CSL Solutions' Founder and CEO Michelle Wightman tells the story of how it all started.
I realized I was an entrepreneur at age 10 when I took on two paper routes, one for the Sacramento Bee and one for the Sacramento Union. I wanted 100% of the market share for my neighborhood. Not because of the revenue; it was about something more. A driving need to create, to do, to make a difference. I saw an opportunity and had no choice but to venture out and take it.
Business Development was where I gravitated to as a career, knowing that I could create opportunity within any industry. My mother was a state worker, and from her I learned the benefits of safety, security, and structure. My father was a serial entrepreneur. He built several businesses from the ground up. Watching my father create and grow businesses shaped me at an early age. In hindsight, it’s no surprise why their combined influence led me where it did.
My research led me to the Employee Leasing industry—the companies in this industry are now known as Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs)—which was then in its infancy.
PEOs immediately struck me as an amazing opportunity.
As I learned more, I was hooked. It was such an amazing value proposition to small employers who would otherwise get derailed from their focus on driving revenue. I realized that business owners who learned of the existence of PEOs would be crazy not to use one!
I had zero knowledge of payroll and tax laws, but I knew even then that when you don’t know something, find someone who does. I quickly surrounded myself with experts who could fill the gaps in my knowledge.
I developed an employee leasing division for the staffing firm, which was a raving success. But after 6 months of continued growth, management came to me one day and said they weren’t comfortable with the liability involved. The division was phased out. But they knew I was passionate about this opportunity, and allowed me to take the clients that I had brought in and do with them what I could.
I borrowed $1000 from my mom—a copy of the check is framed on my office wall. Out of it, I paid $800 for my incorporation fee, and spent the rest on accounting software. And that is how Certified Staff Leasing was born in 1993. We did very little marketing, and relied almost entirely on referrals. The company grew steadily, especially after the first few years. In fact, despite a complete lack of marketing between 1999 and 2001, our company saw consistent annual growth of more than 30%. That’s when I knew we had truly made it.
When the bottom fell out of the economy in 2007, we lost nearly half of our revenue. Despite this, we were able to keep our staff intact, while continuing to offer a full suite of services to our clients. We redefined our infrastructure, and scaled to adapt to the new market conditions. We not only survived, but became stronger as a result.
We understand firsthand how challenging it is to create and sustain a company. Twenty five years later, I have stayed true to my original vision for the company: To provide services tailored to the needs of small local employers with 1 to 49 employees, to treat those employees like our family, and to treat our clients as honored guests. Some of our employees have been with us for more than 10 years—they know what we’re about and what we value, and they deliver on those values with every client they work with.
We are 100% service driven. We have structured ourselves to serve as an extension of our clients’ offices, and to provide real value-added solutions. We are always seeking new, innovative solutions to enhance the effectiveness of our clients’ businesses, mitigate their risk and exposure, streamline their HR processes, and allow them to focus on their businesses.