CEO Connect: Digging deeper with Carrie Charles

Carrie Charles is the chief executive officer for Broadstaff, a staffing firm in Tampa, which specializes in communications in the technology space. She hosts a podcast 5G Talent Talk, in partnership with RCR Wireless News. She’s a former life coach and a dedicated Christian. 

In 2022, Broadstaff reached $33 million in revenue. The company has had three consecutive years of ranking on the Inc. 5,000 fastest-growing private companies list, in 2020, 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine, interviewed Charles in front of a live audience at the private residence of Taylor and Sonya Ranker, owners of Questmont Virtual Family Office. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity. 

See photos of the event here.

Tell us what it’s been like being on, as Robert Hessel said, “the most coveted issue of the year,” the December issue?

I had no idea, I mean I love TBBW, but I had no idea the reach of your magazine. I have received hundreds, I mean hundreds of messages, texts, emails and social media [messages]. It’s just been incredible. I spent eight hours on a Saturday answering every single one that I could and I still didn’t get through them all. 

One special story really stood out to me. A lot of young women have contacted me and said that this story gave them strength and confidence, and [it] really gave them the power to do things that they were afraid, or ashamed, to do before. One woman reached out to me and she wanted to make a career change, but she needed to go to a specific school to make that career change and she didn’t have the money. She said that after reading my story, she applied for a scholarship and wrote her entire story that she was ashamed of all her life. And she wrote it to apply for a scholarship. That’s just one of many stories.

One of the things that we have found our audience really likes to hear about is to hear about failures but failing forward. Is there a story that you can share with everybody here of a failure that you turned into an opportunity? 

Yes, I have a few. One that I can remember really stands out to me. I think I would call it the ultimate pivot, if you will. We had a mortgage company at the time and my ex-husband was running the mortgage company and it was 2008. We were so excited because we’re building this incredible building right on Interstate 275 for our mortgage company. We were going to grow it and it was going to be awesome. The company was just thriving. Then the mortgage crisis happened, and we had to close the company. 

In that moment, Harry [Hedaya] looked at me and said, “Well, we’ve got to do something here and we’ve got to figure out what to do with this building, we have to pay for it.” We decided to turn it into executive suites and create an executive suite company called Executive Centers of America. We ended up buying a second building, too, and I ran the executive suites company while Harry built an entire other company and used part of the building for that as well. 

It was really an incredible pivot, because we built a very successful executive suites company. We ended up selling the building. But one thing to know, which was very interesting at the time, is that while all this was going on, and we were rebuilding ourselves financially, we were in the middle of a divorce and our son was diagnosed with cancer. We were going through all of that and rebuilt our entire financial world while we were experiencing all that. 

This is a room full of business owners and people who run companies. And one of the things that I find in every industry where I’m having a discussion with the leader, is that talent is an issue. Finding it and retaining it. You’re an expert in this space. So tell us what the talent landscape looks like for 2023? Is it going to get better? 

These are my predictions, let me get out my crystal ball. It looks like the great resignation is slowing down, so we’ve got some relief there. But still, 40% of employees say they’re going to be looking for another job in the next six months and that they want to leave their jobs. However, they’re not saying that they are going to leave, they’re saying they want to leave. 

What does that mean to us? That means, to us, we’re going to be in the middle of what’s called quiet quitting, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about this new term. What that means, essentially, is they’re going to be staying in their jobs out of fear because they don’t want to leave because of the recession that is looming. They’re going to be disengaged, they’re going to do just the minimum and we may not even know that’s going on. 

We, as business leaders, what we need to focus on is we need to focus on retention, over recruiting. Most [human resources] executives spend most of the money, 90% of the money, is spent on recruiting not retention. Ten percent is spent on retention. We need to flip that in 2023 and really focus on engagement and retention. 

The other thing that I think is going to be important to all of us as business leaders is coming back into the office, not coming back into the office, what’s that going to look like? I have so many leaders that talk to me, they say, “OK, are we finally going to get some control back? Are we finally going to get in the driver’s seat here next year?” What it looks like is that nine out of ten businesses are going to require their employees to come back in the office and employers are going to regain some of that control. 

That doesn’t mean full time, it doesn’t mean five days a week, it could mean a hybrid schedule. But then, also, 40% of workers say they’re going to quit if they are forced to come back into the office. It’s going to be a very interesting year, the way that plays out. 

One of the things I wanted to mention is headcount, because we’re seeing layoffs, we’re seeing headcount being reduced. But the reason behind it is interesting to me. One of the reasons behind reducing headcount is performance. Apparently, during COVID and for the past couple of years, managers have not really held employees to key performance indicators and performance metrics like they did before COVID. Now, they’re starting to do that. So really, the headcount reductions are going to be mostly because of performance. So that’s what I’m seeing in my crystal ball.

That’s interesting because everything you’re reading says it’s because of the recession. So, is that basically just a wonderful excuse to get rid of the people you should have years ago?

Yep, I believe it could be. I think so.

You have this crazy intense health fitness focus. You say, it’s a business strategy. Tell us tell us how your health, and fitness, is a business strategy.

I am a bit neurotic about my diet and my routine. For those of you who know me, you know, when we’re together and I’m like, “I can’t eat that. I don’t eat that. I do eat that.” But I will say this has been something I’ve been committed to for most of my life. 

When I was younger, this all started to heal my depression. I struggled with depression my whole life. And so I thought, I’ve got to fix this. By the food that I ate, exercising and fitness, health and routine, and sleep, and everything that I’m committed to, it actually helped my mood and it helped me heal my depression. So that’s one thing and then it turned into really a business strategy. 

These life hacks, if you will, allowed me to have more energy, focus and mental clarity. And I’ll tell you at 55, to start a business at 49, and go through, let’s just be real because you know everything about me now, menopause, and all of that stuff. To go through all of that in the middle of starting a company and running a company and staying energized and keeping me at a place where I need to be at the top of my game. It’s through diet, exercise and fitness. And you know, it really is a business strategy.

You grew your company from $6.9 million to $30 million in two years. I don’t think there’s a person in this room that doesn’t want to know how you did that.

I have to say there’s a couple of different things I want to share about that. No. 1 is, I decided to be completely unreasonable, like totally unreasonable. I have this notebook on my desk and it says, “Trust your crazy ideas.” Every single day, that was just all what I did, right? 

I’ll give you an example, a story about how we landed our largest client, and this was, I think it was August, in the middle of COVID. No one was flying anywhere and we were all in shutdown mode. I’d been trying to get into this one account. I’m a salesperson at heart. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. So, I was just going for it and doing everything I could. A year went by and nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. I’m like, “OK, I have to get this.” I called one of the leaders and I said, “Look, I’m going to give you a placement. I’ll give you a candidate for free.” This is a $35,000 placement and I’m going to give it to you for free. I just want one meeting with this woman who won’t talk to me. Just one. That’s all. It can be five minutes, I don’t care.” And he’s like, “OK, fine. Give me the placement. I like him. We’re going to hire him. Here’s your meeting.” 

I remember sitting with her on Zoom and I had like five minutes. And she’s like, “Oh, my gosh, do you know how many recruiting companies I’ve talked to? Just in the past week?” So I said, “OK, here’s what I want to do. I’m going to fly to Denver tomorrow. And I’m going to bring my leadership team. And we’re going to whiteboard this whole thing out and we’re going to design something just for you.” And she’s like, “Well, I don’t know if we can have visitors right now.” I said, “I don’t care. I’m going to wear 10 masks, a hazmat suit—we’re coming.” I bought a ticket. 

We got there and we whiteboard it all out, designed a program for them and we got the account. It has been amazing. That’s one thing, being completely unreasonable. 

What other business advice have you been given or have given to others? 

You have to be uncomfortable to grow and you have to be uncomfortable to get to that next level. The other piece of advice, which was very powerful, is another CEO told me to systematize everything. He showed me all these computer screens everywhere. [At the time] I only had one screen, but he had like 50 screens everywhere and he’s like, “I’ve systematized everything.” We took that a step further to automate everything. Now, every single task that we do, we look at it and say, can this be automated? The last piece of advice I really want to share would be from me, which is, prayer is a business strategy. It really is. And, you know, I always say that I’m the CEO of BroadStaff, but God is the chairman of my board. 

What’s next for you personally and professionally? 

I have ideas all the time. It really scares my team when I say I have an idea. In fact, Harry and I just started a company called Retention Partners. It’s such a powerful company for a powerful time. What we do is we help companies attract, engage and retain the largest segment of our workforce, which is the millennial generation and the Gen Z’s—also the most misunderstood. 

We also have another partner, Dr. Kent Wessinger, who has an eight-year research project that we utilize for consulting. It really is a sister company to BroadStaff. We’re on fire because another reason why I was so passionate about it, is because we’re reaching and staffing one candidate at a time, right? If we go into a company that’s got hundreds or thousands of employees, and we actually shift the leaders in that company, now it’s at scale. Now we’re reaching hundreds of thousands of people and helping culture shift. 

Starting another company with your ex-husband?

I know, it’s crazy.

Talk about that just a little bit, just because that would never happen with me and my ex-husband. How does that work for you guys?

I won’t lie. It was challenging at first, because we do have a full blended family and they’re all here in the front row. We decided early on that when we got divorced that we wanted it to be an amazing divorce. I said those words. We created a space where we could create something new, right? I wanted the kids to know that it wasn’t a loss. We were actually creating something bigger and something new and something greater. 

In that whole experience, Harry and I were in business together. We were really good in business. We were really good in business together, really good. And, you know, it hasn’t been perfect. It hasn’t been easy. But we have an enormous amount of respect for one another, enormous. He respects me, I respect him, and we have incredible communication. Most of all, we’re yin and yang. Where I’m weak he’s strong and vice versa. So again, it hasn’t been the easiest road, but we’ve all been so committed to this. And it’s working, so we’re doing it again. Here we go!

ABOUT ‘CEO CONNECT’

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Stenson Tamaddon, Seacoast Bank, nPerspective and Source 1 Solutions were presenting sponsors. The host sponsor was  Sonya and Taylor Ranker, of Questmont.

TBBW’s video partner is Empowering Creative.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by an interview with that month’s cover CEO.

Partnering with TBBW on future editions provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at
[email protected].

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