Kevin Ross is an entrepreneur who recently put his years of experience and varied skillset to work in a new PEO. He and business partner Todd Ruano opened Advantage Personnel Resources on January 1, 2017, with Ross serving as CEO and Ruano as president.
Like many PEO owners, Ross has a background in business that eventually led him to opening his PEO. After studying business at the University of Louisville, Ross entered the restaurant business, opening restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, and in Longboat Key and Fort Myers, Florida.
“I had three restaurants and I decided to sell,” Kevin says. “It wasn’t conducive for family life, so I wanted to change directions. Then I went to lunch with my insurance agent of the restaurant and we got to talking. He said, ‘Do you have any idea what you want to do after this?’ I said, ‘No. I have no clue.’ So we met a few more times and got acquainted at a deeper level. He was an insurance agent, but he also was dabbling in the PEO space in the early 2000s.”
Ross and his family made the move to Gainesville in order for Kevin’s wife to attend the University of Florida. After she graduated, she became a school teacher. Meanwhile, Ross and his first business partner, insurance agent Jeff Grube, opened a payroll services company and insurance agency in January 2001. Sadly, Grube passed away in July 2010.
“Jeff had passed away, so I just kept the progression going,” Ross recalls. “I developed a partnership with Todd Ruano, another local broker, and we added services by forming a background screening company and continued to develop additional offerings. In 2016, we decided to go ahead and do this. We already had the back of the house, and we were familiar with the taxes and that process, so on January 1, 2017, we opened up our first PEO. The rest is history.”
Ross says the decision to open a PEO was based on his belief that the industry is poised to continue growing. He notes the significant growth he has seen in PEO for small- to medium-sized businesses just since opening his own PEO.
“I consider myself forward-thinking,” Kevin says, “and I believe the PEO space is only going to grow. I don’t think employment’s ever going to go back to the way it was. There are a lot of contract workers, and workers are changing hand frequently, so I think you’re going to have a lot of smaller businesses. I think you’re going to have a lot of the five to 25, five to 30 person companies, and to me, the PEO solution is a great solution for them. It helps them stick to what it is they do best and allows others to assist them and grow their business, and you can see that from the numbers and the success.”
Ross says that the PEO solution appeals to a growing segment of society: people striking out on their own to build their own companies, and he sees limitless potential for PEOs to grow.
“The way our society is moving, people working for larger firms will be in the minority,” he says. “I think more people will forge out on their own with an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset, allowing them to build a secure future for themselves and their families. Our job will be to educate those entrepreneurs about the benefits and resources of utilizing a PEO and the advantages we as PEOs can offer.”
Asked about the threats to the PEO industry that can come along with rapid growth, Ross displayed his grasp of the political realities of the business world, mentioning the image PEOs can have when conventional businesses and regulators don’t understand how PEOs operate, but he remains optimistic.
“We need to be willing to regulate our industry without limiting the opportunities,” Kevin says. “I think the transparency we can provide by doing that allows us to become more of a credible industry as a whole instead of just being a payroll, a workers’ comp provider, or a commodities provider. I think it’s more important for us to start selling the services and the opportunities we provide for business owners.”
Since opening his own PEO, Ross sees other advantages to working within the PEO model, ones that appeal to his entrepreneurial nature.
“It’s ever-changing,” he states emphatically. I think there are constant challenges between labor laws, taxes, and the workers’ compensation system, and you’ll have a carrier in the market for three years and then all of a sudden that carrier may move out of the market and then you’ll have another carrier come in. There’s so much change, and I like trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together so we can provide the clients with the best product we can provide them, but also get the best support we can get on the backend from a software standpoint to a workers’ comp carrier and so on.”
Advantage Personnel Resources joined FAPEO in January 2019 after Ross and Ruano saw the value of being involved at the state level.
“We were members of NAPEO from the time we opened,” Ross says. “Then we got to talking with our attorney, Torben Madson, and he told us about FAPEO. Obviously, NAPEO’s very important, but FAPEO really affects us on a regular basis. I know there are prominent PEOs in Texas and California, but Florida is PEO; other states take our lead and model after our legislation. They learn from that. So I think what FAPEO does and what it provides us as a PEO is invaluable.”
Kevin and his wife have three young adult children, and the family enjoys spending time together and going to sporting events. Their teams are the University of Florida Gators and the Tampa Rays. But like most PEO owners, Ross says he loves his work.
“People laugh at me, but it’s the truth: I love the work. Yeah. I work 65 hours a week,” Ross says.