MAKE is an IT staffing firm focusing on VMS/MSP accounts. Founded in 1981, the name of the company is derived from the initials of its founder, an IT contractor. The company has more than 200 employees (internal and consultants) across offices in Chicago and Dallas. It posted $22 million in revenue last year. Associate Editor Sharon Thomas spoke with Karen Wilson, MAKE president and CEO, about its recent expansion, her values for the company and how they are driving growth.

What led you to focus exclusively on VMS/MSP accounts? When I was deciding whether to join MAKE, I was also considering a position running the internal contingent workforce program for a very large global food company. Looking at both sides of the business, I saw what was happening, and it made sense to me. I thought if I were one of those big companies, I would streamline and centralize the workflow to gain efficiencies. I would create one master service agreement; one set of terms and conditions; one onboarding process; etc. I didn’t think you could stop the trend. I thought providers had better learn to play or this is going to go right by them, especially for a very small company.

And when I joined MAKE, we were really small — we had 12 people on billing. We were not a brand name and the competition was fierce, but few vendors were embracing the VMS/ MSP space. I decided to go after these accounts — don’t beat them, join them, and build recruiting. Make it all about recruiting and service, not sales.

How does that work? We have been fortunate enough to gain the confidence of some very large companies. The fill rates are not the same as direct contact customers, but I do not pay salespeople for these types of accounts. So we have remained very profitable, even in the VMS space.

Now that we have gained success and some brand recognition, I don’t have to ask the customers to trust me to work within their programs. Our current customers, mainly Fortune 500 companies, will attest that we partner with the VMS/MSP and don’t circumvent the system.

Do you find it challenging to supply IT talent in a VMS market? We pursue programs that are well run — and there are programs that are well run. To me, that means they are communicating effectively; that you’re getting proper feedback; that the rates, while they may be competitive, are still attainable without sacrificing quality.

What about so-called no-contact policies? Do you avoid those? It’s account- specific. We do have one account that’s 100 percent no-contact, and yet, it’s one of the better-run programs because they have compliance from the managers who use a tool that forces real feed- back. That is key because if a candidate is rejected in a tool without feedback, we may not submit them to this account again when in fact they were the second- choice candidate. Good customers with well-run programs understand that more is more in terms of feedback and it ultimately helps their organization obtain better talent.

What would make you walk away from an account? We have left some very large accounts because we analyzed the number of submits we had to that account versus fills, compared to other programs we support. If we had put this effort to the better programs, we would have had better results. Sometimes it is better to walk away and partner with companies who have process controls in place.

What sets MAKE apart? Our focus on recruiting. Our customers’ needs vary based upon their staffing needs. They may need cutting-edge skills and they may also need legacy skills. They rely on us to find the best available options for them regardless of the resource pool.

Our culture is also a huge differentiator. We have hands-down the best team who has demonstrated time and again their willingness to wear whatever hat needs to be worn to get the job done. We have a very entrepreneurial culture and believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect. This is a people business and we think treating people well is fundamental.

And our core purpose: “To demonstrate that we can build a successful and ethical staffing company and use it as a means to give back to the community.”

We strive to run a successful staffing company and we do. We also recognize we have an opportunity to set an example to our team, our customers, our consultants and our community on how we conduct ourselves in the process.

What has MAKE done that you are most proud of? Running a profitable company and using it as a means to give back is easily the thing of which I am most proud. We recently sponsored a suite at a new Ronald McDonald House in honor of a team member and good friend who died in an accident last April. When they closed on the house and asked if we wanted to help move in furniture, our team jumped at the chance.

We have run races for American Cancer Society, cooked meals for Ronald McDonald House, packed meals for Feed My Starving Children, jumped into frozen Lake Michigan and pulled a plane for Special Olympics of Illinois.

What are your future plans and goals? Our plans involve working to exceed our customer expectations and providing growth opportunities for our team. I get very excited when I see both of these things happening.

A large new customer in Dallas recently told me if he had to rate us on a scale of one to 10, it would be 10. Landing this customer actually provided the opportunity for me to move one of our team leads to Dallas and promote her to a branch manager.

And this customer has a heart like MAKE does, so the very first event we did in Dallas was for the Ronald McDonald House there!

As long as we can continue to find opportunities like this to grow the business, grow the people, and MAKE a difference, I’m going to keep on going!