Michael Miles Reflects on the Model that Revolutionized the Industry, Company Culture & Achieving Innovation – Part 2
Welcome to the first blog in a two-part series celebrating Michael Miles, our Co-Founder and Chairman, as this year’s winner of the Staffing Industry Analysts’ Peter Yessne Staffing Innovator Award. I conducted the following interview with Michael shortly after he learned he would be this year’s Staffing Innovator. It seemed like the perfect time to reflect on the company’s success as this recognition comes the month before The Seaton Companies 25th anniversary.
Q. What was the impetus for founding Seaton?
A. First of all, I met Hugh Farrington, who I co-founded Seaton with, while in college at Arizona State University. We both had the entrepreneurial bug and knew that after college we wanted to go into business together. Through a series of fortunate circumstances Hugh and I wound up working together in Chicago at a company called Personnel Pool of America, the predecessor of Interim, Spherion and now Randstad. We worked there a year and then struck out on our own.
The impetus behind Seaton was an interesting force at play in corporate America around which we developed our product and started our business. That was the Just-in-Time inventory practice that was being adopted by American companies. As organizations built inventory to match demand, versus replenishing stock in advance, they needed to adjust their staff on a frequent basis. We recognized that in order for companies to be competitive they needed to change their workforce strategy. They now needed Just-in-Time people. To satisfy that need many organizations started turning to the staffing industry which wasn’t quite tooled to achieve Just-in-Time staffing. The staffing industry at the time was organized around a co-op model with a pool of people shared with multiple employers. It was meant to be a reactive solution. Companies that were embracing the Just-in-Time model had a need that was far beyond that. They needed a permanent staffing solution embedded in their infrastructure.
As we observed this Just-in-Time staffing dynamic, we identified that there was a different way to provide this service and it required a different model. It required a client-intimate, outsourced solution; an office on-site at the client location to provide them with their flexible labor on an exclusive basis. That was the premise behind starting a company that only provided staffing from an on-site office. The solution resonated well with major corporations that were looking for a more robust and elegant solution to manage this variable and sometimes chaotic need for Just-in-Time.
Q. What was the company culture like in the early days?
A. We had a group of clients that allowed us to sit down with them and ask ‘what if’ questions. They would dream with us, invent with us. They allowed us to understand the challenges they faced in their business and to propose new and unique solutions. Our clients had a desire to be early adopters and so we had a culture that revolved around figuring things out together. What we cared about most was walking back from a quarterly business review or a sales call or a meeting with a client and saying ‘we wowed them’. We cared about prospective clients walking out of the room and saying ‘Those guys know what the heck they are doing. I don’t know what we are going to do with them, but we are going to do something because they influenced our way of thinking, they wowed us.’
Q. How did the company achieve such explosive growth?
A. We stretch our people and empower them. This can be really scary but it is also incredibly powerful. Our employees understand what we are doing, why it is important and are glad to be a part of changing the way our clients do business. When the culture clicks, employees are engaged at a level that makes a job more than work. This “magic” is what allows a company to do extraordinary things. Now you have the energy of a team working towards a goal as opposed to one or two dynamic executives driving people. It becomes a self-driven organization. There are many ways to achieve harmony in company culture. Once you do, that’s the catalyst for explosive growth.