ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN STAFFING SUCCESS MAGAZINE (JAN–FEB 2001)
By Luanne Crayton
For his contributions to the staffing industry, Mitchell Fromstein, retired president, CEO, and chairman of Manpower Inc., received the Leadership Hall of Fame Award at the ASA 2001 Convention & Expo. The award, the industry’s highest honor, was established in 1985 to recognize individuals who make outstanding contributions to the staffing industry and the American Staffing Association.
“Perhaps the greatest honor a person can get in life is an honor from his peers,” Fromstein said. “And this award represents that to me.”
Fromstein was introduced and presented the award by ASA past chairman Margo Berk-Levine of Temporarily Yours and Margo Berk Staffing in New York City, herself a member of the Hall of Fame.
“The story of this man’s rise in the business world and the story of his many accomplishments are now included in the texts of business schools across the country,” Berk-Levine said. “He played a key role in helping the industry find both its voice and direction, and he was our industry’s leading spokesman. More than any other individual, he helped our various publics better understand who we are, what we do, and why it matters.”
In 1972, Fromstein was named to Manpower’s board of directors. Four years later, he became president and CEO. The same year, he joined the ASA (then NATS) board of directors, and he chaired the association’s legislative strategy and government relations committees.
Berk-Levine quoted an article about Fromstein published by the Los Angeles Times in 1994: “In his own unassuming way, he has become as dominant a figure on the American landscape as any CEO in the country.”
When Fromstein retired and became chairman emeritus in 1999, Manpower’s revenues were 50 times what they were when he started, Berk-Levine said.
“He has always been a tireless advocate for enhancing the treatment of our most important asset, our assigned employees,” she said. “Leading by example, in the 1980s he developed a health insurance program for temporary employees that gave them access to the same benefits as the company’s full-time employees.”
She shared what she called a “Mitch-ism”-“Leadership in business is not power. Leadership is the ability to rally others behind a vision.”
A Bright Future
In his remarks, Fromstein commented on the cooperative nature of the staffing industry. “This is a competitive industry,” he said. “It’s one where you go out and fight in the streets every day for business, and you do whatever you can to build the business. But [ASA provides] one of the only forums where a competitive group of people can get together, forget competition, share ideas, talk about history, and look at the economy.”
He offered encouragement in the face of uncertainty, recalling previous economic downturns. “When they were over,” he said, “this business took on a new life that allowed it to grow in the ensuing years far beyond the dreams of those in the industry. It’s astounding to look back.
“We lead into a downturn. We feel it first, and it hurts. But we also lead out,” he noted.
He said that in the early stages of recovery, businesses “still have the pain in their stomachs from having shed labor during the downturn, so they aren’t willing to step forward to make the commitment to hire. But they do need people, and this organization and its membership is one of the only places in the world they can go to get people without making the commitment that they fear the most.”
“If history gives any conclusions at all-and I’m positive it does-when this is over, the opportunities will be greater than they were before and the responsibilities will be equal to or greater than they were before. The future of this business is as bright as the future of any business I know,” he said.
Vital Economic Thread
Fromstein said that without the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business, he has more time for contemplation and reflection, something that he had looked forward to for a long time. He said, “I can sit back, push away from the desk, put my feet up, and try to understand what has made this multi-billion dollar industry grow so fast and become such an important part of the economic fabric of this country.
“It’s very simple,” he concluded. “The staffing business supplies people to fill in for people who should be there but are not, or to do some work that shouldn’t be there but is.
“It’s a middleman process. But what makes it powerful is the idea that staffing firms are willing and able to stand in as proper employers during periods of uncertainty in the lives of workers or in the processes of customers.
“In that role, the industry is able to accelerate the job-finding mechanisms of the country, which without companies like ours would take months and months and months. Yet, as all of you know, the telephone can ring, somebody can walk in the door, and you can put them together in a half-hour or an hour. And you have contributed to the socioeconomic fabric of the country in a way that nobody else could clearly understand.
“This willingness to be a proper employer, to relate to the people who walk in the door as one, and to represent yourself as an employer to the customer base is what makes this a wonderful, marvelous, successful industry. I can’t think of any that has a more promising future.”
Of his career, Fromstein said, “I’d love to do it all again. It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding in every way. This award is certainly putting the frosting on the cake.”