Jim Zaniello leaves the comfort of a stable career
to join the ranks of a recession entrepreneur
By Emily Sinsabaugh, Ph.D.
Two years ago, amidst the most troubling economy since The Great Depression, Jim Zaniello ’90, had a good job with a solid and well-regarded Washington, D.C.-based executive search firm. Like the rest of the world, he read the headlines each day: continuing stock market uncertainty, housing foreclosures, and record unemployment rates preoccupied the world’s mind space.
So, he quit his job. Zaniello chose to leave behind the assurances of his stable career to join the ranks of those who would become known as “recession entrepreneurs” to start a new business. A risky move, you might say. Zaniello proceeded, nonetheless. “I was ready to lead,” he recalled.
He’s doing just that. Zaniello is president and founder of Vetted Solutions, a boutique executive search firm specializing in association and nonprofit recruiting and consulting. He recalled his first days in this new venture.
“I expected we’d have less business at the start, which would give us the time to recruit talent, develop our marketing materials, and get our foundation in place,” he explained. “That didn’t really happen, though. Because of our specific niche, we were working with more clients more quickly than we anticipated.”
Vetted Solutions, the company name, is also the key to the company’s brand. “We dig deeply so we can present our clients with candidates who are not only vetted but who are also potential solutions to the organization’s challenges,” he said.
The Vetted Solutions team is composed of seven associates who operate from offices across the country; four have been association or nonprofit CEOs, which Zaniello said gives clients a better result.
Settling into their niche
Associations and nonprofits are the third largest employer in the D.C. metro area, and there are a dozen or so search firms to serve their related employment needs. Zaniello knew the importance of finding a niche. He recalled going to a conference with other executive search professionals.
“We were asked to describe the distinctions of our firms. It was startling to see how all of our pitches sounded the same,” he said.
Today, Vetted Solutions works greatly in the arenas of health care and aging, and the primary players have worked in those fields.
“Aging is a market that none of our competitors has gone after. And, it’s an interesting employment area right now because organizations that serve the aging are experiencing a huge culture change. Customers are calling for more individualized care and having a say in how they will be cared for,” Zaniello explained.
“Our clients need leaders who can help them respond to this shift while also having an eye on the bottom line and having the ability to drive revenue.”
This is where Zaniello’s entrepreneurial experience and his Franciscan values contribute to his company’s distinction.
“Our clients are looking for people who know what it means to be a social entrepreneur — people who are looking for work that feeds their passion and their desire to give back.”
Zaniello is proud to claim that 25 percent of his staff has a Bonaventure connection. Lynda Wilhelm, ’86, president of Packard Learning Corporation, provides assessment services for Vetted Solutions, conducting post-service interviews with every client, ensuring continuous improvement for the company. Zaniello said it’s another feature that sets them apart from the competition, as does the influence of the Franciscan tradition.
“Bonaventure people understand the importance of nurturing the human spirit, valuing each person for their individual contribution, looking at the world with an interest in making it a better place, and creating a strong, positive, affirming community,” he said. “We learned how to do that from our peers and teachers at St. Bonaventure.”
Eyes Wide Open
Zaniello admitted it takes a “strong stomach” to take this kind of leap.
“You need to go into this kind of venture with your eyes wide open. Starting a business means you have to know how to run a business. You need to manage things such as accounting, technology, your Web presence, and cash flow to weather the storm — things that can keep you up at night,” he said.
As soon as he was able, he outsourced as many business operations as possible so he could focus on his true passion — the work. In the end, he said, it’s about execution, being persistent to ensure quality, and being passionate about the work — sprinkled with a little bit of luck.
“People took a chance on us, and I’m grateful for that,” he said. ”While his is something I never thought I would have done, it’s been a great learning experience, and a lot of fun.”
(Emily Sinsabaugh is vice president for University Relations at St. Bonaventure.)