Superb Staffing Solutions
Carrie Nebens leads Calabasas-based Equis Staffing on fast growth track.
By ANDREW KHOURI
Nine months into leaving her job, Carrie Nebens simply could not take it any longer.
Nebens, who used to give quarterly presentations on Wall Street for a publicly traded staffing firm, recalls that keeping up with the small talk at her sons’ Conejo Valley elementary school was just plain boring. So she went back to work.
After a few jobs, including one at staffing firm Robert Half International, Nebens in 2006 launched her own business, Equis Staffing, where she is the president.
Today, the Calabasas-based company is growing fast, making Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies list this year. In 2007, the firm recorded $895,000 in revenue, Nebens said. So far this year, Equis has recorded $4.6 million in revenue, up 70 percent when compared to all of last year.
Several factors have helped the firm to grow at such a rapid clip: adding more staff, especially those specializing in technology, diving deeper into permanent placement and the slow economic recovery. There’s a tendency among businesses to hire temporary employees while they wait to see if the economic recovery is for real, Nebens said.
“You have companies clamoring for (tech) people,” she said.
Since launching Equis’s technology division two years ago, it now accounts for about 50 percent of the firm’s business. Nebens said she anticipated IT spending to rise because businesses held back on upgrading their equipment during the recession. And she has beefed up her permanent placement team to prepare for when the economy turns a corner.
Simply put, companies turn to Equis to save money.
For example, they let the staffing firm take on expensive burdens such as workers’ compensation insurance. Company bosses also look to Equis to shed rising health care cost, which Equis does not offer to employees it places.
Many staffing companies in the greater Valley region are doing well because of that. Canon Recruiting Group, based in Santa Clarita, also made Inc.’s list of fastest growing companies. The company contributes to placed employees healthcare, the firm said.
The firm’s president, Tim Grayem, told the San Fernando Valley Business Journal earlier this year that Canon’s growth was in large part due to businesses seeking temporary, not full-time employees.
From chemistry labs to staffing firms
Nebens didn’t begin her career in the staffing business.
The 53-year old mother of two graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a degree in chemistry in 1979 and went straight into the lab. But she quickly found that the life of a working chemist wasn’t the same as studying the complicated science. The isolated work environment and an acid burn in the lab helped solidify her aversion, she said.
“I spilled hot acid all over my hand, and that was just one story,” she said, seated in her Calabasas office with business books perched on a bookshelf adjacent to her meticulously tidy desk.
Nebens came to staffing in 1988, when Lab Support (now On Assignment Inc.) was looking for someone with a background in chemistry to place chemists at companies, as well open a Chicago office. Her staffing industry experience includes executive vice president of North American operations at On Assignment and branch manager at Robert Half International.
Starting your own business is a daunting task, but Nebens — who also had the financial backing of investors Laurie Soll Evans (a principal at Equis) and her husband Jeffrey Evans — said her experience in the staffing industry gave her confidence that her bet would bear fruit.
Currently, Equis employs eight people, including three staffers who were hired this year, and Nebens has plans to add another employee.
Two of Equis’s staff, left their own firm to join Nebens in 2006 because of her experience.
“It probably would have taken us 10 or 15 years to get to this size compared to about five years to get to this size,” said Lisa Knupp, director of recruitment services, who along with another Equis staffer, Jamie Cipriani, had previously run their own staffing firm.
Knupp said Nebens is a “hands on” and jovial boss — even if she sometimes wakes up in the morning to discover emails sent by Nebens in the early hours of the morning.
“I sleep with my phone next to me … and the minute I wake up I respond to them,” Knupp said, adding Nebens is always the first one in the office in the morning.
Staffing: More than matching skill sets
At any given time, Equis has about 50 clients, including Amgen Inc., The Walt Disney Co., and Dole Food Co., Nebens said.
Picking the right person for a given job is much more than compiling a plethora of resumes and blasting them out to clients. Knowing the skill set a client is looking for, the client’s corporate culture and plenty of background research all plays a part, Nebens said.
“A skill set is the first match,” she said. “That’s the low bar.”
Wesco Aircraft, a Valencia-based aerospace company, is just one of Equis’s many clients. In the last two years, Equis has placed about four permanent employees, including a director of internal audit and an accounting manager, said chief financial officer Greg Hann.
“(Nebens) knows the business community,” Hann said. “She just has great tentacles throughout the community that allow her to draw on a vast number of people.”
Choosing the staffing company allowed Wesco to focus on its business, instead of the time consuming process of sifting through hundreds of resumes and interviewing candidates, Hann said.
“It’s paid for itself ten-fold,” he said, adding Equis was able to match qualified candidates that fit into Wesco’s corporate culture.
Equis’s professionalism, Hann said, can be seen in a very simple fact: all four permanent employees are still with Wesco.