We often talk about who we are and about our mission and purpose, but haven’t ever really shared the story of how we got here! If you’ve ever wondered what building a company from the ground up really looks like, here’s some information on how we got started, straight from our Founder & President, Michael Lemmer, and Managing Partner, Jeff Garvin.
Can you tell us about your work experience prior to launching ML6?
Michael: I actually started out my career in business development in South Africa. In 2008, I came to Canada and landed in recruitment completely by chance! I interviewed with a search firm for a role with one of their clients and was offered a position with them before I left their office that same day. I really enjoyed my time there and moved up quickly. I ended up leading their Accounting & Finance division in Toronto, before making the move to a corporate talent acquisition (TA) role with Walmart Canada.
I spent two years with Walmart leading their corporate TA team and had exposure to all their home office lines of business during a particularly exciting time, as they were launching their eCommerce offering as well as Walmart Canada Bank.
Later, I was then given an opportunity to join a private-equity-backed consolidator of healthcare clinics as their head of talent. What really appealed to me about this opportunity was the fast-paced, entrepreneurial nature of the role, and the ability to build a team, organization, and set of talent strategies from scratch.
My favourite part of my role was being able to tie revenue directly to the individuals being hired — I could clearly see the impact that we were having on the business. This experience was a great learning opportunity for me. It confirmed that I am an entrepreneur at heart and gave me the courage to step out and build my own thing.
Jeff: I started in agency recruitment in downtown Toronto. Like many, I had recently graduated from university and was looking to enter the “real world.” I had not considered a role in recruitment, but I did enjoy the recruitment and selection classes I took — so when the opportunity presented itself, it was a no brainer for me.
I spent a couple of years specializing in banking and financial services recruitment before moving to a corporate talent acquisition role with Walmart, where I supported several client groups, including Supply Chain & Logistics, Legal & Compliance, IT, and Construction & Real Estate. After about two years, I was offered the opportunity to move into an HR Business Partner role supporting stores in Western Canada — and I ultimately wound up leading HR for Western Canada!
After a while, I got the itch to come back home to Ontario, and Michael had offered me the opportunity to lead talent for him at a private equity-backed healthcare company that was experiencing hypergrowth. This was an opportunity to experience something that was truly in “build mode” and was essentially a blank slate from a talent strategy perspective. I spent about two years there before officially coming on board with ML6.
What inspired you to start your own agency?
Michael: My whole life I have had side gigs on the go, which I was simply doing for fun, but I always knew I would one day run my own business — I just had to find the right moment to do so.
Having worked with multiple agencies over the course of my career, I felt that there was a gap in the market for an agency that actually partnered closely with their clients and understood the roles and reasons for their hires. I found that very few agencies actually took the time to understand our true hiring needs, and this prevented them from putting the right talent in front of us. I knew that I could do this better.
Jeff: There are two things that enticed me about joining ML6:
First, I felt there was an opportunity in the market for an agency that focused on truly partnering with organizations, as opposed to focusing on closing a deal. From my experience in various corporate TA and HR roles, I found that most agencies were just looking to get in, make a placement, and get out. Very few took the time to understand what would truly set someone up for success, and how they can support our broader talent agenda.
Second, I always want to try new things quickly and adapt on the fly. While this was certainly possible in the organizations I was previously a part of, there was always an element of “red tape.” ML6 was an opportunity to truly operate as an entrepreneur and build something from the ground up.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your own business?
Michael: Ironically — hiring the right people! It’s one thing to hire someone as a part of an existing culture, but it’s an entirely different thing to hire someone who is going to help shape the culture of the organization you’re trying to build.
A significant amount of time and energy went into making sure we got the early hires right. It was equally challenging trying to convince someone to join an organization that was just me — and I can’t really blame them!
Jeff: Building a brand that people recognize as reputable and trustworthy. When we first started out, we were able to rely on relationships that we had formed from earlier in our careers. We were fortunate that we had left positive impressions along the way. This allowed us to build a solid foundation to grow the business, despite nearly all our prospective clients and candidates having never heard of ML6 before!
What’s been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?
Michael: Repeat business. The fact that we have clients coming back to us time and time again confirms that we are doing something right. We built our business on delivering an exceptional experience to our clients and operating as an extension of their teams with the hope of developing long-term relationships.
I am also fulfilled by seeing the candidates that we place grow within their careers, and then coming back to us to support them with building their own teams!
Jeff: Aside from eliminating the commute to downtown Toronto? The most rewarding part has been watching the ML6 team grow and seeing the success that our team members are having both personally and professionally! We’ve taken great care to create a positive culture and team dynamic, so it’s especially rewarding to see that people enjoy coming to work and being a part of our journey.
Where do you see the future of talent and search agencies going?
Michael: I think there will always be a need for agencies; however, with the increased emphasis being placed on strategic talent acquisition and employer branding, internal TA teams will only continue to get better, which will in turn only leave room for agencies that really “get it.” I think we will see other agencies shift more towards something like what we are doing — where agencies are viewed as strategic partners to internal TA teams and less as “resume screeners.”
Jeff: I think agencies will always have a role to play in the recruitment world. Organizations will always encounter periods of high-growth searches that they just aren’t equipped to handle internally or confidential roles that are best managed by third parties. However, I think the bar will continue to be raised in terms of what clients expect from agencies.
There is so much competition in the agency world and the level of talent on corporate TA teams has been and will continue to go up. The agencies that are going to stick around will need to have a strong value proposition — something that ensures they stand out from the rest, and can actually meet the expectations of the organizations they are partnering with.
Maybe this means that only the best of the best stick around, or perhaps service offerings will transform from transactional to something broader and deeper.
What’s next for ML6?
Michael: Our team is constantly growing — we’ve added some great new team members this year! Additionally, we’re focused on the growth and development of our existing team members so that we can continue adding to our portfolio, while maintaining the same level of service and focus on developing strong partnerships. There’s also a continued emphasis on building deep partnerships with our clients.
Jeff: We’ll be exploring how we can develop stronger partnerships with the organizations that we support. We are constantly analyzing and tweaking our core offerings to our clients in order to ensure we are ahead of the curve when it comes to talent solutions, and I expect this to continue.
We’re also exploring strategic partnerships with other organizations that provide complementary talent solutions to those offered by ML6, with the goal of being able to provide a seamless end-to-end solution to our clients.
Interested in learning more about us?
Check out our blog: Who We Are — ML6