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Marie O'Brien and Enterforce, Inc. in the Milwaukee Business Journal's 2014 Business Guide

Marie O'Brien and Enterforce, Inc. in the Milwaukee Business Journal's 2014 Business Guide

Score Helps Launch $75 Million Workforce Management Firm

Thirteen years ago, Marie O’Brien saw the future in corporate staff­ing and launched a business to help employers manage their temporary contractors. That company, Pewau­kee-based Enterforce Inc., today gener­ates $75 million in revenue serving For­tune 1000 companies throughout North America and abroad.

This month, O’Brien will receive an honorable mention as the Wisconsin 2014 Small Business Person of the Year from the U.S. Small Business Adminis­tration. The award is especially fitting because O’Brien will receive the award on the 50th anniversary of the national founding of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which played an integral role in helping her launch her business.

SCORE is a non-profit organization that part­ners with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide free consulting services to entrepreneurs, start-up firms and small businesses. Its members include retired managers, accountants and business owners who want to help others succeed.

 “SCORE gave me three important things: A chronological formula or template to launch the business, the encour­agement not to give up and to dream big,” says O’Brien, who is presi­dent and CEO of Enterforce. “They also gave me a document called ‘5 steps to success,’ which was my bible and the advice I give today to anyone who seeks me out on starting their own business.”

The idea for Enterforce was spawned back in the 1980s when O’Brien was working at a local engineering staffing firm. That firm was asked to go onsite at a major local employer to help them streamline their contracting process for temporary work­ers.

“This was back in the days before automation and the Internet when ev­erything was done by mail, phone and fax,” she says. “The client had about 1,000 contractors so there was always a lot of activity – onboard­ing, offboarding and invoicing. It was becoming a big burden for them and they wanted to make it more efficient.”

DISCOVERING A NEED

O’Brien and her team centralized the contracting function so that all resumes, invoices and other related paperwork came through a single office. “We achieved many process improvements and cost savings by doing that,” she says.

Other local employers wanted to do the same. In or­der to keep the staff­ing and consulting operations separate, the engineering ser­vices firm created a separate company to manage the con­tracting process for its temporary work­ers as well as those provided by oth­er staffing firms. Even that separation wasn’t enough, however, to prevent some of the other staffing firms to from wondering whether O’Brien’s employer had the inside track.

That’s when O’Brien realized the benefits of starting a completely sep­arate company that would focus solely on workforce management and talent acquisition. She decided to strike out on her own in 2001.

Although she was intimately familiar with temporary contracting, she knew little about running a business. She was directed to SCORE, where she was teamed with John Patzke, who helped O’Brien develop her business plan and bylaws and find business advisers.

NOT KNOWING WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

“One of the things you find out when you go into business is that there are a lot of things you don’t know,” O’Brien says. “John was great in helping me identify the steps I needed to take. He emphasized that I had to be very clear on what I was going to do and that I had to find advocates and advisors who could help.”

One of O’Brien’s challenges was promoting a concept that was still relatively new. Enterforce wasn’t a tra­ditional staffing agency, but a manage­ment services firm that provided process solutions for the continuum of workers – from interns and contingent workers to temporary help to direct hires.

“As an entrepreneur, I was develop­ing a space that was not comparable to other businesses,” O’Brien says. “Because I had to go out into the market and explain what we were going to do, I had to become intimately familiar with my market opportunity and how to promote it.”

Developing a good banking rela­tionship was also critical. “When you are working with Fortune 500 compa­nies you have to have good funding because of the money involved,” she said. “You are dealing with swings of millions of dollars.”

As technology evolved, so did Enter­force. It now deploys a web-based ven­dor management system that enables clients and their staffing providers to easily and efficiently interact with each other.

FACING CHALLENGES

The company has also faced chal­lenges. During the financial turmoil of 2008 and 2009, many of Enterforce’s clients reduced both their full-time staff and their use of contractors. Revenue dropped and many of the company’s client contacts changed.

O’Brien saw this as both a challenge and an opportunity. She successfully re-engineered the company’s approach to marketing and relationship mainte­nance. She also used the downturn to promote Enterforce’s value proposition by helping employers through transi­tional times.

“We were able to demonstrate that we were there when things were great and when things were tough,” she says.

With the economy stabilizing, her next objective is to grow her business. “We have proven our business model and our next step is to scale further,” she says.

O’Brien is also now sharing her time and financial support to help others succeed. She serves on a several local boards and provides financial support for small business initiatives in minority communities.

“Enterforce achieved its initial five-year goals in just three years and has since grown to be a $75 million company,” says David Maaske, chair of the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of SCORE. “Marie has accomplished this while generously giving back to the local small business and non-profit community with time and financial support.”

ABOUT SCORE

SCORE is America’s largest volun­teer business counseling service. Founded in 1964, it has more than 320 chapters located throughout the United States. There are seven SCORE chapters in Wisconsin, in­cluding SCORE SE Wisconsin, which serves southeastern Wisconsin. Founded in 1965, that chapter has 70 members with a wide variety of business backgrounds and experi­ence, including accounting, adver­tising, banking, human resources, marketing, manufacturing, restau­rants, real estate, retail, sales and wholesaling. For more information, visit: scoresewisconsin.org.

“SCORE helps entrepreneurs by providing mentors who have started their own business or been in busi­ness for a number of years,” says David Maaske, chair of the South­east Wisconsin Chapter of SCORE. “For mentors, it offers the ability to give back to the community, meet new people and learn new skills such as social media.”