2019 marks Synergy’s 30th anniversary. For the past 3 decades, the Synergy team has been providing Professional Employer and Human Capital Management services to businesses all over the Chicagoland and surrounding areas. To say that the PEO industry has evolved since Synergy first opened its doors would be a gross understatement. The digital age has completely revamped the entire landscape, with technology and innovation becoming ingrained in nearly everything that PEOs do today. So that begs the question, how has Synergy been able to remain a leader in the market over all of these years? We sat down with the man who started it all to find out. Here’s Synergy’s story, through the eyes of Founder and Chairman of the Board Jon Skulborstad.
In the late 80s, Jon’s life was that of many 20-somethings. His first child was on the way, plus he was working in a job that he didn’t love (to say the least). At the time, Jon had just gotten into the staffing industry, but it didn’t take long before he was tired of the cyclical nature of it. His workload was volatile, making his revenue stream inconsistent – which was definitely not ideal for an expectant father. This instability inspired Jon to do some digging on what he then referred to as the employee leasing industry.
At the tail-end of the 70s, the employee leasing industry was created to offer long-term outsourcing services to companies. Small organizations capitalized on the opportunity to relieve their time-consuming administrative functions and guarantee government compliance, causing the market for these services to rapidly grow. As the industry flourished, Jon saw potential for long-term success and, after attending a conference in California, began raising capital for his own business. Thus, Synergy was born.
The first few years at Synergy were stressful ones for the founder – he was determined to stay out of debt and instead find investors to back his project. With the help of his brother Dennis, Jon was able to assemble a board of directors and shareholders comprised of successful business professionals throughout the Chicagoland area. Over the years, this board and Dennis have made countless integral contributions to Synergy, allowing the organization to prosper and even survive the Great Recession of the late 2000s.
Outside of finding funding, hiring employees was another complicated task; computers had just begun to enter the workplace and the internet was still in its infancy. At the time, Jon was juggling every aspect of the company’s operation – financing, selling, training, hiring, you name it. 75% of his time during Synergy’s first seven years was strictly spent on keeping the business afloat. Luckily, it was during that period that he uncovered what would become the secret to Synergy’s success.
Before tech reigned supreme, Synergy was entirely dependent on finding knowledgeable HR professionals to support its clients. The challenge was that most of these educated individuals already had roles working in-house at larger corporations. With this in mind, the Synergy team developed a unique approach entitled the Human Resources Field Representatives Program. They placed their focus on finding trained HR generalists who were career-minded, but also wanted the flexibility to be able to raise a family.
With this method, Jon was able to quickly find employees who were drawn to the autonomy provided them in their new role. The members of the program visited clients on-site often to meet systems standards and build rapport. Otherwise, they were only required to check-in at the Synergy office two days a week, working a majority of their hours at home. With this unique solution, Synergy was able to uncover highly-educated employees and quickly form a nexus with clients.
Furthermore, this led Synergy to uphold a standard of excellence for their employees – they only sought out high-caliber individuals who were dedicated to meeting and exceeding service needs. From top to bottom, Synergy hired dedicated professionals whose strong work ethics were evident in all that they did, causing the company to flourish.
Fast forward to today. These workers have been paramount to the longevity and expansion of Synergy. While Synergy’s processes have completely evolved to keep up with the current industry landscape, that core foundation of personalization and honesty has persevered. Jon consistently attributes the success and longevity of Synergy to the outstanding professionals that they’ve hired and retained over the years. He believes their emphasis on personal touch and building individual relationships is the reason Synergy has been able to preserve so many clients over the years.
Jon stepped down as President just two years ago in May of 2016, passing the torch to current Synergy President Mike Harrington. Mike has been instrumental in the hiring and management of Synergy team members and is one of the longest tenured Synergy employees. Since Mike has taken the reigns, Jon sits as the chairman of the board that he assembled all of those years ago.
“I never aspired to be the largest,” Jon shared. “I’ve simply wanted Synergy to be recognized as a high-end service provider; someone that companies could count on, believe in, and trust.”