Mash and the Waltons premiered on prime time TV the same month and year that the Placers story began. Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente crushed his 3,000 hit then, too. The 1972 Summer Olympics ceremoniously showered seven gold medals on US swimming sensation Mark Spitz (my mom’s favorite), and we all watched in horror as the tragedy of 11 Israeli athletes were slain during the games in what was later infamously termed “The Munich Massacre.” Gasoline was 36 cents a gallon, and a new Ford Mustang, fully loaded, could be driven off the lot for $2,500.
This turned out to be the first in just one of 600 months for Placers – it was our first month nonetheless – the month mom and dad risked it all for a start-up company called The People Placers. Our new name quickly changed to Placers (to avoid name infringement). It turned out to be a good change. It accurately represents what we do.
Placers story is only unique if you never paid close attention to how a business survives, thrives, and scales. Placers was born when credit lines, credit cards, and loans to start a company were hard to come by.
My parents had $500 dollars, youth, and talent on their side. My dad, Alan, had the right mentors and bosses early in his financial services career to prepare him for entrepreneurship. He gambled that he had all he needed: leadership skills, sales abilities, supreme confidence, and a work ethic like no other.
My mom believed in dad and viewed their business endeavor as a risk worthy of the possible reward. She handled stress, uncertainty, cash flow (or lack thereof), all while doing the books and raising our family. For my part, I often accompanied my parents at work – there was no paying a babysitter. I played with toy cars on the lobby floor. It drove my dad nuts.
As I became a small business owner, I realized my dad had tried to protect me by insulating me from the pain and challenges of entrepreneurship. I guess he thought he alone should bear the brunt of being cash poor when payroll had to be met on a Friday and the accounts payable clerk of his largest client was on vacation. Cash is oxygen and without it, no one survives for long. I realize now that everything he did molded me into the person I am today. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Placers has always prided itself on being innovative, but we had to innovate if we were to survive. As a result, our business pulled through seven recessions, 11 presidents, a fire, a flood, a roof collapse, a terrorist attack on our nation (which incidentally was the same day I started my business), and a pandemic. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, more resilient, and dare I say, anti-fragile?
Placers has averaged 25% growth per year, throughout our 50 years. We’ve been voted “Best Place To Work,” and awarded by Inc. 5000 11 times – once beating Microsoft! My dad and I have won Small Business Person of the Year – each of us in New Castle County – in different decades.
I learned we are a business family, not a family business. I carry that forward in my beliefs today. This means the family does not get favors, jobs, or make it awkward for staff. Family starts at the bottom, works for less, and earns every inch or they don’t get it. It took many years, but I learned that all success is earned, one day at a time. Now I look up and see real progress made – both in the business and perhaps in leadership.
In 1972, you expected to work for a safe, secure, lifetime employer. Your career was managed by your company and there you stayed until you got your 30-year gold watch. Salaries averaged between $2,500 and $7,000 – annually.
It’s a different world today! It has to be. But in an ever-changing world, we’ve held true to specific constants. They’ve kept us alive:
– We are not afraid of change, especially to serve the customer.
– Customer service is our difference. We still answer our phones!
– We continue to be thought leaders in the workforce and workplace. It’s a workforce/workplace reality.
No one can lead without followers and a business does not exist unless it creates perceived value for the marketplace, for its customers, and for the community it serves. Placers has been blessed to serve many throughout our 50 years. We have placed, coached, or employed more than 100,000 Delawareans.
So now, allow me to extend a HEARTFELT THANK YOU and to recognize ALL of the employees EVER who have been a part of Placers mission to coach and consult workers and business, or who have been a temporary associate or placed candidate. Our business and its customer base reflect our 50 years, our home State of Delaware, chemical companies, financial services, millions of temporary hours worked, and today’s tapestry of established healthcare, manufacturing, and scaling start-ups that comprise Delaware’s economy.
To borrow from Steve Jobs, “Yes we were an overnight success, it just took 18 years.” My parents would agree. And we are still working on that success. We call this Nth Degree. There is always something we can do. There is always more that we can do.
It’s my hope that we will keep on living Nth Degree for many years to come.
If you enjoyed this article, I recommend reading these past Outside Insights posts:
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