Teams have always played an important role in the life of CornerstonePEO’s president and CEO, Ron Hodge. From playing high school and college football to a brief stint in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants, to working with business partners, to partnering with his wife to raise their four children, to working with his CornerstonePEO team, which includes one of his best friends and one of his sons, to serving as vice chairman of the Board of Employee Leasing Companies, Hodge has a lifetime of experiences that demonstrate the many benefits of working as a team with valued partners.
“I started out working for a large national brokerage firm,” Ron says. “I spent seven or eight years with them and worked with a regional broker for a couple of years after that. I knew of the PEO industry back in the 1980s and started to get involved with the industry in the mid-1990s when I worked for a workers’ compensation provider. PEOs were very competitive, and we lost a lot of business to them.”
Hodge went on to work as a partner in an alternative risk and captive management firm.
“We specialized in providing large workers’ compensation products to all types of industries, such as nursing homes, fast food industries and construction,” Ron recalls, “and we regularly competed against PEOs in that venue. At that point, the industry was becoming more regulated, and I started to take a look at the services they offered and the overall PEO product. I decided years ago that I was going to start to work with PEOs.”
Hodge began placing some of his accounts with PEOs, including those that didn’t want to be in a captive insurance company or that didn’t have the financial assets for an alternative risk management product.
“By 2013, I was engaged with several different PEOs,” Ron says. “My business partner wanted to stay on the traditional side and I wanted to do more with PEOs, so there was an amicable separation. That is when I decided to move into the PEO industry.”
Hodge started out as a PEO broker placing business with multiple PEOs, but soon found himself gravitating to one PEO in particular. He purchased that book of business from the PEO’s owner and formed Cornerstone PEO in 2014. Cornerstone is a heterogeneous PEO with offices in Medford, New Jersey, Port St. Lucie, Florida, and Frisco, Texas. It serves a wide variety of industries, including nursing homes and restaurants, but Hodge says the PEO tends to attract more of the blue-collar industries such as contractors, warehouses and truck drivers. Cornerstone also specializes in agricultural business through CornerstoneAG, which is based in Sebring, Florida.
“Agricultural business is unique in and of itself, and so we specifically segregated it out to manage it,” Ron says. “We have bilingual (English/Spanish) employees who deal with the agricultural business in the middle of the state. H-2A* workers really depend on getting their paychecks. It’s nice when you can do something right for these folks and have them be able to see their families.”
Hodge sees great value in the PEO concept, and he takes great enjoyment in partnering with his clients to help them succeed.
“It gives you the ability to interact with your worksite clients,” Ron says, “and you provide a usable service for owners that allows them to prosper and to grow their business. The smaller companies out there, the 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-person operations, really depend on you. You actually become part of their overall business model. We’re not just used for our payroll services. We’re not just used for our workers’ compensation.”
Hodge says that in addition to helping workers and businesses, PEOs also support the overall economy of the state. He echoes Rick Morrison, executive director of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, saying, “When you have a PEO and you’re working really well in the state of Florida, you are helping the economy grow and you are doing some good things out there.”
He credits a good deal of CornerstonePEO’s successful growth to his team, which includes his friend of 20 years, Bill Eisenmann, who serves as an internal consultant, and Hodge’s son, Stephen, who joined the PEO about two years ago.
“Stephen has a master’s degree in mathematics, and he was working for a large banking firm on Wall Street,” Ron says with pride. “He saw we needed help, and he came in to run operations for us. That allows me to go out and grow the company. In two years our book has tripled in size to roughly 1,700 clients!”
As Cornerstone grows, Hodge says he plans to continue to expand the services his PEO provides to worksite employees.
“We want to make available, through our network, products such as personal automobile insurance and homeowners’ insurance, integrating ourselves into the fabric of the employees’ personal lives,” Ron explains. “We want to create a valuable service all the way down to the end employee.”