Jay Lucarelli thought from time to time about the day when he would lead Minute Men Staffing & HR Services, the business his father, Samuel G. Lucarelli, formed in 1968 with money he saved while working as a beverage distributor. He kept imagining what that day would be like, even after his father had “semi-retired” to Florida.
“He would call 50 times a day and ask what was happening,” says Jay Lucarelli, quickly adding that these calls were something he always welcomed. “Some second generations are like, ‘Get the old man out of here.’ We cherished my dad’s acumen and always wanted his input and approval. He gave us enough leeway and would say, ‘Hey, you guys know what you’re doing. You make the decision.’ He had a lot of confidence in us.
“But yeah, you always think about it. How are you going to do things? How are you going to be prepared? It’s more mental preparation, but then when it comes, it’s still …”
The moment came on Nov. 24, 2013. And like most people in that situation, Lucarelli was … not … ready.
“When he got sick, we knew that his eventual demise was coming,” Lucarelli says. “Unfortunately, you can’t prepare for it. I always tell people the hardest thing from a work perspective — setting the personal feeling aside for a moment — is when you have nobody in front of you. You’re the one who has to make the decision. It’s a whole different dynamic. People could say I was running the business when my father was here. But if there was an issue, even if he wasn’t here, I’d pick up the phone.”
As he took the reins from his father and became the company’s president and CEO, Lucarelli considered the many, many leadership lessons that his father had taught him. The elder Lucarelli had put his son in position to not only lead Minute Men, but lead it with honor, compassion and integrity, and with a mindset that anyone can get ahead in the world with a sense of confidence and a strong work ethic.
“A lot of people had an impression of my dad that he was a rough and gruff guy when in actuality, he was probably the most compassionate person you’d ever want to meet,” he says. “A lot of people who work at Minute Men are what you would call second-chancers. They had an issue in life and they needed someone to give them a second chance. I’m talking about corporate staff and managers.
“My dad would always gravitate toward those people and they are probably our most successful people that work here. My dad garnered a lot of loyalty because nobody else gave them a chance. But Sam did. And he never used it against them. He never thought, ‘Hey, I gave you a chance when you didn’t have a job. You owe me.’ He never took that attitude. Anyone who works here — if you work hard, he’d take care of you. I don’t think you can learn that. You just have it in you.”
Creating an opportunity
Minute Men began as a day labor/temporary staffing company. As recently as 15 years ago, the majority of the company’s work was concentrated in the area of short, temporary assignments that could fill a quick or unexpected need.
“It was 70 percent, ‘Hey, I need a person for four hours,’ and 30 percent full-time work,” Lucarelli says. “Now it’s probably 80 percent full-time and 20 percent, ‘We need somebody for four hours.’ Most of our work is not on the spot anymore. A lot of our clients are 52 weeks a year and there are a lot of challenges that come with administering a nonskilled workforce.”
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, is one of the challenges.
“In the industry we serve — light industrial — it’s hard for these companies to administer both a transient workforce and all the compliance that is needed for ACA,” Lucarelli says. “That drove a lot of business our way. But it’s hard to find people nowadays at the nonskilled or semi-skilled level. Coming out of 2008, a lot of those people developed skills that took them out of the nonskilled labor market.”
Despite this difficulty, Minute Men has found a way to thrive. It has 600 corporate employees and places 60,000 employees every week at locations in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and now Wisconsin.
On the corporate side, Lucarelli says the company has built much of its staff through existing relationships within the business.
“It’s one of those weird things where a friend of a friend needs a job or a family member comes up or somebody gets married and the husband needs a job, we bring them in. We may not have a specific position, so we just let them feel their way around and they gravitate to a position. People have often said that when they came here, they really didn’t know what their job was. But they say it in a positive way. Over time, they filled a role and we let them run with it. We look at hiring people as an opportunity.”
When it comes to finding the right people to fill those 60,000 positions out in the field every week, Lucarelli relies on an ongoing dialogue with clients. It helps to ensure that his company is identifying and placing people in positions that give them the best chance to succeed.
“We have a team of salespeople for each division and then an added layer of service people who every day just go and visit customers,” Lucarelli says. “They just walk in and ask, ‘Are you happy with Minute Men?’ If there are service issues, they are solving those issues; but it still comes down to old-fashioned face-to-face communication. We don’t care if you have one employee or 1,000 employees. We try to treat every customer the same. We want to be visible with our clients and with the employees we’re sending out.”
What do you want to be?
The idea that people can make or break a business is another lesson Lucarelli took from his father.
“It was probably four years after I started here and my father said, ‘OK, what do you want?’” he says. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Do you want to be a nice little business or do you want to be big?’ I said I wanted to be big. He said, ‘You can’t be big without good people.’ That is the truth.
“People always say my dad ran a good business and I’m the first to say it’s not because of us. It’s because of all the people who work here. They make the same sacrifices that we do working a lot of hours and being away from their family. Without those sacrifices, we wouldn’t be where we are.”
In return for all those sacrifices by employees, Lucraelli approaches leadership with a hands-off mindset.
“We’re structured, but we’re not,” he says. “Our attitude is, ‘Just come in and do your job.’ If you have to take time off to go to a doctor’s appointment or your kids have something going on at school, we want you to do it. We’re very flexible. It creates a mindset that nobody is watching over your shoulder. There isn’t a lot of pressure coming from the top. It comes from the bottom.”
He says the idea of this approach is that you get employees to police themselves.
“When we bring in new people, I don’t have to weed them out,” he says. “If you’re not a hard worker, you stick out like a sore thumb. If you’re not getting with the program, you stick out like a sore thumb. The staff weeds people out.”
Lucarelli says Minute Men employees are given both flexibility and opportunity. It’s up to them what they want to do with it.
“I classify people in two ways,” he says. “There are the people who want to get ahead and further their careers and they’ll do whatever it takes by working longer hours and working hard. We provide that opportunity. If you want to work 100 hours a week, go ahead, as long as you’re being productive. The second tier, they are more balanced.
“They are not the crazy ones. They come in and do very well, but they are a little bit more structured. When they are here, they give you everything that they’ve got. But their balance of work and family life is a bit more level. You get a very good loyalty factor. If you want to do well here, it’s up to you. We offer that type of culture where there are lots of opportunities depending on what you want.”
Strength in diversity
Staffing continues to be a big part of what Minute Men is all about. But in recent years, the company has branched out into managed care, payroll services and workers’ compensation management. It now operates on two platforms — the staffing side and the HR side.
In terms of workers’ compensation, it represents the biggest variable for Minute Men in terms of what it can charge clients and how that affects the bottom line.
“We wanted more control because it has such an impact on our bottom line,” he says. “We sent a truck driver out to one of our clients. He’s looking at our bill rate and he says, ‘How come your workers’ comp rate is cheaper than mine?’ I started explaining that we do this and we do that and he says, ‘Can you do that for me?’ I said we didn’t really do it as a third-party service.
“He says, ‘I don’t care. Just try. If it doesn’t work, I won’t be mad at you.’ So we did it for him and now we have 30,000 clients where we administer their workers’ comp.”
It was a simple matter of taking a nonproductive, but necessary function of his own business and turning it into a profit center.
“As we became good at processing payroll, we realized that we send out 10,000 temporaries a day and we pay them daily,” Lucarelli says. “We have payroll machines. So we’ll just start doing payroll for other companies. This is where my dad let me loose a little bit with diversification.
“We’re sending out all these thousands of people a day and we need these services and they are HR-related. If we can do it ourselves and do it really well, what’s a better story than to tell clients we provide this service to ourselves and look at the success we’ve had? Can we do it for you? That’s what has driven the diversification.”
Open to opportunity
Minute Men has had close ties with the Cleveland Indians for many years. The company currently has a big sign out in right field at Progressive Field, but the partnership began long before that when former Tribe players such as Buddy Bell, John Farrell, Rocky Colavito and Rick Manning spent time working at Minute Men.
“Buddy Bell was one of my dad’s closest friends,” Lucarelli says. “There was always this connection with the Indians. When they opened the new stadium, we bid on it and we’re able to get the contract to provide all the staff for cleanup after games. We lost it for a while, but then we got it back.”
Another big client is McDonald’s as Minute Men services almost every McDonald’s franchise in the state of Ohio. That partnership came about through the company’s ties with the Indians.
“The Indians will have these meet and greets and have a group of their advertising clients come to (Indians owner) Paul Dolan’s loge,” Lucarelli says. “We went and met this guy from McDonald’s. He was in charge of the McDonald’s franchise association. We didn’t know it at the time, we just started explaining our business and he said, ‘I’ll give it a try.’
“I guess he tries a product and if it’s good, he spreads it out to all the other franchisees. We didn’t know that, we just thought we were going to service him. That opened my eyes to how important the marketing side can be in conjunction with the sales side of your business.”
Lucraelli expects that dealmaking will continue to be a big part of his growth strategy for the family business — making good deals comes down to leading and operating with integrity.
“It’s not price. It’s integrity and doing what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “It’s the integrity of your name and the integrity of the services you promise you’re going to provide. We tell our salespeople all the time, don’t BS the customer. You tell them exactly what we can do and also tell them the things we can’t do. We started a little packaging division once at the request of one of our clients.
“It was a learning lesson because I got to see firsthand what our customers go through when production isn’t met. It was a valuable lesson about sending the right people, sending them on time and communicating with the client.”
As he looks to the future, Lucarelli says he’ll always be conscious of the legacy his family has built through Minute Men.
“It boils down to integrity,” he says. “That’s one reason why employees like to work here. What you see in business is what you see in my personal life. My parents said, ‘The only thing you have left at the end of the day is your name.’ If you believe that and you work hard and you service your customers well, you’ll be all right.” ●
How to reach: Minute Men Staffing & HR Services, (877) 873-8856 or www.minutemeninc.com
- Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
- Put people in the best position to help your company prosper.
- Always be open to new opportunities.
The Lucarelli File
NAME: Jay Lucarelli
TITLE: President and CEO
COMPANY: Minute Men staffing & HR Services
A glimpse at how it all began: My dad was a pop driver. His route was the inner city factories and he would go in and fill up the pop machines. When he was doing that, he would grab the foreman and say, ‘Are you short any people today?’ The guy would look at him and say, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’
He would talk about this little business that he and my grandpa had started and add, ‘If you need any workers, we can bring them over to you.’ One guy was like, ‘Yeah, we need two people.’ My dad says, ‘Can I borrow your phone?’ He calls my grandpa at the office and says, ‘Put two guys in the station wagon and bring them over here.’ My dad couldn’t quit his job yet delivering pop, so he would just talk to the foremen and it caught on really quick. Only took about four months for it to take off.
Lucarelli on being part of a family business: As long as I can remember, this is all I ever wanted to do. When I was little, my dad would bring us to work and I knew the only thing I ever wanted to do was work with my father and my grandfather. I would come to work during the summertime and during the school year if we had a day off. I wouldn’t go with my friends. I would come with my dad. I loved being around him and seeing how things worked.