Learning and Listening

A strategy that is bringing growth and commitment to Austin Major Group


How does an organization become a Best Staffing Firm to Work For? To Austin Major Group co-founders and partners John Buffa and Gabe Heckt, the answer is simple: learning and listening. “You become a best company to work for by learning from your clients, learning from your providers, listening to them, listening to how the market is shifting, learning what its needs are,” says Buffa, who serves as CEO of the firm. “And as we listen and learn, we grow with the market.”

Austin Major Group, which places locum tenens healthcare providers everywhere — from rural communities to major hospitals across the US — is no stranger to that kind of growth. Founded in 2015, the Irving, Texas-based company has made a name for itself in the healthcare industry. Buffa and Heckt, who serves as president and COO, have worked together in healthcare staffing since 2001, and credit Austin Major’s success to its most important asset: its internal staff.

“When you find yourself … in line with the market, there’s a synergy that happens with the staff,” Buffa explains. “What they’re providing is a value-add as a service.” The firm’s clients, he continues, believe in that same value-add provided by Austin Major’s staff, and it keeps them coming back for more. “They continue to come back, continue to re-engage … that’s where gratification really starts setting in [among the staff].”

Treating Our People Right

Austin Major Group prides itself on honoring its employees and treating them as partners, not just workers. “When we hire someone, we believe that they are a first-round draft pick, and we want to treat them as such,” Buffa notes. “When they walk in here, we don’t want to treat them as a new hire. … If you’ve been here a day, you’ve been here five years.” Buffa believes if you’re going to bring somebody on, “who’s willing to commit to you, [you have to] commit back.”

Buffa’s philosophy resonates with Heidi Hyman, a physician recruiter at Austin Major who spent years working in property and casualty insurance before making the leap to staffing and recruiting in 2016. “When I started, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience, but they really worked with me, helped me understand the industry,” she shares. “It’s kind of on-the-job learning, but I was mentored every step of the way.”

Leadership finds other ways to ensure the staff has everything they need, too. Hyman recalls a day when she was working from home and her computer died — during a winter storm. “I needed to get a lot of stuff done. … The president came up to the office, got a new laptop and drove it to my home for me,” she explains. “[They do] stuff like that all of the time. … If I needed anything on a personal level, too, they would be there for me.”

Effective Leadership

In the office, leadership motivates its teams with contests and catered lunches. But Buffa and Heckt know it takes more than that to make an employee feel respected and valued. “Of course, we bring in lunches and do some of those other things you hear from other companies,” Buffa says, “but it comes down to how you treat the individual in the office. Do you treat them like a partner? Do you listen?”

Effective communication, Buffa explains, is paramount to an environment that promotes growth. “It doesn’t mean that [everyone] is always perfect in what they say, but they have an opinion. They see things.” He adds with a chuckle, “I used to have a running joke that I’ve never had a good idea in my life. It’s always somebody else’s. We’re just there to help execute on good ideas.”

Casey Ramage, Austin Major’s director of recruiting, appreciates the company’s approach to listening to its staff. “That’s the most important thing. They care, they listen, they take advice.” A 14-year industry veteran, Ramage joined Austin Major less than a year ago, but already he recognizes how the organization sets itself apart. The company doesn’t just hear its employees out, he explains — leadership acts on it. “It seems like every suggestion I’ve given so far has been well accepted,” he says. “They haven’t implemented all of them, but they have reviewed them and let me know they’ll take it into consideration.”

Communication and transparency from leadership was a great comfort to the staff during the Covid-19 lockdowns as well, Hyman adds. Prior to the pandemic, all of Austin Major’s employees were in the office full time, but the lockdowns sent them home. During the shift to remote work and the high anxiety and stress of the situation, company leadership called employees frequently to stay in contact and keep them engaged. “Mental health was a big focus,” she recalls. “[They] just tried to keep communication up as much as possible so [we] didn’t feel isolated. We all texted each other and … just made it through.”

Buffa is extremely proud that Austin Major survived the pandemic without needing to lay off a single employee or reduce any salaries. “I’m inspired because the leadership of our organization made the choice that this wasn’t going to take us down,” he says.

Austin Major employees are all back in the office now, but Hyman states that there is a lot more flexibility regarding working from home, and the entire office works remotely on Fridays.

The Future Is Bright

There are many reasons those who call Austin Major Group home stay for the long haul. “I like what I do. It’s never boring. It’s challenging and the income potential is amazing,” Hyman says. “But the main thing is the culture and the people that I work with on a daily basis. I always feel like I’m being treated with respect.” She adds, “I owe so much to this organization, and I’m just extremely grateful. I feel really fortunate and blessed to be in this role where I’m at.”

The future for Austin Major is certainly bright. While Buffa has plans for growth, he is still committed to finding just the right people to join the team. “This is going to be a career for them, not just a job,” he explains. “People are coming through in the evolution of the market, and that’s [delivering] accolades such as winning Best Staffing Firms to Work For. It gives us an opportunity because people will see that and say, ‘I might want to give them a call.’”