This post was originally published on March 11, 2011

This is the first of two posts on my Dad’s years with Manpower, beginning in 1966 and culminating in 1974 when he bought the Manpower franchise in Sacramento, thereby making the Pinto to Mercedes transition.

A Pinto, for those of you not old enough to remember Walter Cronkite or Kent State, was the cheapest, most accident-prone, maintenance-intensive nightmare of a car you could ever own. For my Dad, who had a lifelong passion for restoring luxury sports cars, the Pinto was a cultural icon, the symbol of the slavish, unrewarded life of a Manpower branch manager that contrasted with the Mercedes life of a business-owning franchisee.

Although some may see this story as a slam on Manpower, it is no such thing. Au contraire, it’s a testament to the forward thinking of Manpower’s founders in creating an entrepreneurial franchisee program that both nourished the recruitment of highly motivated A-players and served as a feedback loop for business improvement in an otherwise dystopic corporate culture.

Part one begins when my Dad quits a technical services firm in New York and joins Manpower in Milwaukee in 1966. He paints a picture all too familiar to those of us who have watched staffing companies struggle to move beyond commercial staffing:

My first assignment on the new job was to remain in New Jersey and report to the Paterson, NJ office. I was to learn how a Manpower office was operated. The office primarily dispatched warehouse help, typists and clerical help. When I mentioned Engineers, Designers, Draftsmen and Data Processing personnel I was met with a look of “What are you talking about”. I knew I had my work cut out for me. After one month of training, I was told to report to The Milwaukee Headquarters. When I arrived, they had no office for me. I was to share an office with another new hire. My orientation was to learn what Manpower was all about. I attended a weeklong class that was used to teach new field personnel and new franchisees. Most of the time I was a student but also was told that I was to teach a session on Technical Service. It wasn’t long before I learned that I was to concentrate on franchisees, trying to convince them they should hire someone to do Technical business in their offices.

If I could, I was also to try to convince branch managers to do the same. I could not order a manager to do anything and there was no budget for him to hire someone. Managers quickly told me that they were on a bonus program and if they hired a technical person, the money would come out of their bonus. They admitted that they could build volume in sales with technical help in time, but they would probably be transferred to another office and not reap the rewards of sacrificing their present bonus. So it seemed I had to concentrate solely on franchisees. I did get interest from the manager of the Buffalo, NY office. She knew that she would not be transferred to another office and had heard from some of her customers that they were using some other company for technical personnel. I interviewed prospective applicants and hired a technical person for her office. She quickly became a very successful technical office and helped make my job easier and more secure.

I heard through my contacts that Bethlehem Steel Co. was requesting bids on furnishing Industrial Engineers for their new plant in Gary, Indiana. I went on a sales call to their headquarters in Pennsylvania and came upon a very lucky meeting. It was that the buyer for this contract was a Stevens Tech graduate and a fraternity brother and classmate of mine. He awarded me the contract for fifteen Engineers at a lucrative mark up. I rushed back to Milwaukee and recruited the necessary personnel and turned the servicing of payroll and billing over to the nearest Manpower office which was in South Bend, Ind. Because of the high pay rates and good profit margin, the manager, Betty Gilmore, was able to almost double her sales figure and exceed her profit target. This would give her a very large bonus but my boss reduced the calculation by omitting the technical business. I talked him into giving her some of the additional bonus by arguing that no manager would cooperate with me if they didn’t get something for handling the servicing of such contracts.

(to be continued…)

Tags: Manpower, Business, Mercedes, Pinto