Talk Story with Ben Godsey, President of ProService Hawaii
Godsey, 41, acquired ProService with Dustin Sellers in 2005, with both serving as co-presidents until Sellers left the company at the end of 2013. Born and raised in Ocean Springs, Miss., Godsey has worked on Wall Street and as a biologist studying rats in a Hawaii Island rain forest. He talks about the growth of the Hawaii Kai-based HR administration company.
ProService ranked 14th on Hawaii Business’ Top 250 in 2013 with $571 million in annual gross sales. That’s very impressive for a company of about 150 employees. How do you do it?
We are four times larger than we were when Dustin and I bought the business in 2005. We’ve had success because we don’t look at it as if we’ve already reached our destination. There’s a growing need for our service among small businesses here. And we believe we can continue to improve what we deliver to companies.
No matter how well we’re doing in our growth numbers in comparison with whoever people say our competitors are, we look at the market need and whether or not we’re doing everything we can to meet that. As long as we feel like there’s more to do, we’re going to work very hard to get better at it. And that has led to our growth.
Back when you and Sellers were researching a business to purchase, did you know how hot the HR administration industry would be?
Not at all. When we bought the business, the industry was called “employee leasing.” It was an industry where companies could hire a PEO (professional employer organization) to handle HR. But they didn’t really help clients become better businesses. It was an underserved industry that hadn’t reached its potential.
We had an opportunity to create a business that could give small businesses peace of mind by handling all their HR administration, benefits management, labor and compliance, training issues, and insurance needs. These are things that businesses don’t understand and don’t want to become experts on. By having us handle it, our clients can focus on their customers.
Would you say you are in a recession-proof industry?
Definitely not. Our business is a reflection of small business, which was hit very hard in the last recession. Two hundred of our 1,000 clients at the time went out of business. Almost all our remaining clients shrank. But, our business was able to grow during the recession because many businesses that weren’t our clients were trying to find ways to lower their costs and focus on customers. To do that, they became more open to hiring a company like us to take over their HR functions. We saw the recession coming, but, rather than cut back, we invested in service and innovation to provide companies with everything we could to make them successful. And we grew, as well.
You and Sellers bought the company together and led it as co-presidents. What does his departure mean for ProService?
Dustin has always viewed himself as an early-stage guy. Nobody can top him with regard to marketplace vision and product development. I learned so much from working with him. We wouldn’t be anywhere close to the business we have today if we hadn’t had his leadership and the co-president model.
Building the organization so that we thrive without him has been something we’ve worked on over the past few years so that this would be an easy transition for him and the company. But it will still be really difficult.
What do you offer your clients regarding the Affordable Care Act?
We’ve been working on the Affordable Care Act since it became law and we have a team of experts that knows all the details, what it takes to be compliant and what the options are for small businesses. We consult with our clients individually to help them make the right decisions for their business. We’re looking at rate structure, business size and potential for tax credits. There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation and lack of information out there because the law, literally, is being written week by week. All the regulations continue to pour out. The law is being built as it’s being executed.
ProService has offices on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island and two years ago you expanded to California. What are your plans for expansion?
Our plans for expansion are focused on growing our service locally in Hawaii. We are refocusing here. We still have the business in Agoura Hills (part of Los Angeles County), but as we evaluated it, the real opportunity for us to fulfill our mission is here. We have no plans for any further expansion outside of Hawaii and are not looking to expand in any significant way in California beyond what we have done.
We believe in trying things. We did that and it was harder than we thought. California is a different market where businesses will outgrow your services more quickly. If all Hawaii businesses had the services they needed, then we would reevaluate expansion, but we feel the needs of the Hawaii marketplace are growing right now.
(This interview was edited for clarity and conciseness.)