We're celebrating our 40th anniversary all year, but this week we are feeling especially nostalgic. On March 10, 1980, Temporary Solutions was founded by Jana Yeates and Lovey Hammel, and began serving the Prince William County area of metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Lovey Hammel agreed to an interview to allow us some insight into the foundation of the company and where we are headed next.
How did this company come about? Where did the idea come from? What need did you hope to fulfill?
Plato said that necessity is the mother of invention, and our necessity stemmed from our lack of jobs. Jana was facing a layoff because her company was moving out of the area. I had just had my daughter, Kristen, and could not return to a sales position where most of the deals happened after 5pm.
We wanted to find a way to help people, especially women, find jobs that paid well. Jana had human resources experience and I had been a customer of temporary placement services in my Washington, D.C. office, so we researched businesses in the D.C. area. There were 114 staffing agencies near Washington, but none in Prince William County.
Now, 40 years after we began, we are proud of the number and types of jobs that we have helped staff—both short-term and long-term—not only in our local region but also across the country.
What was it like as women business owners in the early 1980s?
Two words: challenging and lonely. We started with a $10,000 investment, and neither Jana nor I took a salary for the first year. We had few role models to follow and no guidance. In fact, we were at the beginning of a trend of women leaving big businesses and starting their own to gain flexibility and control over decisionmaking opportunities.
Our goal from the beginning was to "think big." We refused to be considered a mother/daughter enterprise or a lifestyle company. We wanted the big projects, and we went after them.
How did you manage growth in those early days?
We managed our budget on a shoestring! If we got a new client, we would reward ourselves and buy a stapler or a new phone set. Our priorities have always been on delivering for our clients.
Banking in those days was challenging. At first, banks did not understand our service business and accounts receivable needs. The faster we grew, the more AR capital we needed. The bigger the company, the longer the turn time on our cash flow.
Banks required us to sign personally and also get our husbands to co-sign—rather insulting as business owners. Our lifeline was Jana’s mom, my grandmother, Ruth Waldrep.
We come from a long line of working women, and Ruth was in charge of her own money and invested it wisely. Because of that, she was our lender while we worked out the banking during the first 10 years. She filled in when we got new clients and needed cash fast. We simply could not have grown without her help.
It's exciting that we were woman-owned, operated, and funded for first 10 years of our existence.
Was it challenging to work together as family? Did you talk shop outside the office?
It was absolutely, a challenge. We tried to separate the family from business, but we're all human and sometimes the lines would get blurred. I called my mother Jana at work and mom at home because it came naturally. Some of the new employees would come to work and not realize that they were working for a family business.
We did not advertise the mother/daughter relationship for the first 25 years, because we wanted those big opportunities. We did not want to be limited by customers thinking our family business equaled small.
How did you balance a growing company with a growing family?
With a lot of support. I went back to school to get my undergraduate degree during our first eight years of business. My husband, Tom, dubbed the balance "businesswoman by day, student by night, and mother and wife on weekends." We are still married and my daughter, Kristen, is a fantastic entrepreneur herself.
The truth is that real balance is not possible in a growth time. Life becomes about prioritizing what is important with your family and concentrating on those things. My family was behind me and while we sacrificed time together, it made us closer in the end. When we did have time, we appreciated it—maybe even more. Since I was on the road growing the business, we would sometimes meet in a city for a weekend and have fun living out of our suitcases.
Was there a defining moment where you thought, this will make us or break us?
Every new contract that we signed put our reputation on the line. Some examples over the years include: IKEA came to Prince William County and every employee during the first six months was recruited through us. Dominion Semiconductor, now Micron, came to town and during their ramp up, every employee on the line was recruited, vetted, or employed by us. We provided more than 200 hospitality employees to the Presidents Cup golf tournaments that came to the Robert Trent Jones Club, many of whom handled the VIPs.
Recently, we managed GovCon, a human resources project that had us transfering 8,000 employees over a six-week time frame. Offer letters pointed to our 1-800 customer service line to handle all transition issues.
Have you ever needed to take a step back and course correct?
Of course! No organization makes the right decision every time and there is always the unexpected. We’ve opened divisions and branches that did not make it. We’ve survived four recessions, including starting up during a recession and making it through the Great Recession when 20 percent of firms in our industry were closed or merged.
A major course change was making the decision to sell a large portion of our business. We had just hit $105 million in Employment Enterprises revenues, and a major division was no longer a good fit for our future. It needed to merge with a larger group to continue to grow and prosper. It's a hard entrepreneurial decision to let go of something you’ve built from ground up.
The sale affected more than 2,000 employees and 15 customers, and we had to ensure a minimal impact to both of those groups. As a company, we moved back to small business to refocus on workforce and recruiting programs.
The good news is that we’ve made more right decisions than wrong ones for our teams and industry.
Why are you passionate about putting people to work?
Finding strength in people is what I love. After 40 years, being able to match the dominant skills and strengths to the right job and customer is a passion of mine.
We help people start on their careers, change careers, or course correct their careers. We help people with internships, gigs, seasonal work, and re-entry the workplace. We assist people as they start working down to retirement, working less and moving away from work life. It is so fulfilling to see impact on people and their careers.
We employ over 2,500 employees annually and another 300 to 500 independent contractors. This does not include the people we interview and immediately find full time jobs for. I wish we had kept a better count of the numbers of people we have impacted over the years. It’s easily over 1 million people.
What’s a big change you’ve seen over the years?
This answer is always technology. We started before cell phones or PCs were around. With every technological change, jobs are impacted. For example, there are 55 percent less administrative jobs today than when we started.
We have to be early adopters of these technological changes and help all our employees and contractors to do the same. Our mission is to help them be “skill fresh” for the marketplace.
What is the biggest risk the industry is facing today?
The biggest risk—but also the biggest reward—comes from evolving our service levels. If we had stayed just in temporary placements, we would be out of business by now. Instead we have taken our expertise and tech knowledge and evolved as a full-fledged workforce and recruiting solutions company. We continue to invest in innovative tools that can help us deliver the best service to our customers and the best support to our employees.
What excites you most about the future of workforce solutions?
We are at the beginning of a decade where jobs will change significantly again. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be part of everyday jobs. We will all have software and/or robots to help us be more productive and efficient.
Evolving means being open to change. One benefit of being an early adopter is that we participate in the changes and we can have an impact on the changes.