If you’re a native Buffalonian, or even if you’ve only spent time in the area, it’s likely your life has been touched by ice hockey somehow. So, it is not at all unusual that a company co-founded by Greg Bauer ‘82, has a direct link to the ice. Bauer met his business partner, John Hawkins (who also attended UB), during their sons’ hockey team practice. That initial meeting grew into a friendship that has led ultimately to an abundantly fruitful partnership.
When they met, Bauer had been working in the auto industry since his graduation from UB and Hawkins was “in staffing, but was following the human resources business, and it sounded interesting,” Bauer said. When Hawkins mentioned he’d been considering starting a related business, Bauer asked him what was holding him up. When Hawkins replied that he wanted a partner, Bauer jumped at the opportunity. After about two years research that included competitive and market research and other due diligence, the two men and their wives, (Joanne Bauer ’82 and Libby Hawkins), formed Employer Services Corporation (ESC) in 1995. The HR outsourcing firm handles payroll, benefits and HR consulting.
Several years into their business partnership, the ESC partners identified another need: customers wanted to learn and understand what made the strongest employees tick and then apply that knowledge when hiring the most appropriate people for specific positions. Thus began a parallel company to ESC, called ESC Select. “We offer the same services, but with more comprehensive strategic HR consulting,” Bauer explains. “Many clients want to think about HR strategically, but few companies have a ‘people plan.’” ESC Select focuses on how the firm’s clients can “get the most out of new hires and give them the most so they become rewarded, valuable.”
The soundness of both companies’ business propositions is evident in their inclusion at various times in Inc. Magazine’s annual list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses. ESC made the Inc. list of America’s 500 fastest-growing companies in 2001 and 2002. In 2008, ESC Select ranked 28th in the list, making it Western New York’s highest-ranked organization. The firm’s 2007 revenues were $19 million, which translated into a growth rate from the previous year of more than 4,600 percent.
It’s likely that ESC Select made Inc.’s list for same reason ESC did. “Our key concept is helping business owners focus on their core business,” says Bauer. Employment-related issues—employee relations, benefits, culture—are the same regardless of industry. What’s also the same, he adds, is that “No owner wants to handle the governmental rules and regulations that you must follow when you’re in business. We’re more efficient at that task, and we’ll also be a great benefit to employees, offering them better benefits in an affordable way.” Though the changing regulatory landscape is a constant challenge, especially at the state level, the ability to solve that very dilemma has attributed greatly to ESC Select’s growth.
Perhaps Bauer’s collegiate experience had a bit to do with ESC’s decision to make Buffalo the company’s base of operations. He went away to college for his freshmen year, but was unhappy with his choice of schools and began wondering why he hadn’t considered UB. “The funny thing is, UB was right in my backyard, and I didn’t give it a look,” he says. “I always liked Buffalo and wanted to come back.” Bauer transferred at the start of his sophomore year, landing in his chosen area of interest, business management. His other college activities also provide some insight into his drive to succeed. Bauer played on UB’s varsity hockey team, which he describes as competitive, time-intensive—and “very fun. Sometimes too much fun!” he says, laughing.
Today, the fun—or, more appropriately, satisfaction—comes from the faith that clients place in ESC and ESC Select. For instance, retailer G&G Fitness, a 12-year customer, recently expanded into a new market by buying a chain of fitness stores. G&G’s owner called ESC and asked them to handle the HR for the new addition. “[G&G] sees enough value in what we provide to bring us right along with them as they grow,” says Bauer. “We feel like we’ve succeeded when customers look at us as a valuable resource.”
The companies’ successes have provided another source of satisfaction as well. “I was a pretty skeptical person in the beginning,” Bauer admits, “but I learned it’s OK to have faith and trust in a client. If you have faith in them, the relationship pans out. We’ve built genuine friendships.”
Written by Grace Lazzara
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