Originally published in Staffing Success Magazine (July–Aug 2005)
By Mark Hersberger
Growing up on a turkey farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Bill Stoller, CPC, CSP, never imagined that he would one day own and operate a vineyard on his family’s land.
In the subsequent decades, a confluence of events provided the opportunity. Stoller, co-founder of Express Personnel Services and owner of multiple franchises, developed his interest in wine from taking classes and attending tasting events with friends, then invested in a winery and became co-owner of a label called Chehalem.
Meanwhile, western Oregon grew into a viable commercial wine region. The Stoller farm sat smack in the middle of a region ideal for producing pinot noir, a wine recently popularized by the film “Sideways,” in which two friends explore the wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley along California’s central coast. When his cousin put the land up for sale, Stoller knew he had to act. Since 1995, he’s planted grapes nearly every year on rocky, uneven terrain that yielded mainly wheat, rye grass, and wild berries during his boyhood.
Stoller acknowledges the popularity of “Sideways” has been good for business, although he points out that wine aficionados have always gravitated to pinot noir because of its flavor, delicacy, fruitiness, and compatibility with food.
Wine has moved beyond a mere hobby for Stoller into a legitimate second business. How is it different from staffing? Not really at all.
“Business is business,” says Stoller. “You have to meet demand, sell products, and build relationships to be successful.”
The Day He Bought His Job
Stoller’s roots in staffing extend to the early 1970s when he joined Acme Personnel in Portland. While Stoller rose within the company, Acme struggled and began to convert branches to franchises by selling them to company employees. “In essence, you bought your job,” Stoller explains.
Stoller acquired two branches in Oregon; founding partner Bob Funk, then an Acme executive, purchased four in Oklahoma; and a third partner joined as the trio launched Express Personnel Services in 1983, running their respective offices and aggressively recruiting former Acme locations to join as Express franchises.
As Express blossomed, Stoller relied on his farm work ethic to propel him though the risky start-up phase. “I just put my head down, worked hard, recruited people, and produced at my own office,” he recalls.
Those values made him an attractive partner for Funk, now Express chairman and CEO, who saw in Stoller a steady entrepreneur. “Bill’s very analytical and a good thinker,” notes Funk. “My role was more to create a vision and drive sales, while Bill made sure the ideas had merit.”
In his role as vice chairman of the Express board, Stoller’s temperament has served the brand well, often rubbing off on others. Mark Tasler, owner of eight Express franchises in Wisconsin and Minnesota, has known Stoller since their Acme days. “Bill’s success relies on his dogged determination, steadfastness, and willingness to be flexible when necessary,” says Tasler.
Funk and Tasler point to Stoller’s fiscal conservatism as another key ingredient to the venture. Explains Tasler, “Bill’s the kind of guy who, if he’s got a pencil, he’s going to use it down until it’s just a nub.”
“‘I hate waste,'” Funk always hears from Stoller. “Bill thinks everything through before he ever makes a move. He doesn’t mind spending money; he just doesn’t want it to go to waste.”
Stoller’s cautious nature, though, serves as a perfect counterbalance to the more freewheeling Funk, a notion Funk acknowledges with a hearty laugh. “The two make a great pair,” comments Tasler. “Most successful business partnerships often rely on opposites attracting.”
Helping People Help Themselves
“Helping people succeed” is what Stoller likes best about staffing. He remarks, “There’s no substitute for placing people in a job and helping them take care of their families. You can’t do anything without a job, and there’s nothing more rewarding than helping people find opportunities.”
In addition to his three years of service on the ASA board, Stoller’s commitment to professional development extends to his role as chairman of the ASA member education and certification committee and the convention committee. He wants Staffing World 2005 to be the best convention ever, and also aims to provide superior educational content.
His No. 1 goal for the member education committee is to further expand the association’s certification programs. Stoller cites having both the Certified Staffing ProfessionalTM and Technical Services CertifiedTM programs available online as major achievements. “We need to reach out to everyone in the staffing industry and give them the opportunity to be certified whenever they’re ready,” he explains. “Improving the content and delivery are never-ending responsibilities to make the programs worthwhile.”
More Than a Co-Worker
Daughter Jenny Schwenke, an eight-year Express employee, has witnessed firsthand her father’s commitment to growth. She says, “He helps you create opportunities to succeed. My father has a passion for helping others and building self-esteem.”
Wife Cathy, heavily involved in Express and the wine business; son Jason, a firefighter; and teenage twins Kyle and Kenny round out the family.
Schwenke never planned to work at Express as she embarked on a career counseling troubled youths. Between counseling positions, she took a temporary assignment and got hooked. Like her father, Schwenke has filled several roles from the ground up—she’s now vice president and general manager of the company that runs Stoller’s franchises—something she views as one of her father’s strengths because he’s in touch with every level of the company. “His ability to lead by example is very important,” she explains. “He won’t ask you to do anything he hasn’t done.”
Such sincerity is something Funk and Tasler point to in explaining Stoller’s value as a colleague, with Funk saying, “Bill’s got a much larger heart than most might expect,” and Tasler adding, “He’s consistent in how he treats you, very respectful, and straightforward. He’s there if you need him.”
Schwenke, Funk, and Tasler unanimously agree that there’s no difference between Stoller’s personal and professional personas, a characteristic that’s made it easier for Schwenke to work for her father. She notes that they share the same values and philosophies, and adds, “The trust and loyalty we’ve established as family members is definitely beneficial. He knows on a bigger scale where I’m coming from.”