Tammy Cohen of InfoMart: The Power of Flexibility; How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic

Karina Michel Feld
Jan 7 · 9 min read
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“Hire Slow, Fire Fast” — In the early days of my business, I would interview or meet someone, like a server at a restaurant. I would think they had potential, and I would hire them on the spot. No one that I ever hired in this way was successful — in fact, I ended up chauffeuring one employee to the grocery store and home nearly every night. Since then, I’ve learned to “hire slow, fire fast.” Take your time making hiring decisions, and recognize when an employee isn’t going to work out.

he COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammy Cohen.

Tammy Cohen, a background screening pioneer with three decades of experience, is a nationally honored entrepreneur, a successful businesswoman, and a recognized thought leader. Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of InfoMart, one of the top 10 largest background screening companies in the industry, Cohen is known as the Queen of Screen and was named among the top 15 largest woman-owned companies in Atlanta. Recently, she was recognized as a WBE Star, the Most Influential Woman in Background Screening, and “Maverick of the Year” by the Stevie Awards.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

didn’t have the picture-perfect childhood. What I learned from a very young age was “rub it and run” — meaning if you fall down, get back up and keep moving forward. The miraculous thing about a troublesome childhood is that it prepares you for the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have notecards filling shoeboxes, dispersed throughout suitcases, stuffed in the glove compartment of my car, and taped to my bathroom mirror; when I hear a quote or verse that speaks to me, I put it to paper. I make it convenient to read when needed or to stumble upon by fate.

During the pandemic, my favorite life lesson is the Prayer of Jabez: “’Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.”

The pandemic hit the background screening industry hard. InfoMart is a business that depends on hiring, so when hiring slowed down, so did background screening. I have stood on this prayer every day to increase InfoMart’s imprint, to keep InfoMart and my family of employees free from harm and pain.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Twenty years ago, I bought a box of antique books. The Go-Getter, a 1921 first edition by Peter Kyne, was inside. The book tells the story of a businessowner giving a disabled veteran, Mr. Peck, an impossible task. Mr. Peck went to all lengths, thought outside of the box, went the extra mile, and demonstrated resourcefulness to accomplish the task his boss asked of him. When Mr. Peck successfully completed what was meant to be impossible, the businessowner made him CEO.

The simple book tells the story of the success of entrepreneurs and employees who have passion. It suggests that we should all be go-getters; that our collective success can sometime depend on the passion and desire of a few; that we should never discount a person for any reason; and that achievement is often dependent upon how far you are willing to go.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

Life was grand, exceeding expectations! In 2019, we turned 30 years old, we had record-growth, we launched a first-to-market innovation, and we were in the process of onboarding a Fortune 500 company. InfoMart was headed into another record year.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

InfoMart tapped into our expertise and quickly developed SymTem™, a COVID-19 screening solution that assists employers, schools, churches, and event organizations maintain a healthy space during the pandemic. SymTem is an app that screens for COVID symptoms, but it does more than just that — it also coordinates all of your health & safety efforts by allowing users to request PPE and cleaning services, oversee internal hotspots, manage your available workforce, and more.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I was watching a webinar on the challenges of getting your company back to working while remote. It was there that it hit me: I am the “Queen of Screen.” Why not be the queen of COVID-19 screening, too? The rest is miraculous story of success.

WBENC and NMSDC are the heroes of diverse businesses. Their corporate members stood up to this unparalleled challenge in extraordinary ways. Major corporations’ supplier diversity professionals faced this situation with remarkable energy and passion. They have embraced diverse businesses with all of their might, providing resources, tools, advice, and webinar after webinar after webinar.

How are things going with this new initiative?

In 30 years, SymTem is the first service InfoMart has ever launched that exceeded even our greatest anticipation. I am a big dreamer, and SymTem outgrew my vision in the first weeks it went live. Within a month, our COVID-19 solution was deployed at a college, a large utility company, and one of the nation’s top 25 largest school systems.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Our pivot has proven that InfoMart is a team of go-getters. When I first visualized the concept for a COVID-19 screening platform, I went straight to work, sleeping 3 or 4 hours before going back to work for another 12 hours. About a week later, I had a prototype ready to present to our executive team.

I presented the concept, and it was immediately clear the success of the whole was greater than any one person. Rather than simply objecting to a difficult ask, each problem was met with “however, I will figure it out.” The InfoMart team was dissecting the project and grabbing the tasks they could complete. The race had begun.

It is in a time such as this that you see the power of your leadership. The years of working together on projects, the hours of heated debate, and the thousands of success stories all came together. My team basically said “great job” and then told me to step away so they could get it done.

In two months, our app was in the Google and Apple stores, we were testing the platform with our own workforce, a set of subject matter experts had already written the training manual, and demos were in progress. We were finishing the details of our marketing campaign.

We were running the race, and I knew we were leading the way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I am the type of entrepreneur that hires and surrounds myself with people that have much greater skills and abilities than myself. However, being an entrepreneur for over 30 years, there are disciplines in which I excel, and it is in these areas I heavily contribute to the organization. When COVID hit, the entire company had to pick up new tasks. I found myself doing jobs that don’t fit my natural skillset.

This situation has made me appreciate the things that I love doing. It’s also made me recognize that everyone on the team needs to be learning, building, and enhancing their skillsets constantly to meet the needs of the future.

I’ve been impressed and proud of myself for successfully conquering tasks for which I never thought I was well suited.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“Hire Slow, Fire Fast” — In the early days of my business, I would interview or meet someone, like a server at a restaurant. I would think they had potential, and I would hire them on the spot. No one that I ever hired in this way was successful — in fact, I ended up chauffeuring one employee to the grocery store and home nearly every night. Since then, I’ve learned to “hire slow, fire fast.” Take your time making hiring decisions, and recognize when an employee isn’t going to work out.

“Take guidance but make decisions” — Surveying those around you and collecting their opinions is important, but as an entrepreneur you need to know when to make a decision for your company.

I firmly believe in hiring people and empowering them to do their jobs. You’ve hired experts, and they should have final say in their area of expertise. However, know when to go with your gut. In the early 90s, I researched and acquired the software to build a platform similar to Monster.com before Monster.com existed. We went as far as to call people and encourage them to post their job ads on our application. At the time, many people on my team believed this endeavor was a waste of time, and I let them influence my decision, so I didn’t move forward with the project. This happened a couple more times before I realized that sometimes you need to ask for opinions and advice but keep going if you feel it’s still the right thing to do.

“Document Every Problem in Policies & Procedures” — For a long time, I thought that policies and procedures were simply a map of how to complete tasks correctly. I thought it was, essentially, a training guide. However, after some time, I recognized the power of having a manual of everything that has gone wrong in the past. Every time you have a problem, fix it and document it in your P&P manual.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

I believe that peace is a position of power. Anytime I feel anxious or frustrated, I simply change my focus: I ask for power, peace, and wisdom. That’s my mantra: power, peace, and wisdom. Soon, those negative feelings that were sneaking in are quickly forgotten.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would start a movement of empathy. Everyone would have the ability to recognize, understand, and share their feelings and engage in discussion with people who do not necessarily agree with their opinion. Social media has destroyed empathy; people only believe in their own ideas. They don’t listen to differing opinions with an open mind. That said, I wouldn’t be a good leader of the empathy movement if I didn’t add that I understand and relate to the passion and issues that are felt by many.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Janice Bryant Howroyd, the founder and CEO of ActOne, a global staffing company. There is no better word to describe Janice other than “amazing.” I would ask her how she has navigated the tough decisions necessary to turn her business into a $2B enterprise.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter at @ByTammyCohen, or follow my blog at www.BackgroundScreening.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Karina Michel Feld

Written by

Executive Producer of Tallulah Films

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Karina Michel Feld

Written by

Executive Producer of Tallulah Films

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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