District Runner Up: Small Business Person of the Year Featured

9:41am EDT July 22, 2002

Barry Heagren has been an entrepreneur long enough to realize that money isn’t the ultimate prize or the source of all happiness.

Last year, the president and CEO of Advanced Programming Resources Inc., which specializes in supplying contract computer professionals for their information technology expertise, was a runner-up for the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award. This year, he’s been selected for District Runner Up honors in the SBA’s 2000 Small Business Person of the Year competition.

Heagren embraces a firm belief in striking a balance among the mental, physical and especially spiritual. He encourages his 150 employees to do the same to lead a full and rewarding life.

“I think depending on where you are in your career path, particularly if you’re a young person trying to charge the mountain, you tend to neglect a lot of things that might be important, like the spiritual or family, because you’re driven to get to the next level,” the 53-year-old Heagren says. “I think age has a really good way of bringing balance back into your life.”

Heagren began cultivating his corporate culture with seven partners in 1971 by starting Lancers Personnel. After swapping his interest in Lancers in 1976 to become a partner in HBS and Associates, which specialized in the permanent placement service of computer professionals, he began assembling the elements for his $14 million recruiting concept.

In 1983, Heagren and two partners started Advanced Programming Resolutions. Three years later, with 120 employees and $5.6 million in revenue, they sold the company to AGS, a supplier of computer professionals that was eventually sold several times.

On top of the world after the $4 million buyout, Heagren, then 39, soon realized wealth wasn’t the panacea.

“The money went to my head. I lost my focus and thought I had the Midas touch. I thought I could do anything and was just kind of out there,” he says. “I had the big houses and the cars, but that can all go away in a heartbeat.”

Bad investment decisions and significant personal upheavals forced Heagren to reformulate his priorities and spiritual perspective.

He spent the next few years as a senior executive with AGS, then reignited his entrepreneur’s engine. He’d had the foresight in 1989 to reincorporate the name to Advanced Programming Resources, and in 1993, took APR off the shelf.

Today the company has regional offices in Chicago and Phoenix and a branch sales location in Cleveland. Heagren expects to open a regional office somewhere in the South, probably Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., within 18 months. APR has attracted more than 200 high-level clients, including 10 Fortune 100 companies such as Lucent, AT&T, Motorola and Allied Signal.

His second company, the $3 million, eight-employee Courtney Staffing, specializes in temporary, associate-to-hire and direct hire staffing.

Heagren’s concerned demeanor and inherent listening skills are only a few reasons why one client, Bob Myers of Retail Planning Associates, says he doesn’t comparison shop anymore.

“Overall, he’s someone who can be trusted. He’s very above-board, up-front and honest in every aspect of his business,” says Myers, Retail Planning Associates’ chief technical officer. “He understands my requirements, is flexible with contracts and has value-added customer service. He’s won our business exclusively and created a no-competition environment.”

Heagren’s most basic advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is straightforward: “Stay focused on your market and what you’re going to deliver,” he says. “I think the biggest key is integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do and keep your word. Keep your customers happy, go that extra mile and have fun while you’re doing it.”

In the midst of technology’s lightning-fast takeoffs and IPOs, Heagren remains grounded by giving back to the community. He advocates philanthropic efforts and backs up his words with innovative ideas such as “charity days.” Every department within APR selects a worthy cause each quarter and the company closes one day so that employees can volunteer time — and sometimes money.

“I used to work lots of hours and didn’t always have a balanced life,” Heagren says.

Now, he tempers the rigors of running two multimillion-dollar companies with bicycling, weight training, racquetball and water and snow skiing — and equally important — walking his golden retriever, Griff, every day at 6 a.m.

“It gives me a chance to smell the roses and reflect on what’s going to happen today,” he says. “Building a business can either be an albatross or a great adventure.”

Forrest Clarke (fclarke17@hotmail.com) is a Columbus-based free-lance writer.