Taking risks, reaping rewards

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

You can’t motivate people. They can only motivate themselves, says Seek Careers/Staffing Inc. chief executive officer Carol Schneider.
But anyone can motivate Schneider. Just tell her "no."
As the founder of the Grafton-based staffing firm, many people have told Schneider "no" since she entered the workforce in 1958. Supervisors. Bankers. Men.
Schneider established Seek in 1971. For the first 21 years that she owned the company, she could not convince a bank to loan her more than $50,000, even though Seek was doubling its business every five years.
"It was because I was a woman and it was the pre-feminist era," Schneider said. "I finally tracked down my own money and gained private investment capital. It wasn’t always easy, but I managed to make it work."
Schneider comes from a family with a long line of teachers and was a teacher herself before she established Seek. While teaching business classes at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), Schneider needed to accumulate two years of professional experience to receive a vocational license so she could continue her career path there. However, at that time, Schneider only had one year of professional experience.
Schneider had trouble fulfilling the requirement while working full-time for MATC. So, she convinced her supervisor to sign a piece of paper saying she could receive a vocational license if she started her own business.
"I went to my neighbor who was homebound with infants and asked her if she wanted to start a temporary help business with me," Schneider said. "She answered the phone while I worked at MATC, and we set up a typewriter in the corner of a bedroom for people to take typing tests."
Five years later, Schneider received her vocational license, but not without hitting another roadblock. Schneider had to present the paper to her supervisor to remind him about their agreement, so she could receive the license.
Schneider worked hard to earn a living from other jobs, while she was trying to get her business off the ground. At one point, she was working full-time as the business division chair at the MATC North Campus, selling candles for Amway Corp. and, on some nights, staying up until midnight placing people at jobs for Seek.
In 1980, she quit her job at MATC and bought out her last partner, becoming the sole owner of the company.
"It was my baby," Schneider said. "I couldn’t sell it. I was determined to succeed."
After working with three partners in two neighbors’ homes and her own living room, Schneider finally moved her company into professional office space in the Grafton State Bank building in 1975. Seek built its own corporate headquarters in 1997 on Opportunity Drive.
Seek has expanded significantly since she became the sole owner. In 1980, Seek had just $200,000 in revenues with one office location. On June 30, Seek will end its 2005 fiscal year with about $41 million in revenues, 14 offices in Wisconsin and three out-of-state offices.
"My parents always said to work hard, do a good job and you will be successful. They were wrong," Schneider said. "You have to work hard, do a good job and learn how to play the politics."
Playing the politics, literally, by offering the Seek corporate office in Grafton to the Republican Party of Ozaukee County to use as a phone bank during the 2004 election campaign, gave Schneider the opportunity to host first lady Laura Bush.
"The campaign was looking for a successful business woman to host the first lady for a campaign stop," Schneider said. "So we had 175 people in a tent in the backyard, gave tours of the building, it was very formatted, (the first lady) did a presentation and then worked the rope line."
Several local television stations and print media interviewed Schneider that day. The interviews were nerve-racking, as were the last-minute preparations for the first lady’s visit, she said.
"Four days before she was coming I realized that we hardly had anything on the walls here," Schneider said. "So I had to call my artist friend over. She laid about 15 paintings on my office floor. I picked some out and asked her to frame them in two days, when it normally takes her two weeks. Then the night before (Laura Bush) was coming, the advance team reminded me that we did not even have any signs for Seek outside, because we had just changed the logo. I had to rush over to the sign company and was there until 9 p.m. getting the signs printed."
Schneider’s success with Seek Careers/Staffing has led her to start separate companies fulfilling other staffing and professional placement needs. Seek Professionals LLC specializes in executive recruitment, Guardian HealthStaff LLC specializes in staffing the health care industry and Schneider Co. LLC serves as a real estate holding company that owns land, including the corporate headquarters.
"If you do not have energy, you cannot be an entrepreneur," Schneider said. "I always feel the need to get something new and exciting going."
The need to do something new and exciting, and to prove wrong the people who told her something was impossible, caused Schneider to head the successful lobbying effort for the inception of a public transportation system in Ozaukee and Washington counties.
When she headed a fund drive for the U.S.S. Liberty Memorial Library in Grafton in the early 1990s, professional fundraisers told Schneider the most she would be able to raise was between $500,000 and $750,000. The total amount she raised was just under $1 million.
"I am a risk taker," Schneider said. "I can’t tell you how many businesses I have started that were not successful. In fact, my sons asked me to stop starting businesses (because there were so many)."
Schneider believes that she does more than just help companies find employees and people find jobs. She also believes she helps people achieve or at least realize their destinies.
"Most people only succeed to the level that they think they can succeed," Schneider said. "But when I succeed, I wonder what else is in there? I am a Christian, and I sit down and say, ‘God, if I can do this, what else can I do?’ All of us are given talents. All we have to do is use those talents."
Schneider runs her companies the same way she runs her life, with goals, energy and ambition.
"Some people are content to exist on someone else’s teaching," Schneider said. "Some give up, while others move forward. You can be anything you want to be in this life if you want it badly enough."
Goals work if they are documented in a step-by-step process. They should be written down, because if not, they disappear, Schneider said.
"People do not keep their New Year’s resolutions because they are elephant-sized resolutions," Schneider said. "If you take a small bite of the elephant and accomplish that goal, then you can take another bite and another bite. Eventually, you have a whole elephant."
Schneider’s current annual revenue goal is $100 million.
"We are an empowered organization," Schneider said. "We have people in the throws of business plans. It’s the same plan anyone going into business makes, a format where they fill in the blanks. When they are done, we take it to the bank and say this is how much business we are going to do this year. Every week, when the stats come out, they are compared to the business plan."
Although Schneider is set in her ways and knows her recipe for success, she does admit that she flies by the seat of her pants and that the office environment at the Seek corporate headquarters is quite positive.
Pasted on the women’s bathroom wall, above the toilet paper roll, is a www.wow (weekly washroom writings, words of wisdom), displaying a quote by William Jennings Bryan: "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice; it’s not a thing to be waited for, but a thing to be achieved."

Seek Careers/Staffing Inc.
Address: 1160 Opportunity Dr., Grafton
Web site: www.seekcareers.com Industry: Staffing
Revenue: $41 million Employees: 113
Guts:
• Schneider started her business from scratch in a pre-feminist era.
• Deciding her destiny and not letting anyone stand in her way.
• Venturing out of the Wisconsin borders.
• Starting and failing of many more businesses than the four that are
currently successful.

May 27, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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