It was late 1979 when Paul Barada officially launched his business, Barada Associates. What started 40 years ago as a one-man shop serving a local corporation, has now grown into a 2nd-generation, industry-leading organization serving clients all over the country.
To celebrate this milestone, Paul Barada (Founder + Chairman) and his son Will (President) took a moment to reflect on the last 40 years—how it all started, the legacy, and the future of talent acquisition.
Below is the interview transcript between Paul, Will and Kyla Shaver, Barada’s Marketing+Sales Support Specialist.
Kyla Shaver: Paul, the Barada Associates website tells the story of your role, as the Executive Director of the Rush County Chamber of Commerce, in convincing Copeland Corporation to relocate from Sydney, Ohio to Rushville, Indiana. Tell me about the day you found out they agreed to move their headquarters to Indiana.
Paul Barada: It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and necessary secrecy because Copeland did not want anyone to know they were planning to move one of their facilities. They said if we let the “cat out of the bag,” they wouldn’t come here. They wanted to share the story on their terms and on their timeline. The decision to relocate a plant doesn’t happen overnight. A great deal of research went into Rushville. The local newspaper and radio station new something was up and they kept pestering me to tell them what was happening. I invited the newspaper editor and the radio station manager to a private meeting behind closed doors. I told them I would keep them up to date with the understanding they couldn’t tell a soul until Copeland was ready. They agreed. On the day of the announcement, the VP of Manufacturing at Copeland set up a news conference and “a good time was had by all.”
KS: Being from Rushville, Indiana, you were an excellent resource for Copeland Corporation in recruiting and screening applicants. Part of your process included—and still includes—reference checks on candidates. A number of references you spoke with said they had never been asked so many questions about a past employee. I’m curious, what were some of the questions you asked?
PB: Copeland was insistent on knowing as much as they could about the workforce they were going to employ. They did something that very few companies were doing at the time. They really wanted references contacted. I put together about 2-dozen questions, a mix of general and specific, that would help us better understand if they had worked were they claimed they did and how well they performed.
I wanted to build rapport with references I was calling so they wouldn’t feel threatening. I’d start with “The reason I’m calling is because [ past employee] gave your name as a reference. How are you acquainted with _____. How long did you work together?” Some said 3 week, some said 6 months…some said years. The answer to these initial questions would allow me to understand how well the reference knew the candidate. Next, I’d ask:
- What were his/her responsibilities when you worked together?
- Generally speaking, how would you rank the quality of the work he did? (Some folks asked “On a scale from 1-10?” and I said, “Sure, if you’d like.”).
- If you had to identify an area where he/she could have done a better job, what would you say? (Instead of asking if he/she had any shortcomings.)
- Since not everyone is perfect, if you could change anything about [candidate], what would you change
- Very last question I would always ask: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think I should know about [candidate] good, bad or indifferent?
I was initially hired by Copeland as a consultant—which is what every Executive Director of a Chamber of Commerce hopes for. My father-in-law was asking when I’d get a “real job” [Paul laughs]. Copeland received over 6000 applications. They needed me to help sort and filter the list to match the employee composition they wanted and ultimately, land on the best 250.
KS: In 1979, the year you started Barada Associates, gas was .86 cents a gallon and you could buy a new Toyota Corolla for $3,700. What else do you remember about your first year in business?
PB: Copeland provided the telephone, typewriter and added me to their health insurance. What really stands out to me is the moment it became clear that I was on to something with reference checking. I got in touch with Executive Recruiter News. The publisher sent me a list of the top 10 executive search firms in the country. Seventh on the list was Fleming Associates located in Columbus, Indiana, about an hour from Rushville. The owner, Dick Fleming and Bob Piers, his business partner, believed I was on to something as well. I just needed a way to market this to prospective clients.
KS: Part of your initial business strategy was to identify what would remain important to your business—the non-negotiables. Your core values, accuracy, consistency and exceptional customer service are non-negotiables for Barada. How did you choose your core values and what impact have they made over the last 40 years?
PB: The foundation was pretty simple in terms of core values. We would always do what we told clients we said we would do. We would deliver on time. We would tailor solutions to fit their needs. I remember working with a business who needed the reference report by the end of the day. There was no way the mail service would make it happen so I drove it to their office myself. You’ll always get a real person when you call Barada Associates. No machine phone system. Real people helping real people in real time, just like it was 40 years ago. From the very beginning, we’ve seen ourselves as an extension of our client’s business. As the landscape becomes more complex it allows us to retain our core values and to be more invested as a partner versus just a vendor to our clients.
KS: Will, as a young child, what were some of your earliest memories of Barada Associates?
Will Barada: I always tell this story: There was a fire in downtown Rushville. In fact, it was the building next door to our current building. The firefighters were putting out the fire from the roof of my dad’s building. I was with Mardella Huskins (VP of Client Services), who was responsible for babysitting me and my brother. My memories have always been connected to the people who have worked here. They’ve committed their lives to working with my family. Mardella is a living reminder of our 40-year history. I also have memories of being stuck at the office with dad and always sorting through my dad’s desk drawers. I would always find it stuffed with promotional giveaways: coin purses, tchotchkes, strange markers and highlighters.
KS: Did you always know you would run the business one day?
WB: No, I didn’t. My degree is in English – I did coaching, worked at the Muncie Library, and learned guitar. I worked for WFYI briefly. I also taught daycare providers how to more effectively interact with Sesame Street.
Different interests eventually led me to Barada Associates. Four years into leading efforts in the operations area of the business, I started to see opportunities throughout the business. I was also able to see what was in jeopardy if we didn’t take advantage of existing opportunities. The lives we were serving were at risk. The light bulb moment for me involved The National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS). We attended the first meeting and we were one of the first in the background screening space.
KS: What does it mean to you personally to carry on the legacy of Barada Associates?
WB: It means a lot to carry on what dad started. It’s always been important to him. I enjoy involving my two brothers in it when we can. It’s a family business. The people who show up everyday—our employees—to carry out our vision and mission deserve all the respect our family can give them.
KS: As an expert in pre-employment screening, and helping other organizations hire wisely, what do you look for when hiring employees at Barada?
WB: Well first, I let our employees see my background check. Kelley Carter, our vice president, does too. I would tell any employer to understand their own business first. How vulnerable are their customers or employees? How vulnerable are their assets? For example, we customized a pre-employment screening/vetting process that makes the most sense for their company. Employers get in trouble with a one-size fits all or relying on one person’s opinion. Your gut feelings should always be the last thing that comes into play.
PB: In the early days, I asked about 2-dozen questions… now, we’ll ask companies if they want to provide a list of additional questions they feel are critical to their needs. Our approach with technology is this: It’s essential –but we put the software behind the people instead of in front of them so we can maintain the personal touch.
KS: As you reflect on the team you’ve had over the past 40 years, what comes to mind?
WB: The general character and quality of the people we’ve had over the last 40 years has been incredibly consistent. In the minimal amount of turnover we’ve had, we’ve been able to hire folks who are just as good – if not better – than those who paved the path before them. We really don’t have much turnover. We treat people the way we want to be treated.
KS: What’s next for Barada?
WB: I’m in the process of re-visioning the business right now. Our industry has always had a close relationship with HR and Law. Our future will continue to support clients even more effectively and provide the best methodology for the most sensitive parts of the hiring process. For employers, hiring requirements and regulations are becoming more complex. We remain focused and committed to providing secure services to our partners and maintaining our role as a leader in the industry.
KS: What is the next big hiring challenge for employers?
WB: Scarcity of employees and applicant pools. This will continue to be a challenge for at least the next 10 years based on population demographics. Not only hiring, but keeping talent, too. Employee training is an area of increasing importance. Getting employees up to speed and running quickly.
KS: For any employer, or HR Director, looking to grow their team, what is one piece of advice you would give?
WB: I think it is absolutely essential to know who you’re hiring. Making sure they are who they claim to be, that they can do what they claim they can and being confident they fit within the skill set you need. You need to be intentional about knowing who you are—your culture, your world of risk, and the types of people who succeed at your business. For the health, wellness, and profitability of your company, you must hire with intentional methodology. It makes you more defensible too. Reference reports may not always be the best tool—so we’ll make recommendations on other tools.
KS: Is there one hiring misstep that you find a majority of employers take that you would suggest they stop doing immediately?
WB: Relying fully on either end of the spectrum—basing your hire decision on GUT feelings or strictly on metrics, like the score on the test, the record, etc.
KS: What would you say has been the most rewarding part for both of you as leaders of Barada Associates.
PB: For me, we are thriving and recognized as an industry leader after 40 years in business. The fact we’ve existed for 40 years says something about what we’re doing. Our core values have had a great deal to do with our longevity. We’re bigger and better than ever. We are committed to the fundamental principles we started with 40 years ago.
WB: I think the lives of the 26 employees of whom we are a part. There was a pivotal time when we were deciding if we would be a boutique offering only reference checking or offer all the background services other companies were offering. After lengthy discussions, we decided to be full-service because we wanted to be more inclusive. It better aligns with our core values and allows us to meet the real, ever-changing needs of our partners/employers.
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