Fifty calls per day. Six appointments per week. Nine proposals per month. That’s the formula to acquire just one customer at the professional employer organization Group Management Services. But it’s more than an algorithm. It’s an organizational credo, a stone and sling for a team of Davids.
Twenty-three years ago, the company’s flawed founder woke up and realized he was a man with few options. He turned end-of-his-rope desperation into an organization shaped in his image — one that’s poised to generate $100 million in annual sales and grow beyond its 10 Midwest and East Coast offices.
Having just cut the ribbon on a 47,000-square-foot headquarters in Richfield, GMS founder and President Mike Kahoe is proving his detractors wrong as he chases his very real goal of becoming not just the largest PEO in Ohio, but one of the largest in the country.
An early-’90s graduate of Kent State University, Kahoe limped out of college with a 2.2 GPA and into universal rejection from a handful of law schools. He took a few arms-length jobs before falling in at Tradesman International, a company that supplied skilled tradespeople to the construction industry, where he got exposure to workers’ compensation.
That led him to the notion that he could do much the same thing on his own with little capital. So he decided to start his own payroll and workers’ compensation company, but not out of any grand entrepreneurial plan.
“I love it when people accuse me of being an entrepreneur,” Kahoe says from his yet-to-feel-lived-in office building shining like a polished trophy over I-77’s perpetual commuters. “But quite honestly, for me, I really just didn’t have a lot of options. I had a crappy resume. I was a job hopper. I was a horrible student with a political science degree. Nobody else wanted me.”
Kahoe established the shell of the business in the late ’90s, and had a lawyer create the entity, federal ID number and workers’ compensation policy. But before he could land his first customer, he was arrested for DUI on Ohio’s party island, Put-in-Bay.
“I remember coming home from Put-in-Bay, still hung over, realizing that I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t have a job, so I had no income. And it dawned on me that I actually made all of the people who predicted I would be a loser — that I had actually proved them right.”