Interview with Mark Richardson:
By A. David Dahmer
So, what’s this “Unfinished Business” all about?
“I connect talent with opportunity.
That’s my elevator speech. And it might be one of the shortest elevator speeches in history.
But it’s really what I do. I look for opportunities to connect people with whatever their next opportunity is,” says Mark Richardson, founder and owner of Unfinished Business, a consulting company based out of Madison’s near east side.
“I’ve got clients that are 50-something and looking to start a new chapter in their careers.
I’ve got clients who have just gotten their MBA [Master of Business Administration]. I’ve got people who have just gotten their associates degree in business. It ranges — but it is all about finding how to connect that particular person with their next opportunity.”
The company name came to Richardson by chance from a conversation he had with a former colleague of his when he worked for the state at the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. The man was looking at early retirement and Richardson asked him what he was going to do next.
“He told me that he wasn’t sure. He was a graphic artist and I assumed that he would want to work with an ad agency or with a printing company or something like that,” Richardson remembers.
“He told me that he would like to work in one of those two places but he didn’t really know anybody. So I said to him, ‘It doesn’t actually sound like you’re going to retire; you are just leaving the state. I told him he still has ‘unfinished business’ and I told him that if I had some contacts that would open a door for him that I would do whatever I can to help.”
The idea behind Unfinished Business, LLC has been building for years. Richardson felt that after the high note of helping to organize and execute the 2013 Urban League of Greater Madison Diversity and Leadership Summit, it was time to use his expertise and experience for his own endeavor. “I had worked in workforce development with the Urban League. Even prior to that when I was with the State of Wisconsin and with the [Madison] Chamber [of Commerce], I always seemed to be in positions where I was involved in search committees and I worked a lot and did a lot of hiring and a lot of team-building,” Richardson says.
“I had a lot of experience with trying to attract talent and trying to bring on people and integrate them into a team.
That fed the desire to go into this business which is to help align people with the right opportunities and to help them find their way.”
Even with decades of knowledge and experience, it’s always a scary experience to go out on your own and start something new.
But that’s exactly what Richardson did late last year with the launching of Unfinished Business LLC.
“Yes, it was a little scary going out on your own. I was leaving a really good position at a great organization making decent money to take a risk and go out all on my own,” Richardson says.
“But I took the time and did the research and saved the money to make sure I was ready for this. “I had to sell it to my wife first and foremost. And I figured that if I couldn’t sell it to her than I probably wasn’t going to be very good in business,” Richardson adds, laughing. “So it was a little scary but it’s very exciting and energizing. It fuels you. It makes you work harder.”
A huge part of consulting, job coaching, job hunting, and connecting people to the right people is networking.
And not many Madisonians have a bigger network than Richardson.
Most recently, he was vice president of Economic & Workplace Development at the Urban League of Greater Madison but before that he was division administrator for Housing and Community Development for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce and deputy secretary for the Department of Tourism — both under former Gov. Jim Doyle.
Prior to that, Richardson was director of membership and marketing for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and regional sales and marketing director for Charter Communications.
“There are three main sectors in the economy for the greater Madison area. You’ve got a public sector that everybody knows about with the government —whether it’s state, county, or city. You’ve got got the private sector — mid- and small-sized companies along with big companies.
And, then, you’ve got the non-profit sector which is huge here — in Dane County we have the highest number of non-profits per capita in the country,” Richardson says.
“The cool part is that my path has allowed me to work and have significant roles in each one of those sectors. It’s given me an understanding of how each sector operates.
Each sector has their rules — some of them are written and some of them are unwritten.
Because I’ve been in all of those sectors, it gives me a good breadth of experience to then consult with others.”
Richardson’s networks from those three sectors are very useful to his clients.
“Networking is key. There is very little that will advance your career and provide you opportunities faster or better than networking,” he says.
“That’s one of the things that I tell young clients, in particular.
They think that having a LinkedIn profile and having a LinkedIn connection with someone is networking.
But there’s a difference between being a connection and having a connection.
Being a connection will get you random messages about somebody’s random anniversary at work.
Having a connection will get you a call-back when you need something.
Having a connection will get you to what you need and to who you need.
Networking is key. Aside from doing good work, nothing is more important to your next opportunity than networking.”
About 80 percent of the work Richardson does is on-the-job coaching and career-path planning.
“But I do get calls from organizations who are looking for talent and are looking to bring on a specific role or who are looking to diversify their candidate pool just generally speaking,” Richardson says.
Most of his clients come to him by the way of referral. While he works with many Madisonians, he has clients from out of state and some clients from out of country.
“I have an African American gentleman who just came here from Kansas. His wife landed a job here and he’s looking to find an opportunity for himself,” Richardson says.
“I’m happy to work with him and to leverage my networks to help him do what he wants to do. “I have a client from Europe who is in bio-tech and he just got his MBA. So, you have a talented individual that’s coming into the market that doesn’t know anybody who is looking to broaden his network so he can land a job at a bio-tech company or one of the start-ups here,” Richardson continues. “Who wouldn’t want to know about a guy with that kind of résumé that’s brand new to town and is looking for an opportunity?”
Other clients are people that are looking to make a change, but they may not want anybody to know. Everything Richardson does with a client is confidential and he doesn’t talk names unless the client wants him to talk names.
“But we position them for what they know is out there and when the time comes where they decide they want to approach a different company or a different organization about an opportunity, then it become ‘public knowledge,’ if you will, and they go after a certain position,” Richardson says. “A lot of the work that we do is behind the scenes.”
Richardson doesn’t really look for opportunities or people who don’t want to work in the Madison area. “For me, it’s all about keeping talent here and helping folks find opportunities so they don’t go to a new market,” he says. “That’s the macro issue. You don’t want to lose them because they don’t see opportunity here.”
One of Richardson’s long-term goals is to keep Madison talent in Madison where they can continue to help drive innovation and growth.
Brain drain, Richardson says, is a much bigger threat than we realize. “There’s a micro reason and a macro reason that I do what I do,” he says.
“The micro issue is that I want to be able to help an individual who has all the talent, skills, and experience in the world connect with the necessary opportunity that fulfills their goal.
The macro issue is that if you take that person and multiply that person by 10 or 20 or 30, now you are talking about keeping people here in Madison.
You are talking about people who [were] thinking about leaving the market and going to the Twin Cities or to Chicago or Milwaukee, but are now in Madison. We want to keep talented people who care about this community here in Madison.
If people aren’t seeing or finding opportunities to advance their career and to grow professionally, they are going to go somewhere where they do see that; where opportunity is more readily identifiable.
If I can help folks find opportunities here and get people connected to the right people, I hope that will help the ‘brain drain’ that we see in Madison. I think it’s a very big deal.”
Specifically, Madison is famous for having a tough time retaining talented people of color.
“They come here for the great education and then they leave because they don’t see the opportunity,” Richardson says.
“And, quite frankly, we haven’t done a good enough job as employers and organizations to value that talent and to try and keep that talent here.
And those institutions of higher learning who are interacting with those students haven’t done a good job in routing them to opportunities.
And that needs to be change. We need to be intentional about it.
It’s not going to happen organically or else it would already be happening. What are we doing to better route and retain that talent?”
With Unfinished Business, Richardson hopes to efficiently and effectively connect employers and job seekers.
“It’s very satisfying for me when somebody I’m working with gets the job that they want,” Richardson says. “Then I’ve done my work and you kind of sink and swim with them.
If the person has to interview and they haven’t interviewed in a long time, I will set up an interview with an HR [human resources] professional or a panel of HR professionals so that we can simulate what my client is going to go through for that particular job.
And I’m happy when there is progress and there are opportunities for my client. Of course, if they don’t get a call back, we step back and talk about what we could have done differently and figure out if it was a good fit.
You work through it with them because at the end of the day looking for work is work and I want my clients to feel like somebody is working hard for them.”
It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a new start-up business, but Richardson already has one eye on the future.
“My goal for the business is to see organic growth; growth through referrals.
If we sit down for an interview again in a couple of years I would love to be able to tell you how many consultants I am employing now,” he says.
“I would love to be able to tell you of the hundreds of people we have helped to find that next opportunity.
I would love to be one of those organizations that is positively impacting the brain drain and [to tell you] that this small business is not as small and that it’s impact is much bigger.”
Interested in what Unfinished Business has to offer? Check them out on Facebook or call (608)230-6020 or (608)658-5626.