Founder: Elmer Winter and Aaron Scheinfeld.
Distinction: Made “temp” an indelible part of the corporate
Primary Products: Temporary workers for assorted positions worldwide.
Annual Sales: $9.770 billion.
Number of Employees: 2,016,000.
Major Competitors: Adecco, Randstad Holding, Vedior.
Chairman: Johan R. Walter; President and CEO: Jeffrey A. Joerres.
Headquarters: Milwaukee, Wis.
Year founded: 1948
During the past half-century, few companies have mirrored the times—and successfully
changed with them—better than Manpower. Born with the Baby Boom generation, it
was launched specifically to supply short-term help for the countless industrial operations
that sprung up across the United States after World War II ended. It then followed
America’s almost unceasingly upward economic trajectory through the mid-1970s, when
recession put a crimp into many of these manufacturing concerns. Manpower responded
by evolving from a supplier of factory help to one of highly skilled office temporaries. In
the process it became the largest company of its kind in the world.
But the parallels with its era don’t end there. Over the next decade Manpower proved that
it had accurately judged the tea leaves and it grew into a significant multinational
company, finding work for about 700,000 of its temps worldwide and reporting annual
revenues of more than a half-billion dollars. Its leader, though, presciently saw sings of
yet another paradigm shift in business and society—which once again would dramatically
alter the type of services required by the corporate world. And in the mid-1980s,
Manpower spent millions to equip its offices with computers to train workers for the tasks
that were just then beginning to form. And when large numbers of college-educated
women who had left the workforce to start families sought to return, Manpower was there
to provide them with appropriate positions.
Befitting its role as a reflector of significant events in the late-20th century, there has
been corporate intrigue and executive infighting galore. Another economic slowdown led
to another directional shift. A movement into matters of public concern further altered the
product mix. And a merger of two overseas competitors bumped Manpower to second
place on the global stage. Despite it all and a name that is no longer politically or even
technically correct—Manpower today supplies some 2 millions workers to 400,000
companies, operates 3,400 offices in more than 50 countries, and records annual sales
approaching $10 billion. Not bad for a little personnel firm from Milwaukee.
Manpower was founded by Elmer Winter and Aaron Scheinfeld, a pair of Wisconsin
attorneys who decided in 1948 that the time was right for a company that could rapidly
and effectively fill many of the industrial positions springing up around the Untied States.
Winter and Scheinfeld hit the nail on the head and their company, which did indeed
supply “man power”, thrived without much variation over the next quarter-century. But
when the firm suffered a 75-percent drop in profits during the 1975 recession, it was
obviously time for a few changes.
The impetus for this new direction came about the very next year, when the Parker Pen
Company of nearby Janesville, Wis., bought 80 percent of Manpower’s stock. It installed
Mitchell Fromstein as president, a former speechwriter for the legendary football coach
Vince Lombardi. Fromstein would be integrally involved with Manpower for decades to
come, but he began making significant contributions right from the start. One of this very
first was to switch the company’s emphasis from factory to office jobs, in order to fill the
most pressing needs of the business world’s emerging white-collar infrastructure. By the
time a new economic downturn brought about a new round of corporate downsizings, he
had Manpower positioned as a ready source for skilled temporaries who could instantly
step in as replacements. He also signed exclusive national contracts to provide such
staffing for major corporations such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.
Fromstein consistently reduced Manpower’s reliance on smokestack industries until
more than half of its temps were performing clerical duties, and another quarter were doing only “clean assembly work.” He also expanded successfully overseas, and soon had Manpower tallying
the majority of its business abroad. With annual sales of nearly $ million, his company became the world leader in its business. Italso became the chief wage-earner in its own house, and by 1984 was responsible for 83 percent of Parker’s sales and 96 percent of its profits. To reward these achievements Fromstein was named president and CEO of the parent company.
Parker also expected him to keep his position at Manpower, of course, and he did not
disappoint. In 1986, Manpower’s steadily increasing revenues were nudging $900 million,
and 400,000 of its 700,000temps were employed in secretarial or clerical positions.
(Interestingly, 75 percent of them were now women—most of whom were married and
had children under seven as well as a college degree.) Ever watchful of his markets
Fromstein noticed a steadily increasing need for workers with computer skills. For the
past few years he had turned an 11-member team loose on a program called Skillware,
which developed proprietary training material for the varied word-processing packages,
spreadsheets, and database managers that Manpower temps were likely to encounter.
Fromstein spent $5 million on PCs for his 1,300 offices to jumpstart the computer literacy
effort. The days of slotting some-one who performed well on a typing test into a hundred
different openings, he said, was gone.
Despite such shrewd tactics, his free reign at Manpower would soon come to an
unceremonious end. In 1987, his board accepted a takeover bid from British temp agency
Blue Arrow. The offer, initiated by English dealmaker Antony Berry, gave $1.3 billion toIf change is happening on the
Manpower’s stockholders. Fromstein personally took away $29 million and agreed to run
Manpower from Milwaukee while Berry retained control of Blue Arrow in London. The very
next year, however, Berry convinced his board to sack Fromstein. And for the first time in
13 years, Manpower was without its visionary leader.
Fromstein, for his part, felt Berry’s approach would never work at Manpower. The English
firm wanted its U.S. subsidiary to aggressively enter fields such as healthcare, even
though they required special (and expensive) training. Fromstein felt such relatively lowskilled
positions as file clerk, secretary, and customer service representative were a
better bet. Blue Arrow was out of touch in other ways, he believed, such as insisting its
American employees read a home-grown newsletter that was, as Fromstein later told
Time magazine, “poor in quality, provincial and British in nature with little articles about
the soccer team in South Wales.”
Not surprisingly, Manpower franchisees strongly backed the man who had transformed
their company. In 1989 they helped oust Berry and reinstate Fromstein, who now had
control of the entire British-based firm. He immediately began ridding the corporation of
poorly performing Blue Arrow offices and moving administrative duties back to
Milwaukee. Local interest was so great that the Brewers, the city’s major league baseball
team announced the news on its scoreboard during a game.
From an outsider’s perspective, the early 1990s weren’t the best of times to regain
control of a business like Manpower. “Restructuring” was a kind way to describe what was
happening throughout the American economy, where as many as 1,500 jobs a day were
being eliminated in cost-cutting moves. At best, companies that did not lay off were
cutting positions through attrition.
So here it was again: Business was in another slump, hiring was off, and temps were
always the first to go. But Fromstein once more saw possibilities for a world leader that
was now recording $2.7 billion in annual revenues. Manpower’s jobs had evolved from
“emergency” fill-ins to flexible long-term assistance, he repeatedly pointed out in
interviews, and temps in general were now twice as prevalent as they had been 10 years
earlier (although they still represented just 1 percent of the total workforce). Manpower
was additionally leveraging its heavy presence in Europe, he noted, where penalties
against hiring and then firing permanent workers could often be severe. That’s why the
company had 450 offices in France and 800 in the United States—even though France had
just one-fourth of the U.S. population.
And sure enough, when the economy picked up and hiring resumed, Manpower was again
there to serve the businesses that needed it. By the mid-1990s, it even became the
largest private-sector employer in the United States. Ironically though, it was no longer
the world leader in its field. Two international competitors—Switzerland’s Adia and
France’s Ecco—merged in 1996 to take that title. Fromstein, apparently unconcerned, was
moving in yet another new direction. As a member of a White House panel on welfare
reform, he became interested in training and placing recipients in private-sector jobs. He
then collaborated on just such a project in Milwaukee, and sought additional ways that his
company could assist further.
Today, nearly 170,000 Manpower employees are working each week. Its most profitable
and prevalent customers are offices and light industrial sites, but increasingly popular
“call centers” and professional positions in the information technology, engineering,
finance, and telecommunications fields are becoming important in its overall scheme. The
company supplies personnel for 96 percent of the entries in the Fortune 100, and about
40 percent of its employees ultimately find full-time jobs with their customers. Manpower
also performs employee testing, training, and other contract services for business of all
And even without its long-time leader (who retired in 1999 and was named Chairman
Emeritus), Manpower has continued staking its claim on cutting-edge personnel
programs. In mid-2000, new president and CEO Jeffrey Joerres announced an alliance
with “the world leader in psychometric testing and assessment” that would create an
online system for more effectively selecting and training temps. The result, he said,
allows Manpower to continue closely matching its services to the ever-changing needs of
its clients—much as it has successfully done over the past half-century.