Case

Lori Diane Welch & JCL Services, Ltd.
Life Just Got Easier

When Lori was filling out college applications, no one school jumped out. Perhaps that was because she hadn't quite figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up. A friend told her about a new secretarial school, Katharine Gibbs, which was soon opening. As Lori researched, she found that it wasn't a "new" school at all, but rather had a long-standing reputation for teaching women how to stand out in a professional setting through skills and knowledge. Lori applied and to her (and her parents') delight, received a scholarship. With her Gibbs girl diploma in hand, corporate jobs soon followed. She quickly became the youngest Executive Assistant on Executive row in a top Fortune 500 organization.

 

Lori went on to work in both large and small corporations, learning from top-level executives and honing her skills. "Really great assistants are a dying breed--no one wants to sit in the background, but it's a really great seat to learn from. I had great bosses who became mentors. I learned to write really well by editing their speeches, reports and notes. It was invaluable.

 

In the late 90s feeling burnt out on office management/admin, she felt she needed more focus so she left her job as an office manager and took a lesser role as the EA for the General Counsel of a Fortune 100 company, U.S. Office Products ("USOP"). "After years of working, I felt like I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had good jobs, but I didn't have a career. I didn't have a path or a passion. I took this position because the Legal, Human Resources and Marketing departments all reported to the GC. I was interested in all those things so I figured this would help me narrow down my options." As they say, the best laid plans...What happened was that Lori did get to dabble in a lot of different things, but the company ended up going bankrupt, and Lori was left jobless. However, what Lori discovered about herself during her tenure at USOP was that she enjoyed doing a lot of different things, she loved helping people, and she loved staying busy.

 

During the time Lori was employed at USOP, her fridge went on the fritz. It was a busy time, and she couldn't take the day off from work to let the repair person in who given her that great window of time for their arrival somewhere between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. As a single person she wondered what other people did in similar situations. By the time the company closed its doors (Lori was one of the last people there to turn off the lights), she was pretty burnt out on corporate life. She was tired of working really hard with someone else always determining her income and her fate. As Lori left the company, she began to think more and more about her dilemma with the refrigerator repair. What do busy professionals do to manage their lives outside of work? At work they have assistants who help them manage? What do they do at home if they don't have a support system in place? After talking to numerous mentors and peers, she came up with the idea to start a concierge/organizing company which originally began in 2001 as Just Call Lori and evolved to JCL Services, Ltd. JCL Services' tag line is "Life Just Got Easier," and that's their mission--to make their clients' (individuals and small businesses) lives easier by tackling their "to do" lists and projects.

 

Running JCL Services has been great because it has allowed Lori to wear a lot of different hats--she is the CEO, marketing person, CFO, etc., but it has also presented a lot of challenges. It has forced her to focus on the things she's really good at--the things she should be spending her time on, and the things she should delegate. As a single person running her own company, she's been in charge of all the decisions, and thus has been the only one to blame for the bad ones! "People always tell me how courageous I am for taking the risk to start my own company, but I always say it was more a case of I just didn't think about it that much. If I had, I would have probably never done it. I just knew what I didn't want to do--work for anyone else again, and I never looked back. Failure was not an option."

 

One of Lori's biggest challenges is growing a service company in tough economic times while holding onto a talented work force. "Wearing a lot of different hats is really great, but it's also really challenging. There are days when I'm the marketing person, but then the next day I'm the chief bottle washer. I have lots of great ideas, but they're hard to implement when I'm still one of the worker bees." Finding great talent is always a challenge. "We are going in and out of people's houses every day--it's a huge responsibility. We are their 'at-home experts' so finding good responsible, capable people is not easy--and keeping them is even harder."

 

Personally, it's really hard to draw boundaries, especially in a service company that runs out of the owner's home. "I've gotten much better. I used to have a client who would call me at all hours--24/7. I ended that relationship, but it's still hard not to come home at night and jump on the computer. My mind never stops--it's an endless "to do" list.

 

Lori currently has two employees, but hopes to have at least four by the end of 2009, and wants this year to be focused on debt reduction. How can Lori make the leap from two to four employees and take her role into more of a managing role vs. a client service role?