Talking Points: Steven C. Cooper, President & CEO, TrueBlue Inc.
Under Steve Cooper, Tacoma-based TrueBlue has expanded beyond its Labor Ready franchise, which has long provided day labor to construction companies, into a family of enterprises that find employment for a range of blue-collar workers—from carpenters to aviation mechanics—in a variety of industries. The new businesses helped TrueBlue weather the recession. It now has 2,500 employees nationwide and expects to double revenues to $2 billion in two to three years.
CHILDHOOD: I grew up in a small town in southeast Idaho as the youngest of five boys. [He also has a younger sister.] We all grew up doing blue-collar jobs. At 10, I laid irrigation pipes on farms. At 12, I did planting. By 14, I was driving the potato truck from the field to the warehouse. I had to stand up to get enough weight on the clutch to shift gears.
EDUCATION: My brothers all ended up in professions. One’s a doctor, one’s a dentist, one’s an engineer and one’s an attorney. I struggled when I tried to do what they did. But when I moved into finance, I found the classes came easily. I went to work for Deloitte in the big city, Boise. I missed my family like crazy.
CAREER: At Deloitte, I had great mentors who taught me the real business world. Then I joined Albertsons, a large client, to learn the operations side. The skill set of listening and collaborating and getting the most out of a team is a skill set that I saw as a differentiator. It comes down to leaders knowing how to encourage individuals to set aside their personal agendas for the betterment of the team.
LABOR READY: I moved to Arthur Andersen, where I got the opportunity to build a business in the risk-control world, teaching companies to understand what might go wrong. That’s how I found Labor Ready. They were a client. I went to a branch office one afternoon [in 1999] and was amazed to see 100 people who had been out all day doing tough jobs and were really happy to get paid in cash. I returned the next morning at 5:30 and saw the staff busily matching people to customer orders coming in by phone. By 7:30, they had put another 100 people to work. I stood there with my jaw open in amazement. Right then, I knew that was the company where I wanted to work. I started in the