How to Succeed in Staffing
Jennifer Singleton developed a vision for a different kind of staffing agency while working as a temp in college. With hard work, daring and a cadre of friends and contacts she’s converted that vision into a successful firm serving clients nationwide. Jennifer Temps Inc. provides full-service temporary employees, ranging from administrative and support office personnel for insurance, education, health care, financial, and communications organizations to event staff for major sports outings. Its client list includes Fortune 500 companies, as well as small businesses and social service providers.
Located in New York’s financial district, it has earned the trust of many in the corporate world, thanks to its troubleshooting credentials and its ability to screen for qualified, motivated and reliable “associates” in an age when electronic sources like Craigslist and Monster at times provide a less filtered source of candidates. “We encourage every associate to go into every job as though they were a permanent employee,” says Singleton, 41, who spoke with The Network Journal during an interview at her offices. “Do your best and work as hard as you can,” she advises her “temps.”
While she encourages temps to give maximum effort, the needs of the client always come first, she says. No pressure is ever applied to make her associates permanent fixtures, even though many become just that.
THE BEGINNING A Harlem native, Singleton earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colgate University and a master’s in business administration at Rochester University. Clients and co-workers commend her on her work ethic. She credits that ethic to her parents, who went to work every day and who demanded that she maintain perfect attendance throughout her school years. “I have no concept of not working. You meet some people that can’t work thirty-five hours,” Singleton says.
It was from working temp assignments during her college years that she made several key acquaintances and had several experiences that helped forge her idea of what kind of company wanted to establish. “I always knew I wanted to start a business,” she says. “I wanted ours to be a little different…to have a little bit more of a personal touch.”
Singleton opened Jennifer Temps in September 1992 without any clients. She recalls appealing for workers in ads placed in The New York Times and other publications during her first week of business. After gathering a pool of potential temporary employees, she tested them on their computer skills and professional readiness. “Initially, we were looking for more experienced workers, but we did advertise for college students as well,” she says.
Meeting payroll was her first big challenge. She met it with the help of her parents, Ezekiel and Geraldine Singleton, and her first client, The Women’s Center, a social service agency located in the same building as the then-headquarters of Jennifer Temps. “We were open to anybody. We wanted to cater to large companies, small businesses…anyone who needed temporary staff. We didn’t discriminate, we wanted to fill staffing,” Singleton says.
The Women’s Center opened doors to work at the Harlem Hospital and to more work with the public sector as Jennifer Temps took advantage of New York City’s set-aside programs allowing minority and women-owned firms to bid on municipal contracts. The company received assistance in the bidding process from the National Urban League. “In the end it is just access,” says Singleton. “It gets your foot in the door but you have to prove you’re worthy.”
The agency’s work with municipal agencies helped establish its credibility, but two corporate contacts were particularly helpful: Ann M. Fudge, chairwoman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, a leading advertising firm, and Time Warner Inc. CEO Richard Parsons, whom Singleton met through a temping assignment with Dime Bancorp Inc., where Parsons previously served as chairman and CEO. “(Parsons) intervened on our behalf in a couple of situations with early clients and contracts,” Singleton says.
Jennifer Temps consistently provides workers, sometimes as many as 20 to 30 people, to social service agencies like the New York City Department of Aging as part of multi-year contracts. Sabrina Miller, who supervises more than 30 paralegals that Jennifer Temps supplied to the N.Y.C. Administration of Children’s Services, appreciates the quality and agility of the temps. “They are very positive, very responsive to our needs,” says Miller, adding that they are “professional” and that Singleton is “very hands-on.”
Early on, Singleton relied on a wide support network of friends who specialized in human resources and information technology. “I was young and inexperienced. I had to rely on the resources around me,” she says. Two years after opening, Singleton scored her biggest client thus far in TIAA-CREF, one of the world’s largest retirement systems, with 3.2 million participants in the academic, research, and medical fields and more than $486 billion reported in combined assets in 2006. Many of the Jennifer Temps associates have become permanent employees of TIAA-CREF.
Singleton valued the business relationship with TIAA-CREF so much that when the company opened a major office in Charlotte, N.C., Jennifer Temps followed suit and opened a branch in the same location. Singleton placed her sister, Michele Jamison, in charge of the Charlotte office.
PROVEN UNDER PRESSURE
One reason why Jennifer Temps has become a go-to agency for many top firms is its ability to recruit and prepare huge numbers of associates in a short period of time. In 2004, Caesars Entertainment Inc. hired the agency to supply more than 200 staffers, mostly for hospitality positions, during a strike at its Atlantic City, N.J., casino-hotels. Singleton and her staff met the demand by recruiting workers through radio ads, word-of-mouth and community organizations.
Jennifer Temps chartered two buses to pick up workers from New York City at 6 a.m. and transport them to Atlantic City. Singleton was there every morning to meet the workers and make sure they were prepared. “How many times is the president of a company going to be there at 5 a.m. to hand out croissants?
Jennifer Temps performed similar services when 429 workers were required during a strike at Verizon Communications Inc. and for a PGA tour event in Virginia in 2005. “Anytime we’ve called on her she’s been excellent,” says Joanne Duncan, manager of events and projects for NBA Entertainment Inc., which has been a client of Jennifer Temps since 1998. “She understands what we need. She knows what type of staff we need. I never have to repeat myself.”
Duncan says the division of NBA Properties uses Jennifer Temps for all its events in the New York area, including the NBA Nation promotional tour and even the 2006 WNBA All-Star weekend. She appreciates the company’s personal touch and its commitment to having managers on-site for several of the events, she says.
Gary Smith, an industry veteran who has worked with Singleton for about 14 years, acknowledges Singleton’s strong work ethic and good business sense. After seeing several other agencies rise and fall, he says the strength and success of Jennifer Temps is a major accomplishment. “It is not easy. There are just a few out there that make it,” says Smith, while sitting in Jennifer Temps’ Manhattan office.
Singleton offers what she calls “full spectrum” service to companies of all sizes in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. She uses the Internet to help recruit potential temporary employees and likens her management style to an open-door policy where she is open to all ideas or new approaches.
Acknowledging that partnerships are an important aspect of business, Singleton says she is constantly looking for opportunities to share accounts with other firms, especially those in regions where she does not have a physical presence. She points to the Atlantic City experience as an example of an effective collaboration with a Philadelphia temp agency that helped supervise her workers after they arrived in New Jersey. She is not against working with companies in the New York City area either. “This is New York, there is plenty of business,” she says. “One firm can’t do it all.”
Former Jennifer Temps staffers who have obtained permanent employment positions through assignments speak highly of Singleton’s professionalism and her caring attitude.
Ernest Alexander, a senior operations manager at TIAA-CREF, credits Singleton with giving him the extra training needed to rise in the ranks since a 10-day placement in December 2006. “She was a gateway and a facilitator,” says Alexander. Singleton did him a tremendous favor, he says, when she granted his request to waive the fee she normally require when the client wanted to make him a full-time employee. “I didn’t want the fee to be a factor in my consideration for that position,” he says.
A fellow Colgate graduate, Alexander began working for Jennifer Temps in 1995 where he received additional instruction in computers and professional conduct in a corporate workplace. “Jennifer has always been very supportive,” says Alexander. “She was a very encouraging leader.”
Petra Bell, another TIAA-CREF officer and former Jennifer Temps associate, agrees. Bell has known Singleton since childhood. “She’s always wanted to help people, going back to when we were teenagers,” says Bell, who spent a year-and-a-half temping for Singleton before eventually becoming a marketing manager. “She gives them the opportunity to help themselves. She’s always been one to do things like that.”
Holding high expectations for her workers and stressing that tasks are accomplished with the utmost integrity are keys aspects of Singleton’s leadership, Bell says. “Things just won’t be done haphazardly. She’s a great employer but a better friend,” she says.
Both Alexander and Bell moved to Charlotte to further their careers with TIAA-CREF, just as Singleton did to expand her business. Singleton plans to grow the North Carolina office.
While she does not yet have children of her own, Singleton admits that she loves children. She attends St. Luke’s AME Church in Harlem and enjoys helping out in the community by teaching entrepreneurship classes.
By Maurice Boyer