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Consulting firm’s growth hinges on multi-skilled employees

Pat Patera

SilverSky Group LLC is bucking the trend in a time of widespread retrenchment and downsizing.

The consulting company that works in intellectual property and business development doubled the space it leases from Tanamera Corp. to 4,000 square feet at the Longley Professional Center at 5422 Longley Lane. With nine employees now on staff, the move comes in anticipation of increased hiring.

One key to its growth: Finding multi-talented professionals.

Timothy Casey and Jacquelyn Fuzell, co-founders and partners not to mention spouses formed Reno-based SilverSky Consulting LLC in 2005. Casey comes from a career in technology and intellectual property at companies such as Apple Inc. in Silicon Valley and the Washington, D.C., area. Fuzell,

a sequential entrepreneur, hails from the East Coast.

But since moving to Reno, they’ve expanded from the initial two-party consulting team. And the company is moving more quickly than its initial plan envisioned.

The plan, says Fuzell, called for the company to top out at 10 hires, but not this soon. Growth, she says, is where she and Casey disagree.

“I think growth is inevitable,” says Casey. “But it must be managed, thought out, controlled. The biggest

mistake companies make is growing faster than their ability to manage it.”

Fuzell counters: “That’s where we differ. Too much growth will impact our lifestyle. We may get to a point where we need to take on additional employees. We work 9 to 6, but not weekends or holidays mostly.”

However, she allows, should that growth appear inevitable, “We could bring in another partner.”

SilverSky Group deals with a select clientele: Companies whose product contains an element of intellectual property companies in fields such as software, Internet, mechanical manufacturing, chemicals, military technology, biotech, and medical devices.

The bulk of SilverSky’s clients reside in the Reno-Tahoe area, but others are national. And that’s where a Reno disconnect arises.

“In Reno, people want to immediately trust,” says Fuzell. “We tell them, ‘Do your due diligence on us!'”

But when SilverSky executives court a prospective client from out-of-state, that trust dissipates. “They do not invite us over there; they come here (to check us out),” she says. “Then they ask: ‘Why are you here?'”

Quality of life is the reason.

However, she adds, “We try to project our big city-ness in office appearance, the food we serve, our marketing materials. We overcome it. People know we’re not from here. We’re from two worlds; we create a bridge between two places. We live in Somersett because we knew we’d bring clients there.”

Casey adds, “Because Reno is casual, people here accept casual. Everyone’s kind of sloppy and they wonder why they’re not being taken seriously outside of Reno.” However, he’s quick to add, “It’s fine here.”

But sloppiness is never acceptable when doing business, he adds.

“In good times,” he says, “people get sloppy at work, bring dogs into the office, and are rude to customers

on the phone.”

The biggest challenge the partners have found in setting up shop here was getting the staff to buy into professional behavior. That means no frayed bluejeans, skimpy sundresses or flip-flops.

“Employees must mesh with the company identity,” says Fuzell. “It’s buying into a small business and our level of quality.” However, she admits, it’s taken a year per employee to bring them around to that way of thinking.

When the firm does business close to home, Casey says, “Reno has a lot of under-serviced professionals. They’re getting services from California. Sixty percent of our clients are from northern Nevada; the rest are spread out around the world.”

But the world is where the growth awaits.

To boost that sector, he says, the company charges Reno prices even in San Francisco and New York, where the market would bear higher rates.

The company’s Web site, SilverSkyGroup .com, lists a staggering array of services everything from patent preparation to market research and financial modeling.

“We’re just nine,” says Fuzell. “How do we do it? Hiring with cross-skills. That’s how.”

For example, SilverSky recently hired an engineer with a law degree.

And in Reno, it’s not difficult to find multi-talented hires.

“People love Reno and they want to be here and they want to stay here,” Casey says.

While hiring is no challenge, bringing in new business can be. Referrals account for many of the firm’s new clients; cold calls account for few.

The company also has thrived from its founders’ decision to support competitors rather than take business from them.

Casey says, “We established highly symbiotic relationships with other people in town. You need to be incorporated into the community; you can’t operate in isolation.”

During the two years that the couple was ramping up the business, Casey worked for free at his alma mater, University of Nevada, Reno, to establish an economic development office and the Institute for Innovation and Informatics.