Volume 17, Number 47 | April 15 — 21, 2005

Downtown business owner receives national award

By Aman Singh

Thirty-seven years ago, just out of active duty with the U.S. army, Brian Drum had no idea what was next. He had no experience except a short stint with a truck company, Same Day/Next Day Delivery, which he headed for two years before leaving for active duty with the National Guard.

Suddenly, he felt tomorrow wasn’t planned.

Finally, with “a few friends”, Drum began a recruiting company called Drum Associates on John St. “I wasn’t terribly smart or old and was unsure of what was next,” he said. Today the company has a staff of 32 people and clients spanning Asia and Japan. What began as a small friendly venture, with more willpower than knowledge or resources, became a well-accepted place for jobseekers.

It also earned him the U.S. Small Business Association’s Small Business Person of the Year Award for the year 2004 in the New York District. Highly competitive, and hugely selective, Drum was selected from about 200 nominations from the city for his perseverance in bringing back Drum Associates on the success chart, post 9/11, amidst collapsing businesses and a chaotic economy.

Drum’s growing company is at 150 Broadway, one block away from the World Trade Center site — a factor that makes his story stands out from any other hardworking entrepreneur’s success story.

On September 11, 2001, Drum and his employees fled from the building’s top floor, made his employees’ evacuation, tough, stressful and forced.

“We were literally forced out of our space,” he said. They did not know when they would be back into work, if at all. “We had no idea when we would be back into the building. Untill they didn’t determine that the building west to us [One Liberty Plaza] wouldn’t fall too, we couldn’t even think of returning. The horror of the terrorism was shocking, chaotic, and dreadful.”

While many businesses closed in the area, Drum remembered the chaos of the bombing in 1993 and decided then and there that he would not give up without a struggle. He would persevere, he decided and he did. “It’s like we were heading so good on September 10 and a day later, there was no sense of what tomorrow would bring,” he said.

He made the decision when he saw everything crumbling around him, that he would not terminate any of his 32 employees. “I was getting more and more annoyed- I had used 33 years to build up the business. I couldn’t just give it all up. 9/11 wasn’t my staff’s fault, why should they suffer?” Drum remembered asking himself.

He believed in his business, which became even more family-oriented when his Penn State graduate daughter Carly Drum left her job with ESPN to join his team in 2002 to help him jumpstart the firm again. “In between the low receptivity economy, everyone closing down around us and the sudden lack of space for ventures, anyone asked said, we should close down too. But I am a fighter,” said Drum. He continued to pay all his 32 employees through those initial post-9/11 months, even though his personal revenues continued to dwindle.

Along with his daughter- who also nominated him for the award with her marketing department- Drum decided to reorganize the company. From a hierarchical structure, he introduced a matrix structure, where the team worked as one very large team instead of individual filers.

“We had a hole in the boat and we had to keep rowing together to make it work. I didn’t have much capital but I was driven to keep it going because we all together believed in the firm,” he said. Fortunately, all his employees decided to stay.

Finally after two years of grit, willpower and working as one large team, Drum Associates began its ascent once again on the revenue charts in the beginning of 2004. “We were able to turn the business round because now instead of two people on a project, it was 20 people on a project. It made us faster, much more efficient and highly competitive,” he said.

Another contributor to Drum Associates’ rebound was the introduction of a Japanese recruiter, also a former client, who helped Drum Associates expand into the Japanese market. “We were already present in the Asian market. But with his coming in, and we becoming accessible to the large Japanese-speaking population, our clients also expanded,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that he knew they were taking a risk, but one that turned out to be successful.

From among a million small businesses in New York alone, 200 small business entrepreneurs and companies. A panel of internal officers of the S.B.A. along with some external people investigated the integrity of the nominations, scanned six influential references for each nomination and decided on the final winners.

Drum credits his award to his family. “It is a totally family-oriented business. Along with Carly, two of my brothers also work with me,” Drum said.

“I am a fighter and I did not want to give in to it…and I guess the staff didn’t either,” Drum said.

He will receive his award in a special ceremony on April 22, as part of the National Small Business Week 2005 organized by the US Small Business Administration among 200 business leaders, economic development officials, family and friends. Other awards to be honored include Family-Owned Business of the year, Women In Business Champion of the Year and Small Business Journalist of the Year among four other small business categories.

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