By Chris Tomlinson
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with Carla Lane on how she ended up buying the staffing agency she was working for back in 2007. Since that time, Lane has grown the company exponentially. Along with that success, she is determined to give back. Her nonprofit, “This Woman’s Work” specifically helps women in the job market.
Carla Lane knew exactly what she was getting into when she bought her staffing agency in 2007.
She’d worked for the family-run business since her sophomore year at the University of Houston, working her way up from payroll clerk to vice president for accounting and finance.
Since then, she’s built Lane Staffing into a company filling more than 1,100 temporary jobs annually in 15 states and generating $20 million to $25 million a year in revenue. Among her clients are cities, government entities, utilities, oil and gas companies and Fortune 100 and 200 companies.
Q: Why did you take such a big risk with your savings on a company that was failing?
A: I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and own my own business. I was working in the back, so I saw the money, and I saw the possibilities. What I learned working at someone else’s small business was that your business can’t be like a piggy bank. You see millions of dollars pass through, but you have to make payroll. You have to pay taxes. That money is not yours. I’m an accountant, and part of accounting is discipline.
Q: What was the biggest challenge once you were the boss?
A: I understood the accounting, but I didn’t know the sales and marketing part of it. I had to learn the recruiting part, because in the beginning, I couldn’t afford to pay people. I thought initially I would hire salespeople and let them do their thing, and I’d just count. But I learned no one is going to sell what you love like you will. I love it because I see how important staffing is to people. It’s a way for people to get permanent employment. Approximately 45 percent of contract jobs become permanent.
Q: Your company is known for recruiting people from minority communities. Why is that important to you?
A: I’m invested in the community. I’m a sorority girl, I’m a preacher’s kid, so I’m a public service person. A lot of communities don’t know where the jobs are, so I’m going to go to the Third Ward and tell them where the jobs are. Or I’m going to go off of Bellaire and tell people, who sometimes don’t speak English well, here are the jobs where you don’t really have to speak English. That makes my company very unique, because most people don’t see the marriage between staffing and community.
Q: In addition to your staffing agency, you run a nonprofit called This Woman’s Work?
A: This Woman’s Work was born out of Lane Staffing, because we see so many women who are trying to get employment, but are not equipped or they made decisions that make employment difficult. For instance, we had this awesome lady, really talented, but she’d made some bad decisions and had little exposure to the world outside of her community. She went to work in her thigh-high boots on her first day. The employer said don’t send her back. Come to find out she wasn’t trying to be sexy, she just didn’t have any other shoes. That’s why we have Carla’s Closet, a closet full of clothes for people who need work wear tomorrow for a job.
Q: How big a problem are criminal records?
A: There are so many women who have misdemeanors and felonies because of who they dated, or who they were in the car with. I met a lady who had a solicitation charge, and I bluntly asked her about it. Her boyfriend wanted her to sleep with another guy, and he got money for it. I asked her how old she was when she did this, and she said 18. Because of that kind of stuff, This Woman’s Work started a mentoring program at Madison High School, called Stepping Into Strength. Our effort is to be a resource to young women before they find themselves facing that type of situation.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in helping someone be successful in a job?
A: The biggest challenge in placing a woman is the man in her life. If they are married or in a relationship with a man who is not supportive of them growing, they are going to quit a job that pushes them. The way they see the world changes, and their expectations change. If he doesn’t like that, and she chooses to stay with him, she’ll quit.
For men, they need a job that makes them feel like they are accomplishing something. Most men will take any job if he’s out of work and wants to work, but he won’t stay if it’s not something they feel good about, or they think is not worthy of their skill set.
Q: Why make the extra effort, both at your firm and through your nonprofit?
A: If you have any measure of success, you are responsible for sharing it. And it’s good business. I’m in the employment business, which is a people business, which means my inventory is people. And I’d be an idiot not to invest in my inventory. I like to think that when you do good, it comes back, and that’s just good business.