Labor of love Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Mel Klinghoffer solved some of his biggest problems long beforethey ever happened.

In 2004, several major hurricanes hit Florida, leaving large partsof the state heavily damaged and reducing the efficiency of thebusinesses located there.

“When you operate basically nationwide ... the client in Dallasdoesn’t necessarily want to deal with weather conditions inTampa,” says Klinghoffer, president and CEO of A-1 ContractStaffing Inc. “It’s not his problem. What is his problem is makingsure the employee gets the check on time and everything else thatgoes with it.”

What allowed Klinghoffer to get through the hurricanes’ aftermath and other serious challenges was the ability to recruit andretain a staff that could deliver when times were tough.

“We had phenomenal employees operating out of their houses tokeep everything going,” Klinghoffer says.

When you have a staff that can work together to get through majorhurricanes, the day-to-day challenges are easily overcome. Byrecruiting the right employees, retaining them with special programsand delegating authority to them, Klinghoffer has been able to takeA-1 Contract Staffing, which provides contract employees to itsclients, from start-up in 1999 to about $300 million today.

“It’s the entire circle,” he says. “It’s not one thing. It’s everythingand the attitude behind it. They can see the attitude of the company is, employees are important. They are important, and we aregoing to back them up, give them the tools they need and take careof them. They made me. I didn’t make them.”

Recruit the right people

If Klinghoffer finds the right employees to begin with, that willlead to better client relations. If an employee isn’t happy, thenthere is a good chance the client will not be satisfied, which leadsto problems.

“If we don’t have satisfaction within the client group, then whatit affects is your referral and repeat business,” he says.

And repeat business is what really brings money to the bottomline.

“Turnover is horrendous,” he says “Turnover is very costly within any company. Anytime your marketing department doesn’t haveto sell the same apple over and over again, you are ahead of thegame.”

For his executive team, Klinghoffer turned to experienced people in the industry he knew prior to founding A-1.

“That gave me the ability and the tools I needed to go forward andgrow this company and handle the challenges of 9/11, hurricanesand the strategic planning,” he says.

Finding the rest of the employees to help him grow required traditional methods, but past experience was a solid starting point.Most employees in the company have partial to extensive experience in the industry, but you need more than just that.

“We are looking for people who have a history of a really goodwork ethic and don’t mind staying an hour later when necessary,”he says.

During the interview process, you should get a good feel if someone is the type who will show up early if there is an emergency orstay late if needed. Klinghoffer also spends time selling otheraspects of the company other than the salary.

“When you are in an interview and talking about salary, when youtell someone they are making $500 a week, they are looking at $500a week,” he says. “We go right down the line and let them know theother costs as well, and try to get them involved in the overalldetail of what you are really doing for them in addition to all theincentives and things like that. People get a lot more value out ofjobs than just the salary. Too many times, they just focus on thesalary. I try to point out the other things we do and how we are different. You need to be different. Otherwise, what difference doesit make what door they knock on?”

Retain your talent

Finding the right employees is the first step, keeping them is thesecond.

“We try to do things other company’s don’t do,” he says. “Everywhich way you can reward and give that employee the chance tohave success, then he’s going to pay it back. He’s going to makesure the company is growing.”

Aside from competitive salaries and benefits, Klinghoffer tries topromote loyalty through a family environment. The company doesa number of things to show appreciation and to develop that family environment.

“We have picnics every year and lunches every month for theemployees,” he says. “We pick a day, a Monday afternoon or Fridayafternoon, and we feed all employees, and they can sit around fora couple of hours, socialize and get rewarded for the hard workthey do.”

On Thanksgiving, the company gives employees gift certificatesfor a turkey, and occasionally, Klinghoffer will give out movie tickets, gas cards or even advances in pay if someone needs it.

Thank you cards written by employees and requests to work atA-1 show Klinghoffer there is appreciation for the gestures and theenvironment. Although, as much as word might spread about theculture and attract people to the company, Klinghoffer says it helpsmore with retention than recruiting.

The management style he uses also helps keep both executivesand employees. He says running a dictatorship in this day and agewill have people running for the exits.

“I can’t say that there aren’t people that are successful that rulewith an iron fist,” he says.

“I don’t believe in that management style for retention. If youlook deep into a company like that, you are going to see some heftyturnover, and turnover costs a lot of money, and turnover costsgrowth.”

Higher retention rates also make his job easier. “What it allows me to do, in addition to running an effective operation and controlling growth, it’s allowed me to take some of the focusand do various other things,” he says. “If I didn’t have this type ofmanagement team with this experience and have the confidence thatthey are going to run the business without a glitch, then I couldn’t dothat.

“It’s really allowed me the freedom to expand out in the otherareas, and that helps the company, as well. It seems the more I getout there and the more other areas I am involved in, the more people I meet that need our services. We’ve gotten a lot of clients thatway, and vendors as well.”

Delegate authority

Klinghoffer says if you can’t find the management team andemployees who are going to help carry your words to the rest ofthe people in the manner you want it carried, then success will suffer.

“I learned a long time ago, you can only handle so much,” he says.“If you are hands-on and want to be the only show in town, theneventually the company and you are going to suffer.”

Klinghoffer learned about delegation from experience at a priorcompany he owned. Someone wanted to buy it, but he realizedthat without him, the company wouldn’t be able to operate effectively, so he made changes to make sure the company could go onwithout him.

“You don’t have to sell a company to make it operate like a company you are going to sell,” he says. “If it looks that good, then itprobably is that good, and it should be operated that way anyway.I was going to operate so if that opportunity came up again, Iwould be able to walk away.”

It took more than a year for Klinghoffer to delegate everythingthroughout the company to the management staff.

“Although it was difficult for me to let go of the responsibilities, Iknew if I didn’t , I would not be able to sell the company and leave,which was my goal at the time.”

Klinghoffer continued that mindset going into A-1. “I started with the idea that I would get the experienced executives who could sit around the table and run the company andallow me to give them some leadership and direction, but alsoallow me to seek other opportunities for the company and for myfamily,” he says.

“Over the years, I have learned the strengths and weaknesses ofeach executive and the individual expertise and delegate based onthat knowledge of my staff. All my responsibilities, with the exception of final insurance negotiations and business and banking relationships are delegated. Various reports, financial statements,notes of management meetings and other requirements based onthese reports are transmitted to me on a daily basis.

“This form of management is essential for the growth and futureof the company.”

HOW TO REACH: A-1 Contract Staffing Inc. (813) 620-1661 or www.a-1contractstaffing.com