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By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker

‘Tis the season of the draft! This time of year always makes me think about teams and teamwork. Teams are a huge part of business (it’s no coincidence there’s so much sports language in business: a lot of ideas overlap). They generate more value than individuals. Putting together a good team actually yields more than a loose collection of even the best individuals; a good team is greater than the sum of its parts, and what’s going to make a team great depends on the needs of the time. There isn’t one right formula for hiring a perfect team. I had to learn that when I built my first team at USI. The secret is to know yourself and your needs.

Naturally, the people I first approached were my colleagues. I knew their strengths from working together in the trenches, pulling all-nighters, and doing whatever was needed to win business. Additionally, since my employer hired from the best business schools in the country, my colleagues also knew how to develop a model and execute a plan. I thought I had a target-rich environment for sourcing my management team.

Given turmoil at the company, I thought I could easily recruit a few teammates from the shortlist I put together. But everyone turned me down! No one wanted to take the risk of leaving a regular salary and benefits to work for a startup, particularly in an economic downturn.

I pulled back and refocused on what I really needed to start up. There were three main hiring criteria I stuck to: prospects needed to be trustworthy, team players, and have a high pain threshold for hard work. Although it would have been nice, I really did not need a Harvard MBA to lift off. This freed me to tap a whole different set of people than if I’d stuck to pedigree as a requirement.

My first choice was a recent college graduate named Gus Poulopoulos who had worked for me as an intern. Gus had done everything he could to demonstrate his work ethic and competence, but when I recommended him for a full-time position, the company declined to hire him. Gus embodied all the values I knew I wanted in my company. When I offered him the opportunity to join me in my startup, he jumped at the chance.

The other person I tapped was my assistant’s husband, Tom Dever. I’d gotten to know Tom socially over the years, and he was one of the greatest guys I’d ever met: dependable, hardworking, and honest to a fault. If Tom made a commitment, you knew the job would get done well. He agreed right away.

And there I had it, my team: Gus, Tom, and me. It wasn’t the team I’d expected at the beginning of the search, but it was absolutely the right one. Later, when I needed someone with business school knowledge, we found some great people willing to come on board. In both cases, the success followed because we really understood what we needed to make our team great.

When looking for your own dream team, focus on what you know you need, not necessarily what other people’s metrics tell you to want. Though my well-educated, credentialed colleagues seemed great on paper, they didn’t gel with what my vision for USI’s culture would be. I needed to find teammates who shared my goals and values to take off. Take the time to figure out what values will orient your team, then go out and hire them.

How have you put together your dream team?

Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.


Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.