Shift in business model was key to success

Joe Tucker launched Victory Personnel Services Inc. in 1991 after working for two years at Milwaukee Career Cooperative in Milwaukee. Tucker believed he had talent in the staffing industry and used his knowledge of inner city jobseekers to fill a need for local small and medium-sized businesses.

“It is almost like it took off right away, in some respects,” Tucker said. “To come out of the gate and do $1 million in sales our first year, to me, is still a big deal. And we doubled that the second year, and we did $2 million. I think that we would have continued to grow if we could have continued to evolve. But we kind of hit the wall in terms of trying to figure out who are we and who do we want to be.”

One of the many issues with owning a staffing firm in the inner city was that on average, only one in 10 or one in 20 jobseekers were considered job ready. Although Victory was profitable in its first couple of years of business, a lot of time and energy went toward helping disadvantaged jobseekers, instead of finding new business through clients.

“I won’t deny that I was often side-tracked,” Tucker said. “I mean, there were days when I wasn’t sure if I was a for-profit company or a social services agency, because it was just impossible for me personally to ignore the problems that I was seeing in the applicants that we were screening.”

Funding for training came from Victory’s profits. Tucker even went as far as to purchase vans to transport placement candidates from the inner city to light industrial jobs on the outskirts of the city every day.

After five years in the inner city, Tucker made the decision to move to a prominent downtown location at 735 N. Water St. and reinvented his business to service corporate needs, instead of enhancing jobseekers’ skills.

“I felt the best thing that I could do to make a real impact in the community was simply to have a successful business,” Tucker said. “We shifted our focus, moved our operation downtown, hired new staff and then we went after the marquee companies in the market.”

Tucker’s gambit worked. By 2006, Victory’s sales had skyrocketed to $25.7 million, driven by a minority supplier agreement with Manpower Inc.

Today, Victory is able to use a more diverse labor pool in terms of ethnicity, residence, skill level and education to better serve corporate clients such as Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co. and Rockwell Automation Inc., which need job placements at all skill levels and in multiple markets.

Tucker wants to make a difference by becoming one of the first people of color to own a business in Milwaukee that has sales of more than $100 million.

His ranking this year in the top 500 of the Inc. magazine 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America is a great start.

“It is no secret that Wisconsin, Milwaukee in particular, we have a national negative perspective. There was an article in Black Enterprise magazine that ranked our state and our city at the bottom for people of color as aspiring entrepreneurs,” Tucker said. “So hopefully, it encourages people, it can serve as some encouragement to that person of color, questioning, ‘Can I in fact have a successful business in this state or in this city?’ And even beyond people of color, anyone regardless of color who aspires to be a small-business person, who has an idea and who wants to take a chance, and I think we make a difference in that respect.”

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