Family Business: Key Staffing & Premier Employment Solutions
"We grew up playing in the supply room," said Patti's son, Paul Bossert.
It was perhaps a glimpse at the future for Paul and his sister, Jamie Stafford, who now work for their mother. But, they say, it was far from a future that was preordained.
Patti Bossert founded the first arm of her business, Key Staffing, in 1989. She had experience in the employment industry and wanted to explore her "entrepreneurial drive" to venture out on her own.
"The goal was to provide myself an income that I could control," she said. "I could control my success or failure and be rewarded in a positive way for hard work."
Key Staffing is an employment service for clerical and light industrial temporary workers. She followed her success in this area by founding Premier Employment Solutions in 1998. Premier provides executive recruiting and consulting services in fields such as marketing, accounting and information technology.
Patti credits participating in programs such as 4-H in her youth with shaping her desire to compete and be successful. She fostered the same ideals in her children, encouraging their participation in such organizations as well. It also instilled in her a sense of community, which is why she encourages her employees to participate in programs such as Meals on Wheels, Rotary, Junior Leader Readers and more.
"I feel like I always get back more than I give, so it's easy to give," Patti said.
When the time came for Paul to choose his career path, his first step was to hit the road.
Paul Bossert was working as a graphic designer at Neiman Marcus in Dallas when he was approached with a unique opportunity. Would he be willing to start over in a new city at a family-owned company with potential for advancement to the highest level of management? He reviewed his current situation, where endless competition for the same few positions made moving up the ladder a slow prospect, not necessarily guaranteed.
He visited the company for two weeks on a trial basis before he took the leap - landing back in Topeka, working for his mom.
Paul admits that part of what tipped the scales was a desire to see what his mother had built live on.
"I felt like it was important to keep it a family business and I wanted to be a part of helping it grow," he said.
That doesn't mean he started out at the top, however.
"He had to start at the bottom and prove his worth," Patti said. "You have to do that in a family business so people don't resent the family member."
"We didn't jump levels," Paul agrees. "I moved up as others have left. I had to prove to people who had been here a while that I could do it the same or better."
Jamie, too, explored other options before joining the family business. While she did temp work for the agency during school breaks in college, she chose to manage a restaurant after graduation. She came to Premier for good when the company needed a receptionist.
"I just kind of stuck (after that)," she said. "There is continual growth opportunity. It's always something new and challenging."
Don't Be Mom
For Patti, one of the biggest concerns in having her children join the company is making sure they want to be there. Especially when Paul was successfully established in a large company, she "didn't want him to make a career change he'd regret later."
She also strives to treat them just as she would any other employee. All three admit the challenge is actually whether mom is tougher on her kids rather than letting them slide.
"We're held to a higher standard than other employees," Jamie explains. "She knows how we were raised so she expects more (from us)."
Part of that may come from having an eye to the future. Patti knows Paul and Jamie will take over one day and she wants to ensure she gives them the tools to do so successfully. To that end, she says she finds herself having to consciously scale back her involvement in their work.
"It's easier for me to just do things myself because I know how to do it, but I need to sit back and say, 'Paul can do that,'" she said. "As a parent, you feel like you want to protect your kids and do things for them. It's hard to let them fail when you see what they're doing isn't going to work out. Sometimes, you have to let them learn on their own."
At the same time, knowing each other so well offers some distinct advantages.
"They brought a strong sense of responsibility and loyalty and ethics," Pattie says of Paul and Jamie. "Those are traits harder to measure in someone who's not a family member. We all have the same gut instinct, and that's the most important thing in business."
Does she have to deal with any sibling rivalry? Patti says no. She says each child has different strengths which means they are not competing for the same roles in the company.
"She's good at recognizing what I am interested in," Jamie said. "She's good at finding things that fit my niche."
Of course, working together means it can be tough to turn off the business talk at family gatherings.
"You don't leave problems at work because you need to get them solved," Paul said.
It's different, though, because you want to be part of the solution for your family. Jamie points to a recent crisis when water pipes burst in a neighboring space, flooding their offices.
"It's not just the boss calling me in at two in the morning. It's 'mom needs help,'" Jamie said. "You have a different attitude."
Patti agrees. In life and in business, she says, "During times of adversity, family stands out."