“Published in the Spring 2016 FAPEO Update Newsletter”
Doug Lowery is president of Harbor America Holdings, Inc., a holding company for several professional employer organizations. He has viewed the world of business from several vantage points over the course of his career. He has spent 37 years in executive management conceptualizing, developing and directing major corporations. For 26 years he has been actively involved in the insurance industry and insurance-related services. He founded Harbor America in 2002 with a team of managers combining over 100 years of collective experience in workers’ compensation, risk management, payroll and human resources compliance. The company has since expanded to provide services coast to coast for approximately 600 clients and counting.
Early in his career, Doug saw the need for comprehensive business and risk management solutions for small business owners. Harbor America was created to fulfill that need and has adapted from serving predominately blue-collar clients to implementing the tools and services for the gray- and white-collar markets as well. Perhaps more important, he says, is that the entire management team believes in the importance of the American worker. Part of the company’s overall mission is to serve and support these employees by working with their day-to-day employers to provide benefits, services and support, resulting in better places to work.
While pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree from East Tennessee State University, Doug worked for Federal Express. Shortly after graduating, Doug found his first career position through a personal contact.
“Shortly after I graduated college, a former Sunday school teacher of mine started a transportation company,” Doug recalls. “He called and asked me for some logistics on how to start the business, so I helped him with that. He called me back a few weeks later and offered me a job. I was in the transportation business for about 12 years before I got into the PEO business.”
Doug began his tenure with General Transport Services as a specialist in startup operations. After opening and developing 15 offices for General Transport, he was promoted to general manager of the company’s two largest offices. This experience gave him firsthand knowledge of operations and human resources, providing him skills he would take with him into the PEO world.
In 1989, Business Staffing, Inc., recruited Doug to develop sales and marketing strategies for the company. Again this came by way of a personal connection.
“When I was still in transportation, my wife and I were out walking one night and a neighbor started talking to us,” Doug says. “He was trying to make a sales call on me, and I was intrigued by it. So he came down to my office and made a presentation about his PEO. A few weeks later this gentleman called me to offer me a position as a sales leader for his company. I have been in the PEO business ever since.”
Using the strategies Doug put into place for Business Staffing, the company went from $37 million to over $200 million in annual sales. In 1991, Doug was promoted to regional vice president, responsible for all operations for the company’s Gulf Coast region.
About eight years later, in 1997, Doug became president of AeroStaff Services, which in 2002 became Harbor America. Harbor America began its operations in the great state of Texas, but it wasn’t long before the company expanded into Florida.
“We were operating strictly in Texas when we first opened back in February 1997,” Doug says, “and we heard such good things about Florida being the ‘hot bed’ of PEOs. We did not know anyone down there, but we went in with two-man teams at a time and built our business from scratch. We went from not knowing a soul in the Sunshine State to Florida being a main place of our business.”
Harbor America used a balanced strategy to grow its business. Doug explains: “Part of the strategy was that each region would help balance the other when one might be struggling. Florida was part of that development. We wanted to open the PEO because I thought it was the best tool for a small business because it lets the clients focus on profitability while we do the back office compliance, safety and risk management, and give our clients the buying power that they are unable to do individually.”
Doug views small businesses as the backbone of the U.S. economy, and he is proud of Harbor America’s role in supporting this economic driver.
“Freeing up their human capital to focus on their product offering and profitability while we do the nonproductive part of their business so they can focus on making money is very satisfying in helping the small business community within the United States,” he says.
Doug notes the diversity of the PEO industry and the impact that technology has had on the ability of PEOs to grow.
“I really believe the sky is the limit,” he says. “I think we’re getting more technologically savvy, and so I believe that PEOs can grow within all segments of the economy. Historically they have been more blue collar, but I believe this is changing. The growth opportunities are really only limited by your imagination to view the possibilities.”
Amid the many possibilities and the positive outlook for the PEO industry are concerns about regulations and interactions with the insurance industry. While they provide great opportunities for PEOs, certain actions or provisions could be harmful.
“We are always concerned about the politicians putting some sort of regulation on our industry,” Doug says. “Insurance companies can make it very difficult; they have been known to be adversarial at times with our industry. So the things we have to watch are the politicians and the health, workers’ comp and property/casualty providers that our industry utilizes. I like the fact that FAPEO is a strong lobby in Tallahassee for our industry. They are in tune to helping our industry, and they are a well of information for the industry going forward.”
Harbor America is a large PEO, but it is still a family business at heart. In fact, Doug’s two children are active in the company. Heather Lowery is Harbor’s marketing administrator. She works in the corporate office in Porter, Texas. Roman Lowery is a field service representative in Florida.
When he isn’t busy running Harbor America, Doug enjoys reading, watching sports, fishing and being outdoors in general. He and Kay, his wife of 35 years, escape to their ranch in Uvalde, Texas, as often as they can. They are also active in their community, contributing their time as well as financial assistance to several charitable organizations.
“We do quarterly clothing and food drives that benefit our community,” Doug says. “We did a Thanksgiving food drive where our employees were able to donate five full bins of wanted food to a nearby facility called Humble Area Assistance Ministries (HAAM). Harbor gave $100 per bin totaling a $500 cash donation on top of the food we collected.”
Harbor America is the title sponsor for an event called the Texas Music Throwdown, a concert from which all proceeds are donated to Heroes On The Water (HOW).
“This program allows warriors and veterans from all branches of the United States military to unwind, using the therapeutic qualities of fishing from kayaks,” Doug explains. “We put in about $30,000 to the concert each year. This is the largest community event that we invest in.”
Reflecting the diversity of the PEO industry, Harbor America contributes to a variety of good causes. Doug describes the unique way the company supports students and families in crisis:
“Every year we purchase a blue ribbon farm animal to support continuing education and scholarship funds for high school students. After we purchase the animal and get it processed into meat, we then donate the meat to the FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center. FamilyTime’s vision is to advocate for women, men and children in crisis situations. Services include counseling, case management, assistance with legal matters and shelter from an abusive situation.”
Harbor America is an integral part of American small businesses and a welcome member of each community in which it operates.