By: Ken Reibel, Milwaukee Business Journal
Bill Harrigan’s business model turns marginalized and downtrodden workers into high performers.
“Making a difference in people’s lives is fun,” he says. “If a business is good at engaging employees in meaningful ways, hiring these individuals can be a strategic advantage.”
The Cedarburg businessman, who has no formal training in behavioral sciences, draws on his own trauma-filled childhood in a Milwaukee suburb to understand how a troubled youth can lead to drug use, aggression and mental illness later in life.
“I understand this from the underside,” said Harrigan, who operates the firm with business partner Dave Stern.
Harrigan also consults with academic researchers and area social service agencies to understand what motivates people, and what obstacles trauma-affected people need to overcome.
“The research tells me what makes people tick, how to understand their obstacles to growth, and how to help them heal and thrive,” he says.
The fruits of his work are the personal success stories, like Elijah Tucker-Carter, who left Harrigan Solutions after two years to open a barbershop, Crisp Ee Cutz, in his old Milwaukee neighborhood.
”Bill has a vision that includes bringing people of color who have a criminal record back into the manufacturing field,” says Tucker-Carter, who served time for theft. “He realized I had the potential to not only be great in coolant filtration, but great in my personal life as well. Bill wasn’t all about making money; he cared about pushing people to reach their goals when that seemed impossible.”
Noting that “most businesses blame lack of technical skills for a person’s job failure,” Harrigan says it is actually “the lack of social and emotional intelligence that prevents people from being employable in the first place.”
Harrigan’s firm consists of six five-person teams that are embedded into client-businesses, which are primarily construction, food processing and metal fabrication. Crews work full time, and are led by a crew chief who recognizes and calls out personal progress.
“Our crew chiefs drive efficiencies by relying on workers’ intelligence and initiative. It is to the credit of our teams that Harrigan contract work is always done more quickly, more reliably and always competitively priced,” Harrigan says.
Clients include Dawn Foods and Chermake Sausage Co. At Marquette University, his crews break down the soccer dome in record time, a job that has typically taken 800 man hours — his team does it in 452 hours.
That spirit and energy has a positive influence on client workforces.
“I have seen more positive change in our employees in four weeks than I have seen in years,” says Dan Moore, president of Dawn Foods in Portage. “We just had an ‘all-hands’ meeting, and the last 30 minutes was dedicated to Harrigan’s ‘line 4’ team and the awesome things they were accomplishing.”