Making Business Simpler

By Barron Guss
Wednesday - December 12, 2007
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The Guss and Kopp families
The Guss and Kopp families: (from left) Dede, Raquel, Barron (Altres president and CEO), Madison and Zachary Guss and Kelly, Kerry (president of Altres Staffing), Josh and Ronnie Kopp

As the first rays of the sun reach the tranquil outline of Diamond Head, early risers are attending to their morning rituals. Across from where the “Duke” stands in Waikiki today, a young man on a second floor lanai raises a small flag on a makeshift pole, alerting the surfers on dawn patrol that it’s time to paddle in and go to work. The year was 1969 and that was my father, Bill Guss.

We had arrived in Hawaii only months before, and Dad discovered a gap between work that needed to get done and people who could do the work. He founded Labor Services Inc. and began supplying workers to naval shipyards and local businesses on a daily basis. Word spread quickly and the business grew.

My brothers and I were called upon to “lend a hand” when we were busy. I got my start shoveling potatoes and unloading 100-pound bags of rice. My brother Jim unloaded boats and packed freezers at the tuna factory. After work, everyone would give him plenty of space on the bus ride home.

I learned a lot about small business in those days. But it was big business that prompted us to expand our employment services to what they are today. Companies such as Xerox, Motorola and IBM came to us when they realized they needed local payroll processing and face-to-face human resources support. Their Mainland operations were just too far away in those pre-high-speed days.

And if big companies could benefit from offloading all that back office busywork to us, imagine how helpful it could be for small companies that simply didn’t have the resources to keep up with the increasing demands of employer paperwork and regulation.

While our main business was providing temporary and long-term employees to local companies, we could see that a new industry was about to be born. This was the dawning of Hawaii’s professional employer organization (PEO).

Since 1971 our family company has been pioneering the PEO industry, essentially serving as the human resources department for hundreds of small and medium-size businesses across the state. We expertly manage their payroll, workers’ compensation, employee benefits, compliance and human resources.

I became president of our PEO business in 1993, and we pulled our various corporate entities together under the name ALTRES. Today, we operate two sister companies, ALTRES Staffing and ALTRES HR.

Here’s an example of how ALTRES HR, the PEO side of the business, helps local businesses. Let’s say two small painting companies are bidding for a major contract and bids are due today.

Rather than digging into his estimating worksheet to make his bid, owner No. 1 is faced with a fresh workers’ comp claim and a reminder from his health plan provider that certain forms are late. As he starts wading through the paperwork, his wife reminds him that payroll is due that day.

By comparison, owner No. 2 makes a single phone call to ALTRES HR about the workers’ comp issue. He doesn’t think at all about payroll and health plans (we take care of all that), and he finishes his bid by noon.

ALTRES HR makes it simple for owner No. 2 to be an employer. Owner No. 1, however, spends his day doing paperwork, juggling payroll and pulling his hair out.

The last note we got from my dad before he died in 1995 was written on a coffee-stained envelope: “Business is the engine of society. Making business simple is our goal -ALTRES.”

We’re still living up to his vision every day.


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