When Joe Tucker saw an opportunity for his small Milwaukee staffing company to become a minority supplier for Manpower Inc. in 2002, he didn’t hesitate.
Tucker then leveraged that opportunity to grow his company, Victory Personnel Services Inc., into a staffing firm with 500 contract employees in 38 states.
Execution, flexibility and being able to respond quickly to clients’ needs helped Victory’s 2006 sales to grow to $25.7 million in 2006, up 840 percent from $3.3 million in 2004. That meteoric rise recently landed the company on Inc. magazine’s list of the 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America. Victory ranked 317th on that list.
“With each opportunity that we were given, we made the best of it, and we made sure that we performed at a level that exceeded the expectations of our customers. At least, that was our objective, and I like to think in most cases we did, which led to more opportunity,” said Tucker, who is founder, president and chief executive officer of Victory.
The clerical, professional and technical full-service staffing firm is a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Emerging Business Enterprise (EBE).
Victory started working with Manpower in the late 1990s as a local supplier. After proving his company could handle some of Manpower’s clients, Tucker was accepted into Manpower’s new Supplier Diversity Mentorship Program in 2002.
“We knew from the very beginning, anyone who would partner with Manpower and support us would have to have the same quality of work, structure, good foundation,” said Kathy Greco, director of supplier diversity and vendor operations for Manpower. “Joe is a good leader. You can tell he has the strength and quality and ethics behind him, which is half the battle. If you have that in place, then the processes fall into line.”
As part of the mentorship program, Manpower worked with Tucker and Victory to improve processes and align the small company’s operations more closely with those of Manpower. After an internal audit of Victory, Tucker was offered advice in different areas, including how to write proposals, read contracts and understand insurance requirements, Greco said.
Manpower’s Supplier Diversity Mentorship Program is designed to help smaller, minority-owned suppliers increase their quality and revenue through Manpower’s corporate clients and training offerings.
However not every minority company is accepted, and those who are do not always become successful partners.
“(Joe) launched very quickly, and of course we were there side-by-side, so if something came up that was unexpected, we could help along the way,” Greco said. “Each time we were offered a new opportunity, it was the strength of the last opportunity that provided Joe the capability to move to the next level.”
Soon after becoming a part of the program, an Illinois-based supplier for Manpower suddenly closed its doors. Tucker was asked to quickly open an office in Illinois.
Once again, he executed and fulfilled the mission.
“I spent 10 years in the U.S. Army, but three of those years I spent with the U.S. Cavalry, and the Calvary was built on three things: speed, mobility and firepower,” Tucker said. “A Calvary unit is smaller than the conventional forces, but they move fast, they hit hard, and that is how (Victory) is built. We can turn on a dime. There is not a lot of bureaucracy. We can make decisions quickly, be responsive and companies appreciate that.”
With Manpower’s mentorship and partnership on his resume, Tucker was able to take advantage of other supplier diversity programs and mentoring opportunities with larger Milwaukee-based companies, including Wisconsin Energy Corp.; Rockwell Automation Inc.; Miller Brewing Co.; AT&T Wisconsin; Harley-Davidson Inc.; and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. The firm also has done work with the City of Milwaukee.
“I like to think even the companies who have supplier diversity programs and who we work with, (diversity) is really secondary. What is primary is if you can deliver,” Tucker said. “No one is going to use you simply because you are a diverse supplier, and anyone who shows up for business thinking (diversity) is the ticket home is sadly mistaken, because the market will let you know right away. The key to success is quality, quality, quality and not diversity.”
Jerry Fulmer, director of supplier diversity initiatives for Wisconsin Energy, agrees.
“Companies have to be capable and have quality and provide service to meet those needs,” Fulmer said. “(Victory) is recognized so greatly because they happen to be a great and outstanding firm that happens to be owned and operated by a minority business owner.”
Wisconsin Energy’s supplier diversity program is in its third year of development.
Fulmer said the company is still searching for the best partnerships and aims to work with many Wisconsin small businesses, in addition to looking for minority-owned firms. The company is a member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), an organization based in New York that serves as a matchmaker for corporations and certified minority-owned businesses.
“Our objective is to make sure we include (ethnic) minority- and women-owned businesses (from the start), not at the end of the planning stages when we are deciding how we are going to spend money and with whom,” Fulmer said.
“I recognize the fact that we operate in a business climate of supplier diversity for the most part, but I don’t live there,” Tucker said. “When we are doing what we do, we are not coming from that place. We have no expectations of anything being given to us because we are a diversity supplier, and Manpower has always made that clear. But at best, what that does is it creates an opportunity.”
At Victory, both temporary and permanent placement employees need to have the skills required and fit well with each client’s corporate culture.
“It is very difficult to find staffing firms that consistently bring you quality people,” said Gary Smith, president of Citation Management, a division of Duncan Solutions Inc. in Milwaukee. “We have had relationships with other staffing firms we no longer have basically because of those issues. Joe has a high level of integrity and a commitment to excellence across his organization.”
Tucker’s latest challenge is building Victory’s information technology (IT) infrastructure to support its growth.
“We are focusing on blending all of those things to quality and working to build a platform that will support what we hope will become a company that is doing north of $100 million,” Tucker said. “At some point, we want the company to be able to support other offices in other markets.”
Scott Hardwick, supplier diversity manager at Rockwell Automation, said he has never received a complaint about the quality of Victory’s service.
Floyd Rose, president of the Wisconsin Supplier Development Council, Madison, said, “Joe is an outstanding individual, who basically had a vision and in my opinion started (his company) for the greater good. He employed people who did not have jobs. He persevered and has touched a lot of people along the way.”
Tucker retains an altruistic perspective about his mission.
“The most gratifying thing about my work is to know that we really make a difference by building bridges between both job seekers and businesses that need each other to be successful,” Tucker said. “Helping them achieve their individual victories becomes a collective victory that we all can celebrate.”
Victory Personnel Services Inc.
Leadership: Joe Tucker, founder, president and chief executive officer
Headquarters: 735 N. Water St., Milwaukee, with a satellite office in Gurnee, Ill.
Web site: www.victorypersonnel.com
Revenue: $25.7 million in 2006
Awards: 1994 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year; 2000 and 2001 COSBE Future 50 company; and 2007 Inc. 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America (No. 317).
Market: Provides clerical, technical and professional staffing to medium and large-sized companies. The firm currently manages more than 500 contract employees in 38 states.
Joseph A. Tucker
Family: Wife, Barbara; and children, Joseph and Krystal.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University, Jackson, Miss.
Leadership experience: Served in the U.S. Army Europe for 10 years; attained rank of captain and served as platoon leader, special staff officer and commander.
Board service: Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC); The Business Council (TBC); United Performing Arts Fund; and Marcus Center for Performing Arts.
Favorite book: “Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton.” (Tucker was a classmate with Payton at Jackson State University.)
What he likes most about Milwaukee: “The people. Milwaukee is great, because it’s big enough to support significant growth yet, small enough to simplify the development of relationships necessary to overcome obstacles and barriers.”
Funniest moment as a business owner: “When I was introduced as a new member of the MMAC COSBE board, I spilled a pot of coffee on the table where everyone was sitting. All of the paperwork of board members sitting close to me was soaked in coffee, some people also had coffee on their clothing. It was my first meeting, and I was completely embarrassed. It was not funny at the time, but now when I look back on it, I can laugh.”