ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN STAFFING SUCCESS MAGAZINE (JAN–FEB 2002)
By Luanne Crayton
For her contributions to the staffing industry, JoAnn Wagner, chair and CEO of SOS Staffing Services, headquartered in Salt Lake City, received the Leadership Hall of Fame Award at the ASA 34th Annual Convention & EXPO in Las Vegas. The award, the industry’s highest honor, was established in 1985 to recognize individuals who make outstanding contributions to the staffing industry and to the American Staffing Association.
“JoAnn is a great lady and a great leader,” says Karen Pitts of Link Staffing Services, chair of the ASA leadership award committee. “She has left successes in all areas that she has touched, and she’s viewed as a leader throughout the industry.”
“For me, this award is the culmination of 30 years in the staffing industry,” Wagner says. “It offers an opportunity to look back and appreciate everything that has happened and how the industry has changed, and to be very glad that this is the industry I’m associated with.”
Success From the Beginning
Today, Wagner runs a company that last year placed more than 100,000 people, served 15,000 clients in the United States and abroad from more than 150 offices in 18 states, and generated more than $380 million in revenue. But her start in staffing was a modest one. In her first job in the industry, she worked part-time from her home recruiting temporary workers for TOPS in southwest Denver. Success came quickly, and soon she had recruited more people than the company could place.
Her achievements in recruiting from her home led her to work full-time for TOPS, where she held several management positions and became a part owner. In 1985 the business was sold, and she stayed on to help during the transition to new ownership. In less than two years, she became president of the new publicly traded staffing company.
Wagner became active in the Colorado staffing association while living in Denver and from 1975 to 1985 held various positions, including president. She served on the ASA (then NATS) board of directors from 1987 to 1994, holding the office of president from 1991 to 1992.
During the mid-1990s, she worked as a consultant in the staffing industry and served on the boards of two public companies; one of them was SOS Staffing. She was appointed to the position of chair of SOS Staffing in 1998 and was later appointed CEO. In 2000, the company was named one of the top high-growth Utah-based businesses, and Wagner was recognized as one of Utah’s most powerful women.
Witness to Growth and Change
Wagner has seen many changes in the staffing industry and its relationship with clients during her career. “Staffing has evolved into an industry that businesses rely on,” she says. “Companies now plan for and count on the workforce supplied by our industry. And clients today rely on us to supply employees with a broad range of skills. Way back when, we supplied mostly warehouse and office-clerical workers. Now, we also supply CFOs and CEOs.
“And today, it’s better understood-but still not always well understood-that we’re the employer,” she says. “We provide benefits and cover all federally mandated taxes, and people now have a better understanding that our workers are our employees.”
Another change that she has witnessed is the profound impact that technology has had on businesses the world over. Wagner believes that it’s important for staffing companies to use the Internet to its highest potential to attract employees and clients, but cautions, “We still need the personal touch to get the right fit-the right employee in the right position with the right client. In this business, it’s not just the skill level that’s important,” she says. “You can test for skills, but you have to find and match the personality and flexibility that are the attributes of a great temporary employee. There’s no replacement for the face-to-face interview.”
Wide Open Spaces
Wagner has been a businessperson since she was a child. She grew up on a ranch in Colorado, where there was always lots of work to be done-growing the crops, tending to the livestock, and managing the ranch hands. And she has always had a hand in a variety of businesses-from home health care to commercial fishing to software development to ranching.
To her, relaxing doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down. An avid outdoorsperson, she craves the fresh air of wide open spaces. She loves to be at home with her family, keeping busy with three grandchildren and managing her ranch, where she breeds and trains horses.
With their horses, she and her family compete in the sport of cutting. “This is a very challenging sport, requiring a great deal of concentration, focus, and horsemanship skills,” Wagner says. The trick of the sport, according to the National Cutting Horse Association, is “to select a single calf from the herd, guide it into the center of the arena, and then, with lightning fast starts and turns, prevent it from ducking past the horse and escaping back to the herd.”
‘The World Is Our Playground’
Wagner’s friends and colleagues sometimes ask, “Why in the world did you tackle that?” when she takes on a challenge. “Because it was there to be done” is the answer. “I figure, ‘Let me give it a whirl. I think we can make it happen,’ ” she says. “To succeed, you never reach for the halfway mark. I don’t think that anyone ever gets it all right, but you have to do the best you possibly can.” She has boundless optimism and enthusiasm that challenges can be turned into opportunities and ultimately accomplishments.
The greatest satisfaction in Wagner’s career has come from being able to help people, especially people who never thought that they could accomplish all that they have, and being able to say, “I knew that person when … and I helped them reach their potential.”
“I love this industry because there’s an opportunity for everybody,” she says. “Everyone you meet is a potential applicant or customer. Everyone you meet is someone you can help. As staffing professionals, the world is our playground. There’s not a better industry-despite the view of the stock market and the cycles of the economy-this is a wonderful industry.”