'One-Brand Guy' Tom Pentenburg found his fit with Spherion Staffing Services
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'One-Brand Guy' Tom Pentenburg found his fit with Spherion Staffing Services

'One-Brand Guy' Tom Pentenburg found his fit with Spherion Staffing Services

Tom Pentenburg has a knack for putting the right people in the right place to drive his business and boost career success for others. As Spherion Staffing Services’ largest multi-unit franchisee, Pentenburg oversees a network of 21 offices in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

“We’re really good at putting together teams of people and scaling,” Pentenburg says. “The key to our success is having the right people in each locale because I’m not in front of everybody every day. You’ve got to build a culture of people that you can trust and that share your vision.”

Pentenburg grew up in Lima, Ohio, and is a proud alumnus of The Ohio State University. He graduated with a hospitality management degree and dove headfirst into the service industry. He spent five years with Olive Garden, opening new restaurants across the U.S., before transitioning into an operations management role in manufacturing where he was schooled on the client side of the staffing business.

With a growing family and a quest to find his career fit, Pentenburg began looking for a new challenge. He signed on with a Chicago-based staffing company as general manager to launch a new agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He spent more than a decade fine-tuning his staffing, recruiting, and leadership experience before venturing into franchising. In 2009, he partnered with his wife, Elizabeth, to open their first Spherion location.

Pentenburg’s journey to find his professional calling led him down a path that has helped thousands of others further their own careers. Along the way, he built a family enterprise. Four children are actively involved in the company and report to the COO in charge of day-to-day operation. Pentenburg also thinks of key executives as part of the family as he develops the next generation of leaders.

“We have a chat session with our internal team that we call the ‘whole family,’” he says. “This is our work family. I know some companies give that lip service, but it really is the way we operate and do business. I had a great experience growing up in a family environment, so no matter how big we get, I have the kind of relationship with all of the team where they know that we’re going to do our best to make sure they get out of this business what they want to get out of it. It’s a small family business that has gotten bigger. We treat people right, and it has served us well.”

Name: Tom Pentenburg
Title: Owner
Company: Pentenburg Search Group Inc.
No. of units: 21 Spherion Staffing Services
Age: 59
Family: Wife Elizabeth; 4 adult children, Anna, Molly, Marty, and Jack; 3 grandchildren with 1 on the way
Years in franchising: 15
Years in current position: 15

PERSONAL

First job: Like many, my first jobs were mowing lawns, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. My first real job was scooping ice cream at an ice cream parlor.

Formative influences/events: I would say having good role models like my dad and grandfather. We grew up in a very nurturing and faith-filled home. Our faith centered the world around us. Our parents were always great examples of excellent work ethic and the desire to do our best at whatever life had in store for us.

Key accomplishments: Building a strong marriage for 31-plus years and raising four children to be successful humans!

Biggest current challenge: Managing growth and changing economic conditions. Knowing when to hire and when to invest. It is a daily challenge to rally a team to respond appropriately to the business climate.

Next big goal: I want to develop our company’s next era of leaders. Our business has an excellent foundation for our leadership team to grow and flourish well into the future. We are a closely-held company with all our adult children involved and engaged along with some excellent top-level leaders. It is my goal to make sure that they all thrive from a career standpoint.

The first turning point in your career: After we opened the doors of our first unit, securing that first big order for a staffing need. What a thrill it was to see the business grow. Such a sense of accomplishment. 

Best business decision: Investing in Spherion was a great decision. It allowed me to take a franchise business model and scale it. The franchise models, if done correctly, should be repeatable. Spherion is just that and has enabled my franchise organization to add new units in new cities regularly. 

Hardest lesson learned: Always be prepared for a rainy day in business because rainy days will come. Don’t get too high when things are good, and don’t get too low when things are down.

Work week: I work a pretty traditional Monday through Friday except in the summer months. I try to slip some Friday “lake days” into my work routine. 

Exercise/workout: Chasing my grandsons.

Best advice you ever got: When you are in a business that provides a service, you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but never let anyone in that room out-work, out-hustle, or out-service you.

What’s your passion in business? For me, it’s building the teams that make up our company and seeing people grow in their careers. That is so fulfilling.

Guilty pleasure: Anything involving The Ohio State University football and basketball.

Favorite movie: “The Dirty Dozen.”

What did you want to be when you grew up? I grew up around, and worked for, some great business owners, and it always was a dream of mine to own my own business someday. I tell my own grown children and company leaders, “Manage and lead it like you own it, and someday, you just might.”

Last vacation: Traverse City and Petoskey, Michigan, in the fall. 

Person you’d most like to have lunch with: That’s easy. If I could turn back time, I would love to have lunch again with my dad, the older Tom Pentenburg. I would love to show him our company that he never got to see and seek his wisdom going forward.

MANAGEMENT

Business philosophy: People buy from those they trust, like, and respect. When you achieve all of these hard-to-acquire traits, you can create the magic of long and sustainable business relationships.

Management method or style: Hire great humans who are way smarter than me, teach them our business, create an accountability model for them, and then get out of their way.

Have you ever been in a mentor-mentee relationship? What did you learn? Yes, I think since my earliest days of work, I sought out those I could learn from and who were willing to share their knowledge with me. So, I have had many mentors in my life. I think the key is understanding that you really can learn from everyone you encounter in your work life. 

One thing you’re looking to do better: At this stage of my career, I get so much joy out of helping others succeed. I want to continue to find opportunities to help others achieve career success and to give back to those who have helped me along my career journey.

How close are you to operations? I am always an arm’s length away from where the action is happening—close enough to be a resource but far enough away to give my leadership team the autonomy to operate and make decisions.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? A great franchisor provides you with the definitions of the playing field in which you operate, such as business parameters and capabilities, and the support to help out when questions or problems arise.

What you need from vendors: Their product needs to meet all deliverables on time and on budget.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? The best example of this is the shift that has occurred since coming out of the pandemic. We used to have to market for candidates to work the jobs we had available; now we are marketing mainly for client companies to use the candidates we have in our database.

How is social media affecting your business? Today, most of our candidate attraction efforts happen using social media—almost exclusively, really. For the staffing industry, the days of thousands of outgoing phone calls weekly to attract candidates have given way to inbound calls and texts from interested people finding us through social media mentions.

Fastest way into your doghouse: Poor communication. Our business is so detail oriented that we must have great oral and written communication.

BOTTOM LINE

Annual revenue: More than $40 million for 2023.

2024 goals: To be known as the staffing and recruiting partner of choice for every market that we serve. To grow the number of lives we positively impact through employment. To create more opportunities for the professional growth and development of our internal team.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? The best measure for us is bottom-line growth. Revenue is great, but it really comes down to understanding how to manage the business to achieve profitable growth regardless of the revenue. As a business owner, you have to know your numbers.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years? In the next five years, I will be focusing on the leadership development of our team. At this stage of my career, it is about making sure we build a legacy that will last long after me.

Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? I am a one-brand guy, so I can focus my efforts on the industry I know best. 

How is the economy in your region(s) affecting you, your employees, your customers? This past year has been the most challenging year that we have been in business. Current U.S. economic conditions have impacted our industry greatly. Everyone is impacted, including our clients and our employees. The pressure of inflationary times has certainly made it more challenging. 

Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? It is a mixed bag right now. Some areas are seeing growth, and some are seeing economic decline.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? We have learned to pivot and make fast decisions or course corrections to react appropriately to changing economic conditions. In many ways, I think it has made us as a team nimbler and more aware of the changing business needs of our clients.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? Strong relationships with local banking partners in each local geography we serve.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? We are constantly evaluating compensation and benefit plans to match the needs of today’s employees. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution today.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? It is an increasing burden for sure. This requires our company leaders to get creative with how we utilize our team and get maximum value out of our benefit partners.

What laws and regulations are affecting your business, and how are you dealing with them? It has become increasingly important for our customers to know that we comply with all laws regarding employment in the areas we serve. That means we must be excellent at executing compliance.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Rewards for some come in the form of compensation increases, but we also offer opportunities for some team members to go on recognition trips based on their individual performances. 

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? This is a work in progress. We have a strong leadership team, and with family involved, that is helping me look to the future. Soon, the students will become the teachers, and when that day comes, I can plan a smooth transition and exit.

Published: March 9th, 2024

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