Written by Wendy Bowman Tuesday, January 29 2013
Snapshot: Alecia McClung, CEO, ARO – Administrative Resource Options Inc.
Alecia McClung has a lot to be grateful for. First of all, she reached the milestone age of 50 this year – a feat she says is a true blessing following 10 years of serious health challenges that involved lingering on waiting lists to receive a kidney and pancreas transplant for kidney disease due to complications from juvenile diabetes, as well as going through an organ transplant rejection. The businesswoman, who started a mail- and printing-services company 20-plus years ago in her hometown of Chicago, has branched out into about 30 states from coast to coast, along with three islands in Hawaii. She soon hopes to take her operation global in England.
“Sometimes life is full of all kinds of surprises,” says McClung, who adds she went on dialysis the day after her last son was born. A non-wavering respect for life, positive attitude and savvy business sense, however, have helped her emerge from her travails to become a successful CEO. She also brings that same passion to organ donation awareness, spreading the word in TV ads, newspaper articles, speeches and more about how she received a life-saving kidney from a 15-year-old boy (Maurice Brown Jr.) whose mother, Penny Brady, she eventually met and became close friends with.
Last but not least, she has been married to the same man, Bill, for 25 years and has three sons (Billy, 21; Brennan, 19; and Blake, 13).
Womenetics: When and why did you start your business? How did you recognize that there was an opportunity to outsource your services to companies in the Chicago area?
Alecia McClung: We primarily started outsourcing in mailroom and print centers. I started the infrastructure in 1990, about 22 years ago. We started out in the legal market and expanded into hospitals, schools, manufacturing, and now we’re pretty much in every market.
In a larger establishment, companies typically hire outsourcing providers because they need their expertise. They may try to do it in-house but usually lose efficiencies and marketplace scale. They often end up paying too much and having too many people on staff.
We go in and perform an analysis to determine the right mix of staff and a contracted rate for the services provided. I hire all of the people on my payroll and provide them with benefits, training and upward-mobility possibilities. Our clients just write us one check at the end of the month.
Besides print room and support personnel, we also hire accountants for our clients and different areas of secretarial services. It also has grown in the 22 years to providing copy operators. We also provide the equipment and technology. We have many strategic partnerships and can offer a wide mix of solutions for our customers. We run the department for them or augment current staff and are accountable for the performance. It’s nice for them to have the one stop shop where they write one check.
We give them a three- to five-year contract with long-term staff that is typically treated as if they are part of the client company. They fit in very well. My clients are extremely happy with our services, and we have never had a cancellation for service or performance. It’s been a win-win for everyone.
Womenetics: How important is it to have relationships with your clients?
McClung: I love keeping in touch with our clients. I travel the country and meet all of my employees and meet the clients – that’s one thing I just love doing.
Relationships are how you succeed in the business world. If you can provide a top-notch service and be responsive to client’s needs, that is the key to success. I’ve found that’s the way I’ve been able to expand my services. I may start out in one little area and build a relationship with them, and then they come to like the employees who are there and ask me how to do something else because they can’t hire personnel at the talent level we have. That’s how I started expanding into secretarial and accounting, and we continue to look at other services for our clients.
Womenetics: Who is your typical customer and how much money can you save them per year if they use your services?
McClung: We have a lot of big corporate names we do business with, like CBS and Viacom, Wrigley, Intel, Nissan, and many major law and professional service firms. Corporate America is who most of my clients are, from Fortune 100 to Fortune 1,000.
Every account is different. I’m saving some customers over $1million a year from what they’ve been doing; I’m saving some half that. All of this is documented along with the performance metrics and reports we provide our customers on a continued basis.
Womenetics: How have you gone about hiring and retaining talent?
McClung: There is a very stringent hiring process. We have our own human resources department, and the people we screen go through many different levels of interviewing. We’re not looking just to fill a slot or a position; we’re really looking for good talent and people who are positive-minded and have a positive attitude that will really carry them along. We also like to promote from within and go up the management chain.
We probably spend more time in the recruiting and training process than our competitors. That is valuable time. If we spend a greater amount of time hiring the right candidate, it saves us from many issues down the road. We look for hard-working, reliable, customer-friendly people that are enthusiastic about customer service.
We have found that many employees are attracted to our programs, like our Charity Leave program that rewards employees for going out in their communities and volunteering their time. These are the type of people we want on our team. They are active and caring and get involved in areas for a greater purpose, to help others.
Womenetics: What did you do before, and did those jobs help you when you went to create your business?
McClung: I’ve had a history of probably every job you can imagine — from telemarketing to sales to payroll, things like that. If I had never worked for another company in diverse areas, I don’t think I would have had the skills to start this company. I tell people, “Don’t be concerned about the position you’re in before you open your business because you will always learn something from it.” All my jobs gave me the skills that I needed to open this business, so they were valuable experiences.
Womenetics: What is the most important piece of business advice you would you give a woman trying to start a business today?
McClung: You can expect obstacles – many of them – but the greater the obstacle, the greater the reward. Have patience and keep focused on moving forward. It may take a while.
For me, for 10 or 15 years, I went through a period where I didn’t know if I would wake up in the morning. I was on dialysis, and it is a way to maintain but not really a way of life. We all go through these periods when we wonder what’s going to happen next. I think when you have a good, strong foundation, it strengthens you. You’ll look back to the tough times and just remember it’s meant to happen and how can you turn it into a positive to help you in your life. I had to force myself to do that. For me, the power of prayer and having a good support group of friends and family was key.
Womenetics: Tell me about what led to you needing an organ donation?
McClung: I have been a juvenile diabetic since age 9. My kidney disease was pretty much because of my long-term juvenile diabetes. I received a kidney/pancreas transplant in 2003, and in three days the pancreas was rejected, but the kidney was good. I had to go on another transplant list, and in 2006, I received another pancreas.
After I got the original transplant in 2003, I wrote a letter to the Gift of Hope (an organ and tissue donor network) here in Chicago to thank the donor’s family. The letter was received on Dec. 14 of 2003, and in early 2004 I received a phone call from a woman called Penny Brady. I had put in the letter how much I would want to meet in person and thank the donor family for the gift of life.
She called and said, “I think I’m the person you want. I read your letter and want you to know you have my son’s kidney. Can you come to church for a memorial service?” I said, “Absolutely.” I told my husband and kids and called my parents and said, “We’re going to meet my organ donor’s family at a memorial service.” We drove down to this church on the west side of Chicago for the service, and that’s when I found out my donor was an African-American, 15-year-old male.
When I saw Penny, I had the feeling that I’d seen her somewhere before. Her face was so vibrant, and she has this fabulous smile. I asked her where she worked and found out she worked in the transplant department at Northwestern Hospital, which was the hospital where I had my operation. I could not believe she worked right in the same hospital and was the woman behind the check-in desk. She never knew I had her son’s organs, and I never knew she was the organ donor’s mother.
I’m so grateful that Penny wrote back to me. We call each other soul sisters now. I probably would never have met her in any other aspect and been able to be a part of her life. Every time she sees me, she touches my side and says, “Maurice, you’re still doing wonderful things on this earth.”
He was a Chicago teenager who was in a drive-by shooting in front of his house on his 15th birthday. He was walking out the door to go to basketball practice. I was in my 40s, and that whole thing goes through your mind: Why did that child have to die? But that’s the way life is, and you have to ask yourself how you are going to turn that pain into power for somebody else. We’ve done so many articles and worked with different organizations on organ donation awareness. I did a TV commercial in Chicago in April during Organ Awareness Month that ran throughout the state, telling people that just because we’re different ethnicities – she’s African-American and I’m white – I still have her son’s kidney, and we all matched underneath the skin. It doesn’t matter who you are or what race you are, we’re all united.
Womenetics: What would you tell others who might be considering organ donation?
McClung: I would tell them, “Heaven doesn’t need your organs, but boy, people on earth sure do.” That’s what I’ve come to know. I know it’s blunt, but organ donation saves so many lives. One organ donor can help or save 60 people, between organs, skin and the cornea. You could even be a living donor for a kidney, because you only need one. I received one of Maurice’s kidneys, and they gave someone else the other kidney.
Most people die waiting for organs because they’re just so rare. By having these awareness programs, it brings about a message that life goes on. I’m so excited to be a part of that.
Womenetics: How have you brought your passion for organ-donation awareness to your company?
McClung: I have an organ-donation program where if employees decide they want to become an organ donor, I reimburse them for the price of their driver’s license. Anyone wanting more information about organ donation should look at two websites: www.lifegoeson.com and www.giftofhope.org.
Womenetics: Did you ever think you could affect people the way you have?
McClung: I never thought I’d be where I am today, and it’s all because I kept moving forward and took each challenge one step at a time. I am in good health, and my business continues to grow and prosper. I have a good perspective that has been gained from my personal trials and experience. From an organ-donation standpoint, I opened my mouth and tried to turn pain into power and educate people about it, and it’s touched so many lives. You’d be surprised how many people I run across – clients and employees, and even people in my own office building in Chicago – who say things like, “Can you help me because my sister is on a waiting list. What doctor can I send her to and what can I say to her?” There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t talk about this. It amazes me. It has been such a large topic anywhere I go. It’s difficult to detach the trials you personally go through from your business mindset. You are taught to do that. But for me, I believe these trials have been extremely valuable and have let me relate to others within my organization and in the business world at a whole different level.
More women who overcame obstacles on their road to success:
Determined to make a dent in the statistic that only 34 percent of of African-American males graduate from Atlanta Public Schools, Kelli Stewart, who survived childhood abuse, is L.E.A.D.ing by example with her baseball-oriented nonprofit.
After facing repeated discrimination, Julie Savitt and her husband decided to start their own trucking company. Despite various setbacks, both personal and professional, Savitt built a business that is fair and ethical.
Marjorie Perry decided to switch gears after what she expected to be a long career in teaching was cut short by layoffs and eventually found herself head of a construction company.
Wendy Bowman is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance journalist. She spent 15-plus years as a writer and editor for Atlanta Business Chronicle, covering nonprofit business, homes and lifestyles, Atlanta visitors market and more. She currently writes for Riviera Orange County, The Atlantan and Men’s Book Atlanta magazines.