TriNet CEO Burton Goldfield made it his mission to help companies grow and innovate 

When Burton Goldfield was named CEO of TriNet Group Inc. in 2008, the HR outsourcing company was already successful in helping small businesses in Silicon Valley grow. But he had a much grander vision in mind.

“What was so exciting to me was that they were having this fundamental, positive impact by allowing small businesses to focus on their dreams,” Goldfield says. “Reed Hastings started Netflix with TriNet, Netgear started with TriNet. LivingSocial, Rally Software and others as well.”

He wanted to take that same concept that primarily served technology-based companies in Silicon Valley and expand it to cover a much larger segment of the small business market.

“My vision was that we could have an impact on the 55 million workers that go to work every day in the United States at companies under 500 employees,” Goldfield says.

“Why that is so important to me is the fact that most patents in America today are generated by small businesses; most of the cures for serious diseases are being researched and generated by small businesses; and most of the innovation on the social side — whether it is clean tech or other constructs from a software standpoint — is from small companies.”

So Goldfield developed a strategy to take TriNet from a regional company to a top national player in cloud-based HR outsourcing.

Growing pains

Gaining market share quickly often means acquisition, which presents challenges in bringing the separate entities together. One of the biggest acquisitions for TriNet was the $98 million purchase of Bradenton, Florida-based Gevity in 2009.

“It was a public company and we were a private company. This was the little guy swallowing the big guy, and we took it private. It gave us the East Coast presence to start to lay the foundation of being a truly national organization,” Goldfield says.

Goldfield made it clear to Gevity employees that the intent wasn’t to raid the company and bring people to TriNet’s California headquarters, but to operate the business from multiple locations to allow access to the best people and ideas.

“Honestly, they didn’t believe me when I stood up in front of them that first day in July 2009. I had to earn their trust,” Goldfield says.

In addition to convincing employees that they weren’t going to lose their jobs, he was tasked with unifying the culture and aligning everyone behind his vision.

At the time, TriNet was servicing fewer than 100,000 people.

“There are 55 million people who could use our solution, so let’s grow together a company that could really impact the quality of life of every human being on the planet by helping these small companies cure cancer and clean the waters,” Goldfield says.

Gevity had lost its way, falling short of analysts’ expectations and losing trust of clients in the process.

“They announced some new product lines that didn’t exist, that never came to fruition. So people lost confidence in the existing product line,” Goldfield says.

The company went through three downsizings in the year before being purchased by TriNet. To turn things around, Goldfield’s plan was to do what worked for TriNet.

“I set out a clear direction that we were going to build a company to impact small businesses in America using the products that they (Gevity) had that were strong and the models that had been proven to work out for TriNet in the past,” Goldfield says. “We put every client on our platform, which was technologically more advanced than theirs because they didn’t have the money to invest.”

Another problem was that communication from the prior CEO was limited to nonexistent, he says. So Goldfield made it a point to be very visible, including talking to his team in weekly, unscripted podcasts.

Communication is an important part of the role of a CEO and vital to a company’s success, he says.

“It’s not just around an earnings report, but every week. Not just around a big event — a big win or a big acquisition — but when you have challenges, too. When a product doesn’t come out on time . . . because everybody has challenges,” Goldfield says.

Still, earning employees’ trust only comes over time with proven results, he says.

“There is no other way,” Goldfield says. “As the year went on and we didn’t close the location, as we started to bring functions to Bradenton, when we moved our entire data center there, they started to believe me.”