ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN STAFFING SUCCESS MAGAZINE (JAN–FEB 2005)
By Mark Hersberger
What does it take to make it into the staffing industry Leadership Hall of Fame? A solid record of service, dedication to staffing’s interests, and commitment to industry ideals all make the list. Helping to save staffing as we know it doesn’t hurt either.
Say hello to Eileen Lesberg, founder of World Wide Facilities Inc. She was honored at Staffing World 2004 as the 31st recipient of the Leadership Hall of Fame Award—the first industry supplier to be so recognized. The award was established in 1985 to honor individual contributions to the staffing industry and ASA.
On second thought, for many staffing regulars, say “hello again” to an old and trusted friend. When you and your predecessors desperately needed staffing-specific insurance policies in the mid-1960s, Lesberg jumped in to insure your firm, and staffing’s future.
Joining staffing’s hall of fame as an industry supplier isn’t the first time Lesberg has set a new standard. Upon finishing school, when her girlfriends set sail for tours of Europe, Lesberg embarked on a tour of duty by joining the Navy. As longtime friend, client, and ASA board member Judy Zacha, of Beacon Services in Michigan, noted while introducing Lesberg at Staffing World, the Navy in those days was hardly an obvious choice for women, especially one whose favorite word was “why.” Lesberg, though, signed up, paid her dues, and pushed full throttle until an injury cut short her naval career.
“She’s not the type to do nothing,” Zacha commented, explaining how Lesberg then plunged into the staid, male-centric milieu of insurance. Expressionless men in dour suits speaking demurely about risks and coverage—hardly an enticing venture for a spirited young woman. Only someone forgot to tell Lesberg.
After sampling a few branches of insurance, Lesberg made her way to accident investigation, an ideal opportunity to pose her favorite question: “Why?” In 1965 she came across a staffing firm owner facing a lawsuit because a candidate falsified his educational credentials. The firm’s policy didn’t cover that. “However, the owner talked to the right person that night,” explained Zacha.
Lesberg set about convincing the insurance industry of the uniqueness of staffing. “In a time when women were not always taken seriously in the business world,” said Lesberg in her acceptance address, “I found myself pounding on doors to sell the idea of insurance products for the staffing industry alone.”
She found a taker through AIG in 1966, thus originating the first ever policy designed specifically for staffing. Lesberg never looked back, founding World Wide Facilities Inc. in 1972. “World Wide Facilities was born out of a need for the staffing industry to protect what it had accomplished and what it would achieve in the future,” she explained.
How did she accomplish it all? “It’s as true today as it was then: Perseverance will get you through any seemingly impossible situation,” said Lesberg in describing her determination.
“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” says World Wide Facilities president and CEO Dorothy Taylor, a longtime friend and colleague. “She gets what she wants.” Taylor adds that Lesberg’s approach to her clients is unique in insurance, describing it as “emotional and protective.”
Zacha knows the formula: “She in my mind is that Energizer bunny who just keeps going and giving.”
She Left Her Heart in Staffing
While Lesberg made her name in insurance, her heart belongs to staffing. “The longevity of our relationship could only be maintained by mutual trust and lots of understanding,” she commented, adding, “Forty years ago I could have never imagined the possibilities that would be created for me by the staffing industry.” The sentiment continues to this day. “My passion for your industry has never wavered, and those of you who know me know this to be true,” Lesberg said.
“It’s not an exaggeration that she’ll go to bat for her clients and our industry,” said Robb Mulberger of NRI Staffing Resources in Washington and a 25-year World Wide Facilities client.
Zacha described Lesberg’s devotion to staffing by saying, “She felt the possibilities of staffing were exciting because it would forever be changing and promised never to be boring.”
“With this award, you’ve honored me, you’ve honored my company, you’ve honored all that we’ve done together,” Lesberg remarked. “You’ve given me a place and a home, I hope for the rest of my life. I’ll never let you down.”
One of a Kind
Staffing is a people business, and no personality shines brighter than Lesberg’s. At her acceptance speech, the sassy visionary seized the mic and introduced a new generation to the wit and grit that made her a business pioneer, cracking jokes, dropping names, telling war stories, and eliciting laughter from the audience.
But there’s substance behind the persona; there has to be to stay afloat for nearly half a century. And kindness. “Eileen always gave back, and I believe that is definitely part of the reason for her success,” said Zacha of Lesberg’s and World Wide Facilities’ generosity to staffing and other causes.
Just ask Taylor about the day she met Lesberg in 1981. They encountered one another in an elevator, and developed as strong a relationship as is possible in the space of a few floors. Upon exiting at the same level, Lesberg asked Taylor where she was headed.
“I have an interview with a Ms. Eileen Lesberg,” explained Taylor.
“Hi, I’m Eileen,” replied Lesberg. “Welcome aboard.”
It’s been a wild ride for the two, with Taylor noting that “no trip was ever uneventful” as a resilient Lesberg survived muggings, roach infestations, and plane crashes to keep all her appointments.
“She has played more roles in my life than any other—my employer, my teacher, my partner, my friend; we are family,” Taylor said of her rapport with Lesberg.
Taylor also said that Lesberg considers her staffing clients as part of her family, and always gets a kick out of seeing them. Lesberg quipped at Staffing World: “I must say that when I come to one of our conventions, it makes me feel good. You go to an insurance convention, you’re so depressed you can’t wait to get out of there!”
Don’t worry, Eileen. Staffing’s door is always open to you, with a roomful of friends, memories, and good times waiting inside.