Ryan Sasson came into the Buffalo area with a bold plan: creating at least 1,500 jobs in five years.
The CEO of Strategic Financial Solutions is moving toward that goal, with more than 30 people working at its customer contact center on Lawrence Bell Drive in Amherst. The company has an additional 600 employees at its home base in Manhattan.
Strategic Financial Solutions is not a debt collection firm, but instead a debt settlement firm. Its employees work with consumers coping with excessive credit card debt. One of the firm's local investors, Jordan A. Levy, helped persuade the company to choose the Buffalo area for its expansion.
In December, the company moved into its permanent home, after starting out in temporary space at Fountain Plaza. Sasson talked about how his company is attempting to grow such a large work force, while building name recognition in a new town:
Q: How has business been for you here so far?
A: It's been great. Obviously there were some unknowns with who we were going to find, and what kind of talent pool there was. We did do some research, but I don't think you ever really know until you're there and hiring and meeting people and making sure there's a culture fit. We've had great success. We've had three [training] classes now of unbelievably great, young, talent, focused people that really just fit our culture and our values.
Q: How are you going about recruiting people?
A: We get a lot of our employees since day one from referrals, and that's how we like to grow our family if we can. That's usually the best way, but we're doing a lot of outreach in the community. We're going to get more ingrained in the community, also. … We want to make Strategic a household name in Buffalo.
Q: What is the profile of the people you are hiring? Are they new college graduates, or experienced people?
A: It's a mix. I would say more millennials so far, which is really consistent with what we typically hire in New York. But not only college grads — it could be a second or third or fourth job [for an employee].
Q: What do you look for in new hires?
A: We really do hire first and foremost for fit and value and being able to share the same kind of values and passion for helping people. We do believe we have a great training program, so you don't have to have any experience to get any of our jobs here, other than maybe management. And when we're talking about management, we like career development, moving people up the ranks. There's a steady flow of that, also.
Q: Is there much crossover between your Amherst and Manhattan operations?
A: There's total back and forth. Two of our service leaders, Andy Pyne and Bob Duggan [who are based here], they head up customer service and negotiations, respectively, for the whole company. All of their vision and all of their experience (applies), no matter where we are, in New York City or Buffalo. The whole department reports up to them.
Q: How do you make your company stand out and keep growing?
A: Keep helping people, keep getting the word out, keep getting their ear, to people who are in trouble, people who don't know there is something out there between making minimum payments for almost the rest of their lives, versus bankruptcy.
I think all of my competitors and I share kind of a vision of making debt settlement a household name that people believe in, that they know is there in case they need it, should they need it. I sit on the board of the (American Fair Credit Council), which is the industry association for debt settlement. So when I say that we share that passion, I speak for the board.
Q: Are more consumers needing this type of service?
A: I think even now, where our economy is doing pretty well and kind of going in the right direction, there are a lot of people, unfortunately, who get in over their heads with debt. It's kind of the American way.
It differs from a lot of other countries. And when they do that and then something in their life happens that they don't expect, they find themselves not being able to afford that debt. So there have to be options out there to help them.