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SMALL BUSINESS | Enterprise Zone: Lessons and Insight
on Southland Businesses

A Staffing Software Firm Builds Its Resume

July 21, 1999|BARRY STAVRO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Staffing companies don't get paid until somebody shows up for work.

Filling jobs fast is the goal. And helping some of the nation's biggest staffing companies do this is an upstart Manhattan Beach software firm called PeopleMover Inc.

"These companies are in the just-in-time work force business," said Jim Jonassen, PeopleMover's chief executive. "But they leave open too many job orders."

One PeopleMover client is Modis Professional Services, which supplies technology wizards who can fix year 2000 problems and set up Internet pages. Modis' revenue tripled to $1.7 billion thanks to a three-year acquisition spree in which it absorbed 30 companies.

Its office network now has a dizzying array of files and software to match the right job candidates with clients. Sometimes a Modis recruiter has to call a sister office to ask if it has anyone to fill a certain job, because there's no systemwide sharing of up-to-date staffing information.

"You need to find someone with a particular job skill the best, fastest way," said Blair Smith, Modis' chief information officer.

So Modis is rolling out PeopleMover's software in some of its West Coast offices. "We can get to people faster, and it allows us to eliminate the unnecessary phone calls," Smith said.

PeopleMover exists because of the "free-agent economy," buzzspeak for the growing ranks of self-employed, temporary workers and independent contractors who add up to 17.6 million Americans. It's the aftermath of a decade-long trend of job outsourcing, aided by an increasingly mobile work force created by the diffusion of personal computers.

PeopleMover, which was launched just two years ago, has snagged three of the biggest staffing companies in the country as clients: Modis, Robert Half International and Norrell. It sold $3.4 million worth of goods and services in 1998, and Jonassen expects sales to double this year.

PeopleMover, which has 52 employees, doesn't compete in the field of resume-tracking Web pages. Rather, its software gives companies the tools to consolidate personnel information that's scattered around various databases.

Then, with a couple of mouse clicks, the software tracks who has started on a given job, what that job candidate's employment history is, how many people are on a project, where the project is, the expected revenue and when the worker's assignment is done. It facilitates the goal of reassigning workers to other posts as soon as possible.

PeopleMover's software "is more profound than just a job search. It allows companies to develop internally a reliable way to play the human resource issues," said Rohit Shukla, head of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance.

Peter Yessne, editor of the Staffing Industry Report newsletter, notes that big temporary-help staffing companies are feeling pressure to have more timely information. But instead of developing their own software, they turn to scores of small developers, including PeopleMover, to help manage the flow of workers.

Jonassen, 41, has been in the employment trade since the 1980s, when his other firm, Micro J Systems, developed software for small headhunter firms.

A few years ago, Norrell, a nationwide supplier of light-industrial, accounting and secretarial workers, came to Micro J for help. Norrell's biggest customers, IBM, MCI and UPS, wanted to make sure they were being charged uniform prices for the same jobs all over the country. Given that Norrell had 300 branch offices, both company-owned and franchises, it was a nightmare to assemble the information.

So Micro J developed a software program for Norrell to allow it to keep better records on temp workers and their assignments. Jonassen and others from Micro J later peeled off to turn PeopleMover into a separate business.

In the last year, Jonassen has raised $5 million from three venture capital firms that think they smell a winner. "PeopleMover is at the forefront of the free-agent economy," said Tony Hung, whose venture capital firm, Dynafund in Torrance, invested about $2 million in PeopleMover.

Another person betting on the firm's future is John Simonelli, 35, its new chief financial officer. He quit after four years at Walt Disney's corporate finance department in hopes of hitting a big payday at PeopleMover.

"There's a bunch of people flying out of Disney" to join start-ups, Simonelli said. "The [ultimate] payoff has to be financial freedom. The flexibility to do whatever the heck you want."

Simonelli was flooded with headhunter calls, including offers from Internet start-ups, but he worried that if the market for Internet stocks sinks, those firms "will go away in a heartbeat."

Instead, he latched onto Jonassen's idea of how PeopleMover's software can be expanded to work in the entertainment business.

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