“I’d like to start a movement to help people take control of their life, define their goals, and move to achieve them” With Rhamy Alejeal
…here is what I know. People are amazing. They can accomplish nearly anything they truly commit to. There are so many people in the world who seem to have no idea that the world is theirs for the taking, that they are “powerful beyond measure.” So, a movement that would influence many people to take control of their life, define their goals, and move to achieve them would do so much good. I know it sounds trite, but we have no idea the amount of good that would come from just owning our own lives, and moving to improve them.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rhamy Alejeal, the owner and CEO of Poplar Financial, a provider of integrated, automated HR processes. He is also the host and creator of PeopleProcesses, the Podcast. Rhamy and his team work with hundreds of companies across the United States, helping them learn how to stop pushing paper and start prioritizing people. In addition, Rhamy serves on the Federal Reserve’s Industry Council on Healthcare, providing insights into employer costs and how they affect businesses in today’s marketplace. He holds a bachelor’s degree in financial economics and an MBA from the University of Memphis, his hometown.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
My wife Elizabeth and I are highschool sweethearts who started Poplar Financial together in 2009. We have worked together every day since we met in high school theater, through retail sales, in college, a real estate investment career, and now at our own company. We are both big ol’ nerds who love to read, learn, and play. In the 9 years since we started the company, we have learned a ton about what not to do, and just enough about what TO do to have created a pretty successful company that provides our services in all 50 states.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Oh man, being in the HR space we get some really good stories. Keep in mind all names are changed to protect the innocent (and the guilty)! This was about 3 years ago, we had a large client that was a religious institution. Lots of locations, many elected officials. So, to be an employee of their organization, along with the regular HR stuff (discrimination, sexual harassment, etc…) they also had a morality clause. Something like “employees must abide by the tenants of xxx faith”.
So one day, a mid ranking clergy guy goes to a bachelor party.
And, as bachelor parties are want to do, they wound up at a… gentelmen’s club… a strip club.
Now, the story could end there with someone recognizing him, and problems ensuing, but no, here is where it gets good. While at the club, the clergyman recognized one of the performers. She was an assistant in the finance office at her day job.
The next day, the clergyman reported a formal complaint to HR, and believed the finance assistant should be terminated. Needless to say, this is a bit of an HR problem!
Long story short, neither person was terminated, and these events were kept under wraps, but I will never forget getting the call from their director of HR to consult on the case. All was well in the end, and we systematized a process to review morality complaints inside the organization.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We have quite a few under way. The largest impact on our organization is developing new support channels. From Facebook, to live chat, interactive video, and even VR training systems, technology is enabling us to reach more of our clients faster and more effectively than ever. We are also working on formalizing our corporate donation processes. Right now, most of our donations are to non profits that ask us for money. Pretty simple. But we want to push those decisions down the employee hierarchy, by providing our employees with a pool of money they can direct to local charities, or band together to do larger projects!
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
History is full of great men (and women!) who have really changed the world. Norman Borlaug through his amazing dwarf wheat. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who, through simply truely examining his own reality, and writing it down, contributed hugely to the fall of the USSR. Heck, Bill Gates! The common thread to me is that they did their work, and did it so well that it has changed humanity. I find more inspiration in the figures that set out to do something that benefited themselves, their family, and eventually their community, and the world.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I love to read. The lessons from the most spectacular moral quandaries that are often best examined through the outrageous lense of Sci-Fi, to the heroic journeys of fantasy, to the deep philosophy of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, to business how to books, to the great religious works, to articles in the American Economic Journal, everything can provide the impetus to change, or spark an idea, or deepen understanding. My favorite books are those that are exploring an idea, and the best of those are the books where even the author isn’t sure what the right answer is, and he or she sets up a world to play gracefully with the conflict of those ideas. But sometimes you just need a guidebook or roadmap on a vexing problem, and those are great too!
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
My hope is that my books and articles will help free people from the administrative time suck that is most of modern HR. Most people in HR, or even business owners for that matter, CARE about the people in their organization. And they want to do everything in their power to help them succeed. But over time, many people get caught up in the overwhelming complexity of HR, and wind up “bailing out the boat, with no time to repair the ship.” I want to help them get back on track to actually helping their employees become great, rather than just do the rote, routine, soul draining stuff that consumes many administrators.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Writing is thinking. When we write, we are formulating our thoughts into a communication medium that is permanent. The biggest benefit of writing a book is that ir crystalizes your thought process. While publishing a best seller would be great, the biggest benefit will actually be to yourself, as writing will provide you the structure needed to take your own knowledge much further. Bottom line, write your book. Even if no one reads it, it is a worthy pursuit.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’m not exactly sure how to define this, but here is what I know. People are amazing. They can accomplish nearly anything they truly commit to. There are so many people in the world who seem to have no idea that the world is theirs for the taking, that they are “powerful beyond measure.” So, a movement that would influence many people to take control of their life, define their goals, and move to achieve them would do so much good. I know it sounds trite, but we have no idea the amount of good that would come from just owning our own lives, and moving to improve them.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You don’t need a huge, shiney office in order to start your company. When we started, I was spending a ton of money on quarter floor in a huge building. I thought I would need the space to see clients, and to impress them. The trapping of success are not needed to be successful. It nearly killed my business before it really got off the ground. Minimize expenses, and focus every dollar and time unit on bringing value to your customers. Everything else is just filler.
- Process Process Process. Unless you have a scalable, effective, accurate process, it’s not done. The amount of time wasted over and over in relearning the same thing inside my organization in the first few years was extraordinarily expensive.
- People are scale. It’s better to make $5.00 an hour on your employees work, than $500 dollars an hour on your own. It took me a long time to understand that, and so for the first few years of my company, I was struggling to do 100’s of tasks. Just because I “couldn’t afford” to hire help.
- Pay yourself first. From the day you start your business, set a percentage of GROSS REVENUE, and every time a dollar comes in, that percentage goes to you and your family. Take a percentage of that, and save it for retirement. The number of 20 year old companies that have an owner who has no assets outside of the company, and are one or two months away from closing if something goes wrong, is staggering.
- Hire for intelligence and conscientiousness. In most cases, you will have to train people to do the work you want them to do. Even if they are “Experienced”, that just means they know how it is done somewhere else. Instead, hire for people who can think and write well. If they can take in information, formulate arguments, and reach conclusions, you are halfway to success. The other half is principals, so hire those people who have a backbone of steel, and know what is right.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
When my company was one 100th of the size it is today, I got lucky and had a 20 minute meeting with the HR director of Games Workshop. Like I said above, I’m a total nerd. She probably doesn’t even remember me. The great game companies, like Games Workshop, Blizzard, Square Enix, and many more, have provided me a lifetime of entertainment and growth. I would LOVE to work with any of them.
On the other side, John Lee Dumas, of EOFire, is someone who I have listened to daily for many years. He has interviewed so many great business people, and I would love to get to know him.