Nicely tanned and fresh from his Caribbean vacation, Harold F. Mills, the 36-year-old CEO of ZeroChaos, exudes confidence and business savvy.
One could say it was a much-needed rest considering Mills has been driving hard for the past several years building ZeroChaos (No. 14 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $366.8 million in sales), an information technology staffing and human resources outsourcing firm in Orlando, Florida. The firm, which provides high-tech consultants, software developers, and help-desk professionals to the top publicly traded companies, has been transformed into a formidable competitor against the likes of Manpower and Adecco.
It’s hard to imagine that this now thriving company almost didn’t make it off the ground. “Certainly there was a time when no one was buying our services and we got down to a thousand dollars in the bank account,” recalls Mills of the day he was considering throwing in the towel. It was 2001 when expenses were outpacing revenues as Mills struggled to engineer ZeroChaos, then owned by an Orlando holding company called CoAdvantage Resources.
“It is always a great discussion to have with your wife when you’ve got three kids and a mortgage to pay for, but she was the one who looked me in the eye and said, ‘Let it ride.’ And that’s what we did. We gambled everything and ultimately the story worked out.”
Saying it worked out is an understatement. Mills and his management team redirected the company’s strategy from servicing independent contractors to courting major corporations, created several cutting-edge concepts, and made a key acquisition–significantly increasing growth since 2002, when ZeroChaos brought in $50 million in revenues.
For Mills and other new BE 100S CEOs, success is defined by hard work, a solid business strategy, and a network of genuine and reliable business relationships. These factors have earned them a spot among the 2007 BLACK ENTERPRISE Freshman Class.
Mills, a Harvard Business School graduate, started his career at General Electric in 1991 and moved to Ameritech in 1993, where he quickly advanced, managing a workforce of 300 in 37 states. In 1999, Mills became executive vice president at CoAdvantage, then an $80 million holding company with several firms under its belt, including ZeroChaos.
In 2000, Mills was charged with building up ZeroChaos. He hired staff and set up the company to handle the taxes, payroll, and help-desk needs of independent contractors. Revenues grew to $500,000 by 2001, but the company floundered as it struggled to collect money from small entrepreneurs who dodged their bills.
So the management team had to regroup and create a turnaround plan. The strategy: Two revolutionary concepts called Open Book Accounting and e-Contractor. The clients: IBM, Nokia, Accenture, and GlaxoSmithKline–huge clients that needed contract talent and would have no problems paying their bills.
With Open Book Accounting, the entire transaction is transparent, meaning ZeroChaos shares with clients how it determines its fee based on taxes, wages, and other expenses. E-contracting allows individual contractors to create profiles on the Websites of companies they’re interesting in working for, allowing the companies