She’s The Boss

The women of the B.E. 100s are setting a new standard of excellence -- and changing the face of business

1978, the Torrance, California-based ACTo1 Group (No. 3 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list) has grown from a single office with a desk and phone to 90 offices across the country. In 2002, ACTo1 brought in $483 million in revenue. The company has multiple divisions that provide services such as recruitment, employment placement, and training to such corporate clients such as Ford Motor Co., Sempra Energy, and the Gap.

Howroyd dreamed up the idea of starting her own firm while temping for her brother-in-law at Billboard magazine, where she discovered she had a knack for s
olving office problems. “[The Billboard staff] never wanted me to go,” she says. “They were amazed that I knew what needed to happen in an office.” Howroyd also learned something else about herself while working at Billboard. “I realized that I enjoyed … helping people get temporary and permanent jobs. When someone told me to hang out my own shingle, I took the chance.”

Armed with $967 in personal savings and $533 in loans from her mother and brother, Howroyd leased a small office and then got on the phone to drum up business. She called one company after another in order to introduce herself to area employers and even offered to return their money if they used ACTo1’s services and an employee didn’t work out. With such high stakes, she had to know that the person she was sending to a particular company was the right person for the job. The only way she could make sure of was to get to know applicants personally, a task that her company was better able to do than bigger, slow-footed rivals.

But for Howroyd, finding the perfect match between employer and employee was not just about pleasing clients and making money. From her experiences in high school and at Billboard, Howroyd knew that people would perform better in working environments that capitalized on their personal strengths. Her philosophy: Never compromise who you are personally for who you wish to be professionally. “This value became rooted deep inside me from my childhood, seeing working people whose work did not afford them dignity,” she says. “It is a core value of how I do business today. I believe in empowering people.”

While it’s impossible for Howroyd to know all 60,000 job candidates that the company works with today, she insists that her 290 full-time employees use the same personal networking skills to land employees in the right jobs that helped her net her first clients. She also places an emphasis on community involvement. In 2001, the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council named ACTo1 Supplier of the Year, not only because of the company’s success with placing employees in jobs but because of its involvement with Atlanta-area business and community organizations.

While ACTo1 is no longer a small business, she stresses the “human” in human resources by creating an atmosphere more like those at smaller companies: “ACTo1 is still the ‘great big little company’ serving two clients — the company and the employee we’re

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