Contemporaries’ 20th Anniversary

by Mar 29, 2018

In 1998, the movie Titanic received the Oscar for Best Picture, Friends, Frasier, and ER were the top TV shows, a stamp cost 32 cents, and a gallon of gas, was slightly over a dollar. Bill Clinton was President, Paul Cellucci was the Governor of Massachusetts, and Thomas Menino was Boston’s Mayor, after running unopposed the year before.

Unemployment was down to 4.5% and it was the same year I decided to try and create a better model for temporary staffing, where candidates and clients would both succeed.

Today, as my Boston-based staffing firm, Contemporaries, Inc. celebrates its 20th successful year in operation, I think back on the reasons why I was compelled to start the business, as well as the many changes, milestones and successes that have occurred over the past two decades.

After working in HR, staffing and Labor Management for several years I decided that the present model, which was being used locally and nationally, wasn’t really creating the type of collective success I knew I could achieve.

Recruiters were rewarded for the amount of people they placed in jobs, rather than the quality of those placements. Candidates who sometimes were ill equipped for positions, and clients, who played a peripheral role describing little more than a job type, were often disappointed with the results.

I knew that with a more strategic and holistic method, I could do better. By taking a more interactive approach with potential employees and clients, I could create the type of scenario where candidates were placed in work settings where they could succeed. And, by learning more from clients, particularly about the work environment, my recruiters could better identify specific individuals who would excel in a particular position. That was when I decided to open the doors to Contemporaries, Inc., in 1998, in a 5th floor office, on Tremont Street in Boston.

As a woman business owner, it was not easy at first. I initially approached 10 people and asked them to invest in my dream and goal of delivering better results to both clients and candidates. All 10 potential investors turned me down. However, after the first year in business, with over a million in sales, nine of the original 10 wanted in. I turned them all down.

The hours were endless back in the early days, but the rewards, not just monetary, were well worth it. Whether it was helping young college graduates launch their careers and enter the working world for the first time, or assisting others who were reentering or changing careers, and helping to place them in jobs and environments where they could reach new milestones, broaden their horizons and receive the type of experience that would benefit them throughout the rest of their working lives.

Taking a more hands on approach with clients and really listening to their needs allowed Contemporaries to place individuals in jobs where they lasted much longer than other temps, and in many cases, led to many permanent placements.

Our objective wasn’t just to increase our workforce numbers. Instead, I wanted to create the type of model where everyone would win. Candidates would be placed in positions where they could excel, and clients would be paired with the right types of individuals who would not only meet, but exceed expectations.

Since the early days, Contemporaries has weathered several storms, such as the days when the national unemployment rate neared 10% in 2010, and prospered and thrived during the business boom era, which the Greater Boston area has enjoyed for most years.

Being a progressive throughout my adult life, I always wanted to offer something more, on a personal level. Contemporaries afforded me that opportunity as well. Whether it was providing my employees health insurance long before there was ever any mandate, and at a time when most similar organizations opted not to. And, even after the mandate was in place, many of these businesses chose instead to pay a fine, because it was a cheaper alternative. More recently, Contemporaries was also the first agency in Boston to offer workers a $15 an hour minimum wage. The pay rate was not a permanent end, but rather a better temporary living wage for candidates who could focus more on doing a good job and less on how to make ends meet. The present minimum wage, for a number of other organizations is still lower for many contract workers in Boston as well as the rest of the country. Turnover in these instances is also much higher, with work assignments resembling revolving doors rather than a first step to a quality future.

The staffing business itself and demand has also changed. During the early years, nearly all of the temps we placed were in administration positions. But, as time went on, and the area’s job market continued to diversify, so did the type of candidate demands we received. In addition to our signature administrative staff, Contemporaries also developed a reputation for providing top notch IT, finance, Creative Services, Events and Customer Services employees as well.

Our customers, which are located throughout the Greater Boston area, have also expanded from mainly medical, educational and business fields to government, non-profits, and hot new start-ups as well as enterprise organizations.

And while aspects of my firm have changed through time, to better accommodate clients and candidates evolving needs, my mission for helping people and providing a first class experience for both has remained steadfast.

I always thought that if I became successful, I would help other young entrepreneurs who also had business dreams of their own.

In 2016, I was able to fulfill that objective for giving back by founding a non-profit organization, Heartank (pronounced Heart tank), which provides seed money to deserving new or would-be entrepreneurs.

As a Boston native and local business owner, I found that one of the hardest parts of launching such a venture was obtaining the necessary initial funding to turn a dream into reality, or to expand on the dream once it was established. Heartank was created to fill in that gap.

Our first $10,000 award recipient was Collette Divitto, owner of Collettey’s Cookies’ in the North End of Boston. Collette, who was born with Downs Syndrome, had pounded the pavement daily in search of a job when she experienced firsthand, the types of obstacles
people with disabilities faced when trying to secure employment.

Rather than be deterred or feel defeated, Collette decided to open her own business, and build it up so she could hire employees with ‘different abilities’. She launched her business with her special signature treat, the Amazing Cookie, a mysterious blend of chocolate chips, cinnamon, and a secret recipe. In addition to meeting all the award criteria, Collette possessed the same work ethic, determination, and winning drive for success that I had possessed myself when I opened Contemporaries.

As I celebrate today, I am full of thanks and gratitude to the employees who helped make Contemporaries the quality agency it is today, and to my clients for believing in the firm and allowing me to give back to the community.

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