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VOL. 127 | NO. 69 | Monday, April 9, 2012

New HR Firm Shifts Focus to ‘People Capital’

By Andy Meek

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Human resources professionals no doubt groan at the stereotypes of them portrayed in popular culture such as on TV shows like “The Office.”

Principals of PeopleCap Advisors are Meg Crosby, from left, Howard Cleveland, Andy Nix and Coleman Barton Johnson. The company focuses on elevating HR to the highest levels to give business a strategic advantage. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

On that show, the character of Toby Flenderson is an HR representative played with the sleepy-eyed, lifeless personality of a wet blanket.

It’s the complete antithesis of the attitude Meg Crosby, Howard Cleveland, Coleman Johnson and Andy Nix bring to the table as principals of PeopleCap. That’s the new HR-focused consulting firm they’ve founded with the goal of elevating HR above the basic tasks of hiring, discipline and compliance.

A clue to their thinking is in the venture’s name itself – PeopleCap, as in people capital. Our people, the saying so often goes in the business world, are our biggest assets.

Furthermore, the quartet brings more than 50 years’ experience to bear that includes senior-level HR leadership roles.

“All of our experiences were completely different and yet bizarrely complementary,” Cleveland said. “Incredibly different areas of specialty and expertise, but it seemed we all had the exact same philosophy about HR, which is that it was undervalued. And it was being relegated to more of an administrative thing – payroll, hiring, policies and discipline. And it wasn’t being incorporated into the decisions that either depended on or impacted the people.”

To get an idea of their deep bench, Crosby joined a software development startup on the West Coast in 2000 that was later acquired by Google. As an HR professional responsible for the Southern California region at Google, she participated in multiple deals over several years, leaving the company in 2008.

Back in Memphis, she and her husband helped renovate and open what became the Irish pub The Brass Door Downtown, and it was over lunch there that the idea for PeopleCap was hatched.

Johnson’s background includes a stint in HR at AutoZone, where, after getting hired in the early 1990s, she implemented the company’s first drug testing program using DOT compliance.

Nix spent 14 years with FedEx, with the last 11 years as a member of management in both HR and finance.

Nix helped consolidate health care and pharmacy benefit purchasing and administration across FedEx, producing an annual savings in excess of $100 million for the Memphis-based transportation giant.

More recently, Nix was the senior director of benefits for The ServiceMaster Co., responsible for all health, welfare and retirement benefits there.

Cleveland is a former labor and employment attorney who worked with companies on, first, the litigation side and then on the consulting side.

“Part of that evolution was, as I started defending cases, there were a lot of times where the case could have been avoided, and so my practice shifted into starting to fix those holes,” Cleveland said. “Looking at those on the front end and being more proactive than reactive.”

In a nutshell, PeopleCap’s mission is to help organizations become more profitable and reduce their liability through progressive and strategic people, risk and change management.

“What we saw was a great opportunity to provide that type of expertise to nonprofits, small- and mid-market companies and for-profit organizations,” Nix said. “What we can do is help companies across the spectrum, whether they have some regular day-to-day types of problems or if they’re in an excellent position and looking to grow and want to maintain the culture that they have established and grow deliberately.

“We can also help companies in crisis as they sort through priorities. Also startups, helping them build things right.”

The company launched a few months ago and has a website up, at www.peoplecapadvisors.com.

“Employees aren’t like a piece of factory equipment, where you can plug it in, turn it on, and it’ll work the same way here as it did over there,” Crosby said. “People have free will. They leave. There’s turnover. There’s changes in culture. We’re targeting people capital in what we do.”

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