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Life Is Good: Pat Rohe Talks About Activism, Patriotism, and the Rewards of Hard Work

Originally published in Staffing Success Magazine (Sept-Oct 2002)

By Luanne Crayton

“I’ve been in staffing my entire life. It’s all I know, really,” says Pat Rohe, who began her career as a temporary employee. She is now a partner at Custom Staffing, which has offices in New York and California.

Rohe chose to temp because of the flexibility. “I married an American and moved here from England,” she says. “I had a baby, and temporary assignments allowed me to spend time at home with my daughter.”

Soon, the staffing firm hired her to be its receptionist, and within three years, she was managing a staffing firm. After being recruited repeatedly to start a staffing company for someone else, Rohe decided it was time to start her own firm. So she and business partner Diane McGaw opened Custom Staffing in 1985.

“It’s rewarding to give people a career path and to watch them do well,” Rohe says. “Some of our former temporary employees are now vice presidents at major banks.”

Longtime client Karl Laird, associate director of Bear Stearns, says, “Working with Pat is an extraordinary experience. She is extremely thorough, is an active listener, and always follows through. You rarely meet anyone with the intelligence, business acumen, and humanity that she brings to the table every time.”

Dispelling Myths

“I’ve seen more changes in the past five years in the staffing industry than in the previous 25 years—some good, some not so good,” Rohe says. “As the industry grows, it gets more attention from unions. We have a lot of work to do in educating legislators so they don’t get the wrong impression about our industry.”
A past president of the Metro chapter of the New York Association of Temporary and Staffing Services, Rohe now serves as the state legislative chairman. “I travel to Albany, meet with legislators, and get to know them so we can educate them about the role of staffing in the economy of New York and dispel the myths that unions spread about our industry,” she says.

“Pat is a wonderful spokesperson for the staffing industry,” says NYATSS general counsel Tom Greble of Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner. “Her passion and commitment are unequaled.” He cites as an example a recent reception for Gov. George Pataki (R) in Upstate New York—an hour-and-a-half drive from Rohe’s home. “The governor was delayed,” Greble says, “but Pat waited—for several hours—for five minutes of face time with him.”

This year, despite the efforts of organized labor, NYATSS was able to maintain its record of keeping the industry free from undue regulation. The sponsor of the temporary workers’ bill of rights in the state senate withdrew her sponsorship after Rohe and others from NYATSS explained the detrimental effect the bill would have on the staffing industry. “That was a huge success that rarely happens,” Rohe says.

Rohe also serves on the ASA board of directors and as chairman of the chapter relations committee. “It is important to be involved in your chapter because most anti-staffing legislation begins at the state level,” she explains. “Without our involvement, these bills would easily pass, we would all pay, and the industry would suffer.”

As chairman of the chapter relations committee, Rohe has met leaders of chapters from around the country. “They’re great people, devoted to our industry,” she says. “But we need more people to become active. My priority as chairman is to get more participation from regional and national companies.”

Red, White, and True-Blue

Rohe has lived in the United States for 30 years, but never gave much thought to becoming a U.S. citizen. “I have always considered myself an American,” she says, “even though I have this British accent.”
But when the United States was attacked on Sep. 11, she took it personally. She remembers thinking, “How dare you? You attacked me. And all the horrible things that are said about Americans are said about me.”

“I had to stand up,” she says. “I feel like an American, and I wanted to be an American, so I decided to become a citizen.” Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long process—it takes about a year. But she has all the papers and will soon take the final step to becoming an American as she places her hand over her heart and recites the Pledge of Allegiance with other new citizens from around the world.

Home Sweet Home

“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says this New Yorker. “What an incredible place.”
“I take advantage of this great city—the restaurants, the ballet,” she says. “There’s not much on Broadway I haven’t seen at least once. And Long Island Sound is beautiful for boating.”

She sets the record straight on what she says is a misperception about the city’s residents. “People say that New Yorkers are rude, but that’s not true. They’re tough and straightforward.”

As an example, she cites the dedication and commitment of staffing professionals there. “The staffing industry in New York has suffered tremendously because of the recession and Sep. 11. I admire the resilience of the people in the industry to stay with it and do their best.”

When she’s not working or out enjoying the city, you’ll find Rohe at home with her family or a good book. “Once I start a book, forget it. I can’t do anything else until I’ve read it cover to cover. I like to read about real people and their lives, but occasionally I read to escape. I’m currently reading John Adams and Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.”

Selections from Oprah Winfrey’s book club and women authors have also been on the reading list lately. A recent favorite is Girl With a Pearl Earring, a novel that centers on the creation of a portrait of the same title by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, one of Rohe’s favorite artists.

Rohe’s greatest love is her three grandchildren, all under the age of 5. “They say if you kiss babies, they’ll grow up to be smart. They must be Einsteins, because I never stop kissing and hugging them.”

Lifetime of Effort

Rohe says that like most people, she has faced many challenges in life, and she has overcome them all with the help of a good support system. “The support of other people—your friends and family—gets you through,” she says. “And time gets you through.”
Reflecting, she says she has reached a point from which she can see the results of a lifetime of effort. “My children have grown up, and they’re happy. And I have a successful, long-term business partnership,” she says.

“It’s rewarding to be able to put your struggles in perspective and find yourself in a place where everything is fine, and you can say, ‘Life is good.'”

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