New York, NY – Listen to Greg Slamowitz talk about his new book Flip the Pyramid, and you might imagine that he’s a leadership guru — that rarefied breed of business thinker tasked with articulating the type of transformational insight that boutique advisory firms often use as hood ornaments.
Certainly, his high-minded organizational insights would appear well suited for snaring top-dollar human capital consulting gigs. Yet Ambrose, the firm Slamowitz cofounded and of which he serves as co-CEO, is what in HR circles is known as a PEO (professional employer organization), a class of companies known for their templated menus of outsourced HR, benefits, and payroll services.
For years, PEOs have succeeded by appealing to left-brain CEOs, whose operations orientation has led them to cast a weary eye on the staffing costs of their HR departments. Ambrose has discovered that PEOs can be plenty appealing to right-brain CEOs as well. Here’s where Slamowitz’s thinking appears to be opening doors for Ambrose — a PEO that in the past 4 years has grown from 40 to 120 employees as it has expanded to serve 900 small business clients from offices across the country.
It’s the type of thinking that resonates with CEO entrepreneurs, especially those tasked with managing high-value white collar talent, according to Slamowitz, and it’s just such CEOs whom Ambrose now targets inside a select number of small business and start-up verticals.
“These are small businesses that generally tend to do very well and that generally consider human capital to be their greatest asset,” says Slamowitz, who lists hedge funds, technology firms, and new media ventures among Ambrose’s hottest sectors.
“When it’s time for the head of a trading desk at Goldman Sachs to spin out, they can step onto our shared HR, payroll, and benefits platform,” explains Slamowitz, who says that a typical start-up client for Ambrose may have as few as five employees.
Asked whether Ambrose is likely to broaden the number of industries it serves, Slamowitz says: “We think that these verticals have plenty of runway for us, particularly when we move into other geographic regions. We really have been ramping up in California and have had a lot of success with them in Virginia and South Florida.”
Slamowitz characterizes Ambrose’s small business offerings as a growth accelerant, and here’s where the thinking issued by his latest text exposes one of the common foibles of small business leaders: a tendency to micromanage.
Says Slamowitz: “Leadership has to get off the court and tell employees, We’re going to let you play a great game so long as you don’t step outside of our core values and pursue our annual and quarterly goals.”
Clearly, Slamowitz’s crusade against micromanagement appears to align nicely with the organizational thinking that underpins the firm’s greater value proposition. In other words, it only makes good business for small business leaders to remove non–core competencies (HR, payroll, and benefits) from cluttering the court and clouding the firm’s primary mission.
“When leaders can create an environment where everyone is coming to work with their full mind, organizationally you are prepared for all challenges,” explains Slamowitz, who says that a number of years back, when Ambrose was 8 years old with roughly 40 employees, the firm confronted the very growth obstacle that his book discusses and seeks to remedy.
“We came to the conclusion that organizationally we were stuck, and we had to build a new construct that would allow our people to step up,” explains Slamowitz, who says that he too had fallen victim to the allure of micromanagement.
Once Ambrose’s leadership team began focusing on strategy and not tactics, the firm once more found itself on the path to growth, Slamowitz explains.
“What’s interesting is that our value proposition has not really radically changed,” says the co-CEO and author, while underscoring the notion that Ambrose’s growth obstacle was organizational and not due to its customer offerings.
Says Slamowitz: “It has gotten progressively harder and harder to be a small business owner in this country … and we’re convinced that these companies will never take these services back in-house again.”