CEO Balboa

Vulnerability isn’t a characteristic that gets associated with CEOs, which is understandable. I mean, they’ve got to get a few hundred or a few thousand people marching in lockstep to whatever orders they dictate. And if there’s doubt among the rank-and-file, a sense that maybe the CEO might be wrong, it can muck up an operation.

I interviewed Mike Kahoe, founder and president of Group Management Services, and the subject of this month’s cover story, in his shiny new headquarters in Richfield. The 47,000-square-foot building is probably, and I’m guessing, about 46,200-square-feet bigger than where the business started 23 years ago: a duplex.

In talking about how it all began, he gave me a great quote: “I love it when people accuse me of being an entrepreneur. But quite honestly, for me, I really just didn’t have a lot of options.”

Founding a business wasn’t part of some well-thought-out plan for Kahoe. He had reached a point where he felt he had no other choice — rent was due, cupboards were bare, no money was coming in, so he opened up the Yellow Pages and started dialing.

Kahoe was candid about his professional employer organization’s beginnings, about making bad hires and not knowing how to read an income statement or a balance sheet, about losing clients almost as fast as he could acquire them, an admittance of fumbling and flaw that’s rare for executives.

CEOs need to convey the sense that they not only have it all together, but that they’ve always had it all together — an executive pedigree, Ivy-league credentials, unimpeachable character. They’re the Apollo Creeds of the market, undisputed heavyweight champions with nothing but success in their wake.

Kahoe, then, is the Rocky Balboa of CEOs. He’s a guy who just needs to land a few more punches than he takes to win the fight. And right now, growing a business from a phone call into a nearly $100-million enterprise, he’s slugging his way to the top of his industry, and angling for the title.

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.