Bob LaBombard’s Staffing Changes

Bob LaBombard’s Staffing Changes

After selling EnviroStaff, he was on the sideline for several years before emerging at GradStaff. The intervening time surprised him.

Bob LaBombard has worked in staffing most of his career. But when it came to staffing himself into a new CEO job after he sold a company in the mid-1990s, he was at a loss.

“I had just sold EnviroStaff, where I was CEO for four years. We applied the temporary staffing concept to the environmental industry,” he says. “After I sold it in 1996 I thought I’d have lots of interest from venture capital types about doing something new. That didn’t happen.”

He was surprised. EnviroStaff had been a huge success. It had grown to serve clients from 13 locations in the United States in just three and a half years. He figured he’d have some feelers. But he had one thing working against him at the time: He wasn’t in high-tech.

“That’s where all the money was going. My ideas were good but they weren’t going to be grand slams. The VC firms were looking to the big tech startups for those,” he says.

So LaBombard had some time on his hands, which was new for him. He had been working 18-hour days for years running his business, and while he may have chafed at those demands at the time, he enjoyed working. A basketball and baseball player in college, he thrived on competition; he liked the intensity of the workplace and wanted to get back to it, at a senior level. “I still had the fire in my belly,” he says.

It can be a challenging transition for top executives. While most leave with generous financial compensation, especially through a sale (and often even through a termination), filling the void can be hard, and job openings at the C-suite level are scarce. The number of S&P 500 companies appointing new leaders reached a nine-year low in 2012, when only 37 companies appointed new chiefs, according to search firm Spencer Stuart. Fifty-three companies named new CEOs in 2013, but 72 percent were internal moves.

He spent a year wrapping things up after selling EnviroStaff and a year afterward with his family. With a young family at home, he doesn’t regret the time he took, but there are only so many T-ball games to umpire.

At about the two-year mark he started a business consultancy and joined a corporate board. That got him back in the mix, and he started networking.

In retrospect, he wished he had started earlier.

“To the extent you’re in your early 40s, it’s all about networking. You have to plan that before you start doing it. If I made a mistake, it was that in that transition year I didn’t utilize my time well enough in planning for the future, and that probably hurt me a little bit,” he says.

He gradually built up contacts that led him to GradStaff, which places new college grads in entry-level positions and serves as an outsource college recruiting program for companies. He joined as CEO in 2002.

“I love the business—it’s great to work with young people,” he says. “Business has been great the past four years. One of the reasons is demographics. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement. Generation X is only half the size of the boomers, so companies that want to hire can’t find the talent that they need at the Gen X level. They’re having to hire now at the entry level to prepare for the loss of their experienced people. It’s going really well.”

Considering his experience with Enviro- Staff, another ‘-staff’ role seems ideal, and it is. But it took a while to get there, and the route was circuitous.

“I couldn’t have plotted any of this ahead of time,” he says.

He’s 58 now and still has plenty of energy. Could he see himself building up a company as he once did and putting in all those long hours? Does he still have that same fire in the belly? The answer comes quickly.

“No. But I can see investing with a young person and being involved from a strategic standpoint. That would be fun. But I wouldn’t want to do the day-to-day at this stage of my career.”

By the Numbers

  • In 2013 GradStaff placed more than 850 college graduates.
  • It works with more than 900 colleges and employers in more than 80 cities across the country.
  • More than 80 percent of its candidates are still in their jobs two years after placement.
  • It had more than $10 million in revenue in 2012.
  • The company has more than 35 employees, in nine large-city locations.

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