Last week, ATR International celebrated 30 years in business. Yes, 30 years!
It’s an achievement earned by each of us at ATR working together to serve our clients and our consultants. We’re a little bit proud about it! It was earned each day, one at a time, for the past 30 years. To celebrate the occasion, Staffing 360 sat down with ATR’s co-founders Jerry Brenholz and Maria Novoa Brenholz to talk about running a staffing business, how things have changed, and more.
We hope you enjoy the interview!
Thank you for speaking with us and congratulations on the anniversary! You both already had successful careers. What made you change paths and start ATR? Why did you think you would be successful when so many new businesses aren’t?
Jerry: Well, I think, we believed in our abilities. We believed in our product. We saw a real need and knew that clients and consultants alike would benefit from our services. We believed in ourselves. We were resilient. We were both raised with strong work ethics and our families had immigrated to the U.S. We had worked hard and succeeded before. Having a strong belief in yourself is key. And then having strong support from family. We started this together.
Maria: Yes, true. We believed in our abilities with reason though, and we had worked on the other side for many years. I had employment experience, especially connecting businesses with job applicants. You had been consulting as an engineer for years. We also had clear values and a vision for how we wanted to do business. We felt that working hard and treating people honestly were key things that would lead to success. We were right; and we’ve enjoyed every moment!
What is the hardest part of running a business?
Jerry: I think trying to understand human behavior. And learning from it! Whether it’s a customer or an employee, trying to understand people and their needs while appealing to their desires, is at the heart of what we are doing. You listen, ask questions, and try to provide what someone wants and needs. Often it works; you end up with a great client or a valuable employee, even a lifelong friend. Sometimes, it doesn’t. No one has a crystal ball!
Maria: Predicting human behavior is hard, maybe impossible! (Laughter.)
Aside from having a good product and a strong commitment to making things work, what has contributed to your success?
Maria: Surrounding ourselves with great people. Of course, to start it was just our family – Jerry, myself, and our daughter, Andrea, who practically grew up here! (Laughs.) But as we started hiring help – you can’t do everything yourself – we were fortunate to find people who shared our values, work ethic, and mission. We have wonderful people at ATR, who are talented, loyal and committed to our consultants and clients. That’s been the difference.
Jerry: I agree. The amazing people that we’ve worked with over 30 years is incredible. We’re very privileged that many of those who join ATR stay! We have several people like Wendy Sun (Chief Delivery Officer) and Maggie Morelle (Chief Information Officer)…
Maria: …and Theresa Siegfried (VP of Finance),
Jerry: …oh, yes, they’ve been here more than 20 years, and many others we’ve worked with for 10 or 15 years. We’ve been very lucky. But it’s also somewhat by design. When it comes to hiring, my advice is to hire for character. Hire good people, smart people, and it will usually work out. We can teach people how to recruit, help them learn about the staffing industry or continue to build on existing experience. What you can’t really do is teach honesty, or drive, or problem solving, or taking pride in a job well done. Hire for those qualities and then trust them to do the job.
Maria: And remember that how you treat people is how they will treat you. Remember the Golden Rule.
Is it all just hard work? What has been the most fun, or perhaps most rewarding thing, about running the business?
Jerry: Seeing people achieve professional success has been the most rewarding part of running a business. In staffing you see consultants learn, gain experience, and take on more challenging roles. Those who want to often move to permanent positions doing the work they love. We’ve been with some clients for years and watched as their companies grew and succeeded. And it’s felt great to be a part, even a small one, of those successes.
But it’s especially rewarding when it is one of our own people. It’s a great feeling to watch someone succeed, to see them work hard, learn, and grow in their professional abilities. Even if it means they leave ATR for a new opportunity! I’m still proud.
Maria: We’ve worked with so many amazing people – we just mentioned a few – but everyone has contributed to ATR’s success; everyone has left their mark. We’re so grateful for that. It is truly a privilege to be a part of someone’s professional journey!
How has the staffing industry changed over the past 30 years?
Both: (Laughing) Well, we don’t have enough time to talk about all of the changes!
Maria: But a few ones, ok…certainly technology. It’s changed everything over the past 30 years, so the staffing industry is no different.
Jerry: Absolutely. The advent of software has been a huge change. Software has changed how things get done for both staffing firms like ours and our clients. The growth of VMS and MSPs, fueled by technology designed to streamline the process and make things more efficient, brought enormous change. Some of it was welcome and weeded out inefficiency. But I have to say that in order to do that, we’ve sacrificed relationships. We’ve removed the relationship between the end user of our product and those of us delivering that service. In doing so, we’ve lost the advantages that a close business relationship can bring. And that’s too bad. It makes everyone’s job harder.
Second big change, there is way more competition.
Maria, Oh yes. Absolutely. There is something like 20,000 staffing firms in the U.S. right now, that’s just amazing compared to 1988.
Jerry: Many are very small, like us when we first started out! A few hundred or so are our size and of course there are the behemoths of the industry. The growth has been tremendous. There is a huge demand for employees and that is only going to increase. Competition is good in many ways. You just have to be sure you have a great product and that you can clearly communicate your value to the clients.
But there’s always been competition and that’s never going to change. ATR has been embracing the challenge of change for 30 years. We’re ready for the next 30 too!
So, we’ve looked back, now how about looking forward. What does the future hold for the industry? What will affect ATR’s clients and consultants most?
Both: More demand for workers. (Laughter.)
Maria: Well, we both said it, so clearly it must be one of the key trends for the future!
Jerry: This will affect everyone in staffing. Demand will increase in all industries, but absolutely when it comes to our niche market – IT, engineering, and finance. I see continued shortages in STEM workers, and everyone will have to contend with that. It will grow as a problem the more demand outstrips supply, and while people are talking about it and some things are being done to promote STEM education and increase the pool of workers, it won’t be enough to avoid issues. It’s really already an issue. Of course, if you’re working in the industry, it’s a positive. You can expect to be in high demand if you have the skills that employers are looking for.
Technology will also affect the industry in the future. We’ve long been an advocate of technology where it can help, we’re upgrading certain systems right now actually. But that doesn’t mean, “great, we’re set for a while.” The rapid pace of advancement is something firms will always have to deal with. Unfortunately, the cost of some tech improvements can be significant. The cost of innovation will always be a concern that businesses have to deal with. Balancing cost with the need to drive efficiency and continuously improve is just part of running a business.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Jerry: Work harder than you think you need to. There’s no limit to hard work. Don’t give up. Stay focused. Don’t take your foot off the gas.
Maria: Treat your employees with respect. Trust your abilities. Believe in yourself.
Any regrets or things you would do differently?
Jerry: Well, I made a lot of mistakes but that’s because I’ve done a lot of things! (Laughing.) Mistakes are inevitable in life. The more you do, the more likely you are to make them, but that’s ok. Recognize, acknowledge, and learn from them, and then you can achieve progress. While in one sense, I do regret my mistakes, I don’t know which things I would do differently because otherwise how would I have learned and made progress!
How do you feel as you look back on 30 years in business?
Jerry: It’s been the most rewarding experience. I’m lucky to have founded a company and worked alongside my family, surrounded by wonderful people who really care and want to make a difference. If I had to do it all again, I would! I took a chance and deviated from an established career – I was an engineer for 18 years. When we started ATR, my mother wondered what we were doing. “You’re an engineer!” But she saw our success and knew, like I did, that we’d made a good choice.
Maria: Building a business that allowed us to provide for our family, to create a happy and rewarding life, to give back to our community, and do all this while helping others build their own careers or improve and be successful in their business has been a blessing. We’ve worked hard but we’ve also been blessed along the way.
Thank you for speaking with us. Congratulations again!
Both: Thank you to everyone who has shared in this journey with us and been a part of ATR’s success!