“Published in the Fall 2017 FAPEO Update Newsletter”
United Employee Services’ Chris Kenny got an early start in the PEO industry, while he was still in college. He says he came to the industry well prepared to provide excellent customer service because of the various jobs he had held prior to his first job in a PEO.
“Out of high school, I worked various jobs while attending school in Tallahassee,” Chris recalls. “I was in the management program for a national pizza delivery chain when I transferred from Tallahassee to Tampa. I also worked a few years for a family-owned telemarketing business. It was in these industries that I learned the value of listening to customers and maintaining a level of customer service that goes beyond expectations.”
Chris followed his heart from Tallahassee to Tampa, having met his future wife, Mikki, while working for the pizza chain.
“Mikki was finishing her education degree at the University of South Florida, so I thought it was a good idea to go back to school to get a degree in education as well,” Chris says. “While attending USF in 1997, I asked a friend of mine who owned a PEO here in Tampa for a part-time job. I took a job in the file room managing the records department and began to learn the business.”
Chris says that learning the industry from the file room up (“literally from the ground floor”) allowed him to see the importance of every department working together toward a common goal.
“In the PEO, all departments must be on the same page because changes affect everyone, most importantly the client,” he explains.
Chris joined United Employee Services in June 2012, when both he and the company were seeking new opportunities.
“The company’s founder and I were introduced via a benefits broker,” Chris says. “UES was looking for someone to run the daily operations, and I was looking to get back in the industry after a short stint away. Cherie Fretto, the company’s owner, and I sat and talked for a few hours about our philosophies and goals. The company was already established but was in need of a new start, which is something I really enjoy doing. In my previous positions at other PEOs, I was tasked with merging operations for various acquisitions and transitioning business to centralized locations. Cherie gave me the full autonomy to do what I thought needed to be done to right size the ship, which was very important to me. Looking back five years later, it was a great decision for both of us.”
When asked about what he enjoys most about the PEO industry, Chris shrugs and says somewhat apologetically, “Well, I have the same answer most people in our industry have, and that is I really enjoy that every day is different. You never know what opportunity or challenge is awaiting you when you pick up the phone. Our clients vary in size, industry, payment structures, benefit offerings, etc., and rarely are customers’ service calls identical. I really enjoy the diversity of what we as the PEO are faced with daily.”
Chris also enjoys working with business owners to create customized solutions that work for their company.
“We remain flexible enough to tailor service programs to fit a client’s specific needs,” he says.
As the chief operating officer of a smaller PEO, Chris has a unique take on what he sees as the growth opportunities for PEOs in today’s business climate.
“Over the past few years, we have relied on PEO and benefit brokers to supply business,” he says. “Although it was somewhat successful, we knew we could not depend solely on that model. We decided at the beginning of the year to add an internal sales force, and seeing the challenges they face daily has really been an eye-opener for me. I have always been entrenched on the operations side, so I rarely saw the sales process from beginning to end. We are now seeing the underwriting box loosen up a bit, which is HUGE for a PEO with a guaranteed cost policy, allowing us to compete against PEOs with large-deductible policies.”
UES is in the process of implementing a human resource outsourcing solution that can be replicated across many different industries, allowing the company to deliver services to clients who want upgraded technology, employee benefits and a strong corporate culture. Chris says this is allowing his PEO to align itself with strong, financially stable clients.
“Technology, benefits offering and customer service are services that are the rule rather than the exception in our industry, and we need to be able to adapt and change with our clients’ needs,” he says.
While Chris views the concept of PEO as “unquestionable,” he does acknowledge threats to the industry’s continued growth, in spite of the value PEOs bring to businesses and the economy.
“The real threats I see are the insurance industry and government regulations, both of which can be maintained and strengthened with continued cooperation with our industry leaders,” he says. “There are only a limited number of insurance carriers that are willing to write policies for PEOs, and if they were to go away, so would the industry. I think it is vital that our industry continue to work with the insurance industry to further our relationships for years to come.”
Chris views this cooperation and advocacy with the insurance industry as a key benefit that FAPEO provides its members, but he didn’t always believe this.
“To be honest, I didn’t think joining FAPEO was worth it at first,” he admits. “I could not have been more wrong. The insight that FAPEO has provided on legislation
has been extremely valuable in that it has opened my eyes to the importance of the role we (PEO operators) can all play in maintaining a voice for our industry.”
Chris credits FAPEO with keeping him informed on the important issues that affect his business and the entire PEO industry.
“FAPEO provides valuable and timely updates on cases that have a real and lasting effect on our industry,” he says. “I have become so accustomed to being informed that I did not truly realize the value of being a member until I communicated with other PEO operators who are not members, and they were not aware of topics that are happening within the industry. In the past, I would have also been in the dark.”
When Chris is not busy at work, he enjoys family time with Mikki and their daughter, Emilee, along with extended family.
“I recently celebrated my 20th wedding anniversary with my wife, Mikki, and we have a wonderful 15-year-old daughter, Emilee. I am blessed to have my three siblings, along with my parents, all living in the Tampa Bay area, and spending time with family is very important to us,” he says. “Mikki, Emilee and I enjoy day trips to Disney, going to movies and the beach, along with vacationing when we can. We just recently returned from a two-week trip to Alaska, which was phenomenal. Other than that, if I’m not at work or home, you can find me at the golf course. I probably spend too much time playing the most frustrating, rewarding game ever invented.”