Shirley Martin-Smith hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a regular wage slave.
Martin-Smith, president of Martin-Smith Personnel Inc., learned her business from the bottom up. She started out as a temporary office worker who was farmed out to various employers for short-term assignments, and eventually she managed the local office of a temporary placement firm.
Then, five years ago, Martin-Smith struck out to start her own company, which specializes in permanent job placements for all levels and types of employment. A year later, wanting to create a full-service network of personnel services, she dipped back into the temporary placement industry by starting a Lawrence franchise for Adia Personnel Services.
Now Martin-Smith, who's serving in her fourth year as a Lawrence city commissioner, is branching out again. Last week she took possession of the Adia franchise in Wichita. The transaction gives Martin-Smith Personnel, the corporate umbrella for all her operations, the opportunity to serve an expanded market that cuts a swath through most of the state.
MARTIN-SMITH isn't the least bit worried that the expansion will keep her burning up interstate between Lawrence and Wichita to oversee her new, distant operations.
She says that any logistical problems are solved by the quality of staff that is part of the Wichita package. The manager of the Wichita office has 13 years' experience in the personnel business and directs a small but capable staff.
"They have the skills, the training, the expertise in their market," she said of the three people in the Wichita office.
This also is where Martin-Smith believes her own experiences as an employee will serve her well.
"Quite frankly, I never did like the boss coming to visit because it kept me from doing what I was supposed to be doing. I think I should be sensitive to that," she said.
ALTHOUGH Martin-Smith is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in her businesses, she says her hands-off management style pays dividends. It has allowed her Lawrence office to become a dynamic place, where the employees work as a team and mold a common philosophy of business.
"I can, along with my employees, create the kind of company we would like to work in," she said.
Martin-Smith laid down the basic premise, of providing service to the employers who are her paying clients.
"I consider it a very high privilege to be able to work with them. We impact what they get done every day, and we definitely impact the bottom line," she said.
"Beyond that, everything else evolves from that."
BY ACQUIRING the Wichita Adia franchise, which will join the Lawrence franchise as a component of Martin-Smith Personnel Inc., Martin-Smith has provided her company with new opportunities.
"I have a strong desire to grow within the boundaries of the state," she said, noting that the Wichita Adia office already serves an area that includes El Dorado, Newton, Hutchinson, McPherson and Emporia.
Martin-Smith's Adia operations are computerized, which allows easy matches between an applicant's qualifications and a job's requirements. The permanent placement function performed by Martin-Smith supplements the computer network and will give employers access to a wide pool of prospective employees.
That benefit also will help job seekers, she said. "The value here is that they will be applying in one place."
MARTIN-SMITH'S enthusiasm for the future of her business, both in Lawrence and in other areas of the state, isn't dimmed by the low unemployment rate in Lawrence, which averaged 3.5 last year, or statewide, where the rate has been running about 3 percent below the national level.
On the contrary, Martin-Smith said a low unemployment rate increases demand for her company's services.
"That is always good for our business because when the applicant flow is really tight, we have to be there for our client companies," she said.
Martin-Smith said she also believes that many people who really are unemployed and interested in work don't show up in the jobless statistics, perhaps because they aren't registered to receive unemployment benefits.
"Even though our unemployment rate is low and there are weeks when we struggle to find qualified applicants, we will never exhaust the supply," she said.