Having full access to around 900 senior executives in a fast-growing industry seemed to be a great place to leverage my recruiting background. The credit card industry was underserved from a recruiting perspective at the time, so we had several clients in no time.
How many businesses do you own?
Since 2000, I’ve started four companies. IMPACT Recruiting Group is the parent company of IMPACT Payments Recruiting, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, and IMPACT Advisors.
“IMPACT Payments Recruiting is proud to have placed more than 3,000 of the payments industry’s very best bankcard professionals with processors, ISO’s, financial institutions, payment gateways, POS manufacturers, Gift Card, Loyalty, Prepaid, ATM, Issuers and other payments organizations.
IMPACT Technology Recruiting has built a team of information technology recruiters that is unmatched in ability to find talented technology professionals with backgrounds ranging from network engineering to application development. We hire technology professionals on a contract, contract-to-hire, permanent, and project basis.
IMPACT Advisors offers consulting and analysis on M&A transactions and valuations for businesses to recapitalize and obtain loans. We provide our clients with a greater understanding of their business, customers, costs and margins by developing metrics and analytics to improve the profitability of the organizations and portfolios.”
How was the first year in business?
Great! Vital Processing needed fifty-two jobs filled immediately, so there was a lot of work to do.
Did you initially have to raise capital to fund the business?
What were some of the challenges you initially faced?
Filling fifty-two jobs is a 200-hour a week job, so that was a challenge at first.
How did you fill those fifty-two jobs?
I worked very hard, quickly, and efficiently. I spent the first four days interviewing each hiring manager for the positions. I advised them they would no longer receive a funnel of resumes that would waste their time, but instead they would only receive the best two to three candidates that I had personally interviewed. In return, I asked for immediate feedback on the candidates’ resumes, an interview within 48 hours, quick and precise interview feedback, and a quick decision on candidates who were a good fit. I got most of the managers to open their calendar to me so I could automatically schedule an interview at the end of my own phone interview with candidates I knew would be a great fit. I had the human resources department’s full backing to speed up the process in any way they could, including putting pressure on any hiring managers that were problematic. Their SVP of HR was an ex-NFL lineman who could be very persuasive, if needed.
Monster.com was a good resource in 2000 after their famous Super Bowl ads in 1998. The site wasn’t overrun yet and had no real competition. I had graduated from college with a sales executive from Monster, and he offered to post several of the jobs on Monster.com for free (as long as they met very specific criteria). I also reviewed applicants and searched their resume database at night. I called candidates at companies with similar employees and got referrals of people to headhunt each morning. All of this took me around 100 hours a week for the first four weeks. Another two months of 80-hour weeks, and I had knocked out all but a few of the original fifty-two jobs. They then had only twenty- to twenty-five openings at a given time, so my workweek was cut down to 60 hours a week. Within six months, I could do the job in 40 hours a week and start working on other clients in the payments industry.
Is your workweek around the same today?
No. I oversee four companies that all have their own president. I work anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week and concentrate on ministries that give back the rest of the time.
Did you have a lot of competition?
No, I had an exclusive contract. So I had no competition with my largest client. Throughout the payments industry, there wasn’t much competition, initially. We did begin to have some competition over the years, but we were blessed to be early in that niche.
What was your marketing strategy?
The business grew very fast, so there wasn’t much of a strategy. The strategy we did employ was to only have three very senior recruiters (myself being one of them) to handle all of our clients. Most of our business came from referrals of satisfied clients, so we never needed to market our services.
Were you profitable by the end of year one?
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew quickly all the way through 2007, before the economic crash of 2008.
What do you think caused that high spike in growth?
Hard work and serving the fast-growing payments industry were key.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
No. I enjoyed the work and the success we were blessed with.
Did you ever feel you had to sacrifice a lot of personal time for the business?
Yes. I worked extremely hard in the early years and then again, from 2008 to 2010, when we were navigating the disastrous economy.
Fast-forward to today. How fast is the business growing?
Our IT recruiting company, IMPACT Technology Recruiting, was #85 on the Inc. 500 with 3,500% growth over a three-year period. My other three companies are growing, but at a slower pace.
Why did you choose not to take on outside financing?
It wasn’t needed.
How do you organize your day?
I’ve never been a big organizer, but I’ve always had a strong sense of what activities are both urgent and important for the growth of the company.
What has been your primary source for new clients?
Originally, I emailed all 900 executives from the Electronic Transaction Association show asking if they could use our services. This was back when people freely gave their email address and phone number. Around thirty executives initially responded asking us to perform recruiting searches for them. As we completed searches, our reputation spread by word-of-mouth, and we had more business than we could handle.
What are some of your daily habits that have contributed to your success?
Working hard on whatever is both urgent and important has been a staple. Conducting business with full honesty and integrity has been key to our success. As I started the second, third, and fourth companies, hiring the right leaders became the most important aspect of my job. Now I fully empower the four presidents who work for me and try to make their jobs easier in whatever way I can.
What are some quotes that you live by?
Three of my favorite quotes are, “The appetite of the lazy craves and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4), “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1), and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And he shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5). These quotes are all from the Bible. I personally believe the Bible is God’s Word and the greatest book of wisdom ever written.
What are some of your favorite books?
Besides the Bible, I really loved David Platt’s Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. I also loved Charles Colson’s Born Again, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Jim Collin’s Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Other’s Don’t.
How do you define success?
It’s changed over the years. It used to be about making money and growing companies. For the last decade, it’s been about seeing how much our financial success can serve others. Those of us who have been blessed are called to help those in need. We’ve had the privilege of building orphanages, helping refugees, and feeding children who are starving through no fault of their own. Basically, we’ve shifted from serving ourselves through our hard work to serving God and those in need.
What is the key to success?
Remembering that all good things come from our Creator has helped to create a more humble servant attitude that has affected the lives of thousands who are less fortunate.
Did you always know you would be successful?
We are blessed to live in a country that has unlimited opportunity. I was personally blessed to be born into a family with incredible intelligence where I’ve never had to wonder where my next meal was coming from. Both of my parents and all four of my grandparents were humble servants of God, and those role models contributed a great deal towards my success today (or at least success as I now define it).
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I love God and realize that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. This gives me peace, patience, and calmness during adversity to easily get through the challenges. Helping the poorest people on earth has shown me that my adversity isn’t really adversity at all.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It’s from one of my quotes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And he shall direct your paths.”
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I serve on the boards of two incredible ministries (The Jesus Film Project and Partners in Action). I also serve on the missions board of our church, where I’ve had the opportunity to serve in Cuba.
What makes a great leader?
Humility is the greatest trait that I can think of. Jim Collin’s Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t really showed me how the difference between good and great is the attitude of serving others versus serving yourself.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
We had an unscrupulous company make a seven-figure offer to buy away the president and vice president of our fastest-growing company. Our top two executives said “no,” and that this company would have to buy the entire organization. We felt forced into a situation where we were negotiating a sale with our hands tied behind our backs. We worked out a deal, and unsurprisingly, this company reneged on a major deal point. We eventually turned down the offer and allowed our top executives to walk. There were a few sleepless nights making these decisions.
How did you overcome the challenges at hand?
Honestly, I used the counsel of other wise men. I had seven people advising me on whether to sell or not to sell. All seven advised to sell after we negotiated the final terms. All seven advised to back away from the sale when seeing how unscrupulous the buyer was in reneging on an important deal point.
What is your vision for the future of IMPACT?
It will be a company that will make an even bigger impact on the lives of those who weren’t blessed to grow up in the United States. If we look back at the history of the United States, I believe slavery and racism are the biggest black eyes in our history. I believe 200 years from now, we will look back at world history and see that allowing over 20,000 people to die needlessly from hunger or preventable diseases was the biggest black eye on humanity. We want to love others and be a part of the solution.
What do you think is the most common mistake entrepreneurs make?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is running a business with pride and arrogance. Those who run their business this way and achieve great financial success end up divorced and empty as people. They defined success in terms of money instead of love for people, and in the end, they lost. Most of these entrepreneurs have burned a lot of employees along the way. The small IT staffing company that I started working for twenty years ago was like this. It had grown from sixteen employees to 105 employees in my three years there, but never truly valued or cared about any of those people. A few years later, they were down to the owner working by himself and hiring his wife, part-time.
One other mistake is not hiring excellent leadership. Many bootstrapping entrepreneurs run companies and only promote the people that they have trained. While this may work, a large part of my success has been from hiring the best leaders of other companies to take my position. Each of these leaders have been able to bring on key people who I never would’ve known. I wouldn’t have four successful companies today without hiring great people.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be an outward-focused servant leader who provides your clients the very best products and services. People want to work for those who care about others. Long-term success requires that good employees see a future for themselves, feel loved, and therefore stay working for your company.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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