Exeleon Magazine

Interview with Founder of HRBoost – Nicole Martin

HRBoost Founder Nicole Martin_Interview_ExeleonMagazine

A company, upon being formed, creates a torrent of emotions. There’s fulfillment, sense of excitement, and a joy of building something from scratch. On the other hand, there’s constant stress and anxiety about the uncertainty that entrepreneurship brings to the table.

Most aspiring entrepreneurs crave for these emotions; they crave the thought of being an entrepreneur. This wasn’t the case with Nicole Martin.

A self-acclaimed accidental entrepreneur, Nicole assessed a situation and leveraged an opportunity to become an entrepreneur. Today, her company, HRBoost, stands out as one of the Best and Brightest® HR solution providers.

Exeleon Magazine interviews Nicole Martin to learn more about her inspiring journey and her pathway towards excellence.

What according to you makes for an inspiring leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership?

I like to believe we are all leaders from wherever we stand. Thus, my leadership journey began long ago. As a young girl, I worked part time while attending school and managed to maintain good grades, volunteer, and become Editor of my high school newspaper, as well as Student Body President my Senior Year.

I entered the job market right after high school and was more interested in being self-sufficient rather than attending a University. The product of a single mother, I didn’t intend to get ahead that way. I was just raised to be self-sufficient. I can say that by the time I completed my undergraduate studies working full time, I had five years of solid experience in my field. As a result, I went right into a HR Management role at the age of 23.

I learned that early experience is priceless, and education was the ticket to play the game. When I was promoted to the role of a Director, I was proud to be the sole woman on what had been a purely male management team. When I completed my graduate degrees, I truly pondered what would replace my studies.  After the recession, I helped my former employer slowly scale down and despite pay freezes and downsizing, we were still being recognized as an employer of choice. I learned a great deal about people and culture through those years.

Looking back, I now consider myself an accidental entrepreneur. I never intended to grow a business. In fact, I left corporate in 2010 and began consulting. My vision was to find another CEO that wanted to be an employer of choice and build it from scratch all over again. It’s exciting and you can feel the difference when you walk in the door of a high growth business. I was referred into my first Shared Services client and back then I embedded myself exactly as that, a high growth business.

My client aimed to grow, scale and sell. In less than 36 months, they did exactly that; scaling from $10M to $26M, they then sold for $58M. My team continued to serve the client two years post acquisition. When all was said and done, it was my client that said, “Nicole, I like your business. I would be interested in investing.” It took me a year to see who he saw in the mirror.

In 2015, I created my five-year business plan and engaged my investor on my terms. I became my own high growth business with 50% growth year over year. In fact, 2018 was HRBoost’s biggest year to date and we are on track to do it again as we close out 2019! With 15 Boosters on my team we have served over nearly 600 businesses in Chicago. We are proud to be a viable option for high growth and transformational businesses seeking HR services.

What has the journey been like for you, from pursuing your HRM degree from the Roosevelt University to founding HRBoost?

I consider myself a lifelong learner. I had always worked full time while attending school in the evenings and weekends. It was a privilege to apply what I learned while I worked and the pace of that approach drives my continued thirst to learn, share and evolve on my own. It was the endless curiosity that led to my business today. I found many providing HR services to the middle market but not as I knew it to be. Furthermore, I would be consulted upon for culture transformation, but it is so much more fun to integrate strategic culture plans from the foundation of a business.

Looking back at your career, what would you have done different when starting out?

I can’t say that I would change anything. In fact, by the time I had my undergraduate degree, I had accumulated 6 years of experience in the field of HR. Not something I planned but something that truly gave me a head start.

What would be your advice for some of the aspiring women leaders and entrepreneurs?

Never wear your gender into the room. I never think about the fact that I am a woman. I simply have learned men are about results and while women care about effort, we can surely have plenty to show for in terms of results. I think I always aimed to help, and many women operate this way, but I also believe in self love and care and I think many can fall short of demanding this for themselves for the sake of helping others. There must be an equal balance.

What was the thought that led to the inception of the company? What is the history behind the name of the company?

The journey of my company has been quite interesting. HRBoost was created from the tenacity to do my work but on my terms. In 2009, I supported my employer through downsizing through the recession. By 2010, I became a consultant and had a mission to find the next CEO that desired to create the best place to work. However, I was not willing to sacrifice my role as a mother, and there was no ‘part-time’ at executive level. Dwelling between my personal and professional life I tried to create the balance.

When I met my first client, I knew I could help them. They accepted my proposal and within one year, we created a Best and Brightest® Company to Work For and I built a team to keep pace with the growth.

I realized it was not the unique chemistry of the team that I had, but the fact became clear that I had a process. It was amazing and humbling to realize that my team and I were working on the same intellectual playground. Moreover, to no surprise, we have a highly qualified team with bench strength that requires work to accommodate their lives versus the other way around. Our work environment is all-encompassing: virtual, on-site, in the client’s business, and highly collaborative. For us collaboration is not just teamwork but shared creation.

Explain the need and importance of HR software solutions? How does the HRBoost platform help organizations with its solutions?

We source a HCM or Human Capital Management system for our clients. Many do not realize that that the best cloud providers dealing in HCM provide their platforms to large businesses only. It has been a dream of mine to be able to offer the same scalable, data driven analytics and integrated solutions to the middle market. Through our partners, we are now able to offer a small business what it seeks in payroll, time and attendance and tax reporting but allow them to take advantage of benefit admin and reporting, compensation planning, training, customized workflows, onboarding and performance achievement in addition to global analytics at a pace they can work through.

We have all seen a company buy a system only to outgrow it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a system that grows with you? At HRBoost, that is what we strive to provide.

What has been your role as a leader since founding HRBoost? What is your vision for the company?

Our vision is to bring Joy and Purpose to People through their Work, and it begins with us. Given the fact that everyone is a leader and can lead from where they stand. I would argue that true leaders advocate for their career development. For example, I have seen many create roles that did not exist in growing companies.

In today’s workplace, discussions are changing, and career paths are evolving to allow an employee to grow within a lattice framework of competencies within an organization. Companies that do this well will retain talent as talent seeks to grow. Thus, strategic leaders must paint the vision while operational leaders help define the knowledge, skills and abilities talent require and only then can grass roots leaders see the paths available and self-apply.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

The greatest enemy of success is fear. My business had high growth and with high growth comes challenge. I had to get access to financing, attract skilled talent that believed in the brand promise, and the most difficult challenge was overcoming fear. Being a disruptor in the industry, you can get attention from big competition and calls can come in for acquisition before you even realize you are profitable. Staying true to the vision, my personal values and keeping the faith led to a solid team, and together we bring joy and purpose to people through their work.

What are some of the pre-conceived notions or stereotypes that you have faced being a women entrepreneur?

Firstly, I think women need to stop wearing their gender. If women stopped leading with “I am a woman” and claimed their worth based on results and the contribution they make from a business case perspective, it will be enough. Women must invest in themselves and do the work for which they are more than capable. There is nothing wrong with being feminine and there is nothing wrong with exemplifying assertion and confidence. I don’t see myself different from any other woman in terms of ability; I just know I chose not to settle while playing fair.

How do you plan to take HRBoost forward? On a personal front, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?

Currently we are all experiencing unprecedented times. My business like many is hard hit by the realities of the Coronavirus. We were receiving incoming business and at the same time seeing some client dissolve completely. We will continue to do what we always have done. Meet every client with strategic HR day one, employee one. Why? Because they deserve it and we all just learned how important small business is to the economy.

Name a few women that have inspired you in your life or career?

That’s easy, every woman that came before me that was true to her calling and her God given graces and shared with others openly.

Finally, what do you think is the most important trait for a leader and why?

Curiosity. I think we all must learn, unlearn and relearn and in order to begin, we must have curiosity. May I never be cured of my curiosity!

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