The Ultimate CEO

For many, quitting is associated with weakness.

For Steve Sadaka (BSBA ’79), quitting took courage as he sacrificed a secure career for an unchartered future.

More than 30 years later, it's still the best career decision he's ever made. And thousands of business professionals whom Sadaka has helped find rewarding careers are grateful for his gutsy choice. Sadaka, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the executive search firm Steven Douglas Associates, was recently honored with The South Florida Business Journal's “Ultimate CEO” Award, celebrating 32 years of his company's incredible growth and success.

That Sadaka, 58, would go on to have an immensely successful career isn't surprising. What is surprising is that it wasn't in accounting.

“I really wanted a career in public accounting, and I was very committed,” Sadaka said. “It seemed like a prestigious career with a defined path.”

Sadaka, who passed the CPA Exam on his first try, received job offers from all of the then-Big 8 accounting firms. He ultimately accepted a position in the auditing department in PwC’s Miami office.

He quit after four months.

“I loved my experience at UF and in the accounting program,” said Sadaka, “but I did not like the auditing process. There was a hierarchical structure, and it wasn't very collegial. It wasn't for me.”

Sadaka worked at two other accounting firms over the next eight months, and was miserable. After being fired from the last firm, he met with a recruiter to find his next job. That recruiter offered him work placing accountants.

“I learned on the job,” Sadaka said. “I had no sales experience, and I was an introvert. But I loved it.”

Three years later, at age 25, he started his own firm in a small office on Brickell Avenue in Miami.

“It was an easier transition than you would think,” Sadaka said. “I didn't have a non-compete clause so a lot of my old clients went with me. My expenses were double what I projected, but I was still profitable that first year.”

And Steven Douglas Associates has been profitable every year since—except for 2009 during the height of U.S. financial crisis when the company broke even. Revenues for the past fiscal year were north of $40 million.

The company's ability to sustain itself through good and bad economic times is rooted in its makeup. While some executive search firms only focus on placing candidates in the C-Suite, Steven Douglas Associates places professionals from the C-Suite down to senior accountants and programmers, filling multiple needs for their clients. The company, now headquartered in Sunrise, Fla., also has an interim division, which becomes more heavily utilized during slow economic times as companies are hesitant to make full-time hires.

In addition to serving a wide breadth of positions, Sadaka stresses serving numerous industries as well. The company, which began placing accountants, also places professionals in finance, IT, human resources, sales, marketing and operations, and health care.

“We've been through three recessions and the lesson you learn is to not be too focused on one industry group,” Sadaka said. “In 2009, the news was really bad, and we couldn't predict when it was going to break. But we were able to keep the doors open and running smoothly.”

And with a long tradition of success, Steven Douglas Associates, which has about 250 employees in nine national offices, has clients going back decades.

“What makes it easier for our clients is they don't have to tell their story all over again,” Sadaka said. “We already know their cultures, and the right fits.”

Sadaka’s commitment to professional success is only matched by his dedication to the South Florida community. He’s raised more than $500,000 for the Jason Taylor Foundation Reading Room, resided on the Board of Directors for Kids In Distress—which treats abused and neglected children—and supports the Broward Partnership for the Homeless. He and his wife, Lori, also established the Steve and Lori Sadaka Florida Opportunity Scholarships Endowment which provides UF scholarships to qualified students.

“One of our core values is to be generous with the community,” Sadaka said. “I came from humble beginnings so I feel very blessed to give back.”