February 8, 2007

Kelly Girl

And the man behind the brand is...
William Kelly

William Russell Kelly ran a business where companies dropped off business at Kelly's office for typing, calculating, duplicating and mailing. One day a swamped customer called Kelly to send over a typist and the temporary help industry was born.

Kelly may have stumbled onto a new industry but it wasn't total happenstance. He was born in British Columbia in 1906 and his oil pioneer father took the family across the world before dying in 1928, leaving no estate. Kelly worked through the Depression as a car salesman and accountant for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.

He volunteered during World War II and helped establish a system to move crucial food supplies to the troops. After the war he saw the United States perched for a tremendous expansion which would no doubt be accompanied by a crush of paperwork. Kelly planned to apply the organizational skills he learned in the military to help ease this burden.

Kelly chose Detroit as the site for his new business since it was the center of the automobile industry and used $10,000 in savings to rent an office and hire two clerical workers. After three months he had billed only $847.72. Kelly had guessed correctly about the volume of work but didn't foresee that companies would try to do it all themselves. When he sent out his first temp as a courtesy Kelly realized that what was needed was not office equipment but skilled operators.

When clients called they asked to have one of "those Kelly girls" sent over. Kelly adopted the Kelly Girl name. When temporary workers arrived on their assignment they introduced themselves by saying, "Hello, I'm your Kelly Girl."

Kelly had not only tapped into a valuable market niche but uncovered an enthusiastic pool of employees. Women had filled in admirably as wartime workers and many still harbored a desire to work as they dutifully returned home to start families. Temporary clerical work was an ideal way to have both worlds - they could always refuse an untimely assignment.

In the 25 years after the war the number of American clerical workers doubled from seven million to fourteen million and 95% of the increase was women. Kelly opened his first branch in Louisville in 1952 and by 1955 Kelly Girl was in 29 cities. By the end of the decade there were 84,000 Kelly Girls.

Kelly conducted careful market research in the 1960s and introduced Kelly Marketing, Kelly labor and Kelly Technical. Many of the new recruits for part-time work were men, forcing a name change to Kelly Services in 1966.

Thousands of temporary help agencies entered the market in the 1970s but Kelly Services, with William Kelly still serving as Chairman into his eighties, was billing over $1.6 billion on their 40th anniversary in 1986.

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