Podcasting, Recruiting, Career advice and more with Outdoor Industry Executive Recruiter Roy Notowitz [EP 223]

June 23, 2020

Today my guest is Noto Group Executive Search President Roy Notowitz. Roy has spent nearly his entire career in the Pacific Northwest. His work includes founding the Generator Group, he spent time in recruiting at Nike, he’s is a recipient of the SGB 40 Under 40 award and has his own podcast How I Hire.

Podcasting, Recruiting, Career advice and more with Outdoor Industry Executive Recruiter Roy Notowitz

Photographer: Zack Spear | Source: Unsplash

How'd you get introduced to the outdoors? What was your first outdoor experience like?

I feel really lucky. I grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Manlius, the Manilius Fayetteville area, which is just outside of Syracuse. And, you know, it was at a time when kids would roam free in the woods, and around the neighborhood. It was a pretty standard neighborhood, but we had woods nearby. We built sledding tracks and we played baseball in the street and in our backyards, we rode bikes. Basically it was a time when parents would just kick their kids out of the house all day and say come home at night for dinner. We were a big ski family, so my parents were, they weren't hippies, but they acted like it. We had a garden and they went jogging before everyone else was jogging. We had a very active and healthy family lifestyle, and we would ski every weekend. Sometimes twice on the weekends or sometimes once during a weeknight. In Syracuse, there are a few different mountains within 20, 30-minute drive. We went to this place called Labrador mountain, “Ski more at Labrador”, was their slogan. And it was like 800 vert, they had a T-bar and chairlift that was super slow. That was a big part of my early outdoor experience.
And, and then in my teens, my parents had bought this little fishing cabin in the thousand islands, which is about two and a half hours north of Syracuse, just outside of Brockville, Ontario. We kept our boat on the US side and we'd cross the river and check-in at customs then go to this little Island. And there's a 30 mile stretch of the Saint Lawrence River that flows out of Lake Ontario, bordering New York and Ontario. And there are about 1800 small to medium-sized islands with little cabins and stuff on them. A lot of them aren’t winterized, ours wasn't. I saved up all this lawn mowing money that I earned to buy a small aluminum fishing boat and with a 15 horse Evinrude motor. It was my obsession. I became obsessed with fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass and Northern pike. And there's a 10 mile stretch of that river that I know like the back of my hand to this day. I went back there a few summers ago and I still know where all the Shoals are and where all my fishing spots are. I have a nautical chart framed in my office. It's changed a lot because of the zebra mussels and the cormorants. The whole ecosystem in the Saint Lawrence River hs changed. It's sad in the last 15 years the river has really declined. But that's my happy place. I can still picture the early morning fog burning off the river and then loons and the carp jumping and casting and trolling along the weed beds.

What was your first outdoor job?

I went to Potsdam college, which is right on the edge of the Adirondack Park. There are 9,000 square miles of lakes, rivers, and mountains, and it's close to the Saint Lawrence River. So I was able to continue to go to the cabin in summers. Potsdam was part of the State University of New York, and they had a satellite outdoor recreation campus on a little Lake called Star Lake. It was about 35, 40-minute drive from campus. Students would go there on the weekends to take classes, physical education classes. So they had a tiny ski hill with the little J bar. And I never taught before. So I basically had to teach how to put your skis on how to fall, how to get up, how to stop and turn. Then in the warmer months, I stayed there in the summer and taught canoeing and sailing, mostly Sunfish and Snarks.
I was always active in student activities. I was on the camp board, which is the student board for that outdoor recreation facility. I was a student orientation leader, I volunteered on the local rescue squad. So I had a lot of activities. I was more social than academic at that point. Figuring out a lot of things and whatever you could fit in around the fund.

Tell our listeners how you became an outdoor industry recruiter.

It's an interesting story and it's part luck, being in the right place at the right time. And it starts in grad school. After Potsdam, I went to Virginia Tech and earned a master's degree in education with a focus on education administration.
During my graduate studies, I was really drawn to the career services center and found an interest in how students formed career aspirations and how people figured out what they wanted to do and making the connection between higher education and the business world, which I think to this day, there's still a bit of a disconnect. The challenge was I really didn't have a lot of business experience or career experience. So I don't know if my obsession was because I really didn't know what I was going to do with my career or if I really wanted to help people. Anyway, after grad school, I drove my pickup truck across the country with my dog to Portland, Oregon. It was kind of on a whim, I identified the Pacific Northwest as a place I wanted to be.
I checked out Seattle and Portland and Portland just felt kind of right. When I got here, it was July 1995. My first job was pumping gas for five and a quarter an hour. And I also got a second job selling shoes. Hiking and walking shoes at the walking company. I sold the European comfort shoes, mostly like Echo’s, Mephisto, and Clarks. They were really innovative and differentiated at the time, they used better materials and construction. I enjoyed the customer interaction and I was always selling in the top 10% nationwide because I'm competitive. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that job. In fact, I got employee discounts from that manager for maybe 10 years after I worked there. But after about six months of working there, I landed a desk job as a recruiter in a staffing agency in downtown Portland.
It was kind of an old school Jerry McGuire kind of staffing agency. On my desk, I had a phone, a shoebox of three by five cards that were blank, a phone book, and a phone. They had computers at the time, but not at that company. We faxed resumes to companies and we took out classified ads on the job. I was marketing candidates to companies. And at the time even candidates paid fees, part of the fees to companies. So very different, but, and it took me about a year to really figure out was I very commission focused.
After a year, I got a call. I don't know if it's divine intervention or just luck, but a recruiter called asking if I would be interested in that position at Nike. And in my interview with the HR manager at Nike apparel, he asked, what do you know about apparel footwear? So I took the shoe off of my foot and I started taking him through all of the things I just talked about, the materials, the construction. And he could tell that I had a passion for the product. And he literally said his name's Adam Baker, and every day to this day, I still thank him for that opportunity. But he said, “Okay kid, I'll give you a shot”.
So anyway, I landed in the apparel division, right when Nike was shifting from selling tee shirts and accessories with footwear to becoming a functional apparel brand. And that really enhanced the performance of athletes with the fit, the fabrication, and materials. Dry fit when had just come out. So the apparel team was really small in comparison to the recruiting team and the rest of the company. The apparel business grew from 400 million to 3 billion during the time I was there and we recruited about 1200 people in those three years. I learned a ton, it was a great experience. And of course, now it's one of the most successful apparel companies in the world.

What inspired you to continue down that outdoor industry recruiter path?

That's a great question. I saw a need, to be honest, in recruiting. It's very inconsistent, the results when we were partnering with external firms. You know, the way they represented the brand, Nike was very particular about that. The way that these candidates are screened, we like to use structured interviewing and competencies and, a lot of recruiters were kind of just pitching candidates. And I felt like if we could create a more consistent and more professional service model, sort of like there's no bar associated student association or MBA or any accreditation that's meaningful in recruiting. So I wanted to take it up a notch. And what I realized is there's an opportunity to act more like an in house recruiting team to bring these fortune 500 best practices, to bring more consistency, to have a service delivery model with the accountabilities and, and deliverables, and to really help companies figure out where they want to go and how they want to get there and bringing world-class recruiting resources to small and midsize growth-oriented companies. So that's kind of what my first vision was for The Generator Group and to a large degree that’s the vision here as well. So I started The Generator Group and ran that for about nine years. I had two partners and then in 2009, I branched off and started The Noto Group, We're coming up on 11 years here.
Photographer: Marvin Meyer | Source: Unsplash

What are a couple of the accomplishments you're most proud of?

We passed our 10 year anniversary last year and I'm really proud of the team we've built. The team is really my biggest asset here. The level of experience that they bring is significant and clients really trust us. They turn to us when they need an experienced partner that they can trust. And when we do great work, we get more work. There are three things that kind of come to mind. One is being the first outdoor industry professional services firm to become a B Corp, or at least the first outdoor industry recruiting firm, for sure. We certified in 2013, and we've recertified three times and scored higher each time. They get harder every time. And we also, for the last six years in a row have earned B Corp's best for workers award. So this coupled with the opportunity to work with so many great clients has been huge in helping me attract top-level talent to the firm. And then the second accomplishment I think was, a decision I made shortly after I started this firm to really expand our client base beyond the athletic and outdoor industry. So we do work in parallel consumer sectors, such as food beverage, grocery, natural products, restaurant hospitality. And this really aligns us with the way PE firms operate and the way law firms operate with consumer practices and the way investment bankers work. So this strategy has really helped us create more stability for the firm, which then allows us to invest more in the team, the tools, and the causes we care about. And it also enables us to sort of cross-pollinating to generate a more diverse range of candidates for clients.
And that's really smart too because it gives you a lot of opportunities to bring a broader resource, broader opportunities to both the client and the applicant, right?
Yeah. You might see someone who comes in wanting to focus on outdoor and athletics, but you look at them and you talk to them and you realize, you know what, you're going to fit way better over here. Right? One of the differentiators is that we put a lot of energy and effort into cultivating and engaging this talent ecosystem. We have over 10,800 people following us on LinkedIn. We have a monthly newsletter that goes out to 8,000 people. We have web traffic, like 2,500 to 3000 people a month hitting our sites. So we have a really engaged talent network. And I think that's a huge differentiator for us.
I think the third thing I'm most proud of is launching our leadership consulting practice. So last year and in the past 12 months, we've really been working on communicating and integrating our new capabilities and it's been really well received. It started with a colleague and actually a former client, Dr. Ted Freeman, who's based out in New York. He worked at Eileen Fisher, which is basically like the Patagonia of the fashion world.
They're a highly sustainable women's fashion brand, and very mission and purpose-driven. We did some work there, some leadership, a CFO, and a board position, and Ted was our client and he branched off on his own. He has a background in leadership development, coaching, and assessment. And I started thinking about how we could wrap these services around our recruiting and our search work to create greater success for clients and to get people ramped up faster and to be more effective, faster. So he, and a bunch of his colleagues that he collaborates with have really helped us broaden and deepen our work around leadership assessment, onboarding, integration, leadership development, and coaching. Our clients are engaging him and his team of colleagues to help do really meaningful work. And so as the economy recovers, I'm confident that this will become even more central.
Leadership is a word that's used very lightly. I've found over the years, the more energy effort and thought that you put into hiring and, and developing and, bringing the team along. The more results you get, it's just part of that. The better the team works together too. I think. There's a lot of things that can derail teams and a lot of issues around culture and communication and, people can be more effective. I think that's what companies are realizing now. They don't have a lot of resources to hire a lot of people, especially moving forward. So they have to make sure that they get it right, and that the team is as effective as it can be.

You probably have a pretty good read on what's going on in the job market. What are you reading in the tea leaves right now? How's it looking?

Um, it's a mixed bag. So there's obviously a significant amount of job loss. And to be honest, I don't think that everyone is going to get hired back. Companies are not going to be like, okay, well, let's get back to work and let's use the same strategy and the same people, it's going to be a complete reset. And there's been some acceleration points, obviously around digital and eCommerce. Some of our clients are really investing in that even while they're divesting other resources. Other companies are realizing, that there are weaknesses within their leadership team, or they have a key position that they still need to fill. So there are still, I would say it went from a flood of opportunities and people calling us every week to see if we could help them work on projects to a trickle.
For candidates, I think that means you have to really know your strengths. You have to really know the job that you're best suited for, and you have to go beyond. You can't just look at postings and hope that you can apply and find a job. I think it's going to be really competitive. And I think you're really going to have to make sure that you're able to differentiate and communicate and realize that you're going to have to have a lot of activity to be in the right place at the right time because there's going to be such a competitive market. I feel really bad for a lot of the newly minted job seekers but at the same time. It's an opportunity for people to reinvent and rethink and maybe chart different directions. And I'm sure at the end of the day, even some of these companies that are failing right now, they might get recapitalized. I know there's a lot of private equity firms that might find these distress brands and bring them back to life. And so over time, I'm optimistic that everything will work out and that companies will actually be stronger as a result of this because retail, let's be honest, it was struggling already.vI'm trying to put a lot of resources on our website and blog and being as kind as I can, you know, and my team as well, to be responsive and supportive of job seekers. It's hard to keep up though, for sure.

Who are some of the mentors that have helped you along the way, building this great team?

I've had a lot, Adam Baker, I talked about who was the person who gave me my start. To this day when I call him, I thank him for giving me my start. But what I learned from him, he was a great manager and supervisor, and I haven't had a lot of managers and supervisors in my career. So I learned a lot from him, always supportive, kind of gave us a lot of freedom, even when we were very inexperienced, he trusted us and very metrics-driven, a lot of communication and follow-through, strategy and planning, follow-through, every month, every quarter, I learned that.
Sue Schneider, who was his boss. She was also very involved in guiding the Nike apparel recruiting team and a super straight shooter, great at team building. After I left Nike, she sort of was a constant supporter. She's done tons of offsite strategy and planning meetings for the firm and probably a dozen team-building off-sites. And she never took any money. She always says just to pay me with a bottle of wine and a restaurant gift card. So I got to learn her favorite restaurants. She's fantastic.
Steven Gomez, who was the brand president at Nike apparel when I was there, was sort of my boss's boss's boss. I wasn't obviously exposed too much to Steven at Nike, but after Nike, his mentorship really was around getting involved with the community.
He's been involved with a lot of really great organizations and he's brought me in to do executive searches and we've also worked together on a few nonprofit boards. He's very process-oriented and he thinks through how to engage all the stakeholders. His leadership is just Epic. I would pretty much do anything for him. His values and his commitment to the community is just inspiring to have in your corner.
One other person that I mentioned is Jack Ramsey, he's been a brand and marketing person. He worked for Regis McKenna, which is one of the most successful PR and marketing firms, then Apple and Intel, and companies like that in the early days. He really helped me bring the brand to life and define our differentiation early on with both firms and again, for little or no money. And his thing was acknowledging that people helped him along the way. His expectation of me is that I pay it forward. So I try to also support other entrepreneurs as well.

How'd you get into podcasting, how'd you discover it or decide that you wanted to do it?

It was born out of a need. So you know, it's called How I Hire, where I interview VP and C level executives to learn their best executive hiring advice and insights.
So I started looking for that content in the podcast sphere. And what I found was there were some recruiters and search consultants sharing their own views and some interviewing other recruiters and talent acquisition professionals. But no one was interviewing the actual hiring executives on how they hire. And I saw a huge gap in information that existed out there. And so, you know, people don't want to hear what I have to say. They want to hear what my clients have to say. I love the format because I've interviewed thousands and thousands of people over the years and it's my fascination, learning, and interviewing. I found How I Hire dot com was available and I recruited a top-notch podcaster to help me get things off the ground. It's been about 10, 11 months and we've been doing about one episode a month and we're about to kick it up to two a month. I've been able to get some pretty inspiring leaders to be on the show and it's been really well received and I'm super excited about it. It's one of my favorite things to do.

Where do you think that curiosity comes from?

Hiring's not a perfect science, so I'm always looking for content and it's so broad and deep. There are so many different areas you can talk about, executive recruiting, selection, diversity, there's just a million topics. And so the curiosity just comes from a learning sort of mindset. The fact that I found that I'm always talking about with our clients and, even when we could go to parties, meet up with friends, I'm always fascinated by again what people do and, and whether or not they're good at it. In companies, there's a leader for marketing and an expert in finance and supply chain and operations and product creation people, and they're all masters at what they do, but everybody recruits and hires and not everyone is great at.

Let’s talk about any nonprofit work you do. I know you guys do a lot of that.

Yeah. I mean, it really aligns with our mission as a B Corp and as a purpose-driven search firm, about 5% of our work is nonprofit. And we have some of that is pro bono. And some of it is at a discounted rate. We donate about 1% of revenue to nonprofits focused on equity and education and environmental conservation and outdoor education. So we work with and donate money to Nature Bridge and Open School and Big City Mountaineers, and Conservation Alliance, organizations like that. We also provide paid time off for volunteer work and match employee donations. We've done executive searches for American Alpine Club, Access Fund, Bicycle Transportation Alliance, OIA, Open School, and Period.org. Just to name a few off the top of my head. And then we also have donated space in our office building that we moved into last year. We have two of our desks are for nonprofits that we support. So, yeah. I try to make that central to our purpose so that 1% or more of revenue and we're trying to do more. I think the more success we have, the more we can do.

What outdoor activities do you participate in, do you still out skiing?

Not as much, I really have fallen off. My daughter's 12, almost 13, and she's become involved with the equestrian sport. So it's like a year-round thing. She's always training and competing as a Hunter jumper. And I love going to the barn and watching her train and compete. It takes away from our ability to go skiing and hiking on a lot of weekends because literally, it's both days and several times during the week. I'm learning a ton about the sport. It's fascinating.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to get into the outdoor biz or grow their career if they're already in the industry?

So I could focus on recent college grads or more experienced people, or do you have a preference?
So to get into the outdoor industry, actually we have a ton of stuff on our blog and have information out there where people can check it out, but I'll give a good example too. Basically a lot of college grads come saying to me saying that they want to get their foot in the door, or I want to be in sports marketing. And, you know, when I ask if they want to work with athletes or in product marketing or in brand marketing, they're not really clear. They just think sports marketing is outdoor or athletic. So I think the first thing is you really need to do your homework and to understand what jobs are out there and where you might fit in and where the starting points are. and to get creative, you know, like if you just apply to Patagonia, there are 9,000 applicants, you know, for, I dunno how many internships, but a dozen at the most.
So it's very hard to do that. And I'll give you an example of somebody who was successful, who I interacted with, from Michigan State. So I got a call. This was three years ago, from this guy named Oliver, Oliver Ambrose. He called me and he said, “I'm a student at Michigan State. I was looking at internships at Patagonia. I realized the recruiter there used to work for your firm, Alyssa Kessler. And so I started checking out your firm and I’m really interested in learning what you do. And wondering if you have any internship opportunities, I'll get myself to Portland for the summer. And these are some of the other things I'm doing”. And he started an outdoor blog, he did travel photography, he was a double major in philosophy and business and all this other stuff. He was obviously ambitious. And so I'm like, all right, well, well, let's talk some more. And we ended up hiring him and he came here for the summer. We got him a bike so he could commute. He was great. In fact, he worked for us for the entire rest of his senior year. Then he got an internship at Prana, probably because of some of the work that he did here. We even gave him a project around helping us become carbon neutral, like evaluating our footprint. And so he got an internship doing work on building a sustainability scoring system and then he got hired in product sourcing and sustainability. He made his way just by being really creative. I think that's a great example. And there are a few other programs that might be like the Portland State Athletic and Outdoor Industry certificate and Oregon State has a product management program. And I'm sure there are others.
You are probably not going to get in the door doing the role of your dream job, but you'll get in the door doing something and then work your way into your dream job.

If you could have a banner at the entrance to the OR show what would it say?

I have two signs. One that says “hiring is a process, not an event”. And that is the more energy and effort and thoughtfulness you put into the process, the better the results you get.
And on the other side of the banner, I’d say, “thank you for hiring my team. I love everybody in the industry and feel grateful.

How about favorite books or books you give us gifts?

Well, lately I've been giving the book Made to Hire by Marin Huntley and that's about how to get the job you really want. And there are so many job seekers or people interested in making career moves. That's a book that I've been spending a lot of energy helping to promote cause I think it's really good. She has a background both on the corporate side and in marketing and she has also helped a lot of people. She has an online program as well as a book.

Do you have a favorite outdoor gear purchase under a hundred dollars?

Outdoor Research just came out with this essential face mask and it comes with a removable filter system and a special coating on the fabric that can provide some extra protection. I don't think they can make any claims that it's antiviral, but the construction, the ear loops, the shape, the way it's constructed looks really comfortable.

Is there anything else you'd like to say or ask of our listeners?

I'm so grateful for the outdoor industry and I feel honored to be on your podcast. I've really appreciated and enjoyed all of the friendships and relationships and professional support that I've gotten over the years. It's hard, you know, especially during these times, where we can't see each other. I really miss everybody and look forward to seeing things soon.

Where can people find you if they want to reach out, email, Twitter, Instagram, go to the website?

LinkedIn is great. You can follow us on LinkedIn. You can reach out to connect to me. You can InMail me. You can go to notogroup.com and subscribe to our monthly newsletter, which has updates on the jobs we're working on. And you can go to howIhire.com or wherever you listen to podcasts for How I Hire and subscribe.

Other Links to things we talked about

Noto Group Website

Noto Group Executive Search Services

Noto Group Leadership Consulting Services

Noto Group Job Board

Noto Group LinkedIn Page

How I Hire Podcast Website

Certified B Corporations

Made to Hire

Outdoor Research Essential Face Mask Kit

Link to Roy on LinkedIn

 

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