Founder, President, and CEO
Strategic Staffing Solutions, Detroit
WHY SHE’S A CHAMPION OF THE NEW ECONOMY:
After working for companies large and small in the IT sector, Cindy Pasky made a leap of faith in 1990 and started Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3) in Detroit. Every year, the global IT and business services firm has recorded revenue gains — last year, sales were $238 million. With more than 2,000 employees in the United States and Europe, Staffing Industry Report ranks the company the 16th largest staffing firm in the country. “I got my start in the industry in 1979 as a programmer in what was then known as data processing,” says Pasky, S3’s president and CEO. “It was basically mainframe computers, and the desktop computer industry had yet to be introduced.” Not satisfied with the large corporation she was working with, Pasky struck out on her own with her husband, Paul Huxley, who is CFO. Today, the company services the agriculture, energy/utility, financial, health care, retail distribution, government, and telecommunications sectors.
What was your early career like?
I worked various jobs as a programmer and ended up working with an individual who started up a consulting business in the 1980s. He ran the company for six months and then sold it. I went along with the sale, and wound up working for a much larger corporation. It was fine, but it wasn’t the style of company or the type of company I wanted to be part of, longterm. I saw an opportunity (and realized) that, if I went into business for myself, I could take better care of our customers and our employees. So I said, “OK, the worst thing that could happen is I could go into debt. I’ve done that before.”
Were you an entrepreneur at a young age?
I grew up in Detroit, and my dad and I were very close, but then he got sick before I was 16. He was a person who instilled good business practices in me — but I didn’t start a company in the garage or the basement. When we started S3 on Oct. 1, 1990, it was really hard in the beginning, and very challenging. You never know what you don’t know until you learn it. In 1991, the Gulf War had started and the whole economy stalled. Customers were adopting greater security measures, and they were holding back on spending money.
How did you get through the downturn?
We focused on the basics. We had some great companies that we worked with in the beginning, and many of them are still with us today. Our second customer was the National Bank of Detroit (now Chase), our third customer was Detroit Edison (DTE Energy), and in the first three years Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan became a customer. There are always challenges, but the biggest thing we focused on was making sure we had good cash flow. When we started, the regional economy was very focused on manufacturing and, if you weren’t in that space, it was difficult to get a loan. The service industry wasn’t high on the list of prospective customers among banks. The good news was we had great customers, so they would allow us to walk an invoice through their accounting department rather than wait the typical 30 to 60 days (to be paid). What I learned is not to be afraid to ask for something if you need it.
At what point did you begin to expand?
It was the fourth year in business. I was good at working with customers and helping them grow, and (my husband and CFO) Paul (Huxley) took care of the finances. We each complement one another very well in terms of our skill sets. In that fourth year, we were at the point of, “OK, we know how to make money.” We had come to a point that we could either grow with our customers or sell the company. It became clear that we weren’t going to keep a bank as a client if we couldn’t service them at all of their locations. Our internal joke was, “We have to be a real corporation now.” But being where the customer is is a lot of hard work. You have to travel a great deal. Plus, we’re old-fashioned. If a customer needs us, we’ll be there. So we have consultants in 46 states, we have three offices in the United Kingdom, and an office in Lithuania and Latvia. We also support customers in Hungary and Poland, we’ve done work in Argentina and Brazil, and we had people on assignment in the Nordic countries.
What are you working on right now?
We continue to grow our Detroit Development Center, which we started up four years ago to (initially) support Blue Cross Blue Shield. We’re in the process of opening an office in Singapore, and I can tell you it’s a long trip. Everything we do is driven by our customer needs. Our No. 1 goal is to have a strong, engaged company. But as we started to get larger, we looked around and we started to engage in Detroit, to make a difference in terms of improving the city and its offerings. The other thing is that when you go after larger accounts, you have to be in the room (with other business leaders) and stay in that mix. So that’s what led to (being named chairman of) the Downtown Detroit Partnership three years ago, and being on the board of directors of Business Leaders for Michigan.