Once upon a time (I just love saying that). Once upon a time in 1984 there were these two young handsome guys (George Gersema, aka The Cowboy, and Ray O’Leary, aka Ray-O) who had a small company doing data processing contracts. Now this company specialized in a government program called FICA recovery. This FICA recovery was only designed to last for a period of three years so as they closed in on that time they figured it was time to come up with some way to support themselves. About this time The Cowboy met a charming young woman (Mary Dunaway, aka Miss Mary). And the three of them spent lots of time dreaming about this “supporting ourselves” thing. The Cowboy and Ray-O kept thinking about a concept they had read of in a Newsweek Magazine called Employee Leasing. (Note… The industry changed the name from Employee Leasing to Professional Employer Organization or PEO some years later and since it’s easier to type PEO I will just refer to the industry that way going forward). As they told Miss Mary about it, it just seemed to all make sense with their backgrounds in insurance, sales, payroll and accounting that this PEO just may be the deal for them. They convinced The Cowboy’s brother Douglas Gersema, aka “Duke,” to join them, and for nearly 30 years this team has been making it happen.
So in 1985 The Cowboy, Ray-O and Miss Mary decided to go to San Francisco and meet the owner of a PEO they had read about and just gather as much information as they could. Now you need to remember that the internet had not been invented yet and it was not possible to just Google. Those were the days. After some expensive phone calls the owner of that company told The Cowboy he was pretty much ready to retire and maybe we should just buy him out. Exciting!
The plan was for Ray-O to fly in from Virginia and The Cowboy and Miss Mary would fly in from San Juan, Puerto Rico (where they had been finishing up the last FICA recovery project). Coming from conservative Virginia and to the business district of San Francisco, Ray-O was appropriately suited up in a dark suit, white shirt, etc. And here comes The Cowboy and Miss Mary from sunny, tropical, laid back San Juan. At that time (probably still) ladies in San Juan wore very bright sundresses, sandals, well… you get the picture. Miss Mary didn’t look like everyone else there that day. Ray-O inquired if Miss Mary had at least brought a briefcase to which she replied… “No, but I do have this cute red purse.” (Yeah, cute huh.)
As it turned out, the owner of that PEO took a liking to Miss Mary and disclosed more than would have probably been considered prudent. This information led our three young entrepreneurs to come to the conclusion that this guy in San Francisco wasn’t being all that honest if you get my drift. So they decided to back out of the purchase and just start their own PEO. I have to tell you starting a company was considerably less complicated back then and this new PEO was up and running within a month. One of the first things that happened was that they got a map and put a pin in every city where these dreamers thought a PEO branch should be. Do you wonder if they have them all? Read on.
The first paid employee was the insurance and sales guy who had worked at that PEO in San Francisco and he wanted to remain in the Bay Area so the branch office was born in Concord, California. The corporate office was in
Virginia where Ray-O, The Cowboy and Miss Mary lived. It was precisely at this point that they were well on their way to the “coast to coast” company they dreamed of. The joke for months was that they were “coast AND coast”. And so, the first PEO branch of Employers Resource was up and running.
Amazingly enough, the sales person in Concord ran into an Allstate agent and discovered that Allstate agents were required to use either a temporary firm or a PEO to process payroll for their employees. Allstate felt that they would be totally relieved of employment lawsuits. They wrote a proposal for Allstate, got the approval, posted a bond, and were growing so fast it kind of made their heads spin. Allstate works in regions and since the trio had done so well in Northern California they decided to get Allstate approval in Southern California as well. Actually, The Cowboy decided this.
It was late one night as The Cowboy and Miss Mary were driving Ray-O to the airport in San Francisco that this conversation occurred about the Southern California thing. Ray-O and Miss Mary are somewhat more conservative and were trying to explain to The Cowboy what an idiotic thing it would be to spread the resources that thin. The Cowboy proceeded to bang his fist on the dashboard of that rental car and yell…”we will be a national PEO and we will have a PEO office in Orange County, California and if y’all can’t see how much sense that makes…… Blah, blah, blah.”
1987. And there we were in Orange County with Southern California Allstate approval in hand. And the second PEO branch of Employers Resource was up and running. This was a pin on the map. O.k., here’s a little story on Miss Mary. While she is fairly intelligent and all, she had never been to Southern California and wasn’t familiar with the towns and how far apart they were. She also loves all things Disney. The Cowboy did all of the driving and she never caught on that sometimes he took the long way just to avoid a little town called Anaheim… You know, where Mickey Mouse lives. He still claims it was because they just didn’t have a lot of spare money to spend on entertainment… Yeah right. One day a small miscalculation alerted Miss Mary to the scheme and that very night she was having dinner with Mickey and all his friends.
You might know that The Cowboy wouldn’t be happy here for long before he would be restless to get onto the “coast to coast” PEO. He decides it is time to stake a claim in Texas. Miss Mary had never been to Texas and her gypsy soul agreed without much argument. In 1988 they set off in their old blue Chrysler 5th Avenue and drove to Dallas. If you’ve never done this drive I can only tell you that Texas is one dang big state. Once again Allstate business was the basis, and the third branch was opened. PEO Dallas was where we held our first ever formal payroll training for all internal staff. It was also a pin on the map.
Many adventures happened in Texas, California, and Virginia but I want to fast forward here so I can cover all of our current branch offices so…. Fast forward…
1991 and a salesperson in Virginia decides he would like to move his family to Atlanta. As it turns out while this PEO was in the planning stages a pin had been placed square in the middle of Atlanta. So they rented a tiny office for a salesperson and a clerical person and the sales started to trickle in. And just about the time they were wondering if this had been a bad decision Ray-O hears of a little PEO in Atlanta for sale and goes down to check it out. Whoa babies…. this is going to work after all. That acquisition combined with the clients they already were serving made it all come together. And another PEO branch was up and running.
By now Miss Mary was pretty much running all over the place keeping these branch offices running and having fun and wasn’t thrilled to have any more to keep up with. Some corporate employees did convince her that a branch in Boise could be handled by the corporate staff and it would be really nice to have a place to test software, etc. o.k., o.k…. Do it. So in 1993 the official PEO Boise branch was opened.
About this time Miss Mary was thinking it may be time to start a family as she and The Cowboy weren’t getting any younger. Their first daughter was born in 1994 and their twins in 1998. This had quite the hunkering down effect on them and the big push to expand slowed down… They never stopped dreaming it… They just kind of settled into a maintain mode.
Y2K. Who remembers the preparations and concern as we approached the end of December? That wasn’t all that had Miss Mary kind of concerned. She had been home with her three little girls when The Cowboy asked if she would come out of retirement for just 2 weeks to help do this PEO acquisition down in Phoenix. Picture this…. December in Boise (cold), 12 month old twins (diapers and bottles galore), a five year old who could come down for part of the time to swim in Mommies hotel pool…. What’s not to like about a two week vacation in Phoenix? As it turned out the two weeks stretched into about 4 months. Miss Mary and her 5 year old racked up some pretty good travel miles coming home some weekends and the PEO Phoenix branch was up and running.
Oh Texas, you are never far from The Cowboy’s mind and in 2001 Texas fever hits again. Miss Mary knows it’s time to hit the road when The Cowboy sings “I can almost see Houston from here…” (for a more complete picture)
PEO Houston was maybe the easiest branch of all as the team that started things rolling there had years of PEO experience and they are rock stars. Once again a branch is open in a city from the original map.
Sometimes life just happens to people. That’s kind of what happened in December 2003 in North Carolina. There was this PEO in Greenville that had gotten into a pretty bad place and the government was offering to “help them”. The employees and clients were potentially going to find themselves without health insurance and Workers Comp. Hey, it was the end of the year and those clients had nowhere to turn. Ray-O went down from Virginia and Miss Mary met him there and they got those clients all tucked in to our new PEO North Carolina branch. In 2006 this small branch was just not growing as quickly as it should have so the operation was moved to Atlanta.
In this industry there are friendships and then there are FRIENDSHIPS. Back in 1985 the four crazy young entrepreneurs met a man who had just opened his PEO in San Antonio. A true friendship began that spanned 20 years. In 2004 Eddie Heinemeier called The Cowboy and suggested a partnership. You already know how The Cowboy feels about Texas and knowing that this was a man he could trust he readily agreed. So in July of 2004 the two companies merged under the Employers Resource flag and the team there is amazing.
Once again the company was just enjoying some peace and quiet when The Cowboy heard of another North Carolina PEO in trouble. (I know, right…2 in North Carolina, oh well). Again it was December (2007) and literally hundreds of pay checks were not going to be run for employees so The Cowboy flew into Raleigh and met with the team from that other PEO and got a plan together to get those employees paid and ensure their insurance coverage was in place. It was the right thing to do. I think he needs a white cowboy hat. The team was hired, PEO Raleigh opened and all the new clients plus those from Greenville became the very happy clients of this most awesome team.
And this was the last pin from the original map.
Where the heck did time go? For one, I’ve spent weeks in our branch offices working with our teams to gain efficiency. I’ve been able to talk to lots of clients… and I’m still in love with The American Dream. The Cowboy and I have discussed maybe slowing down a little, but then we laughed and got back to work. Thankful for all we get to do to serve you. Here’s to a great 2016!
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