PWP: E13 - Who we are with Tim Giarrusso
(upbeat music) - [Narrator] Welcome to the Podcast with Purpose. - Welcome back to the Podcast with Purpose. I am your host, Nate Linck.
And today we are joined by a very special guest Human Technologies President and CEO, Tim Giarrusso. And today we're gonna be talking with Tim about Human Technologies. Although we've been around for almost 70 years now there's still a lot of people that really don't know who we are, what we do and how we got our start. In my 20 years with Human Technologies I have never heard somebody who's told the story so well as Tim tells it. So I'm very happy to have him with us here today. And with that, I am going to stop talking and let Tim do the rest.
Tim, welcome to the podcast. - Thanks, Nate, I appreciate the opportunity to take this time and share with people a lot of what I've learned in my tenure here as President and CEO of Human Technologies. One of the things that I always bring up for people is that 70 years, it's almost 70 years it'll be 70 years next year, from when our organization was formed. And it was formed by some very enlightened men of the Mohawk Valley here in the Utica area for the opportunity to create employment for returning Korean War veterans who had been injured in service to their country. Now, you might think today, with all of the opportunities since the American with Disabilities Acts and things like that we're talking 70 years ago that kind of thinking was not as prevalent as it is today. So these were visionaries.
And for 70 years our organization has transformed itself multiple times in terms of who and how we create employment for and how we have financed that organizational mission of creating employment for people with disabilities. I'd like to fast forward to the future but really I think it's best that I stopped maybe about 10-12 years ago when our board of directors made another visionary statement that said we're now going to become a self-sufficient organization, a business with a mission to create employment for people with disabilities. So what does that mean? Well, at the time Human Technologies was garnering probably 1.2 million per year to keep its head above water. You know, if you think about running a business, you hear the term if you're operating in the red, you're losing money. If you're operating in the black, then you're making money.
And as a not-for-profit it's very common that organizations that are not-for-profits go out and seek donations from the community. They pursue grants from foundations, they'll receive money from the federal and state government. And that's what Human Technologies was doing 10-12 years ago to the tune of about $1.2 million, that's significant. When I came on board in 2015 we were still dependent on about 500 to 600,000 per year.
That money has gone away. And in the course of the last seven, eight years we have become a self-sufficient not-for-profit. I'll say a little bit more about that in a second but what that means is we've transformed our lines of business in a way where everyone that has a job here is contributing to the bottom line, making the organization financially stronger so that we can fulfill our mission without any help from anywhere else.
That is powerful, which is, you know what we always talk about here, our organization people with the power of purpose right? And we've delivered on what the board of directors challenged us to do and then some, quite honestly. So let me say a little bit more about what it means to be a not-for-profit. You hear those words and sometimes people might think you shouldn't make a profit. Well, that's not the case. What it means is that if you have money that you've generated at the end of the year, when you report your taxes, in our case we're able to take that money and reinvest it back into our mission of creating jobs for people with disabilities. So we've come full bore from a twinkle in the eyes of a few gentlemen here in the Mohawk Valley to now being an organization that's nominally about 40 million a year in revenue, over 330 employees across four states, of which better than 60% have a documented disability.
When I share those kinds of numbers with people and tell them about the work we do and how our employees deliver, people are blown away. They look at me literally with awe like they've never heard anything like that and you know what they haven't. So it's a great story of what every person here has contributed to not just in the last, you know, five, six, eight years. Yeah, but really in the 70 year history.
Yeah, it is a great story. - And it's a beautiful story. So all that's happened over the 70 years, so that's what Human Technologies is doing and that's how we're performing, other organizations like us, employment for people with disabilities across New York State or nationally. - What does that look like, Tim? - Well, let me say a little bit about what Human Technologies is a part of. We don't stand alone.
We are members to a couple of very important organizations at the federal level across the nation. We're one of about 440 organizations like ours that have the mission of creating employment for people with disabilities. We do that through what's referred to as the Ability One program, which gives us the opportunity to compete for federal contracts, which a number of our employees work on.
And across the nation there are about 33,000 people who are employed through the Ability One program. We probably, in our 330 employees probably have close to a hundred of those on the federal contracts that we fulfill. In New York State, we're part of another organization in the state use program that's very similar to the federal program, where we provide services and products to what's referred to as Preferred Source. In fact, New York State has the largest state use program that we're a part of, and we happen to be probably one of the largest contract holders in New York State for that program.
We're a member organization of what's referred to as New York State Industries for the Disabled. And again, we are one of the lead organizations in both of those larger entities of New York State industries for the disabled and what's called SourceAmerica, part of the AbilityOne program. So when you think about the challenges for ourselves Human Technologies, as well as other organizations like us across the country, across the state we're faced with quite often unemployment rates for people with disabilities that can range anywhere from 20% to 60% of people with disabilities who are unemployed. Now, a number of those may not be employable but other data indicates that the unemployment rate is at least three to four times higher than what you hear in the news. When they say the unemployment rate is like 3.5% nationally.
Well, for people with disabilities it's probably about three, four, five times that number. And that's the space we live in. And it, quite honestly, it's the space that we thrive in. A lot of people know I don't like the term people with disabilities, I believe and I've seen and witnessed here at Human Technologies that what all of our employees do is they find the abilities within the people who come here and looking for a job, looking for employment, looking for a connection in the community so that they could be contributing members to their families, live independently, get their own car, pay taxes, spend their paycheck in the community, wanting to be included. That's a bigger story across the nation, and that's what makes coming to work at Human Technologies, I think very unique and very cool. - Yeah and until you see that success story firsthand, you really can't capture the power of that.
It is just, it's amazing, it's amazing to see. - Very much so. - So Tim, you talked a little bit earlier about self-sufficiency. Let's talk a little bit about what that looks like, what that feels like, what that sounds like here at Human Technologies? - That's a great question.
So I mentioned that we have multiple lines of business. When I first came here, we used to refer to Environmental Services as the employment engine. And that was a way of saying, well Environmental Services isn't necessarily contributing to the bottom line, and that some of our other businesses are subsidizing or helping to keep the organization in the black. So in the last four-five years Environmental Services has turned that completely around. So in terms of HT being self-sufficient, we now are talking about not only is the organization self-sufficient and it was before when Environmental Services was the employment engine, now we're more self-sufficient because Environmental Services contributing to the bottom line in a big way while being our largest job creator.
So that's one example. Another great example, if we look at our Facilities Management Services business line of business folks may realize and actually this is a fact I just really got clarity about it a few weeks ago, is that when we started in that business we created exactly one half of a person of a job. Now, fast forward over the last 8, 10, 12 years, it's now 43 jobs. It's across multiple states, and I believe it's somewhere on the order of about 7 million of business annually. Over the course of 10 years that's a transformation that's contributing to us becoming self-sufficient.
Bringing on the Department of State contract probably about four or five years ago is another example. We didn't have that work. In the absence of that work on behalf of the federal government we were not as self-sufficient as we could be.
Now, Department of State is a significant contributor to our bottom line. So again, I talk a lot about the bottom line why do I do that? Because in the absence of being self-sufficient then we're not able to fulfill our mission. We have to be financially viable. And that's what all these lines of business are doing.
And I don't mean to leave out the logistics and the warehousing, the uniform programs those have always been operating in the black, quite healthy so that our manufacturing tasks things like that, all contribute. And that's the beauty of self-sufficiency. If you get some momentum everybody starts to get a feel for what it means to contribute. Everybody wants to contribute a little internal competition.
Yeah, and that's all good. And so we've positioned ourselves, I like to say now that in 2023, 2024, I'm certain of this we'll be positioned for the next 70 years. And that's a strong statement to be able to make and everyone's contributed to it. - So obviously this didn't happen overnight. Human Technologies made a commitment to change.
We equipped ourselves with the resources to make that change and we put in the work from there. And it wasn't always easy and a lot of it was very difficult. What should a transition of this magnitude look like for any organization that may just be at this starting point? - Yeah, that's a great question.
I'm gonna change one of the words you used. So you used the word transition, and I really think that what we're talking about here is a transformation. And in the scope of the transformation that Human Technologies has gone through, there have been a lot of transitions at every level of the organization.
And sometimes they're small, and that's okay. Sometimes, you know, you have to take baby steps before you can stand up and walk before you can start to run. You know, we're getting to the point now where we're coming out of a brisk walk. We're starting to sprint. But the transformation, as I like to say it's taken more than eight years. And it really started with a conversation about what was possible.
So if an organization starts to think about having to do things differently, having to be different, then they really need to think about what is the inspirational statement or challenging statement that's gonna make people like take a deep breath and say, whoa, we all have to be doing things differently. We have to be thinking differently. So it's a long term commitment.
And I know when I came here about eight years ago, one of the things that excited me about Human Technologies is what I refer to as the core competencies that I literally could see and feel just in the course of being interviewed for this job. And that excited me because I knew that the possibilities were endless. The other thing that was clear was that the opportunity to collaborate and build our brand and make people here in New York more aware of what we do and who we are was, you know, as they would say it was soil that hadn't been turned over, quite honestly. As good as we were, all the work that had been going on for decades a lot of people, and still a good number don't know the power of this organization but many more do now than did. So being able to put yourself out there and say, hey, we're willing to change. We're willing to collaborate with other organizations.
We're willing to try some things and fail. And we had some false starts on some projects but with the support of the board and with the commitment of the employees, that journey has been fulfilled. And now we're talking about, well, what's next? You know, what's next out there in the next five-10 years with the resources that we've amassed, with the talent we still have and continue to add what else can we be doing in the community that'll create employment that'll continue as I like to say, model being inclusive for other organizations. When they see and hear what we're able to do, how can they be more inclusive in including people with challenges and barriers into their workforce? How could they let us work with them so that we create more jobs and there's a win-win, if you will. So those are some of the things along a transformative journey that really have to take place. - All right, Tim, I'm glad you talked about the partnerships and I think we'll get into that a little bit more.
For those who aren't aware Human Technologies just partnered with MBT Bank and we were featured on one of their regional campaigns. And one of the things Tim said, one of the things you said while filming that was no one can be successful on their own. Everybody needs help.
And that just, that really, really stuck to me. So now, if we look back over the past 70 years and where we are now and everything that Human Technologies is built together 300 plus employees, annual revenues exceeding 40 million we're shipping products worldwide. Our products and services are helping support our troops directly on the front lines.
I can only imagine with that group of community leaders 70 years ago what they would think if they could stand in the doorway today and see what's going on and see what their concern for another grew into. So, and then here's my final question. Where do you see Human Technologies in another 70 years? What is the vision? - Well, you know, I think you probably touched on it as you were kind of framing that question. It's no one succeeds alone, you know? So I would see, and I am confident I'll see that Human Technologies continues to create possibilities for others. That on unto itself is I think, fundamental in why we exist.
You know, the power of people with purpose, it's an inclusive statement. It's like, if you're working here already and our purpose is known to create employment for people with disabilities, then the power of that is at play. And then someone shows up for a job and now you're creating more possibilities for that person.
And we see that now we're actually living that vision. Now, we often say that one of the best transitional supports when a new employee comes on is the person next to them that has their own challenge or barrier or disability, whatever word you want to use because they know, they were there, they were there the first day, and they know what it's like to work here now. And so when that new employee, that next employee comes in it's just so natural to support that person in the pursuit of what maybe is their hopes and dreams of being more independent, more self-sufficient themselves while they're making our organization more self-sufficient while all of us are contributing to our communities that we're a part of in our country. And as you said, internationally, the work we do on behalf of the Department of State, for instance, those are, if you wanna use the throw a pebble into a pond and watch the ripples, that's what's going on. And it starts with that initial hand out, not a hand, well let me say it this way, it's a hand up.
It's not a handout. You put your hand out, but you're helping to elevate someone up into a job, into a path of contributing. There's probably nothing more dignifying than having a job, being employed, and being a contributing member of the community. So if I think about other opportunities for each of us here at Human Technologies, I'll tell you one that I love being able to model and demonstrate in which I would really encourage every one of our employees to be thinking about this is when you're talking with your neighbors or you're talking at family gatherings or you're at church or you're out and about let people know where you work.
Let 'em know what you've accomplished by being employed. Because I think a lot of parents, when they have, you know four, five, six, 10 year old kids that maybe have learning challenges or some other intellectual developmental challenge or mental health challenge and we see a lot more of that with teens today. Encourage those families by telling your story of employment here at HT so that they know there are possibilities for their kids. That's a legacy that I think we can all live into and contribute anytime every day of the year at any gathering. And I can't tell you how many times I'll share those kinds of stories with people and they're amazed and they're like I had no idea that would be a possibility.
So that's something that I think the more of that we do the more openly we communicate those things, again those pebbles into the water. You're gonna be making possibilities and connections for people who you may never meet. You know, but you could change someone's life and you could change the world for one person because you chose to give someone hope. - And hope, hope is a hope is a strong thing. It's a powerful thing.
and you and I have had this conversation a few times you know, we've seen employees here that this may have been their first job. It may not have been, but they've came here and flash forward two years down the road they have a vehicle, they have an apartment, they're contributing, they're volunteering now in their communities. They're making a huge impact. And that's what it's all about.
And that's the story of the power of employment. That's a story of Human Technologies. and the more that story is told, I think the more people can be empowered by it.
- So there we have it, folks. That is Human Technologies. I hope the power of this and the energy of this conversation keeps going on. If you are listening to this right now and it's touching you, like it is myself.
And I've heard this story a million times I just can't stop hearing it. Please share this with people. Let them know what it is we're doing here. And Tim, I can't thank you enough for sitting down and having this conversation with me.
And I hope to have more like this soon. - Yeah, anytime, and it wouldn't be right of me to close the podcast without thanking you Nate and the folks that you work with every day that are always trying to enhance how we communicate, how often, the different modes that we try to communicate. 'Cause there is no one best way. I know I spent time in one organization where we had a tagline of communicate, communicate, communicate. And then my other favorite thing is you need to communicate like that because we should be amazed when communication works as opposed to when it doesn't.
So the work you do, the work each of us has to do around communicating more about our story and the power of our organization is pivotal. So thank you. - Thank you, Tim. - You're welcome.