Finding your assets Featured

7:00pm EDT March 20, 2006
Some people refer to Richard L. Jackson as a serial entrepreneur. And the founder of more than 10 companies doesn’t mind this — he enjoys starting companies and finding ways to stimulate their growth.

“My philosophy is, the way to get big is to get small,” says Jackson, who divided his latest entrepreneurial venture, Jackson Healthcare Solutions, into six distinct business units that are run as independent companies. “The key is, we give equity to the senior management of all those subsidiaries so that they have a stake in what’s going on. We act like a small business in every category. ... As you create new entities, it is easier to run a small, focused, specialty niche business. If you put all of that together, it adds to pretty significant revenue growth.”

This approach has worked well for the $135 million company, but Jackson says that his employees are the real driving force behind Jackson Healthcare Solutions’ fast growth.

Smart Business spoke with Jackson about how he attracts quality employees and creates a good working atmosphere.

How do you attract and retain good employees?
We treat people like people. I recognize that our asset walks out every day at 5 p.m. The business we are in is the people business.

When I say we treat people like people, what I mean is, they are not numbers. In fact, we don’t even refer to them as employees. We refer to them as associates.

To me, if something is important, like finding good people, then somebody’s livelihood should be dependent on that. So we hired an inside recruiter from Day One to do nothing but make sure we recruit the best candidates.

Finding good people is easy; keeping good people is the challenge. That is what we excel at. People generally don’t leave us just because of money or other items. We have a very low turnover for our industry.

In the personnel and staffing business, you will find 100 (percent) to 200 percent turnover each year. It’s a high turnover business. Companywide, we are around 12 (percent) to 15 percent.

We try to create an atmosphere and environment for people to be the best that they can. Our culture revolves around respect for the individual and not creating a class system. In every company, you have some politics, but I prefer that we be honest with each other.

I don’t like a class system. I treat the receptionist the same way I do the president of a division because I think we are all equal.

How do you limit politics in the workplace?
You create a fail-safe environment. If you make a mistake in a lot of companies, you are really chastised and you may not get promotions. Therefore, you start telling people what they want to hear.

Our focus is hopefully the opposite. We enjoy innovation, and the only way you can innovate is to make mistakes. If you want people to go beyond, they are going to make mistakes, so you have to have a forgiving environment. All we ask is that when somebody makes a mistake, they learn from it, correct it and move on.

I think the strength in people is in their differences. We try to make it not necessary to be political. In fact, you don’t get a long way in our company by being political. When they start telling people what they want to hear and they’re not being honest, that does not go over well here, and they’re pretty much weeded out.

In a lot of other companies, if you comb your hair the wrong way, say the wrong thing, dress differently or something like that, you get terminated without any notice. We try to make sure that it is never a surprise when someone is terminated.

We would prefer to be three months too late than a day too early in trying to work with people. We don’t see hiring someone as a transaction but as the beginning of a long-term relationship.

In a relationship, it is the responsibility of both sides to work things out. You are always going to have problems and conflicts, but basically, we just want an environment where we can work things out and develop a long-term relationship.

How has having a good work environment contributed to your growth?
Without good people, it would be impossible for our business to grow, because most of our business is selling a service, and it’s highly people-oriented. A lot of our business is actually finding other people for our clients, so investing in your people is a very good investment. The best return on investment is your main asset and that is your people.

We would never want to lose somebody just for compensation. I’m not saying it never happens — some people get offers they can’t refuse. We try to be very competitive from a compensation standpoint.

However, our sense is that compensation is not why people stay or leave. It’s usually because they are not listened to, they don’t have input, they have lack of direction and they are just not fulfilled in their job.

HOW TO REACH: Jackson Healthcare Solutions,