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Carol Harris Featured

5:51pm EDT November 29, 2001
Conventional wisdom has it that you'd either better know something or know somebody to succeed in business. Carol Harris would ask, "What's wrong with doing both?"

The story of Carol Harris Staffing LLC is a delightful tale of entrepreneurial success because it exemplifies almost everything small business people have been taught, imagined and dreamed about.

It's a story of working hard, persevering, paying attention, learning and growing -- then knowing just when to take the leap from employee to entrepreneur.

Harris, president and CEO of Carol Harris Staffing, previously was a single mother living in Boston with her two young children, working in real estate to maintain a home life for her family.

A graduate of Penn Hills High School and the University of Pittsburgh, she decided to return home to be near her family, friends and familiar places and to build a career.

That's when she connected with Kelly Services, where she worked part time as a receptionist. There, she studied the industry, learning the staffing business from an industry leader. Within eight years, she had committed to a full-time career and progressed through the ranks of Kelly, rising to branch manager, then regional sales manager.

After eight years, in 1987, she ventured out on her own, forming Carol Harris Temporaries Inc. in Monroeville.

Mutual benefit

"It was one of those situations where the employer wanted to make a change, and I did, too," Harris says. "So I had the opportunity to basically form my own company from the organization where I had been an employee."

After sitting out a noncompete arrangement, she started her business in the Jonnet Building, where her headquarters is still situated today.

Since then,. she has opened two additional offices, in New Kensington and Youngwood, near New Stanton. The company has grown from its first office of 400 square feet to three offices totaling 6,700 square feet.

Although Harris has more than 20 full-time staff members, the true measure in the staffing business is how many workers get placed with client businesses each year. For 2000, Carol Harris Staffing issued more than 3,000 W-2 forms.

Those workers represent clerical, industrial and technical specialists, from word processing experts to chemists. Most work a 40-hour week, although some are part-timers.

Shared interests

Harris says the staffing industry is built on a mutuality of needs.

"You have to recognize that there are a surprising number of people who only want to work temporarily," she says. "There might be very obvious reasons for this, or the worker may have unusual circumstances.

"Some workers view temporary employment as a type of paid job search. Being placed temporarily with a company gives them a chance to see how they fit in there, what possibilities exist within the company, and whether they might want to work there permanently."

The benefit to the client business is simplicity. The firm pays a fee and gets a qualified worker, avoiding the costly overhead associated with recruiting, hiring, training and maintaining an employee.

Businesses like Carol Harris Staffing match workers to available work, making money from fees paid by client businesses. Only a portion of that money goes to the worker as wages.

According to Harris, "What differentiates the success, growth and reputation of one staffing company from another is the ethical behavior and the fairness it brings to both the worker and client sides of the equation. We've based our success on the ability to attract and locate only the best workers. That's how we can best serve our clients, and that's why we have long-standing relationships with a very impressive roster of clients."

The agency's highest priority is the recruitment of employees.

"We are constantly developing innovative ideas to interest employees in our company," she says. "As part of that effort, we work with technical colleges, trade schools, business schools and high schools, and our staff visits off-site locations to interview prospective employees."

Awards and rewards

In 2000, Carol Harris was named Entrepreneur Of The Year in the Service category by Ernst and Young. She was recently named one of the "50 Best Women in Business in Pennsylvania," an award presented by the governor's office, and her firm has been named one of the "100 Fastest Growing Companies in Western Pennsylvania" two years in a row.

Harris is a member of the board of Habitat For Humanity and was featured on the "Oprah Winfrey" show for donating $60,000 to build a Habitat home in the Pittsburgh area. She also sponsored a bike ride for the Allegheny Valley Habitat affiliate that raised more than $30,000 to rehabilitate a home in New Kensington. How to reach: Carol Harris, (412) 856-3666 or www.chstaffing.com

William McCloskey is a free-lance writer based in Pittsburgh.