Detroit News features Assets International
 

Southfield Firm Goes on the Trail of Missing Heirs


by KAREN DYBIS | Special to The Detroit News

For someone like Michael Zwick, working at Assets International LLC is the ideal mix of his legal training, inquisitive nature and fascination with solving puzzles.

As president and co-owner of the Southfield-based firm, Zwick needs an analytical mind to track down missing heirs and reunite them with their previously unknown assets -- mainly cash and sometimes real estate.

He admits he even did a little work while on vacation in Antigua, browsing through dusty books and stacks of paperwork the job requires. He finds such searching pleasurable.

That is one reason Zwick and Assets International founder Neal Duchin work so hard to find the right employees for their growing company. Having a staff with a variety of backgrounds and experiences has allowed Assets International to expand and diversify its services as opportunities arise, Zwick said.

Since 2001, it has recovered about $25 million in cash and real estate for clients in the United States, Canada, England, Norway, Israel and beyond.

Of that total, $5 million was recovered in 2009 alone for nearly 200 clients, including corporate clients Dow Chemical, Johnson Controls, Sunbeam Corp., the University of Michigan and Verizon Wireless. The company had about $1.5 million in revenue and is on target this year to generate $2.3 million.

Duchin created the company in 2001 as an asset location company. He had been working with lawyers and other legal employers and noticed a need to link these professionals with heirs and other missing people. Most clients did not know they were due any money, and family ties had been lost or severed so severely it was hard to find them.

Zwick joined the company in 2003 as a partner and president. As the owner of his own legal practice, he had been a client with the firm since its founding.

Assets International employees includes legal professionals, trained genealogical researchers and private investigators licensed throughout the United States and the world. Its 20-person staff also speaks many languages, including Spanish, German, French, Arabic and Hebrew.

The business is a licensed and fully bonded private investigation agency and a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists. It also joined the Better Business Bureau, mostly to ensure the firm's credibility with clients, Zwick said.

The work is a mix of art and science, Zwick said. The firm last year hired a former member of the U.S. Air Force because she not only understands the military, but also knows her way around a bureaucracy, something that is handy in asset recovery.

It's a smart move, said Loree Griffith, a principal with the rewards consulting business at Mercer, a New York-based provider of consulting, outsourcing and investment services.

"Typically, engaged employees are less likely to seek job opportunities outside the company and therefore have a more positive impact on both individual and business performance," Griffith said. "By identifying talent needs necessary for future growth, employers can implement the appropriate steps for developing employees internally or hiring staff externally."

Zwick added: "We have hired some people without what some might call relevant experience, but they had done analysis work, so we were able to train them. ... Having people of various backgrounds and experiences help us think outside of the box."

These staffers also use their skills in ways that will help Assets International grow. For example, it is looking to help the military, universities and others track down people for reunions and other events.

"We believe that there is a lot more room for growth utilizing our current skills and whatever skills we learn or acquire down the road," Zwick said.