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Marina Sirras’ business is to make other business’ legal recruiting and staffing problems go away. And she’s been at it through her company, Marina Sirras & Associates LLC, since 1987.
MS&A helps firms and corporations throughout the world connect with the resources they need and specializes in the placement of attorneys and administrative staff at all levels of experience within legal settings. The company also provides consulting services for office expansions, growth strategies, mergers and practice group acquisitions. MS&A is successful and held in high regard in the industry---a tribute to Sirras’ knowledge, business sense and networking skills.
Prior to launching MS&A, Sirras spent several years as a marketing analyst at the A.C. Nielsen Company and then joined Warwick & Legler, a mid-sized New York advertising agency. Her professional career was going very well when, in 1968, she left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom, and spent the following seventeen years raising her kids and volunteering her time to community activities.
In 1986, Sirras rejoined the workforce and began her career in legal search at one of the largest search firms in New York. A year later she partnered with a former colleague and they formed a Manhattan-based, legal-search firm.
In October 1987, just three weeks after they incorporated, the stock market crashed. Although the new company suffered a setback along with the rest of the economy, Sirras used her networking talents to drum up business and the company recovered within a year. Her partner left the company in 1991, so she took over full control and Marina Sirras & Associates was born. Through continued networking, and the addition of her daughter in the company, Sirras continued to grow MS&A’s reputation, sales and staff.
By 2001, a third of MS&A’s clients were coming from businesses in the World Trade Center and from the surrounding area. The 9/11 assault on the towers brought business to a complete stand-still for the next five months and Sirras subsequently lost two fulltime employees.
Sirras’ husband had heard a radio ad for the U.S. Small Business Administration and suggested contacting them for help. She was directed to the Baruch College Small Business Development Center and met with business counselor, Allison Lehr. After determining that her business was eligible for an SBA Economic Injury Loan, Sirras applied for a $100,000 loan, and was overjoyed when she actually received a loan for $154,000.
As a result of the SBDC assistance and the SBA loan, two jobs were saved, one new job was created, and according the Sirras – revenues increased by 150%. Now, Sirras has six recruiters working in her Manhattan office and has recruiters working remotely in Texas, Washington, DC, and Massachusetts.
Sirras is currently the president of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants, and being considered an expert in her field, is frequently solicited for her take on industry development and trends.
From her experience, Sirras offers optimistic advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs--- “Analyze what you are capable of, what your niche is, and go for it. And be resourceful; networking is your best tool. It’s amazing what you will be able to accomplish.”
-by DeAnn Misilmeri
A farm boy from Wisconsin, Rob Halle never predicted he would have become a successful entrepreneur within the high-fashion photography industry of New York City. He also never would have anticipated overcoming the level of disaster that almost destroyed his business after 9/11.
After earning a master’s degree in production management from the University of Wisconsin, Halle moved to Los Angeles in 1976 to put his knowledge into practice. For the next five years he worked for an international theatre, film and television equipment supply company. He then relocated to New York in 1981 to work for a lighting- industry manufacturer. After a year Halle decided he wanted to strike out on his own and in 1982 incorporated RGH Lighting, Inc. and opened a store in the West Village offering fullservice lighting and equipment rentals. Over time, RGH became well-established within the fashion industry and thrived on cover shoots for magazines such as Vogue, Victoria’s Secret and Revlon. RGH also developed a reputation throughout the tri-state area for its personalized attention and service to photographers, major studios, and production companies. By 2001, the company had grown to eighteen employees, but any anticipated future growth came to a screeching halt on September 11th.
Halle recalls standing at the corner of Leroy and Greenwich Streets together with his employees watching the towers crumble. Putting thoughts of his business’ survival aside, Halle volunteered his company’s trucks around the clock for the next four weeks to deliver supplies, food, and rescue workers to ground zero. Unfortunately, while Halle was volunteering his company’s assets in the relief effort, his business was collapsing around him. His major photo clients, models, and photographers feared working in the city and took the ir business out of town, and RGH’s business plummeted by ninety percent. Bills continued to pile up and Halle was unable to pay his employees, rent and insurance.
Fortunately, Halle learned of the 9/11 disaster assistance offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and applied for its Disaster Recovery Loan. He described sitting in the mid-town SBA office sharing stories and sorrows with other businessmen. As he described it, “I sat in the waiting room with seven grown men and cried, sharing our personal loss and the loss of so many lives.” Just a week later, an SBA representative met with Halle and provided him with a check --- and a hug. Halle recalled, “Her eyes reached out to me with compassion and care.”
With the SBA’s quick turnaround on Halle’s loan application, RGH Lighting bounced back. In fact, the company did so well that in 2006 Halle relocated his operation to the photography district off West 54th Street. By 2007, Halle had sixteen full-time employees and six contractors. He purchased new trucks, equipment, a warehouse and studio space in Brooklyn.
This past February, RGH merged with Scheimflüg, a digital-capture company, and their combined capabilities created a unique business by 20 percent. The new owner and president of the combined operations, John Engstrom, said the business is now poised for an exciting period of expansion and growth and anticipates revenues of several millions due to the merger. Halle transitioned to senior vice president of the company and concentrates on building the brand and providing high-quality service to clients in a rapidly changing industry.
Halle attributed part of RGH’s resurgence to the SBA. He said, “Without the loan, I would have shut my doors, dissolved my business and left the city broke and in debt. Instead, with the help of the SBA, I grew my company back to the point where it became not only successful, but an attractive merger opportunity for another company. I thank the SBA and feel nothing but great, genuine compassion. ” With its lights shining brightly again throughout the city, RGH’s resurgence is metaphor for the city’s resiliency post 9/11.
–by DeAnn Misilmeri
As an amateur bodybuilder and women’s football player, Carolyn Mazur was well-acquainted with the debilitating injuries that sports can inflict on the body. So it became her dream to one day establish a center to provide a variety of health- and fitness-related services to both the injured and those who simply wished to improve their overall physical fitness. She accomplished that goal when she opened Fusion Physical Therapy and Sports Wellness, PC.
Born and raised in Shawnee, Kansas, and getting a degree in 1998 in the highly regarded Master of Physical Therapy Program at Kansas City’s Rockhurst College, Mazur first began applying her skills to professional and collegiate athletes at the North American Institute of Sports Physical Therapy in Arizona. While continuing to work through the Institute, in 1999 she headed to New York City where she began a fellowship at St. John’s University and worked as an athletic trainer for the Red Storm’s football and basketball teams for the next two years.
By 2002, Mazur’s passion for her profession inspired her to open her own physical therapy and wellness center. However, New York was in the early stages of recovery from 9/11, the economy was sagging and lenders were cautious about lending to start-up businesses.
Undaunted, Mazur went to the Baruch College Small Business Development Center where she received assistance from counselor Frank Guarino in the preparation of a business plan, financial projections and a loan application. Initially, her loan application was rejected by bankers fearful of lending to business start-ups in a weak economy. But she and Guarino persevered and after several tries obtained an SBA-guarantied loan from HSBC Ba nk which enabled her to open her business.
Today, Fusion Physical Therapy is going strong in Manhattan at 13th St. and 9th Ave. with three full-time staffers and a host of reputable part-timers. Fusion offers rehabilitation services, sports medicine and personal therapy with special attention given to open communications between physicians and healthcare providers.
The “fusion” of Mazur’s knowledge, experience and compassion give the company its name and are the critical elements of her success. With a broad base of clientele including professional athletes like Tim Dwight of the Oakland Raiders, Broadway dancers and actors, and weekend warriors, Mazur wants to further grow her business.
This past January she received her doctorate from Boston University’s, Online Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, and she plans to continue to add to her repertoire of certifications. She is also working again with the Baruch SBDC to get another loan to expand her facility to 7,500 square feet and offer even more services. And as a long-time competitive athlete, she plans to win.
-by DeAnn Misilmeri