Forty years ago this year I took a chance and started a business to offer background and reference checking services to employers. It all started when Copeland Corporation came to town and needed someone to help identify a workforce for their new remanufacturing facility on Conrad Harcourt Way. Initially, they had 6,000 applications for 250 jobs! At the time, as some may remember, I had the job Sandy Fussner has now with the Chamber of Commerce. I loved that job! I wish I could do that sort of thing for a living even now.
Their VP of manufacturing stopped by the office one day after they had announced they had chosen Rushville as the location of their new plant. Since I was from here, he figured I could be useful in screening all those applications down to a manageable size, so I was hired as a contract employee for the staffing of the new Copeland facility. How did we do that? Well, first-off, if I couldn’t read the writing on the application it was tossed. In other words, if the penmanship was so bad that I couldn’t decipher the name or other pertinent information, the application went to File 13. There were other criteria, but the point was Copeland wanted a diverse workforce of reliable people who were willing to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Once we had the 6,000 applications whittled down to a reasonable size, my next job was to contact the applicants and invite them to a preliminary job interview. The interviews were pretty basic, because there were a lot of them to do. So, showing up late for the initial interview, failing to make a presentable appearance, and not being able to articulate a reasonable response to the questions that were asked were all some of the reasons why the pile got smaller. Some of the applicants were people I already knew because they had been working here for years and had always been the sort of folks you’d want in a start-up operation.
Nevertheless, the next step was checking references. Copeland told me the sort of qualities they were looking for and, no, factory experience was not a prerequisite! Prior to starting to contact the references provided by a smaller pool of candidates I spent a couple of weeks developing what I hoped would be a list of job-performance related questions that would be asked of each reference.
I’m happy to report that Copeland liked my list well enough that they expanded my duties to include checking the references on possible new hires at the Sydney, Ohio, headquarters – not just hourly candidates, but candidates for salaried positions as well. The questions asked of references for salaried positions were significantly more in-depth than just, “Did so-and-so arrive on time” or “was he occasionally late?”
The references I talked with – and I hasten to add that these were people who had worked with the candidate and were expecting a call anyway because the candidate had asked that person to serve as a reference – in hopes they would say good things about him – which didn’t always happen. But that wasn’t the point – to uncover dirt on the candidate – the point was to make sure the candidate not only could do the job for which Copeland was considering him and to make sure the candidate would be a good fit for Copeland’s corporate culture.
As I started calling references of Copeland’s corporate positions, the more they would say things like, “I’ve never had anybody ask me that many questions or be so thorough before! Do you do that for any other companies?” The proverbial light bulb popped on above my head and I thought, “There could be a business opportunity here since other background screening companies apparently don’t check references very carefully!” After a while I was pretty sure I had a unique idea, but lacked the marketing connections to offer reference checking to other companies.
As it turned out, the 8th largest executive search company at the time was in Columbus, Indiana – Fleming Associates. I called Dick Fleming, a very nice guy, and he agreed that I might just have a good idea. After he checked me out and I did a sample reference report for his partner, Bob Piers, and a series of meetings, we decided to create Barada Associates with offices in Rushville. At the time my office amounted to a borrowed office on the second floor of the former Rushville National Bank building. Bob and Dick had the marketing connections and referred me to the people they know with these various companies. They put up some seed money to get the business started, which we paid back in just two years. No one could have asked for two better business partners! They were both very helpful when I had questions. They were just enough farther down the road than I was to be able to offer practical business advice, which certainly paid off over the years – in all the years we were partners not a single cross word passed between us.
What followed were years of hard work convincing companies that we could do their reference and background checking for them better and more cost effectively than they could do it themselves. Gradually the business grew and we started to receive calls about our business from major business newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and Time Magazine. So, little by little, we grew from a business of one employee – me – to nearly 30 people here and in our Indianapolis office. So far the hard work has paid off. Now, after 40 years, I go in late and leave early.
That’s –30—for this week.