CRG Leverages Staffing Strengths
S hared cultural values—strong work ethic, great company culture, and unsurpassed service for clients—are what propelled the union of three regional staffing firms to expand CRG, a staffing and consulting firm with more than 20 years’ experience in the Triad, Triangle and Charlotte markets.
The firm has leveraged its distinctive strengths, recently completing a branding overhaul, and is poised for expansion across the Southeast with a model that gives top talent a stake in their office’s market success.
Jason Heller, a veteran of the staffing industry since 1998 and presently CRG vice president of mergers and acquisition and sales, is credited with corralling the talents of Edmund Walker of W2 Financial, Christiaan Militello and Dianne Gold of Professional Computer Resources (PCR), and Tim Sessoms of ComputerNet Resource Group in High Point, to form a powerhouse staffing firm.
“The idea was to put together a group of companies as a rollup, allowing for greenfield opportunities as well as dynamic growth, as well as being able to do acquisitions,” describes Sessoms, who had turned down earlier overtures to join the initiative until they gathered at Heller’s kitchen table in Cornelius one morning in November 2013.
“I went there, we talked about it, I met the other people and realized it was a quality group of people that looked at this industry and this business much the same way I did,” continues Sessoms. “I felt like all of them were folks of good character. I got excited about the concept: I looked around the table and thought this could be a great combination.”
Sessoms remains CEO of CRG, Heller is senior vice president of mergers, acquisitions and sales, Walker is vice president of temporary operations, Militello is vice president of IT search, and Dianne Gold, is director of human resources.
The partners spent last year merging their staffs, policies, procedures, and software. This year, with the integration complete, the company has added 19 new clients, for a total of 46 and expects to reach $26 million in revenue, including $20 million in IT alone, along with a stable of over 300 consultants.
“Our candidate databases and CRM’s were combined and we now have access to over 100,000 candidates with 90 percent of them within 50 miles of either office,” touts Sessoms. “That along with keeping 95 percent of the customers since the merger has put CRG on a trajectory of double digit growth.”
In addition to IT, CRG focuses on accounting and finance as well as human resources administration, including executive searches for global directors, CIOs, CFOs, and controllers. It keeps a diverse portfolio rather than relying on the large banking industry in the area.
“Ideally we’re looking for the producer who’s tired of working for the large national firm,” Heller says, explaining that the arrangement combines the most desirable qualities of entrepreneurship and big-company affiliation. “They can join our company and grow to the next level. That’s how we envision growing this company.”
Heller says CRG aims to reach $30 million next year and $50 million in five years. The combined firm has both a Charlotte office and High Point office covering the Charlotte, Triad and Triangle markets, and plans to expand to Raleigh, followed by Washington, D.C., Tampa, and Atlanta as early as 2017.
Leading an Evolving Industry
The staffing industry, both permanent placements and temporary contracts, has evolved significantly in recent years, with jobs reaching to high-paying levels.
“When you say ‘temporary,’ most people think of that entry-level admin, somebody on a ladder in a warehouse,” says Heller. “Temporary includes a hundred-dollar-an-hour IT professional or accounting professional. We’ve got people out in the field at over $200 an hour.”
Workers recognize that drastic economic changes have ended their parents’ and grandparents’ expectations of career-long stability at one company, ending with a gold watch and pension.
“In corporate America, there is no more security,” Heller says. “People know they don’t work anywhere for 20 years any longer. You don’t want a temporary job? Every job is temporary. What you’re finding now is people saying, ‘I don’t want a permanent job.’ They love working on an assignment for six months, then getting to go do another one. The whole dynamic has shifted. Companies have started to see it as well.”
“CRG enables such a career by providing a generous benefits package for not only their internal employees but also all their contract employees, with access for everyone including $12-an-hour workers, we offer full medical, dental, disability and 401K options for all their employees and consultants.” Gold says.
“We make money by treating our people like gold,” Sessoms says. “We want to make sure we are different. I fully understand the bad reputation our industry gets. What you hear from candidates is, ‘They just want to get my butt in a seat and get billing.’ The culture I want to have is, ‘Treat them the way you want to be treated.’”
On the permanent-placement side, the firm differentiates itself by finding candidates through networking rather than on job boards. “I’ve been in this market for 20 years,” Heller says. “I’m not going to go to the job board to find your next candidate. I’ll call CFOs to see who is looking and find a referral candidate.”
“We have a referral bonus plan that is second to none, with referral fees ranging from $250 to $2,500 by just providing a name and contact information,” Militello contributes. “This type of plan helps us grow organically and build a solid foundation for our future growth and turn candidates into long-term clients.”
The mix of permanent and contract placements safeguards CRG from economic swings.
“When the economy is good, they’ll hire more permanent, so our permanent business will go up,” Heller explains. “When the economy gets soft, they’ll bring on temporaries because they have to get the work done. If you structure your business correctly, you can make money in both markets.”
These days, the pendulum that had swung far toward temporaries during the recession is at an equilibrium on its way to a tighter market.
“As we came through 2010 and 2011, the abundance of candidates was great because of the economy,” Heller continues. “Right now, I think it’s ideal. It’s been almost perfect for the last year. I think what we’re going to see going into 2016 through 2017 is a tight talent market. When times were tough, even people who didn’t like their job wouldn’t leave their job. Things kind of go stagnant.
“I remember telling my clients: I promise you, when this economy starts turning for the positive, you need to pick out which employees you want to keep. Most people want to change. They think a change will help them. You’d better identify the employees you want to keep and you’d better go love on them before it gets too good.”
The Synergies of CRG
“People First” is No. 1 on CRG’s list of values, as it is core to the combination of the firms itself. The component firms had worked alongside each other, respecting each other’s work and ethics.
Sessoms started CRG with a partner in 1994, after a friend in the business told him that he thought Sessoms was perfect for the work. “He called and said, ‘I do a job every day that you were born to do,’” recalls Sessoms, who quit his job with Gov. Jim Martin and joined a staffing service. “And I’ve never looked back.”
Sessoms, who worked in his father’s plumbing and heating company from childhood, aimed to apply the family firm’s values to his company.
“I do have a very strong work ethic,” he says, “and I appreciate a good team of people. Together, we wanted to make CRG the fairest place you could ever come to work.”
Heller, who had spent seven years as a securities broker, moved in 1998 to the staffing industry, “I started like a lot of people in a sales role and recruiting role for a large national firm,” says Heller, who quickly rose to manager in the Washington, D.C. area and was eventually transferred to Charlotte.
Heller ended up starting his own search firm with a partner, which they successfully grew and sold to a national firm. In 2013, Heller and his partner were talking about starting a new staffing company with a different approach.
“Instead of starting it from scratch, we wanted to raise private funds, then look for private equity to bring together a couple of different staffing firms,” he says, “with a goal of starting as a $10 million to $15 million company.”
That’s when Heller approached Sessoms, whose 19-year-old $15 million ComputerNet Resource Group, specializing in information technology, had long-established enterprise relationships.
Heller also talked to a former competitor, Edmund Walker, who started W2 Financial with Dann Wall in 2002, and Christiaan Militello and Dianne Gold, owners of 18-year-old PCR, an IT staffing firm.
“The principals of the companies knew each other and had competed against each other in some form or fashion,” Heller explains. “I wanted to beat W2 when I competed against them, but I respected them. I knew them and knew they were good guys; we had always stayed in touch with each other. We wanted to work together.”
At first Sessoms wasn’t interested, but eventually Heller convinced him to come to a meeting that was the beginning of molding these great companies together. As a matter of fact, it was Sessoms who suggested using CRG as the foundation for the combined entity, rather than seeking private money.
“The whole thing changed at that point,” Heller recalls. Sessoms remained CEO of the combined entities and the new CRG was born.
“As far as making this thing actually happen, that’s Tim,” Heller says forthrightly.
With his extensive background in combining companies, Heller was put in charge of synthesizing the partners’ firms as well as merger and acquisition work.
“The hardest part has been integrating the owners,” Heller quips. “We’re all used to doing things our own way. But seriously, we’re basically integrating three brands to have the same CRM, procedures and policies. You’ve got to keep your front office driving the business while the back office integrates people and practices from three companies.
Even as the details were ironed out, the total value of the company’s Charlotte operations grew from $7 million to $10 million by the end of 2014, with a total of $24 million counting the Triad/ Triangle operation.
“I look back, and I’m so blessed it happened,” Heller says. “The No. 1 word I can tell you is ‘humility.’ I said, ‘We’ll make this successful if we can stuff our egos in our pockets.’ The owners had to swallow their pride and say, ‘I know this is how I used to do it, but what’s the best way to do it together?’”
The firm leverages its location and long experience in Charlotte to maintain a healthy, diversified client base.
“Everyone thinks about Charlotte as being the banking capital—which it is—but we’re able to grow and drive a business without doing any banking because of where it’s located—the airport and Fortune 500 headquarters here,” Walker comments. “Candidates from all over the country want to come here. It’s such a desirable place to be for all ages.
“This is a great market for our business. It is much easier to recruit to North Carolina than to a lot of other places. Whether you call an IT professional, an HR director, a CPA or an MBA—working in Detroit, Buffalo or Columbus—and ask if they want to come work in North Carolina, the answer is always, “Yes!”
There is no doubt CRG is well-positioned for unprecedented long-term growth with just the right combination of owners, management and key employees in place
CRG Workforce, Inc. dba
9335 Harris Corners Pkwy., Ste. 250
Charlotte, N.C. 28269
Principals: Tim Sessoms, President and CEO; Jason Heller, Sr. V.P. Mergers & Acquisitions and Sales; Edmund Walker, V.P. Temporary Operations; Christiaan Militello, V.P. IT ConsultingDianne Gold, Director of HR
Offices: Headquartered in Greensboro/High Point, N.C.; Charlotte office
Employees: More than 300
In Business: Founded 1994
Business: Recruiting and consulting services company focused in the areas of information technology, accounting and finance, human resources and administration and search.