Vedant Pathak, founder of Princeton-based IT recruitment firm APN Consulting, is an “entrepreneurial superstar.” So says Inc. magazine, which bestowed this title on three other central New Jersey area business owners — all much more high profile. They are Terracycle’s Tom Szaky, whose Trenton-based company has moved from making worm poop into fertilizer to turning discarded juice boxes into umbrellas, and Warren and Sara Wilson, whose Montgomery Knoll-based Snack Factory created the PretzelCrisps that line shelves on nearly every supermarket and convenience store in the country.

All of these entrepreneurs have experienced phenomenal growth during the past few years — the requirement for an Inc. 500 listing. Pathak, while flying under the radar (no appearances yet on a morning news program, let alone on Oprah), has done just about as well as the others. The Snack Factory, with three-year growth of 997 percent, claims the number 206 spot; Terracycle, with three-year growth of 803.4 percent, is at number 288; and APN Consulting, with three-year growth of 873.4 percent, sits at number 255.

Relatively pleased with his ranking, Pathak says that he would have preferred to be in the top 100, and sees that as an attainable goal. As it is, he went from something like $1 million in revenue in 2006 to $8.3 million in 2008.

Pathak, a native of Delhi, India, immigrated to the United States in 1998 and began his company in 2002. He had majored in chemistry at the University of Delhi, from which he graduated in 1989, but he spent scant time as a scientist. “I got into computers and sales in IT,” he says. There he found his true niche. “I’m a sales guy,” he says.

His company, based at 475 Wall Street, finds IT professionals for large and mid-sized companies, many in the finance, insurance, and energy industries. The last is a new niche for APN. “I’m always looking for new opportunities,” says Pathak. “Energy is a growing industry.”

APN, says Pathak, does contract, contract-to-permanent, and permanent placements. In different economic climates, different hiring arrangements are more popular. Two years ago there was a lot of demand for permanent workers. Now, not so much. “Everyone has hiring freezes,” says Pathak. The demand for people to work on a contract basis is way up. “This year it will probably be about 70 percent (of all APN placements),” he says. “A couple of years ago it was 50-50.”

APN employs 30 to 35 contract workers, who spend an average of six to nine months on a job at a client’s site. While some IT people would prefer full-time work, Pathak says that others like the contract arrangements. No matter what the type of employment, work in IT calls for an unusual nimbleness. Workers need to constantly update skills. “Someone who has stayed with an employer for 10 years, working on outmoded technology, and not learning new skills will have a hard time,” he says. “I know people who have been unemployed for a long time.”

Some in-demand skills right now are facility in Java and in content management. “As more companies have websites, they need someone to manage the content,” says Pathak.

No matter what the position, or the skills sought, companies are now going over-the-top in demanding the absolute best person. Some have gotten so carried away that they want a person who does not exist. “They will say ‘I want an analyst with five years project management experience,’” Pathak relates. “There is no such person! Project management only comes after 10 years — or 15 years.” Why does a company try to insist on just five years? “They want someone young,” he says.

Pathak sees his role as educating companies about the IT industry, about, for example, how seniority works. He also needs to bring some hiring managers up short. IT hiring has become so much of a buyer’s market that companies think they will find a person who is sublimely perfect in every single way. The result can be an exhaustive search for a non-existent paragon. “They want to see candidate after candidate. Sometimes 40 candidates!” When the search has become ridiculous, Pathak finds a tactful way of delivering the news.

Pathak finds all of his candidates in the United States, and serves clients throughout the country. He has an office staff of about eight, which includes his wife, Neela, who handles the company’s finances — and the family finances, too. “I ask her if I can have money to go out to lunch,” jokes Pathak. The couple, who live in Dayton, have two daughters.

Just one of APN’s employees works along with Pathak in sales. “It is so hard to find a good salesperson,” he says. Finding a multi-talented techie is much easier. The reason, says Pathak, is that salespeople are — by profession and by nature — prone to overstatement. They do well at selling themselves during interviews, but are often unable to live up to their own billing.

While Pathak concentrates on maintaining stellar relationships with clients in his customer-driven business, and on adding new clients, many of his staffers work on recruiting and screening candidates. “I have nothing to do with recruiting,” Pathak says emphatically. “I have excellent employees. I trust them to handle recruiting.” He says that handing off responsibility to employees is key for any entrepreneur.

“You have to trust your employees,” he says. “If you don’t you’ll always be a mom and pop shop. You’ll never grow.” In other words, you’ll never be an Inc. 500 superstar.

APN Consulting Inc., 475 Wall Street, Princeton 08540; 609-924-3400; fax, 609-924-1671. Vedant Pathak, president. Home page: www.apnconsultinginc.com.

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