- December 30, 2021
When Robert Hensley originally joined Integrity Employee Leasing, he didn’t necessarily think he would stay at the Charlotte County-based firm, which does outsourced human resources and related tasks for clients, for the long haul.
“It was a move I made when I came back to the Punta Gorda area,” says Hensley, who’d previously worked as a consultant with Gerson Lehrman Group and as president of operations for a franchisee of Dunkin’ Donuts. “But I fell in love with the business.”
‘Owners of young businesses tend to hire people more like themselves because it’s comfortable for them, when that is always the biggest mistake you can make. You want to surround yourself with people with like beliefs but different skill sets, because that’s what makes an organization strong.’ Robert Hensley, Integrity Employee Leasing
In fall 2021, he was named CEO of Punta Gorda-based Integrity Employee Leasing, after serving as president for four years. That move was part of a planned-out exit strategy for company founder Tom Natoli. “He was wanting to leave his baby, if you will,” says Hensley, 51. “And I’m proud that he would trust me with that baby.”
And that baby has been going through a definite growth spurt. Integrity has clients in 18 states and serves more than 15,000 leased employees. Hensley says the company has been on a growth trajectory of between 19% and 23% over the last several months when it comes to gross payroll, and he expects the firm to surpass $250 million in managed payroll by mid-2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the current political and regulatory climates have helped drive that growth. “Growing business owners need us now more than they ever did,” says Hensley.
From workers’ comp and OSHA compliance issues to help with hiring, there are lots of reasons companies see the value of working with a PEO like Integrity Employee Leasing. A PEO is an organization that provides comprehensive HR solutions for small and mid-sized businesses, including payroll, benefits and tax administration services. Integrity also recently added bookkeeping services for clients after seeing a need there.
Companies benefit by letting a PEO handle back-office functions so they can focus on their core business. And Hensley knows of what he speaks — he was an Integrity client before joining the company.
Over the last year, Integrity has helped clients navigate things like COVID-19 related workers’ comp claims and the employee retention tax credit being offered by the federal government. “Our clients were just uninformed about what they could be getting [through the ERC],” says Hensley. “So we’ve been helping clients to apply to get the ERC credit…It’s more work for us, but we’re still getting that done and will continue to get that done through the remainder of this year.”
To assist clients with the staffing difficulties so many businesses are facing, Integrity has been focusing on strategies like employee retention. Integrity also advises clients to take a hard look at their hiring practices, especially if they’re a business that’s only been around for a short time.
“When you’re a small business, the entrepreneur has to slow down, make time and make sure the person staring across the table from them is the person they want in their organization,” he says. “Owners of young businesses tend to hire people more like themselves because it’s comfortable for them, when that is always the biggest mistake you can make. You want to surround yourself with people with like beliefs but different skill sets, because that’s what makes an organization strong.”
Integrity recommends that clients have an employee handbook in place both for hiring purposes and for dealing with legal issues should they arise. “With the litigious nature of employment throughout the country, if you don’t have those safeguards in place, you’re going to get taken to the bank pretty badly,” says Hensley. “Employers need to have a defensive posture.”
As Hensley looks into 2022 and beyond, he sees continued growth for Integrity. After a pandemic-driven pause, the company will be refocusing on its regional office in Knoxville, Tennessee, to help drive further expansion into that part of the country. He also expects to see major market consolidation in many industries, including the PEO space.
“One of my goals is mergers and acquisitions,” he says. “I think a lot of [PEO] owners are getting to the ends of their careers, similar to what Tom was doing, but they have a viable business. My goal is to bring in two or three of those organizations over the next several years to grow Integrity in that fashion.”
He also plans to get out on the road in 2022 to further develop the company’s relationships with its existing clients. “Business owners need a confidant or sounding board,” says Hensley. “I’ve made every mistake I don’t want them to make. So my goal into next year is to develop more of those relationships with clients that really need that.”
In 2021, many companies discovered new ways to adjust to the pandemic. These nimble entrepreneurs believe that know-how — and guts — will be a key factor for continued success in 2022. Click the links below to read more about the Business Observer's 2021 newsmakers.