Be bold: Culture of Innovation drives Pinstripe’s growth

Pinstripe Inc. has been doubling in size every 12 to 18 months since it was founded in 2005, and the Brookfield-based company recently received a substantial investment from California private equity firm Accel-KKR.

Pinstripe chief executive officer Sue Marks and her leadership team do not plan to slow their bold growth anytime soon. In fact, the executive team is driving constant change so the company can continue meeting its performance goals, challenging itself and pushing the envelope on talent.

“We were together (following the investment) really trying to work through what would be next,” said Angela Hills, executive vice president. “We took time to challenge the ideas and stop and think, ‘Is it still going to work going forward?’ We’re not afraid to rip it apart and start fresh.”

The recruitment solutions provider specializes in the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) approach, where Pinstripe recruiters assist clients in finding new employees by creating a dedicated talent acquisition team under the existing company and brand.

“We aren’t a staffing company. We serve as an extension of an internal human resources department,” said Jill Schwieters, executive vice president at Pinstripe and president of Pinstripe Healthcare. “We’re trying to continually add value to the industries we serve.”

Filling in the gaps

The Great Recession is a thing of the past for Pinstripe, which has been able to continue its strong growth pattern and adapt to changing hiring needs.

Many clients do not have a strong recruitment team left following years of downsizing, so they need a company such as Pinstripe to fill in the gaps, said Erin Lange, executive vice president.

Pinstripe continued to invest in top talent internally so it could hit the ground running after the economic downturn.

“We wanted to step up after the recession, so the recession actually helped us improve,” said Joy Krausert, chief financial and administrative officer. “We chose to double down on ourselves, and it’s paid off.”

The company was started by Marks and co-founders Anne Nimke and Joy Krausert. It has grown to 450 employees.

Pinstripe has grown an average of 50 percent per year since 2005 in terms of revenue, Schwieters said. That is double the RPO industry growth rate of 25 to 30 percent per year.

Industry publication HRO Today rated Pinstripe on its 2011 RPO Baker’s Dozen List, a national top 13 ranking in terms of customer satisfaction.

The key to the company’s growth has been strong operations, Schwieters said.

“We do what we say we’re going to do, and we do it passionately,” she said.

Fast walkers

Pinstripe puts an emphasis on culture, encouraging employees to submit “values in motion moments”, examples of a co-worker living out a company value, at the beginning of meetings to reinforce its mission.

The small, intimate business model the founders started with has been adapted to the current size of the company, while the leaders strive to keep the same culture, Lange said.

“How do we stay small while we get bigger?” she asked.

The company has utilized technology to communicate as a company, so all of its employees can be in on the conversation, Hills said.

Pinstripe also conducts employee engagement surveys, asking everyone for suggestions and then forming employee committees to meet goals.

Marks said she hires employees who fit the “Pinstriper” description: Happy, friendly, smart, walk fast.

“We have a bias for action. We have a forward lean. We have a sense of urgency and a passion around what we do for our customer,” she said.

The company takes its inspiration from culture-focused companies such as Zappos.com and Southwest Airlines Co. to create an innovative learning environment.

As Pinstripe sees it, there are two customers — the person hiring and the person applying for the job. The goal is to provide the best customer service to both sides, regardless of whether the applicant is hired.

One Pinstripe customer, for example, receives up to 30,000 applications per year with just passive job postings for 500 open positions, Hills said. Pinstripe aims to impress even rejected job applicants, since they are likely to interact with the hiring company as customers or in a business setting.

“We believe we’re a service company,” Lange said.

Pinstripe’s culture, systems and leadership would make any company successful, Marks said. It comes down to hiring the right people, who serve as “intrapreneurs” — internal problem solvers.

“Even though we’re in business, there’s a creative spark in all of us that we want to change the old way of doing things,” Marks said.

Leading as a team

Marks focuses on hiring a leadership team that has a lot of experience — the members of her executive team all have at least 14 years of practice under their belts.

“A lot of times, small business people, they think small and they end up having small businesses,” she said. “You can’t attract talent like (this team) if you think small.”

Marks hires people who like to be pushed and have a lot expected of them.

“They come here and they stay here because we have big jobs,” Marks said. “We expect everybody to be entrepreneurs.”

The executive team has a diverse set of backgrounds that allows them to bring a range of ideas, thoughts and talents to the table, Hills said.

“Each one of us is personally driven,” Schwieters said. “We’re not afraid to challenge each other and support each other.”

Marks has started several successful companies in the HR, business services and technology industries. Before Pinstripe, she founded ProStaff/HRfirst, which was acquired by Kelly Services in 2000. She left Kelly in 2004. She also has invested in early stage companies at Star Canyon Ventures, where she was a board member until 2009.

“I am unemployable,” Marks joked. “I’m an entrepreneur, an angel investor, a board member and over the course of my career I’ve been involved in a number of companies that have been really successful.”

Krausert also is a serial entrepreneur, working with Marks first at ProStaff/HRFirst, later Kelly Services. Krausert served as CEO of JK & Associates until 2004 and CFO of EMSystem until 2007, while helping to start Pinstripe.

“Sue approached me when we started Pinstripe, ‘Let’s make a difference in the talent industry and we can grow a company again,'” Krausert said. “I have the chance to make a difference every day.”

Hills has a bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology and an MBA in strategy and marketing. She has 20 years of organizational consulting experience, 17 of them at consulting firm BlessingWhite Inc. and the last two at Pinstripe.

Schwieters has a bachelor’s degree in industrial psychology and an MSM in leadership and business. She served as regional vice president of human resources at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare for 15 years, until she joined Pinstripe in 2005.

Lange holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. She spent 14 years at GE Healthcare in a variety of departments, most recently business development and marketing. She has been at Pinstripe for three years.

The team works well together because they don’t accept the status quo, Marks said. Marks said she hires smart people and lets them go, with a few guard rails so they don’t go off the road.

“There’s just a motion about us — always moving forward,” she said. “And that doesn’t mean we don’t make any mistakes. We make mistakes, and then we learn from them.”

The RPO approach

Pinstripe generally works with companies that plan to hire at least 50 to 150 employees per year. The higher volume works best with its outsourced model.

The company focuses on advanced manufacturing, consumer brands, financial services, health care and technology hiring.

The advantage of using an RPO firm such as Pinstripe is that the talent acquisition team can be scaled up or down easily, depending on how much hiring is planned, Hills said. Unlike headhunters, Pinstripe builds a long-term plan and network for hiring.

“We’re not an on-and-off kind of service,” Lange said. “Our (employees) are their talent acquisition team.”

By that measure, Pinstripe has 51 corporate talent acquisition departments in its Brookfield office.

“They don’t have to rent the Rolodex,” Hills said. Pinstripe gives companies the Rolodex, plus the tools to use it most effectively, she said.

In addition, Pinstripe has invested millions in the latest technology and a range of resources to find the most qualified candidates. Most of its tools are beyond what the average company would invest in the hiring process.

When you run a human resources department, you don’t have time to find the latest, greatest innovations for hiring, Schwieters said.

Pinstipe’s talent acquisition teams find out as much as possible about a company’s culture, goals and ideal candidate while building trust with leadership and existing employees. They introduce new systems and use a range of tools to assist with everything from talent attraction to on-boarding a new employee.

Clients can choose an end-to-end solution or pick and choose the tasks they outsource to Pinstripe.

Since Pinstripe focuses only on RPO, it does not often compete directly with Milwaukee-based global staffing firm ManpowerGroup, Krausert said. Pinstripe is the largest independent RPO provider in the United States, in terms of revenue.

“It’s not often that a client’s picking between us and Manpower because they’ve already decided what model they want,” Lange said.

Pinstripe has had to adapt to a changing hiring environment following the recession.

Since there are more candidates than ever for open positions these days, companies have accelerated talent acquisition spending to find diamonds in the rough while being polite and responsive to all applicants, Hills said.

“There will always be a war for top talent,” Marks said.

While Pinstripe uses traditional recruiting techniques, social media outlets such as Facebook have become important recruiting aids, Hills said. The company is always introducing new internal and external recruiting tools for its employees to search for candidates.

Since there is a talent mismatch in several fields at the moment, passive job posting seldom works. Pinstripe actively seeks out candidates, whether they are looking for employment or not.

“Between 25 and 30 percent of all the positions we fill at Pinstripe are with people who weren’t looking for a job,” Hills said.

Enabling future growth

Pinstripe had several potential suitors for its recent strategic equity partnership, but wanted to pick the organization that would fit best, Hills said.

That fit was Menlo Park, Calif.-based Accel-KKR, which focuses on technology investments. Accel-KKR has more than $2 billion of capital under management.

“Pinstripe has demonstrated all the characteristics that Accel-KKR looks for: a top management team, proven market leadership, a world-class client base, a superior service delivery model and an industry-leading technology platform,” said Greg Williams, managing director of Accel-KKR.

Williams, principal Dean Jacobson and managing director Rob Palumbo at Accel-KKR, will join Pinstripe’s board of directors.

Accel-KKR’s investment enabled Pinstripe to pay off its first round of investors, including Baird Venture Partners, CID Capital and the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. The new investment and Pinstripe’s annual revenue are undisclosed.

“We chose them because we were excited — they will push us, they will challenge us to be better,” Hills said.

Over the next four to five years, Marks expects Pinstripe to quadruple or quintuple in size with the same kind of organic growth it has experienced since the start. In addition, the leadership team will likely begin looking at acquisitions in the RPO space.

“In 2013, barring some macroeconomic meltdown like we had in 2009, I would expect that we’ll probably hire another 100 people. Maybe more,” she said.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

No posts to display