Mike Stoddard: People Focused

We recently met up with Mike Stoddard at BASIC, where he is chief operating officer of the human resources consulting company that has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of America’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies for the fourth year running.

Mike has served on the board of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo for 13 years, holding the position of Treasurer for many of those. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Ferris State University. A former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he served as a Military Police during the Vietnam era.

By 1976, Mike had started his accounting practice and in walked his first tax client, Fritz Teutsch, It was Fritz who shared with Mike his idea to start a business. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1989, Mike and Fritz established BASIC, which stands for Benefits Administration Services International Corporation. Headquartered in Portage, Michigan, BASIC has grown into one of the largest third party administrators in the nation. A technology driven HR Compliance Company, BASIC focuses on delivering administrative and technology solutions to assist human resource departments nationwide. Their offices are located in Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, California, Missouri, and now Rhode Island.

Tell us about BASIC.

It’s a good company. We have a lot of great people that have worked with us for a long time, We’re a good corporate citizen. We take pride that we’re involved in a number of different boards, from CIS to The Salvation Army, to West Michigan Therapy Dogs,…[Mike keeps naming organizations and we found it hard to keep up. Given that “People Helping People” is one of BASIC’s values, it’s not surprising that this flows from their business culture and spills into the community. You can catch the names of all the worthy organizations here.]

The number one thing is our people. We have 186 employees. That’s doubled in the last three years. Our five-year goal is to double again and get to 400 employees. We’re fortunate and blessed, to be allowed to do the work we do. As we grow, our people grow with us as well.

BASIC is consistently recognized as an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Company. What is behind BASIC’s ability to both successfully grow as a business and to manage that growth?

Hire the right people. It’s really about having a good team.

Fritz and I, we’ll be working out at West Hills, and we’ll look at each other and think back to when we started. Our office space was the size of closet, about 50 square feet. Today, [Mike gazes upwards and counts out loud, “13, 20, 25…”] BASIC is over 35,000 square feet. The success of our company is no one or two people. It’s about the team.

What trend(s) are you seeing in your field, particularly when it comes to improving staff focus and effectiveness?

Staff need to continue to be trained and stay up on trends in the business. At BASIC, we need to be up on the latest and best technology. We need to identify what clients need because that changes over time.

Be nimble. That’s one of the reasons BASIC develops new products. It’s important to keep up and be flexible. In a blink of an eye, things change, particularly when it comes to technology.

We are and always want to be an American company. For us to continue to be an American company we need to be productive. Some of our competitors outsource stuff—that’s a trend right now. We could look to India, hire a person for 400 dollars a week. We wouldn’t pay payroll taxes, health insurance, dental, vision, 401-k match, no time off, none of that. But our people are more productive even though we pay them more. Our people work hard. We are an American company and we’re proud of that fact.

You are a dedicated and long-time CIS board member, holding the role of treasurer for a number of those years. As you know, there are many great organizations throughout the area that support kids. Why CIS?

I came on board one or two years after the merger in 2003.

I only ever remember you as being part of the CIS board!

Yes, that’s just about right! [He laughs.]

Bob Borsos first approached me and asked me if I might be interested in being on the board. I went to meet with Pam [Kingery] at the PNC Building where CIS used to be housed and she showed me this video—I’ve shared this story with as many people that will listen. It really made an impression.

In the video, an African American male is wheeled into the emergency room. He’s been shot up with bullets. The video then cuts to another scene, another patient being wheeled into the ER, and you see the face of that same male—but now he’s the emergency room surgeon. The tagline: Give kids a chance to succeed. I’ll never forget that. CIS is about giving kids a chance to become educated. That the American dream. With education, combined with opportunity and the willingness to work, you can get ahead. CIS helps kids take advantage of opportunities—and, in the case of Kalamazoo, take advantage of the Promise—they change not only their lives but their future children’s lives.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

Photo by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

I’ve learned what invasive bittersweet is and what it does to our forest. It kills trees.

I didn’t know anything about bittersweet until Ruth from the Kalamazoo Nature Center came out one Saturday morning. She taught us how to identify the invasive species and we pulled out bittersweet along the Eliason trail. [BASIC adopted an almost two-mile stretch of the Eliason nature trail that winds near their property and is part of the 123-acre Eliason Nature Reserve.] Bittersweet is a vine-type plant and strangles trees. We saved one big tree. We call it the Basic tree now.

What is your favorite word right now?

Grandkids. We have nine, soon to be ten grandkids come February. They range in age from zero to 18. The older I get, the more I realize how much we can make a difference in their lives. They are our future!

What is something you love about our community?

We are a caring community. People care about other people and are willing to help. That’s my experience, whether it is CIS, Portage Community Center, our church, or neighborhood. We’re Western Michigan! We’re hard workers. Family is important and we watch out for our neighbors.

Any favorite restaurants?

Let’s see. Oh, let me think. Latitude 42! I’m a bit biased, however. [He smiles. The microbrewery restaurant is owned by the Stoddards, and co-founded by their son Joe Stoddard, Todd Neumann, and Scott Freitas.] I often work there on Friday and Saturday night, as the bar back.

Bar back?

Essentially, I’m a glorified dishwasher. I like watching the interactions and seeing how well the employees treat the customers. It gives me a lot of pride. They take good care of the customers. The service is good. The food is good—the fried chicken and salmon are my two favorite dishes.

Also, on Sundays, after church, my wife Ruth and I love going to the Daily Grind Cafe for breakfast.

At Communities In Schools, we believe that every child needs a marketable skill to use upon graduation. It’s one of our five CIS basics. As an employer, what marketable skills are you looking for right now?

Communication skills. Both written and verbal. The ability to communicate—whether that is talking on the phone, composing emails, being attentive and listening to the client—is important in our service business. A lot of people, unfortunately, don’t have those skills.

What advice do you have for our 12,000+ students—the up and coming generation of workers—to prepare themselves for obtaining a job?

In our business, you need to know English. English is important. You can’t talk like you might talk at home in the work environment. You must be professional. You can set yourself apart and really advance if you can communicate. Strong written and verbal communications skills, having computer skills, composing emails that reads like you know what you’re saying…that is what we’re looking for.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My dad. Growing up on the West Side of Grand Rapids, he taught me a lot. I was the oldest of five children. My mom stayed home and raised us. My dad was a postal clerk. He worked all the overtime he could. After doing his postal work, he had a paper route. It was a rural route, in the area where Grand Valley is now. That was something! All those snow banks in the winter…

My dad was a good man, good husband, and good father. He set a good example. I learned from him that it takes effort to be successful. You don’t need to be the smartest. You just need to put in effort and be willing to sacrifice. It starts with effort.

Mike, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!