Steve Emerson: from Alaska to New Jersey, for family

Interview and article prepared for the Philadelphia Business Journal, as filed last week, without edits, to run in Friday’s edition.

Steve Emerson came back from Alaska almost a decade ago, and things are just starting to thaw now.emerson-steve.jpg

Emerson Personnel Group, the staffing and recruiting firm that Emerson’s parents started in Cherry Hill, N.J. 38 years ago, has had a slow transition of power, from father to son to brother in the time since his return in 2000.

“Almost glacier-like,” Emerson, 51, said.

Emerson had co-owned the business with his brother and served as vice president, but has recently finished the process of buying out his brother, who wanted to venture out on his own.

“Now I’m even in charge of things I don’t want to be in charge of.” the oldest brother of four joked.

It has been a family business since Emerson’s mother and father launched a Dunhill Staffing franchise in 1971.

“It has been advantage, to be able to say we’ve done this for 38 years,” he said.

In 2000, they bought out the franchise and put the Emerson in the name.

“There’s the pride and the passion of having your name on the door. Not that we wouldn’t always work hard and do the right thing, but it means something more,” he said. “I’m Steve Emerson, and this is Emerson Personnel Group.”

His youngest brother Bill had been at it for 18 years, but now is a one-man recruiting firm in Moorestown, N.J.

While Bill took increasingly took over control from their aging father, Emerson lived in Alaska for more than two decades, working as a mental health therapist mostly in Fairbanks.

“My wife and I were planning to fish for three months and stayed for twenty years,” he said. “Once you get passed the cold and the darkness, it is the most spectacular place on earth.”

He returned, though, and spent eight years with the family business, before finally taking over complete ownership.

The company does most of its work placing temporary administrative personnel, but increasingly does a portion of its work directing executive searches and direct hire for companies throughout the region. But he has plans. He’s leading the company into staffing positions in the allied health fields, hoping to grow the business even more.

“In recruiting, you’re always looking for a niche that won’t go away,” he said. “Oh, and I’m looking for a sales person. It’s tough to find a good sales person.”

Emerson has two sons who might someday want to carry the business further.

His mother is a shareholder; his brother still consults for the company, and his father comes into the office regularly. Emerson’s wife Mary is the office manager. It is still a family affair, indeed.

“We love each other because we see a ton of each other,” he said, noting the advantage a family business has. “When you’re home, you’re still thinking about the business, about how to fulfill our mission of becoming the best and the most excellent staffing agency in the region.”

See other reporting by Christopher Wink here.