A video, an enhanced buyout package, an idea, two guys from Best Buy and the back of a napkin.
That’s what it took to launch and build STAR Collaborative; a specialty staffing and consultant group comprised of project and organizational change management professionals.
Ed Lefkow and Dan Olson both loved their jobs at Best Buy, improving operations, processes and delivering transformational change initiatives.
Neither of them was looking for a career change themselves, but change came looking for them during the economic downturn of 2008 when Best Buy developed a plan to reduce headcount.
Olson told me they all knew downsizing was coming, though few knew details of the plan. Olson also didn’t know how life changing a video from Best Buy’s then-CEO Brad Anderson was going to be.
In that video, Anderson told the nearly 4,000 employees at the suburban Minneapolis headquarters campus, “It’s okay to have a dream. And if you do, I encourage you to follow it.”
“In that instant, literally, my mind was changed,” Olson recounts excitedly.
“I felt as if he were speaking directly to me. What I found out later was that Ed had felt exactly the same way. We both arrived at our decisions without speaking to the other.”
That decision was to launch a staff augmentation company using the whole variable resource model they gained deep experience in at Best Buy.
Olson explains: “We witnessed firsthand the plusses and the minuses of the professional freelance and third-party consulting community. We saw staffing models that took care of the consultants and had their best interests at heart, and we saw models that didn’t. We saw the value add in some firms and we didn’t see it in others.”
Olson told Lefkow over lunch he had a model in mind of being able to play match.com for consultants. He wanted to see if he could do that on his own — outside of Best Buy.
Lekfow replied, “That’s exactly what I want to do.”
So on the back of the proverbial napkin, they sketched a business plan, formed a partnership and launched.
Olson told me they not only brought their experience from Best Buy, but the company’s values as well.
They have four values that guide their actions:
- Have fun while being the best.
- Learn from challenge and change.
- Show respect, humility and integrity.
- Unleash the power of our people.
There is a “fifth value, and that is the power of transparency,” Olson added. “We tell everyone, consultant and clients, what our markup is. Our goal is to give everyone the best rate possible.”
STAR Collaborative also recognizes consultants who have ‘tenure,’ so they reduce their rate every six months by one percent and give that back to the consultant.
“We are up to 65 employed consultants right now,” Olson says proudly.
“Our clients like it because they know the consultants are happy and are being taken care of. Ed and I aren’t being greedy about this, and we try to employ this abundance mentality. We’re not out to fight over a piece of the pie, or shares of the pie.”
“Instead we’d like to help everyone grow the pie.”
Here are some of the things STAR Collaborative does in that effort:
- Partner with other staffing firms when possible so consultants have more opportunities
- Hold speed networking events bringing together decision makers from clients to meet consultants (even if they don’t have a project right then)
- Not charging clients when they hire STAR people
- Possibly offering consultants other services such as back office paperwork processing, pooled insurance coverage and medical benefits
“This is about something much bigger than just us being a successful business,” said Olson in closing. “We also want others to be successful in their businesses. We simply love to see people work.”