Industry Spotlight | Michele Massaro- COO at Abacus – Navigating Staffing Challenges, Solutions, Technology, and Growth

The full desk experience highlights navigating staffing challenges, solutions, technology and growth.

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Show notes

On this episode of Industry Spotlight, we have a very special guest joining us: Michele Massaro, the Chief Operating Officer at Abacus Corporation. Michele brings with her over 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, and she’s here to share her insights, knowledge, and industry updates with all of us.

In this episode, Michele discusses innovative strategies and support. She emphasizes the importance of talent retention, staff redeployment, and providing a stellar experience for contingent workers. We dive into a case study highlighting the impact of cleaning up job orders and the successful offsetting of declining sales through direct hire revenue.

Our conversation also delves into the challenges and evolving nature of the staffing industry, including legislative changes, market demands, and internal adaptability. Together, we explore the concept of being a one-stop shop for clients and how staffing firms can redefine their role to provide solutions for both direct hires and contingent staffing. We also touch on technology challenges, the need for digital transformation, and staying ahead of the curve in an ever-changing landscape.


Michele Massaro [00:00:00]:

Again, that engagement interaction, AI is never.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:03]:

Going to replace that.

Michele Massaro [00:00:04]:

I say that at least not until I’m out of the industry, then it can do what it wants. But I could say right now, the people that we’re working with, the people that you’re interacting with, they are motivated by having some real engagement.

Kortney Harmon [00:00:18]:

Hi, I’m Kortney Harmon, Staffing and Recruiting industry principal at Crelate. This is the full desk experiences industry Spotlight series where we are talking with the top leaders and influencers who are shaping the talent industry. In this series, we’ll be shining a light on popular trends, the latest news and the stories that laid the groundwork for their success. Welcome back to another episode of the full Desk Experience Industry Spotlight. I’m your host, Courtney Harmon. And today we’re shining the spotlight on Michele Massaro, Chief Operating officer at Abacus Corporation, a leading organization in the staff augmentation solutions arena. With over 30 years of experience in the staffing and recruiting industry, Michelle really brings a wealth of knowledge and innovation and perspective. As COO of Abacus, she oversees strategy and operations for a 75 plus, nearly 80 year old organization.

Kortney Harmon [00:01:23]:

And Michelle has really, truly guided through rapid change market conditions, evolving their service offerings and focusing on sustainable workforce solutions for clients. Prior to her current role, Michelle served as Chief strategy Officer and Vice President before joining over 16 years ago. Michelle really gained key insights into the industry as vice president of Caliper. Is that correct?

Michele Massaro [00:01:49]:

That is correct, yeah. Amazing.

Kortney Harmon [00:01:51]:

So in our conversation today, Michelle is going to share her approach to leadership during challenging times, shifting markets and decisions now with what they’re experiencing, strategies for scaling, and what the future of our industry might look like. So with decades of experience under her belt, Michelle has a unique viewpoint on the past, present and future of staffing and recruiting. So I’m looking forward to sharing her with you and really providing inspiring information and discussion about the perspective through disruptive change and putting people first. So please join me in welcoming Michelle to the full desk experience. So thank you so much for joining us. Michelle, give our listeners a deep dive into you and we’ll go into your organization next.

Michele Massaro [00:02:38]:

Okay. Well, it’s great to see you again, Kortney. It was kind of fun meeting you back at ASA. Right? That’s how we met the staffing world convention. That was really cool. So, yeah, I’ve been in staffing for over 30 years and we have a new hire program that we set up with our new staff members. They talk about how you get into staffing, right? So I think many people don’t say I’m going to join the staffing industry. I think you kind of find your way into it.

Michele Massaro [00:03:01]:

And I found my way into it. I was a job seeker 30 years ago, and I know I shared that story with you. I was looking for a job, had just relocated out of. I was living, born and raised in Philadelphia, moved down to Virginia and was looking for a job. And back then it was before Internet. And you found a job through the classified section of the newspaper. Right. So I went into the newspaper, went through, was looking for a job.

Michele Massaro [00:03:25]:

I had done payroll with a company in Philadelphia. So I was looking under the P’s, right? That’s where you started. Nothing under payroll, but I saw something under personnel. Assistant thought, well, it’s got to be related to something with people. So I called the number. It was a staffing company, Temporary health company, as it was known at the time, called. And I was told that the position was filled and the person hung up on me. And so I was kind of fascinated by that.

Michele Massaro [00:03:49]:

I’m like, well, if you’re a staffing company or temporary health company, wouldn’t you need people like me to call in and look for a job? So I went down to that company and walked in and asked why they didn’t consider inviting me in. Right. To apply for a job at that time. And I was told the position was filled. We had a little conversation. Her boss overheard the discussion and I got a job. And that was the front desk coordinator and staffing company 32 years ago. So that’s how I got started and have recognized and touched just about every role, from being a recruiter and staffing coordinator to developing sales and business, new business, to even really the back office.

Michele Massaro [00:04:26]:

Right. Learning a lot about the financial and workers comp and risk and safety and all of that. So kind of taking all that experience. I was with Caliper for about 15 years, and then I came over here to Abacus. And it’s not Abacus or Abacus. It is abacus.

Kortney Harmon [00:04:43]:

Thank you for the clarification.

Michele Massaro [00:04:45]:

It is. I said, don’t ask me why, but that’s what we’re very proud of. That we are. We’ll be 80 net celebrate our 80th year in continuous operation in 2024. Same family has owned us, which has been pretty impressive and cool. Fourth generation coming up. So that’s been very interesting to see that dynamic. And I’ve always worked for family owned businesses, and I just can’t imagine being in a different environment.

Michele Massaro [00:05:10]:

I appreciate certainly a lot of the colleagues I’ve met over the years that work for larger corporate organizations, global organizations. But I think there’s nothing that replaces the kind of freedom and flexibility of a family owned company. So that’s who I am. And again, started, as you mentioned, in sales and as a clients relationship or strategic relationship manager, which is essentially sales and business development. Heavily leaned on my operations experience, too, when I came to the company, because at that point, we were basically a mid Atlantic regional staffing provider, and quickly ramped, and we ramped in an interesting time. You talk about the economy today. So I came here in 2008. 2008 was not the best time in the economy.

Michele Massaro [00:05:55]:

Right. But we were able to, and I cried a lot to our leadership and ownership at the time was be very flexible and be very aggressive to go out there and try to pursue different markets that while the economy was not great, there were certain industries that were still needed people. Right. So we were able to kind of jump into them and grew very quickly. And in the 16 years, we’ve grown from just mid Atlantic to considered a national staffing provider. And we’re in 23 states today in about 40 markets, so have grown considerably, and that’s kind of who we are and who I am.

Kortney Harmon [00:06:28]:

How many offices in those 23 states today?

Michele Massaro [00:06:31]:

I think we have, like 32 operations across the states. The 23 states, yeah. So some multiple brick and mortar operations, some that are kind of recruiting hubs where we might work with at a shared client location. So it’s a little bit of both. But staff members, we put out about 27,000 W two s a year and have about 200 staff members.

Kortney Harmon [00:06:54]:

Yeah, that’s amazing. Talk to me about the industries that you serve. I know that’s very vast, but talk to me about what specifically you serve and what audience you speak to.

Michele Massaro [00:07:02]:

Yeah. So Abacus has done a little bit of everything, right. So we’re kind of known as that general staffing, kind of redefine ourselves as we need to, as we talk about pivoting. Right. Quickly started heavily in the light industrial space, did a lot of work with e commerce customers, but before even e commerce, just the warehousing and distribution world. Right. Did a lot of things. In fact, we were way back in the day, our chairman, he had worked with FILA, the shoe company from Italy, to bring the FILA distribution centers here to Baltimore.

Michele Massaro [00:07:32]:

So he got involved in that. And at that time, we were just really providing security. And he’s like, well, for staffing, for security, why can’t we staff for warehouse workers? So we started staffing in that warehouse environment, got really kind of a reputation for that. But we also do a lot of work in the public sector space. We have contracts with different municipalities, some statewide contracts too. And those contracts have us recruiting kind of across classifications. Right. We do everything from administrative to some skilled positions, maintenance technicians to even accounting and finance positions.

Michele Massaro [00:08:05]:

So that’s kind of really taken us all over the place. And then probably about, I guess about ten years ago, we got into the medical staffing arena with some public sector opportunities and then really heated up during COVID we had a lot of business, not only clinical business, but also non clinical support business for the COVID initiatives that were out there. So it’s kind of how we’ve support. And still today, light industrial and manufacturing is growing for us as well.

Kortney Harmon [00:08:34]:

I love to hear that. And I’m sure we’re going to get into probably a little bit deeper into the discussions on what’s growing, how you’re changing pivot prior to this conversation. And I think even this conversation that we’ve started to have is a little bit different than what we had just a few weeks ago at staffing World to a smitch. And it is fast environment and it’s really about adjusting. How are we changing? How are we growing? What are we learning? So with that being said, I know as we had the conversation, I think some themes that I heard or I have been hearing over the last few weeks post staffing world is really a few things I’ve heard. Sales is something that we probably just aren’t beefed up on enough because it’s not a muscle that we’ve had to use. I’ve been hearing this for the last year. We haven’t had to use it.

Kortney Harmon [00:09:20]:

So it’s a use it or lose it, you have to build up that muscle again. But I’ve also been hearing something about a talent gap, as we say that, but it’s really like boomers are retiring in record numbers and generational. We have people that are thinking of gig or fractional work or it’s being creative for our clients to offer different help whenever. That talent gap is probably only going.

Michele Massaro [00:09:41]:

To get bigger as we go through this because the jobs report shows that.

Kortney Harmon [00:09:45]:

There’S just not enough people for the amount of jobs that we have open today. So with that being said, what are you seeing within your sectors and the markets that you guys serve today? Are any of those things or completely different? Well, no.

Michele Massaro [00:09:56]:

I think you hit on sales, right? At ASA, we saw a lot of focus. They had a lot of different sessions running. The most highly attended sessions were sales related right. And I think you’re right in hindsight, and it’s always 2020. And in 2020, when everybody, there was such a shortage of labor that we never stopped. I never shut an office down unless I had to because there was some sort of mandate to do it. But we continued to operate at a really rigorous pace and primarily for the ecommerce business. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:10:25]:

Because you had all these different. It’s kind of the perfect storm, as they say, or you had people staying at home, but they were not feeling a financial impact of that because there was a lot of disposable revenue coming in different directions for people. And so the appetite to spend was there at a rate that we hadn’t seen in a few years. And then you had facilities that people were sick. Right. Whatever you thought, there were people that were really affected by it. So we were so busy. And the pillar of how we built our business, we are 100% organic growth.

Michele Massaro [00:10:57]:

So we’re not a company that has grown through acquisition or mergers or anything like that. So our strategy has been to really focus on the needs of the key customers we had. And because labor shortages were so substantial that we had to really focus on. We can’t have 50 different customers. We have to have five customers that we focus on to get them the headcount that they need to sustain with retention and to really keep the operation going for them. So at one point, I’ll be honest, in one of our sales meetings, I think it was said, like, stop selling, guys, because we have to service these customers. And of course, again, at that time, we would have signed up that 30 other customers are begging for people. We would probably be in a better position than we are today because we’d have maybe 50% of the volume, but with 30 more customers.

Michele Massaro [00:11:46]:

Right. So you really had to look at that and say, we should have signed some of those. Some maybe not, but should have signed up more customers, should have been a little more aggressive on the sales side of things. And really, I know, at least for us, we felt coming off of 21, it was our biggest year, volume wise, in the company’s history. We were a little slow because we came onto a strong 2022, and then all of a sudden, it really started to drop. Right. And by probably June of 2022, I had many conversations with our CFO and our owners and said, the question was, hey, Michelle, is it coming back around? I’m like, yeah, I don’t think so. I think we have to pivot here quickly.

Michele Massaro [00:12:29]:

And so what we did at that point was look at the talent pool that we had recognized that some of the business, the industries that we were really focused on were not going to come back around. Right. They were continuing to hold off on making any hiring decisions. Typically, when you’re dealing with ecommerce customers, you’re starting to have conversations about peaks in June and July. We’re not having the same conversations. So we really said, let’s look at the skill sets that we have and in the light industrial space, but in other areas, too. And let’s try to find ways to redeploy this talent in other industries. And so that’s when we start really leaning on manufacturing.

Michele Massaro [00:13:05]:

We had touched more manufacturing during COVID We had a lot of indirect support with some of our warehouse customers, but we started to build some direct relationships there and focused on healthcare, manufacturing, and some other key areas that were a little bit more resilient to a little more recession proof, I guess. And the other thing, too is public sector work. We saw a drive a lot of public sector organizations, whether it’s statewide organizations or local organizations, they were trying to bring people back into the workforce, coming back to the office, and they didn’t want to come back. And so they’re left a kind of a gap of talent. So we were able to kind of capitalize on that and fill a lot of those voids of people that just were not coming Back into the workforce to the physical places. So that’s how we kind of pivoted in a strategy.

Kortney Harmon [00:13:51]:

But it’s definitely been different.

Michele Massaro [00:13:53]:

Right. This has been a very different year. Last time I think I experienced this was probably about 2007, eight period. So it’s been a while.

Kortney Harmon [00:14:02]:

How is this one different than it was in 2008?

Michele Massaro [00:14:06]:

So I think what’s different is that we’re all kind of like, stuck, right? So you talk about talent gap, right. There’s still more jobs than people. Right. And people are, and especially when you’re talking again, because I said we’ve advanced our talent base to be some skilled positions, even getting into manufacturing, high end manufacturing positions. There’s a reluctance to leave a job for another job because it’s kind of the devil, you know, versus the devil you don’t. So it’s harder to attract people. And so when you’re trying to recruit, you’ve got that reluctance to. I’m going to hang here because I know what I’m in right now may not be the best, but at least I have some stability.

Michele Massaro [00:14:44]:

If I move to another company and something changes, then I might be out of a job. Right. And it may take me a long time to get back to my kind of financial compensation goals. So it’s complicated from that perspective. And then I think you hit another side. The labor gap is still so significant. In 2007, when stuff started going south, you started to see an increasing unemployment rate. The labor pool was starting to loosen up a lot more quickly, but we’re not seeing that, and I think that that’s really unusual.

Michele Massaro [00:15:15]:

So when you get an order now or you get 100 orders, whatever it is, the talent pool is not readily available. And then you’re trying to pull people that may be passively looking for a job or reluctantly looking for a job because of they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, I guess. Does that make sense?

Kortney Harmon [00:15:32]:

That makes complete sense. A lot of the conversations and were you at thrive or.

Michele Massaro [00:15:36]:

No, I did not make thrive. I wish it would have been. Next year, I’ll be at thrive for sure. Yeah, next year.

Kortney Harmon [00:15:41]:

I’ll see you there next year. I’ll remind you to get your ticket. Remind me that one, one of the conversations that they had at Mom’s first discussion, and I know this is just, we’re pulling into a different pool of workers because let’s. The whole concept of working is not conducive for those mothers that have children, because our workday is eight to five, our children’s work days are nine to three. Right, right. There were some people, and I guess I’m just throwing this out there of maybe what your thoughts are. Have you come up with any creative solutions for your clients of, hey, maybe we change a shift, or maybe we go to a different dynamic for let’s bring in moms, it’s a nine to two shift. Or are you doing anything creatively with, like, and you mentioned pivoting.

Kortney Harmon [00:16:24]:

Are you doing anything creatively with your clients today to maybe give good insight as a consultant, to say, you’re going to get different talent if you do this 100%?

Michele Massaro [00:16:32]:

And it’s funny, we’ve talked a lot about the underutilized workforce, the people that want a job, they need a job, but figuring out how to prioritize a job with their own work life balance is pretty tough. Right. And that’s whether it’s moms or there’s just a whole different way of thinking about work. Right. So even before this, when we started to see opportunities, probably, I’d say in the last five or six years, as labor markets started to tighten up. Right. Even before COVID you were seeing it’s definitely a tightening labor market, and you were seeing wages increase at a pretty fair pace year over year, looking at whatever that underutilized community is. And it can be moms we’ve worked with, certainly organizations that support people with disabilities, helping them to find jobs.

Michele Massaro [00:17:22]:

And I had a great example, one of my customers up in Pennsylvania, where it’s a production line. So the production line, there’s a number of pieces that have to go out every single day. And as long as it’s a predictable amount flow, we were able to work with an organization to bring folks in that didn’t necessarily could not work and could assimilate well into a primary large production environment. But if we set a production line up for this group separately, with some considerations, they could be effective, and we found that that’d be a very effective solution for them and ended up having five lines that were able to operate at a different pace. But it worked. And we had some job coaches and it kind of came together nicely. And then, of course, when you talk about people that have life issues that outweigh their ability to work, a schedule is setting up part time schedules, right? If I have to send product out or I have to manufacture in certain environments, it will work. Or if job sharing, job sharing has been great in the administrative side of things, where you can have two part time people that can work a 2025 hours shift and just share the job.

Michele Massaro [00:18:24]:

So I think they’re the creative strategies that have happened start a few years ago, but now you have to be able to adapt to that, and it’s educating your customers. It doesn’t matter as long as you have two talented people that can handle the same shift. Why not do that? Right. And I think it also takes pressure off sometimes having to worry about things like overtime or working people too many hours, because now you’ve got more than one person that can assume that responsibility. So they’re great strategies to engage, for sure.

Kortney Harmon [00:18:54]:

I love that. I know a lot of the conversations I hear, obviously, is you hear the just survive till 25.

Michele Massaro [00:19:01]:

But then there’s the other people that.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:03]:

Look at this maybe a smidge differently. They look at if I’m going to grow, now’s my time to scale.

Michele Massaro [00:19:08]:

Now’s my time to grow.

Kortney Harmon [00:19:09]:

So you have like two different mindsets. So for those people that are really in the idea for growing and scaling during this economy, so when it comes out, there are leaps and bounds ahead of people. I want to kind of talk about growth and you being where you’ve been, you have some great insights. So in your experience, what are the most important factors to consider when maybe looking to grow or scale your staffing company.

Michele Massaro [00:19:36]:

Well, sales, obviously, right? Keeping that beat. And I think you said nicely that kind of the memory muscle of being able to go out there and have conversations. You want to be a resource, right? You want to be a solution for your clients. So it’s okay to talk to a client today that may be saying, I might be laying more people off. Right. And maybe the conversation has to be, well, if you’re laying people off, let us help you work to perhaps reassign these people other locations or just help them with some outplacement services. Right? So developing some strategies to respond to your customers who may not have needs today, but still being a relevant solutions provider to them. I have a lot of customers that talk to me like, we’re going to hold off on contingent labor, but we’re looking to hire maybe some more people direct, coming up with a direct hiring solution for them that’s different than traditional headhunting, where you got to charge a 25% fee.

Michele Massaro [00:20:27]:

Maybe you do something different. Right. You find a solution for them that will fit what they’re experiencing today so that you’re still top of mind when we start to recover and the volume comes back around, because it will. We see this. Been in this industry long enough. I’ve seen cycles like this. This is my third go round. So I think it’s like every ten years, if you say, I’ve been in the business for 30 years, like every ten to twelve years, we’ve experienced these types of conditions, and it’s just staying relevant to that customer, even if it’s, hey, look, I don’t need you today, but I may be looking for wage analysis.

Michele Massaro [00:21:00]:

I might be going to a new market. Can you get some data for me about what the market looks like? Get me some demographic information about what the workforce is in a certain area. And just keeping those touches in front of them, I think really helps. As far as the organization, I think you have to be mindful. We have, unfortunately, had experienced some cutbacks. I had to cut some staff in 2022, and my biggest concern was I didn’t cut too deep into the muscle, right. So if I started to lose too much of my talent, my core talent, that when things start to recover, I wouldn’t be able to respond quick enough. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:21:34]:

And be ready to move. So what we’ve done is we’ve done things like, we’ve offered a lot of our, not a lot. The individuals that we were looking to downsize, offer them opportunities, whether we worked to partner, to place them with a customer, or we’ve offered them part time jobs or even just hourly. Hey, I have a guy that great. We open a branch in Louisville and open a branch, core customer, we open for shut down six months later. Right. So my branch manager, he know, he worked retail. He’s like, I can still work my retail job, but I want to stay involved in staffing.

Michele Massaro [00:22:07]:

So we’ve set him up to do some direct hire stuff for us, and he’s getting supplemental income, so he’s available when I need him. Right. So keeping that internal talent available when you need it, I think is really important. Sales don’t ever stop thinking about how to be relevant to the customer, and it’s a good time to develop different relationships. Right. And find your value in different ways.

Kortney Harmon [00:22:28]:

It’s great. I think you mentioned something. It’s not necessarily, do you need a guy? I got a guy right now.

Michele Massaro [00:22:34]:

Right, exactly.

Kortney Harmon [00:22:35]:

It can be that way. But regular touch points, a cadence of, oh, you have a board meeting, how can I help you prepare, or do you need information? I’m talking to these people every single day. I’d love to help you. I think people don’t necessarily look outside the box of the transactional sometimes instead.

Michele Massaro [00:22:53]:

Of, how do I help them?

Kortney Harmon [00:22:55]:

You want them to be smarter when they talk to you. It’s aha moments. It’s light bulbs that go on. So it’s like, oh, I need to go call Michelle. Like something happened. I need to go call Michelle. She’s going to give me stuff to think about that I haven’t done at this point.

Michele Massaro [00:23:08]:

And I think that’s it. Not just to call me and say, look, I love to get the phone call, hey, I need 200 people I love that. Haven’t had many of those in the last few months. But am I attending more fundraisers for clients? One of our customers had a golf tournament, and so it was a fundraiser for an organization. So we participated in that and just doing things to stay relevant, or we have a client who’s considering opening, expanding their operations to another state. So we talked about getting some wage analysis, and I said, look, I’ll even send somebody out there to do some recruiting just to kind of feel what the conditions really are on the ground. So those little investments keep me and the organization top of mind when there’s an opportunity. But I think what happens a lot of times, especially salespeople, right? Because salespeople get turned on by, hey, I’m getting an order, is they get a little discouraged and then the distance between contact gets long.

Michele Massaro [00:24:04]:

There’s longer gaps in that. And so we really watch that. My team has to report in not just new sales opportunities, but how often are you touching your existing customers, even if they have nothing to give us in terms of orders right now, what else can we do to provide value to them?

Kortney Harmon [00:24:22]:

Some of the funnest conversations are about canning, gardening and chickens. I mean, I experienced that for. Right on.

Michele Massaro [00:24:28]:

And ducks. Yeah, see, we talked about everything but technology.

Kortney Harmon [00:24:34]:

I love that. Oh, my gosh, that was great. As you look up strategies that you’ve used over the years, is there anything besides kind of what you just said now that maybe have helped you spur growth within the organizations that you’ve worked at? Anything come to mind?

Michele Massaro [00:24:50]:

I mean, I just think being super flexible. Right. So recognizing that your opportunity doesn’t come in one form. Right. It’s not, as you mentioned, transactional. Right. It’s not just I need people, but finding ways to show value. And I think when you do that, that does spur growth.

Michele Massaro [00:25:07]:

One of the things that we’ve done is mentioned all of our growth has been organic and we use that kind of catch line, hey, we’re going to come into a market for you, Mr. Customer. You’re going to be our only customer for a period of three to six months. Right. Till we get your operation up and running. We get to learn who you are, you get to learn about us. We’re all going to make mistakes. People are not going to show up and you’re going to be angry at times, but I’m going to be there for you through all of that.

Michele Massaro [00:25:31]:

And that really has developed kind of those long term relationships because it shows a level of loyalty.

Kortney Harmon [00:25:37]:


Michele Massaro [00:25:37]:

And I think that that’s a big part of sometimes what’s missed is that customers want to do business with you if they know that you’re there for all the right reasons. Right. Not just the orders. And if we’re suffering, they are. Right. So they say, obviously in a tough environment, staffing is the first one, is a leading indicator that when things are bad, but the good news is we are the leading indicator when things get good again, when it starts to upswing, staffing starts to really reemerge quickly. So you just need to be there for them, for your customers. And I think that helps with growth 100%.

Kortney Harmon [00:26:09]:

Absolutely. And I think when, as we get into the industries, obviously, that we’re in today and we have new shining AI. AI was a big talk at staffing world. A lot of people get reliant on some of these tools sometimes and it’s like, oh, well, it’ll send them an email. But honestly, there’s nothing better sometimes than a handwritten note or a cup of coffee or those matter. And where relationships are one.

Michele Massaro [00:26:33]:

Yeah, no, it’s so funny because one of my owners, he’s great, he sends me these emails, hey, are we sending these emails out? I’m like, no, that’s not even a real person sending those emails out. This email has gone out to 7000 people and that signature has no idea that it’s gone out to those people and has no relationship with those people. Right. So I think there’s nothing that replaces the conversation. And I think the other thing too, when you talk about growth is what we’ve done to position ourselves is we’ve came off of a period of time with two years where we were all doing this, we were all talking to each other virtually, right. And we’ve adapted to it and it certainly works. And you kind of get into a different groove, but there’s nothing that’s better than getting in front of customers. And I’ve challenged our team, really when you can, any meeting should be in person, right? Even if it’s a meeting to say, sorry we’re not going to have a peak season this year, or sorry we don’t have any needs or whatever that is being in person.

Michele Massaro [00:27:28]:

And again, that engagement, interaction, AI is never going to replace that. I say that at least not until I’m out of the industry, then it could do what it wants. But I could say right now, the people that we’re working with, the people that you’re interacting with, they are motivated by having some real engagement. Absolutely.

Kortney Harmon [00:27:46]:

Now, you said two things over the last few questions. You said, oh gosh, okay, mentioned about having more in person interactions, but you also said having more of the types of calls like, hey, it doesn’t matter, don’t make it go too long before you call again. So my question to you, as we look at the economy we’re in today, whether it’s looking to scale, you’re looking at KPIs and indicators every day. I know you are as an operations person, what are the KPIs that staffing firms should be focusing on whenever they’re thinking of today’s market? What are you looking at when you look at your reports every week? To know if you’re good or bad? Because everybody does things differently. Some people are looking at fall off, some people are looking at new logos. What are the three things that you’re looking at in your reports every single week.

Michele Massaro [00:28:32]:

Well, I mean, we are looking at new logos, right? Looking at how many new clients did we sign up in? Any giveaway. Great. That’s important. And I think it doesn’t have to be. It can be for a couple of years. It was like, oh, my gosh. And how big are they? What is their revenue base right now? It’s more as is a customer that is a good paying customer. And one thing we have to be aware of in this environment, that money is tight right now.

Michele Massaro [00:28:55]:

So money is tight for staffing companies and it’s tight for our customers. Right. So making sure that the customer is coming to you for the right reasons. Right. I’ve had a couple. We have turned business away and where customers just don’t. They’re looking at a staffing company as a way to, as a funding vehicle for them. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:29:12]:

To keep themselves afloat. So we’ve been very mindful of that. So looking at new logos, but with qualifiers, probably digging a little more deeply into credit history and credit ability to pay us. Right. That’s really important. I think the other thing we look at is how do we manage our cost, our overhead, our overhead to sales. We have some reports that I get on a weekly basis to make sure that we’re hitting a targeted number and in the markets that we’re not, that’s where we need to focus. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:29:43]:

So we always look at our bottom three markets every week and say, how do we need to get them back to that kind of line that we have, that we have our threshold of profitability? And what focus do we need to get there? And the focus is always to try to bring in more business to get those numbers right without cutting. But if it means having to make adjustments to staff, then we have to do that. So they’re, the tough discussions, we had more of those, I would say definitely in 2022, not so much in 23. I think we’re right sized for our volume today. But we look at that and then the other piece of it is where I’m looking at my bottom three, I’m looking at my top three. And so what additional support do they need to maximize the opportunities that they have today? I do have some really nice peak volume coming in certain markets. So making sure that those markets are set up with all the tools they need to maximize on that opportunity. Right.

Michele Massaro [00:30:33]:

So that’s something that we look at on a weekly basis at this point. And it used to be monthly, but I would say over the last probably three years, it’s weekly because of the dynamic, changing market that we’ve been operating in.

Kortney Harmon [00:30:45]:

I love that. And you talked about sales, you talked about being close with your market. I’m going to maybe ask a different question, because with the talent gap that we have, are you looking at redeployment? Is that something that you guys encounter? So with staffing opportunities, do you look at like, okay, this person’s rolling off a project, they need to go put them somewhere else? Is that something that you guys. 100%.

Michele Massaro [00:31:05]:

Yeah. Retention means everything. Right. And it doesn’t just mean retention at the customer level. Right. All of our customers use KPIs. What is your turnover rate? What’s your retention rate? But really retaining the talent that you have, Abacus has as an organization to keep that talent working for you, because, look, the reality is you have an employee that works at one assignment for two months, another assignment for three months. You get them beyond six months.

Michele Massaro [00:31:29]:

You’re increasing your profitability because a lot of your statutory costs drop dramatically at that point and sometimes less time than that. Right. Depending on unemployment costs and all those other factors. But it also, I think just, it helps with your reputation, too. If you are putting good people good talent, you’re able to keep them working for you, even if it’s at a variety of different clients and different assignments. That is a contagious. Right. That’s the best marketing you can have.

Michele Massaro [00:31:58]:

Abacus provides me a job, not just one job, but I’ve been working with them for the last two or three years, and it’s impressive. I mean, that’s one thing probably you hear from other companies, but our retention rate with our contingent workforce is pretty impressive. I mean, we have people working for us. I’ve had people move from state to state to work for us for some projects. Right. Because they get some benefits from us. They have some things that are going on and they know that we’re going to do everything we can to keep them working. And I think that it’s important.

Michele Massaro [00:32:27]:

So, Absolutely, if you can redeploy the right talents, it only helps with your cost model anyway. Right. So you already have the recruiting cost behind you, and you keep that person or people working. It’s a win for everybody.

Kortney Harmon [00:32:39]:

That’s impressive for people to move states.

Michele Massaro [00:32:42]:

I know we do. Yeah. I’ve had know I’m here in. So you’re not. You’re an hour from Pennsylvania, you’re an hour from Virginia, you’re an hour from Delaware. Right. So if you have the right project, you have the right people. They’re willing to jump and say, hey, I’ll do this.

Michele Massaro [00:32:56]:

I actually had a small group of some. When you talk about deployment, we do some things. One of our service strategies is actually deploy talent to job sites. And I actually have deployed talent for a project where they’ve been part of a team and then they’ve stayed at the site and they’ve been eventually hired by the. To find you would be an attractive employer. Right. And it used to be the day that back, not too long ago, but a lot of times people identified with the companies you placed them. You know, I work for Bacchus, but I’m working for, I don’t know, Xerox or something like that.

Michele Massaro [00:33:30]:

Right. And so they identify more with Xerox, but now that that’s not as important to people, it’s more about the experience they have with the actual employer that they’re working for. And that’s us. That’s the staffing company. So having that relationship with them is much more. A good experience with us is much more valuable than necessarily who they’re going to work for. Does that make sense?

Kortney Harmon [00:33:52]:

It speaks volumes. It truly does. And honestly, even if it doesn’t work out with one person, that doesn’t mean if they’re good talent, you can’t put them somewhere else.

Michele Massaro [00:34:00]:


Kortney Harmon [00:34:01]:

Yeah, I love it. All right, talk to me about any, or if you can share any success stories or case studies maybe that you’ve had within your organizations that you’ve worked at for growth and scale, maybe. Hey, we really focused on this initiative. At my last organization, my CEO was very big on maybe cleaning up job orders. There was an unrealistic expectation of, well, everything was an A job order, but in reality it wasn’t. So we defined clarifications. What truly was an A order time to fill. Really cleaned that up.

Kortney Harmon [00:34:33]:

And he said that improved his business. Huge bottom line to his ROI, to be able, all in all, to improve. So did you have any case studies or success stories of maybe things that you guys have done for your growth and scale that really have just hit home for you guys?

Michele Massaro [00:34:47]:

Well, I guess, gosh, it’s a tough question, but let me think. So I would say probably one thing that’s been really great this year, right. And I think I kind of touched on a little bit. We are a staffing company, right? So we provide contingent labor, whatever that looks like in many different forms. But when we started to see that the volume was starting to decrease, probably last year, like I said, probably middle of last year, and more of our customers were talking about their direct hire initiatives. We found ways to kind of develop strategies, and I won’t share all my secrets there, but to develop strategies where we could be a viable resource for them to hire talent directly. In the direct hire world, we know that that’s all you get these fees, that they go right to the bottom line. Direct hire fees go right to your bottom line.

Michele Massaro [00:35:36]:

Right. So we kind of set up a strategy on how we were going to came up with a goal, a monthly goal of how there’s direct hire revenue that we would need because that’s bottom line revenue that would offset the declining sales. Right. And I’m proud of the fact that this year, eight of our months that we’ve had in the books were offset. Although the revenue volume is not the same, the bottom line revenue is pretty stable because we’re pulling in that Direct hire revenue at a more rapid clip than we ever had. So I think that that’s interesting. Right. Because it’s a different type of recruiting.

Michele Massaro [00:36:12]:

It takes longer. It can be a little challenging. Customers also recognize they’re looking for a very specific purple squirrel type of person. I want this person with all these skills and they don’t fit that, then I’m not going to talk to them. But if you can work with the customer to get the right fit, when a direct hire scenario and get that fee and it’s successful and all that comes together, then that really is impactful. The bottom line. And we saw that again at eight of our months in the calendar year, we were able to offset some of that volume by having more to that bottom line revenue.

Kortney Harmon [00:36:43]:

That’s amazing.

Michele Massaro [00:36:43]:

Good example.

Kortney Harmon [00:36:44]:

It’s a great example.

Michele Massaro [00:36:45]:

I hear that all the time. Like the flip side.

Kortney Harmon [00:36:47]:

So if you’re direct hire, they’re like, well, we’ll do contingent staffing or we’ll do. But I’m not saying you’re the only one, but you’re one of the few.

Michele Massaro [00:36:54]:

That have really tried to push that.

Kortney Harmon [00:36:56]:

To be creative because you’re becoming that one stop shop for your clients.

Michele Massaro [00:37:00]:


Kortney Harmon [00:37:01]:

Like you can solve it all for them.

Michele Massaro [00:37:04]:

Trying to do that, courtney. Trying to. If I can figure that out all the way, I’d be in really good shape. But no. Yeah. And I think it is, again, it’s kind of redefining who you are because sometimes customers will think, this is my direct hire program, this is my contingent labor program, and they do not cross pollinate. But I don’t think that that’s true. If you know your customers business, you understand their goals or operational goals.

Michele Massaro [00:37:25]:

I think you can help them in both options.

Kortney Harmon [00:37:28]:

I love it. You’re providing a solution and find a solution. I love it.

Michele Massaro [00:37:32]:

If they bite, half the battle.

Kortney Harmon [00:37:35]:

Half the battle.

Michele Massaro [00:37:35]:

That’s it. That’s half the battle.

Kortney Harmon [00:37:37]:

So you told me some success story. What about any common pitfalls, whether it’s our industry today of maybe something that you’ve tried the last six months, or maybe it’s just overall of maybe you tried to do something to scale and maybe it didn’t work. Because let’s face it, I don’t know about you, but I learned my best lessons when something does not go right. So any pitfalls or things to watch.

Michele Massaro [00:37:59]:

Out for that you’ve mean. So there’s some challenges. You start with challenges, right? So there’s some challenges to our know, talked about the ASA conference, we’re seeing a lot of state legislation that is really looking to impact contingent staffing. Right. So New Jersey has new laws that have come out that have been pretty interesting and Illinois and we’re starting to see, and I think we heard it. It’s probably going to be, we’ll see more states look to regulate how we do business. And I think that could be a challenge. It’s not necessarily pitfall.

Michele Massaro [00:38:36]:

It’s just a challenge on how you have to maybe pivot your business. Right. I think when I look at what, again, hindsight is 2020, I think probably our biggest pitfall was not seeing what was happening as quickly as we should have in 21. Right. I think we probably could have done some things differently from a sales perspective, as I mentioned before, that I think that would have been better positioned us through 2022 and part of 23. We’re kind of coming out of that now and definitely have learned some lessons there. I don’t think there’s anything that you have to try. Everything, not everything is going to work.

Michele Massaro [00:39:12]:

Right. And you have to recognize that there’s things that you have great ideas and then you’re like, oh, my gosh, that was a disaster. Right. And I’ve had that happen. I’ve talked to customers, gosh, many stories, probably too many to tell. But where you’ve come up with an idea and say, if we do it this way, it’s going to work, right. Whatever that looks like, and it just ends up being a disaster. But I think to your point, if you learn about, if you learn from it and take the good parts of the way and try to redefine it, I think that that’s always important.

Michele Massaro [00:39:41]:

It’s not anything I can think of other than just not really focusing on sales as much as we should have. But we’re behind that now. That’s all we do is talk about sales moving forward. We’re like, sales. It’s sales, sales. That’s pretty much it.

Kortney Harmon [00:39:57]:

And that’s great. And honestly, the state legislative thing is very interesting because we’re only going to probably see that to continue to change.

Michele Massaro [00:40:04]:

100%, something that we just have to.

Kortney Harmon [00:40:06]:

Keep a very close eye on.

Michele Massaro [00:40:08]:

Yeah, for sure. And I heard a lot of when I first New Jersey, things started coming out early this year. I was like, oh, they want to get rid of staffing companies. And I think that, yeah, there’s probably an element of that, but I think there’s also that there are staffing companies that have not always done the right thing. And I think that there’s always that balance. Right. You got to make sure that you’re staying compliance and companies are utilizing for the right reasons, and if they’re using you for the wrong reasons, then you need to recognize that and say, this is probably not a good relationship anyway, because that’s what happens. The good companies, they don’t say, oh, we love staffing.

Michele Massaro [00:40:45]:

Right? It’s, oh, go after the bad guys. And that’s what we see a lot of that happen in our industry. There’s a lot of really good companies, certainly colleagues in the industry that I think have very impressive organizations, and there’s room for all of us. But when you have a few bad actors, it can certainly impact the overall business for all of us. So we have to be aware of that.

Kortney Harmon [00:41:06]:

Absolutely, 100%. And I only have two more questions. Michelle, I promise I won’t drag it out too much for you. You just talked a little bit about legislation, but talk to me about how you see the future of staffing firms evolving in the coming years. Anything come to mind? Do you have any ideas?

Michele Massaro [00:41:20]:

Yeah, gosh, yes. I think we have to learn to adapt to things. Like you mentioned, AI and technology and what’s happening. Do I think that robots are going to replace us all over the world in the next 1520 years? No, I don’t think it’s going to happen. But I do think that we need to be smart about and realistic about our business. Right. And understand that technology is redefining how our clients operate and how they engage our services. So I think we just need to be really staying on top of that.

Michele Massaro [00:41:55]:

Right. That’s for sure. I think that we’re also seeing efforts to make sure that wages, right, wages. We’ve seen wages increase we’ve seen wages kind of go out of control. I think we need to make sure that we are fiscally responsible with our customers and what’s going out there. That we’re paying competitive wages, but we’re not paying times, I think, during the COVID we’re paying some abusive wages. I mean, I would sometimes pay a forklift operator $30 an hour because that’s what it took to get him to work or her to work. And I think we just need to be more aware of what’s going on in the world around us, certainly in our country and what’s happening more globally, that staffing is we’re always needed.

Michele Massaro [00:42:36]:

It’s just in all different forms, and I’ve seen it in many different ways over the years, but we provide a vital service and we can’t forget that.

Kortney Harmon [00:42:44]:

And it’s about adapting and pivoting.

Michele Massaro [00:42:47]:

Adapting, that’s the pivot. I told you we were talking about pivoting yesterday. I’m like, pivot. Heard that word 100 times yesterday.

Kortney Harmon [00:42:54]:

I love it. And it’s so true. And honestly, this industry has always ebbed and flow, and it will continue to do so. It will be a continual focus, and we just have to be able to adjust.

Michele Massaro [00:43:05]:

Right? Just adjust. That’s it.

Kortney Harmon [00:43:07]:


Michele Massaro [00:43:09]:

It’s not. But here’s the thing. The one thing about our industry is we all have to, if you’ve been in long enough, you know that just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else is going to happen, right? And you’re going to be like, okay, how do I adjust to this? And I think if you’re flexible, you work for an organization very fortunate to have great financial backing, and we’re very well established, so we can do a lot of different things and be creative and be smart and not get taken advantage of, and then you can be very successful.

Kortney Harmon [00:43:37]:

I love it. Great words of advice. Okay, so my last question. As staffing firms aim to scale their business, what’s the biggest technology challenge they face today internally with their current tech stack?

Michele Massaro [00:43:49]:

So I thought about that. Right. I think you and I met because we’re currently in that type of. So our company is in that little bit of a technology renaiSsance. Right. So I think we have gotten to the size and scale as an organization that the technology we have in place is probably kind of bursting at its seams to a certain extent. Right. So looking at technology and really just how we’re going to transform the organization through technology has been top of mind priority for us.

Michele Massaro [00:44:20]:

We have an internal system that has been very reliable for a number of years. And we see it. Look, we talk about it. The reality is we have an internal IT department that all have been in the business for 30 plus years. Right? So they’re probably not going to be in business 20 years from now. And the technology that they’ve written is probably not something that younger people getting out of school or even understand. Right. So you have to look at what is your succession strategy for technology and to stay in touch with it.

Michele Massaro [00:44:51]:

One thing that we have been mindful, it’s been interesting because we have a highly tenured internal organization, is as we introduce new technology, it’s not about replacing people, it’s about repurposing people. Right. Where can we take some of these functions that they’ve been supporting? Because of whatever technology challenges or limitations we have with Our current system, how can we repurpose them in meaningful ways across the organization? And our president, we’ve had this discussion many times about technology over the years, but he’s always said his goal has never been to, it’s this or like, bring this technology in and then I can get rid of these people. Right. It’s either or. It’s how do we make it mesh? What’s best for the organization to keep intact internal and institutional knowledge and still make your processes improve dramatically? And so we’re looking at that. It’s a big initiative for us, and we’re starting with making sure that we’re refining Our processes so that they are designed for the best client experience.

Kortney Harmon [00:45:51]:


Michele Massaro [00:45:52]:

They enhance our culture and organization, our ability to do business. I think that’s really important. And just how can we improve our business internal processes. Right. So that’s really the three initiatives that we’ve been focused on with our technology. And I don’t think there’s one technology that exists that handles all the different variables that we need to bring together, but we’re certainly trying to streamline a lot of that. So I think that that’s important, staying ahead of it, because I think we don’t. Look, I’ve worked for only two staffing companies in 30 years, right? But I could tell you technology was not the leading conversation point with either company until it had to be, until there was something that was changing.

Michele Massaro [00:46:30]:

Whether it’s a generational shift that I’m experiencing here or back in the day when I was working for caliber, it was just that our system was not scaling to our growth, so we had to do something. So it’s always that we’re at a spot we’ve got to do something. So I think thinking about a little more proactively is always a benefit. But know that you got to be prepared because the technology is going to help you be much more effective as an organization.

Kortney Harmon [00:46:55]:

Digital transformation is really. I know that was the key word.

Michele Massaro [00:46:59]:

But that’s the word, right? That’s what I heard. Yeah. And it is. And you can get scared because I was like, what does that even mean? But I looked it up, like, oh, we’re doing those things. Right. It is digital transformation because it’s improving without sacrificing. Right. Because you want to improve, but you don’t want to sacrifice your experience.

Michele Massaro [00:47:16]:

And again, I’ve got some great talent that would love to do other things, to focus on other parts of the business that can be more revenue generating or cost avoidance opportunities if they can focus on that. And so introducing that technology solution in that way, I think, is going to be really helpful for us. So I’m excited. We have kind of a look that we’re going to make decisions by quarter one of 2024 and start moving towards implementation. So that’s aggressive, but it’s good time for it.

Kortney Harmon [00:47:44]:

But it’s exciting, too.

Michele Massaro [00:47:45]:

And honestly, it is Exciting.

Kortney Harmon [00:47:47]:

I’m excited. Yeah. And I think I had a call with somebody else and they had mentioned, they’re like, honestly, now’s the time to do it. Because if we were so busy as we were in 2020, 2021, we would have never been able to transform digitally because we would have never been able to go back to our processes. We would have never had the time to teach our people and they’re like, now is the time to do it. So I love it. I love that you’re looking at it now because I’m sure all of those things play a part into your decision and your committee to be able to be dedicated to this process 100%.

Michele Massaro [00:48:18]:

Yeah. Never the timing and that’s. We started looking at it really probably in April of this year. We had a meeting with actually our chairman, who was, he died, sadly, in April, but he was a vital part of the organization. He would have turned 80 this year. So, I mean, he’s been around as long as the company, but we had a conversation and it was, now’s the time. Now our volumes are down. We’ve done well the revenue.

Michele Massaro [00:48:46]:

We’ve been very fortunate as an organization to be very well. Strong balance sheet, financially ready. Let’s make the investment now so that we don’t have to think about it for the next 15 to 20 years in a way that we’re focused on it today. Right? It can maintain it, grow it, have it to be scalable, but at the same time it helps you get to the next level. And I think that that’s really important. So with his blessing, it was great to start the journey and the idea was to have a one year evaluation period and that we’ll be ready to make some.

Kortney Harmon [00:49:18]:

And when business takes off and it’s booming again, you’re going to be ready to go.

Michele Massaro [00:49:21]:

Be ready for it. That’s right.

Kortney Harmon [00:49:23]:

That’s it. I love it. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for sitting down with me and talking today. I love this conversation. Just like I loved our chicken conversation.

Michele Massaro [00:49:31]:

So I love the chicken and duck. How are the chickens doing? Are they doing all right? Did you get any more?

Kortney Harmon [00:49:36]:

I got my, I already, I talked to my husband about chicken math and he was like, no, we’re starting with the late.

Michele Massaro [00:49:43]:

He said no.

Kortney Harmon [00:49:44]:

That brings wrap to our conversation with Michelle, a chief operating officer at Abacus Corporation. Thank you so much for sharing your industry insight and your experience from over 30 years in the staffing industry. I hope our listeners gain valuable insight and perspective on leading through change, pivoting business strategies and positioning for future growth and innovation. Michelle offered so much wisdom around scaling staffing firms sustainability while putting people first. So be sure to apply some of these lessons around sales, talent metrics and more that can help your staffing business thrive in any market condition. Michelle is certainly a leader to watch and learn from. This has been another episode of the full Desk experience Industry Spotlight. Stay up to date with our latest episodes.

Kortney Harmon [00:50:29]:

Visit our website or email us if you have any additional ideas on topics. Our email is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Kortney Harmon signing off. I’m Courtney Harmon with Crelate. Thanks for joining us for this episode of Industry Spotlight, a new series from the full Desk Experience. New episodes will be dropping monthly. Be sure you’re subscribed to our podcast so you can catch the next industry Spotlight episode and all episodes of the full desk experience here or wherever you listen.

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