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By Roma Ihnatowycz

Bob Funk’s life story is not exactly a cookie-cutter example of someone seeking to build a billion-dollar company. After all, as a young theology student Funk once had his sights set on a very different future: that of a Methodist preacher. But the young theologian hedged his bets: he also studied business administration, graduating with a master’s in both disciplines.

Funk and a former colleague eventually went on to start up Express Employment Professionals in 1983. Three decades on, Express has 751 offices spread out across North America and does $3 billion in sales annually. Funk tells us about his humble beginnings and why he is passionate about the work Express Employment Professionals does.

How did you and your colleague develop Express Employment Professionals?

Funk started in an entry-level position at Acme Personnel Services in Seattle. “I started at $375 a month and after about six months, at the age of 25, I was made manager of the Seattle office. When I started at Acme, they had nine offices and I helped grow it to 84 locations.”

After the owner died, the company became mismanaged and eventually declared bankruptcy. With just $5,000 of his own in capital, Funk borrowed $150,000, and together with former Acme colleague William Stoller, started up Express Employment Professionals in the middle of the 1982 oil bust.

“I think every bank in Oklahoma City except one had declared bankruptcy, and the unemployment rate was 14 per cent. But we had the knowledge and experience to correct some of the mistakes that Acme had made. So we started over with basically six of our office managers and began selling the concept of probationary hiring and staffing.”

What aspect of your job/position do most enjoy?

“Being in the staffing industry, one of my responsibilities is to give hope and encouragement to every associate that would come in looking for a job and an opportunity. I took it as a ministry to help every person I possibly could.”

How do you select franchisees?

Franchisees are screened to ensure they have the right value system, work ethic and fit for the Express family environment. “It’s about the quality of our people and the vision of our leadership to help more people find meaningful work. It’s not financially driven.”

Moving forward, what will drive Express Employment Professionals future success?

“We would like to be larger in the professional arena. We only did $150 million in professional business last year out of $3 billion, and that’s not enough, in my mind. We need to do more in accounting and IT, to help companies find good people in those two disciplines. That’s going to be our focus.”

What do you love most about the brand?

“Our real function is to be in the ministry of helping people, giving them hope, encouragement and the opportunity toward upward mobility in their lives. Our franchisees understand that there is tremendous reward in caring for people and helping them in their personal lives to be successful. Our franchisees get that.”

Read more of Funk’s story in the January/February issue of FranchiseCanada, on newsstands now (click here for subscription info). Learn more about the Express Employment Professionals at The Franchise Show in Toronto on February 20 & 21 – click here to pre-register and get $5 off admission.