Nothing says "I'm over it" like building a $17 million business.
Mark Gallagher, the founder and CEO of GForce Life Sciences, can attest to that. Sitting happily atop his Chicago-based staffing company, whose annual revenue has grown by 16,427 percent since 2014, the ache of ceding his first business--26 years after it was founded, in 1987--to his cousin and co-founder, Leo Sheridan, doesn't hurt in quite the same way.
"My cousin bought me out," Gallagher explains of his previous company, Advanced Group, a staffing business that accumulated over $182 million in revenue last year.
That's a tough pill to swallow. Unless you're Mark Gallagher, in which case, you simply figure out a way to get back to work. "I said to him, this is what I like to do, this is what I want to do. So we agreed that we would take all the non-compete out of the contract, and I went and got 500 square feet of office space," he recalls.
But Gallagher and Sheridan had been in business since they were teenagers, building their first company, a window-washing operation, when they were 14 and 16 years old, respectively. Despite years of experience and the guiding entrepreneurial success of his grandfather Arthur J. Gallagher, the founder of the insurance company of the same name, Gallagher admits that in 2013, as he began building GForce from the ground up, he was fearful about stepping out alone.
"It was just me, myself, and I. I was terrified," says the founder, who in 1993 was inducted into the Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, an achievement awarded by the University of Illinois at Chicago.
It was slow going at the outset. He busied himself with compiling client lists and attempting to catch peoples' attention. But then, two and a half years ago, the business started to accelerate. "We pivoted our company into the life sciences space, and that made all the difference," says Gallagher. Focusing on quality of service, the small GForce team of 15 (supplemented by numerous outside consultants) put its enthusiasm into filling the employment requests of clients in pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotechnology companies.
In an industry that lacks the bells and whistles of Silicon Valley technology upstarts, the move was shrewd, says Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts, a global adviser on staffing and workforce solutions headquartered in Mountain View, California. He notes that focusing in on a specific vertical, like life sciences, can be the strategy that propels a company into the big leagues.
"One way you differentiate is to pick a specific skill or geography, or a specific industry that you focus on, and just be better at it than anybody else," says Asin. "Be more knowledgeable about it; know who the players are; know the pools of talent; be able to deliver for your clients in a quick manner."
The idea to hone the pitch for GForce was largely pioneered by Gallagher's second-in-command, company president John Webber, another staffing industry veteran who shares more in common with Gallagher than just a career trajectory.
"My partner and I, John Webber, we both had experiences in the past that were not always the best," Gallagher says. "And so we have been very intentionally building this company with those lessons we've learned. I think it's a very, very unique place."
Webber was exposed to a negative company culture at one of his previous workplaces and, along with Gallagher, has made it a priority to place GForce on the other end of the spectrum, offering rewards like architectural boat tours and baseball games for the staff's hard work.
All the difference.
"What I'm most encouraged about is that the whole company will eat together almost every day," says Gallagher. But according to Asin, perks in the staffing business aren't just perks; they're the key to success. That's made clear by the correlation between the best staffing firms to work for and the fastest-growing firms in the industry, says Asin.
"If you have really engaged, motivated recruiters and salespeople--the people who service the clients and make sure the candidates are well taken care of--you're going to be much more successful over time than other companies," says Asin.
Jarring as they were, the company's early obstacles have proven integral in its success. Gallagher and Webber say they learned the tricks of the trade, and brought it all together to form a polished company that Webber notes never really felt like a startup.
"We were a small business that thought like a $100 million company," says Webber. "We had the recipe. It was just a matter of hard work."