Detroit-based recruiting agency Brightwing champions human potential, elevates internal talent amid leadership transition.
In 1999, Mick Narusch, then an Account Manager with Porsche Engineering, received an out-of-the-blue phone call.
“Hello?” said the caller. “Is this Bill?”
“No, this is Mick.”
“Well, if you’re Mick, what’d you do with Bill’s cell phone?!”
Turns out, the caller was George Opitz, president of Brightwing, a Detroit-based recruiting agency. One of his colleagues had previously worked at Porsche, and Narusch had inherited his phone number.
That simple mistake turned out to be a fateful encounter. A recruiter at heart, Opitz struck up a conversation with Narusch. Soon after, he asked him to join Brightwing as a recruiter.
From left to right: Mick Narusch, David Chernow, George Opitz, Aaron Chernow & Jeff Genovich
Now, 23 years later, Narusch will be assuming the role of Brightwing’s chief operating officer. “I never thought I’d find a new opportunity in such a coincidental way,” said Narusch. “But that’s how it happened.”
Founded in 1973, Brightwing’s mission is to champion human potential & empower people to find both personal and professional fulfillment. For any other organization, this would make excellent marketing copy. But for Brightwing, it’s a reality.
As Opitz retires after more than four decades of service, Brightwing will elevate two senior leaders to carry the reins: Narusch as COO, and Jeff Genovich, Brightwing’s new president. Like Narusch, Genovich joined the organization over a decade ago as a recruiter.
Expect the future to be bright under their leadership.
What makes Brightwing special?
In 1979, George Opitz got into the recruiting industry, like most people, by accident. Brightwing’s founder, Gerald Chernow, pulled him in.
It was, to say the least, a very different time. “There were no job boards, no email. I mean, you actually had to knock on doors and sneak past the receptionist to get to the people you wanted to talk to.” Opitz decided to stick with Chernow and with a career in recruiting in order to build a new kind of recruiting agency: one that placed relationships at the heart of the organization. It was a perfect fit for both Opitz and Chernow, who “always bet on people.”
“Back in the 70s and 80s, that wasn’t traditional. People just threw resumes all over the place.” Contrast that with Brightwing, who has always focused on going the extra mile, building long-term relationships with candidates and clients.
According to Aaron Chernow, Gerald’s son and current Brightwing CEO: “We focus on bringing on great people that have a desire to be better than they were yesterday, and providing them with the tools and support they need to grow.”
Brightwing clearly reaps the rewards of this approach. They have a 4.7 star rating on Great Recruiters, out of 5,729 reviews. Excerpts from their testimonials include:
“[They] took the time to speak with me, to understand the backstory, the things that are not easy to express in a resume…”
“I have spoken with recruiters in the past, but I could tell [Brightwing was] different.”
“[Brightwing gets] the industry.”
By creating a recruiting agency that values people—starting with their internal team—Brightwing is able to provide exceptional experiences for the people they serve.
As Narusch said, “We take care of our employees, and the reward is tenfold.”
From recruiter to president: Jeff Genovich’s Brightwing journey
Genovich has never been a stranger to Brightwing, as his father has been with the company for several decades.
His experience began in the finance industry, mortgages specifically. When the housing market collapsed in 2008, he found himself out of a job. Hoping to find a new opportunity in finance, he set up a meeting with Aaron Chernow.
Genovich’s meeting took an unexpected turn. “Aaron saw something in me that made him want to find a place for me at Brightwing, rather than anywhere else,” said Genovich. And just like that, Genovich was working as a Brightwing recruiter, initially joining Narusch’s team.
Although he had no prior aspirations of being a recruiter, Genovich was struck by how much the work fulfilled him. “The three most stressful things people do are get married, buy a house, and change careers. We get to help people with one of those things all the time.”
Genovich captured Chernow’s attention early on. “As a Type A person, I’ve always set the bar really high—both for myself and for the people I work with. Jeff quickly rose to the challenge. He gets the business, the industry, and has the right personality to succeed. We look for people who can go from ‘zero’ to ‘best friend’ in sixty seconds, and Jeff absolutely has that.”
Eventually, Genovich built his own book of business, and then joined Brightwing’s leadership team, running the Dallas-Fort Worth office. This transition brought more direct mentorship from Opitz and Chernow.
“They took a chance, moving us down here,” said Genovich. “It says a lot that they took care of us and made sure that we were comfortable both personally and professionally.”
Post-transition, Genovich and Chernow will work closely, the latter setting strategic direction, and the former managing Brightwing’s day-to-day operations, alongside Narusch.
Brightwing’s new President Jeff Genovich
In a sense, the transition is a natural one. “George and I see things the same way, in terms of outlook on the business,” said Genovich. He made clear that he sees the transition as a continuation of George’s legacy rather than a replacement.
Yet that does not mean Genovich lacks vision for the future of the organization. On the contrary, he intends to build on Brightwing’s previous successes as the organization moves forward. “We’re going to continue investing in our people. We’re also going to invest in the infrastructure needed to be nimble and responsive. This is especially important, given how quickly the market ebbs and flows.”
As he hands over the reins, Optiz stressed his confidence in Genvoich. “He’s very passionate and high energy, but also more process-oriented than I am. So he’s well-rounded enough to sit in this seat, make hard decisions, and help the company grow.”
How does Brightwing support & grow their employees?
Genovich’s promotion to Brightwing president should come as no surprise to those familiar with the organization. Throughout its entire existence, the organization has provided and encouraged opportunities for employees to take ownership and demonstrate their full potential.
Formal development opportunities include annual growth plans to help employees expand and hone their skill sets.
Additionally, the organization’s Spark Program gathers ideas and initiatives from all employees to identify better ways to support candidates & clients, make money and save money, and build the company culture. It provides a perfect launching pad for employees who want to step up and fill gaps within the organization.
The Brightwing Executive Team from left to right: Mick Narusch, Aileen Canu, George Opitz, Aaron Chernow, Jeff Genovich, Liah VanderMuellen & David Chernow (not pictured: Lisa Mullins)
When it comes to identifying future talent within Brightwing, Optiz asks several questions: “Are they willing to step up? Are they willing to take responsibility? Are they willing to grow and continue to learn?”
For both Genovich and Narusch, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to demonstrate leadership amid a challenging time for both the recruiting industry and the world. “They started doing those things that a manager and owner must do on a daily basis,” said Chernow. “They understood what was best for the organization and for the people we serve here.”
Brightwing’s President George Opitz leaves a lasting legacy
It is their desire to learn and grow that have earned Genovich and Narusch their recent promotions. Said Optiz: “With Jeff and Mick, you see two guys who have been very dedicated to the organization, and they’ve stepped into a number of different roles from the day they started. They’ve taken on challenging responsibilities, and God bless, they’ll be taking on the rest of what I’m going to dump on them.”
Mick Narusch: A COO who “truly loves the business”
Although Mick Narusch started as a Brightwing recruiter, he soon moved up in the organization: first as an account manager, then running a business unit, and now as head of operations.
“I’ve always enjoyed hiring and developing new people,” said Narusch. “In this new role, I’m looking forward to the chance to do that on a larger scale.”
Opitz said of Narusch, “The biggest thing about Mick is he truly loves the business, and he loves people. He will bend over backwards for the people here.”
Recruiter Isaiah Chuhran with Brightwing’s new COO Mick Narusch
For Chernow, his professional and personal trajectory has mirrored Narusch’s. “We’ve been married for pretty much the same number of years, our kids are the same age, and we’ve worked in the same office for 23 years together. So I’ve seen Mick’s growth first-hand as a manager and leader here. Especially over the last two years, it’s been as much or greater than at any period over the past 23 years.”
Despite a tumultuous market, Brightwing is ready to thrive
Because of their people-first focus, Brightwing is uniquely positioned to serve today’s tumultuous job market. “Take a look at what’s going on right now,” Opitz said, in reference to the Great Resignation or Reshuffle. “The good side of it is there is so much demand that there’s a bigger opportunity to help companies and people.”
Given the current labor shortages, however, many companies are struggling to fill valuable positions. To them Opitz had a word of advice. “Why aren’t you paying more attention to what employees really need? People have to understand how they’re going to be connected to the success of the company. People need to feel like their work is working for them.”
Brightwing CEO Aaron Chernow
“It’s a tumultuous market out there,” said Chernow. “But one of the things that Brightwing has done to weather the storm is to focus on the value we bring to our customers, and the relationships we have with them. Those are the two things that will help us survive, no matter what comes our way.”
Brightwing is also heavily involved in industries where there are major labor shortages, including automotive, information technology, and finance, which only enhances the value they offer to the market.
Looking ahead: the future is bright
As Brightwing enters its fifth decade and Opitz takes a step back from the organization, the question of legacy weighs on everyone’s minds.
Narusch described his legacy in two simple words: “passion and relationships.”
Genovich described how Opitz has mentored him throughout his career. “I know what he’s done for me, how he’s mentored me, and that he’s done that for so many other people.”
Said Chernow, “He’s built this culture from the ground up, and his impact will be felt in everything we do. I think that that’s a really, really strong legacy for anyone.”
When asked about his legacy, Opitz said simply, “My proudest accomplishment is helping develop some of the people who are there, and the long-term relationships I’ve built.”
Given its strong positioning, reputation, and leadership, Brightwing will continue as a strong player in the recruiting space. According to Genovich, “We plan to expand our geographical footprint and branch into additional specialized verticals, while growing our current practices and creating opportunities for candidates and clients. At the end of the day, we want to become a ‘destination employer’, known nation-wide for the excellent talent honed by our homegrown, entrepreneurial-spirited training & development programs.”
Back in 1979, when Opitz first became a recruiter, he noticed that Gerald Chernow “always bet on people.” Throughout his four decades in the industry, Opitz has carried on that legacy. Given the capable hands in which he is leaving Brightwing, it looks like that bet has paid off.
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