With 38 years and counting at the helm of Career Group Companies, President and Founder Susan Levine is a certified industry disruptor and all-around girl boss. While times have changed since she began her company over three decades ago, she credits her daughters and colleagues, Emily and Natalie, for keeping a pulse on the wants and needs of the millennial generation. Through the help of her daughters and her innate ability to remain resilient and fearless, Levine has managed to spearhead a successful company that is continuously gaining momentum in the business world. Her wisdom for the next generation of women entrepreneurs is invaluable, and happens to be the same advice she’s given to her own children who help her run the business on a daily basis.
In 1981, Levine’s dream was to start a firm that provided high-touch recruiting services for leading companies, helping them find candidates that would positively impact their company’s culture and ultimately their lives. Lofty? You’ve got that right. At the time, the recruiting and staffing industry was considered “old-school,” in that deals were transactional – there wasn’t true matchmaking being done. “There wasn’t the drive or the desire to change somebody’s life and find them their perfect dream job,” Levine said. “I saw a need. I’m a people person and it just seemed as though I was the quintessential matchmaker, and my instincts were so good that they were generally right.” Over the years, Career Group Companies was built on a new approach to recruiting, and the philosophy that both candidates and clients should have choices when it comes to their careers.
When Susan’s daughters joined the CGC family, it was a natural fit, and one that transformed the business into the multi-generational company it is today (Levine’s mother, Dawn, is also an integral member of CGC). “This company is my DNA, and when your kids grow up listening to their mother all day long on the phone with clients and candidates closing deals, it’s not a surprise that this could be a dream for them as well,” Levine said.
What can the next generation of female entrepreneurs learn from Levine about the path to leadership? Quite a bit.
Never one to shy away from the truth, Levine admits that before the success of CGC, she didn’t have a clear career path. “I never had a dream of being an entrepreneur. It didn’t occur to me that starting a business and running a company would even be an option until I was in it,” she said. This relatability, among other things, is what makes Levine such a strong leader; her personal experience allows her to act as a mentor to both employees of the firm and candidates alike. “I can tell you that I never gave up. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that I had to put my head down and work hard and stay focused.” She added that it’s almost necessary to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re starting a business or new career path. “You may think you know, but it’s through the failures and falling down that I learned the most…today, I still don’t know everything, but I know a lot more than I knew 38 years ago, that’s for sure.”
The bold entrepreneur also credits her tenacity and relentlessness for helping her build a thriving business. “I don’t think you can sit on the sidelines and be low-key,” she said. “You have to push through being uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is good, and I think being a disruptor of yourself is essential.”
On the topic of success, Levine is clear that you have to be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve your dream. “You can’t be the best kept secret,” she said. “To me, being successful means being the person you want to be, having integrity, and feeling as though you’re recognized in a positive way. Remember that there’s always room for more and there’s always room for improvement.” Paving the way to your passion is challenging, but without the discomfort, there is no growth.
At the end of the day, Levine believes that being real is the best thing you can do for yourself. “Have moral fiber and character. People want to know the real you,” she said. “People want to be friends with the people they do business with; that’s how you gain trust.” Levine also believes that in order to be leader, you have to take care of your employees, as your team members are the ones standing by your side as you weather the storms. “Somebody told me a long time ago that the ride down is a lot faster, so when you’re riding high, take care of your business and take care of your people.”
As a last piece of advice for all current and future entrepreneurs: the work is always worth it when you love what you’re doing. “The truth is, I think about how happy I am. The people I work with every day make me feel so fortunate… [it’s been] a wild ride. The best ride of my life.”