SEEK’s Schneider continually raises the bar

Bravo! Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award winner

Carol Ann Schneider

Last updated on January 14th, 2021 at 02:39 pm

Carol Ann Schneider believes in goal-setting and working hard until it’s done. It’s that kind of tenacity that propelled her to start what is now SEEK Careers/Staffing Inc. 46 years ago with a neighbor and keep it going and growing through two recessions and industry changes.

“I set a goal and when I reach it, I set another one. Goal-setting is a part of our culture here at SEEK,” said Schneider, who remains the company’s chief executive officer. “We set those goals and then we believe we can achieve them.”

Carol Ann Schneider

Schneider is the recipient of the 2017 BizTimes Lifetime Achievement Award, presented at the May 24 Bravo! Entrepreneur and I.Q. (Innovation Quotient) Awards Luncheon during BizExpo at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

SEEK provides temporary office, accounting, skilled and light industrial workers to a variety of businesses while another branch, SEEK Professionals, focuses on filling direct-hire positions. Headquartered in Grafton, SEEK has 15 offices in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota.

Schneider began SEEK in her neighbor’s bedroom while waiting to hear if she had a teaching job at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s North campus in Mequon.

“I had three children under 4 and I had to do something,” she said.

Schneider got the idea to launch a temp agency while in college. She was a temp herself, and one day she saw the invoice for her services.

“I couldn’t believe the difference between what the company paid the temp agency and what I was paid. I knew then that if I ever started a business, it would be a temp agency,” she said.

Getting started was easier said than done. Most businesses in Ozaukee County were unfamiliar with temp agencies and what they did.

“I had a lot of people say to me, ‘You want me to hire you to do what?’ I would explain to them that if their secretary called in sick, I could help them out or provide them with a couple of workers if a big project came in,” Schneider said. “People eventually got it.”

When Schneider did not get a position at MATC, where she had been working informally for years, she left the technical college.

“I was sitting on the floor talking to my partner and didn’t know what to do next and she said, ‘buy me out,’ so I did,” Schneider said. “Suddenly, I had this whole business to myself.”

Joel Schneider, SEEK’s president and Carol’s son, said his mother is driven to succeed.

“She is constantly taking chances to move the company and industry forward,” he said. “She is always reading and is very astute about what’s going on in business and how that may affect the industry.”

For example, in the early 1980s as the economy slowed, Carol Schneider realized SEEK needed to change.

“I called businesses looking for permanent workers and said to them, ‘How many applications do you get each time you place an ad? What if I went through them for you and gave you the top candidates for a fee?’” Schneider said. “Companies thought it was a great idea and the whole direct hire side of my business was born.”

When word processing began replacing typewriters and people wanted to learn how to use word processors like Scrivener, Schneider offered classes and helped area businesses looking to hire people who knew the skill.

“It is always about responding to what the market and customer wants,” she said.

SEEK’s most challenging time was the Great Reecession. Schneider took a 50 percent pay cut and asked senior managers to take a 20 percent pay cut, but she still had to lay off employees.

“That was painful,” she said. “But when business is bad, hiring temp workers is the first expense cut.”

The firm’s business came back as the economy started to rebound and companies were wary to bring on permanent workers, which created a lot of opportunities.

“Businesses have learned that there’s an average number of workers they are comfortable with, but that you can vacillate up and down as needed using temporary workers,” Schneider said.

Today’s tight labor market increased the demand for SEEK’s direct hire program as businesses struggle to fill their open skilled positions.

“The trick now is finding the right people,” Schneider said.

Joel Schneider called his mother a “worker bee.”

“Her leadership style is to do what it takes to get results, but don’t compromise your values,” he said. “She has a wonderful ability to engage people who normally wouldn’t be engaged. She really believes in people.”

Community service is a vital part of SEEK, Carol Schneider said, adding that service is included in employees’ job descriptions.

“Our business is people and the best way to meet people is being active in the community,” she said.

Ever the goal-setter, Schneider wants to continue adding more offices and also expand SEEK Professionals, which specializes in professional career services and the identification, including the placement, of professionals in manufacturing and large services.

“That’s my new challenge. I have a goal of hiring 25 recruiters and I am up to eight,” she said. “Once I do that, there will be another goal.”

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