Pamela Chambers O’Rourke sets the bar high for herself and her more than 850 employees in 48 states at ICON Information Consultants LP.
“We can’t have errors in our business,” she says. “If we’re not error-free, we fix it, and it better not happen again.”
Over the past decade, O’Rourke has established ICON as an industry leader, providing recruiting, consulting, payroll and project management services for IT, accounting, finance and HR professionals. Last year, she was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year winner regionally in the Business Services and Staffing category.
O’Rourke’s dedication to satisfying customers is nearly fanatical. Before she hired her first employee, one and a half years after ICON’s founding, she had already generated $7.7 million in annual revenue.
O’Rourke has kept on a steady growth curve since she founded the company in 1998. Smart Business caught up with her to discuss how a strong work ethic and focus on the customer provides a competitive advantage.Q. What’s the biggest challenge you faced going from a one-woman shop to an 850-person company that is still growing?
A. Finding people like me. That was my No. 1 problem because I assumed everyone had the same work ethic I did. When I started hiring people I quickly found that the work ethic wasn’t there. So I found five people to surround myself that had a similar work ethic, which allowed me to take the business from $7.7 million to $11 million to $15 million and up to $82 million last year.
Every year, I’ve had between 20 to 30 percent sales growth, and I’ve never had a quarter with a loss. That’s due to tenacity, a strong work ethic and being customer-focused. I am always asking the question, ‘What are we doing for our customers?’ That’s what I teach my employees to do, as well.Q. How do you keep everyone focused on the customer?
A. I’m very competitive, and my career in IT taught me that if you had a redo, you could be fired. So there’s no redo in our business; you have to get it right the first time. And, you have to learn how to be proactive and anticipate the client’s needs. My employees know that you can’t have mistakes or you’ll lose an account. They also understand that being an IT professional and being able to do sales is critical. You sit down with a client and say, ‘Here’s your project. Here’s when it’s due. Here’s how much it’s going to cost.’ That’s sales. People don’t always think like that, but they should.Q. How has the speed of technology changed your approach?
A. I’ve always been on the bleeding edge, trying to anticipate what’s coming next. Today, customers want everything now. When requests come in, the response has to be immediate. That’s the ICON way: It’s not tomorrow; it’s today. If you wait until tomorrow, a competitor will beat us to it. We can’t let that happen.Q. How do you keep the fire in your belly?
A. I’m all about numbers. Numbers never lie. A good CEO or president needs to watch the numbers. I pay myself commission only and have since I founded the business. Any entrepreneur, when they start a company, should be commission only. You have to have a reason to go to work. If you’re paying yourself a salary, how will you know if you’re company’s going to be successful. You need to work for success, and you need to earn it.
How to reach: ICON Information Consultants LP, www.iconconsultants.com
Recognizing entrepreneurial excellence
The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® awards recognize the men and women who put everything on the line to turn ideas into viable enterprises. Now in its 24th year, the awards honor those who build the market-leading companies that make our communities, our country and, indeed, the world a better place.
Being a recipient of this prestigious business award means that you’re at the top of your game and puts you in the company of such entrepreneurs as Tom Adams of Rosetta Stone, Michael Dell of Dell Inc. and Pierre Omidyar of eBay Inc.
An Entrepreneur Of The Year® nominee must be an owner/manager of a private or public company with primary responsibility for the recent performance of the company and an active member of top management. The nominee’s company must be at least two years old.
Successful entrepreneurs, whether company founders or current leaders, have a knack for taking businesses to the next level. They employ creative ways to find the capital and resources they need to reach their goals as well as build and grow businesses.
If this sounds like you, consider applying to be a 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year®.
Nominations are now being accepted and are available at www.ey.com/us/eoy for downloadable forms or electronic submissions or by calling (800) 755-AWARD.