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DECEMBER 20, 2009    LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2009, 12:06 AM
(Read the story on publication’s website, here)

About three years ago. Willie Hochman of Fair Lawn was interviewed by a recruiting firm for a position at a not-for-profit organization. He didn’t get the job, but he was impressed by the recruiting firm. Last month, he became that company’s new owner and chief executive officer.

The firm, the Joel Paul Group, was founded 24 years ago by Joel Paul, the former Jewish chaplain/Hillel director at the University of Pennsylvania and a man with many contacts in the world of Jewish religious and philanthropic organizations. The firm, under Paul’s leadership, carved out a niche finding executives for not-for-profit organizations, both religious and secular.

Hochman, 55, a former Standard and Poor’s vice president, and a veteran volunteer for Jewish organizations in Bergen County, decided the Joel Paul Group would be the perfect way to combine his business skills and his interest in the not-for-profit world. Paul will remain on board as president. Recruiting, Hochman said, is all about matchmaking, and he sees the combination of Paul’s contacts and reputation, and his business background, as the perfect match. (Interview condensed for space.)

Q. What made you decide to acquire the Joel Paul Group?

After I left Wall Street, I did some consulting for companies looking to enhance their sales forces and grow their businesses. Comes the recession and those are the first kinds of projects to go. So in talking to a career coach, one of the questions they ask you is, ‘What are your passions?’ A friend of mine is a health enthusiast. When he got downsized, he would go to the gym two times a day. So he bought a gym. Willie Hochman’s passion is communal, philanthropic lay leadership. And because I’ve been a lay leader in the not-for-profit world, I was introduced to Joel Paul two to three years ago, as a candidate to work for a not-for-profit.

Q. So what happened? Did you not make the cut?

Three years ago, most of the institutions wanted to see someone who had paid experience at a not-for-profit. That trend is changing very rapidly in the year 2009 and 2010. Many of the not-for-profits, maybe because they’re seeing good talent out there — businessmen who’ve been downsized who have great experience, and who want to go into something different — are now much more open to CEO types, finance officer types, salespeople, to run not-for-profits. Fast forward two years — I was looking at various business opportunities and through a business broker, the Joel Paul group came to me.

Q. How’s business in the world of not-for-profit recruiting?

The reason the acquisition made sense at this time was we believe that as we are coming out of a recession, many not-for-profits will be looking to start hiring.

Over the last year and a half, many not-for-profits downsized. This has been the most difficult year and a half in the Joel Paul history. But we’ve already seen things picking up. Today — literally — we got three job orders and that’s a lot in one day for us.

Q. What kinds of jobs are non-profits looking to fill?

Most of the not-for-profit jobs are directors of development, fund-raisers, executive director. That’s the individual who is in charge, if you will, like a CEO of a company.

Q. Do you want to branch into for-profit executive recruiting?

People ask us that. “Why not?” they say. Because you can’t be the jack of all trades, because then you’re going to end up being the master of none. Down the road we’ll maybe go into other areas, but that’s going to be dictated by our clients.

Q. Does the Joel Paul Group get involved in rabbi searches?

No. We leave that to other rabbinic-related organizations.

Q. Has the Jewish non-profit world been rocked by the Madoff scandal?

Combined with the economic downturn, it was the perfect storm. Had Madoff happened independently, it would have been bad enough, but the impact of Madoff and the economic fallout reverberated through the not-for-profits. Even for those that had no investments in the Madoff institutions, there was climate change. They weren’t able to get dollars because the donors were affected by the economy, irrespective of Madoff.

Q. You sound optimistic that 2010 is going to be a good year.

I am. When one buys any business, there’s an investment in the infrastructure, so we’re investing heavily in new space, new equipment, new technology, personnel, because we believe there’s a trend starting. Again, in just one day — today — three new clients.

Q. For somebody thinking of a career in non-profits, what kind of salaries are out there — for executive directors, or heads of schools?

I’d be hesitant to put a number, because you could drive a truck through it. Because it could range from $80,000 to $250,000, if it’s a highly visible national organization.

Q. When you look at résumés, what are you looking for, besides passion?

Stability. If you see someone jumping around every year and a half, that’s a red flag. I also look for progression — growth. Have they moved up the ladder? Executive recruiting is not rocket science. It’s a skill, and it’s a matchmaking skill. It’s understanding the résumé and understanding the client — the foundation or institution and what their goals are.