Strong, traditional rural values. That’s what Mickey Williams remembers most about growing up in the small town of Jackson, Tennessee through the 1950s and 60s. His mother and father grew up on farms and were pillars of the local church all through his childhood, profoundly shaping both his inner convictions and his sense of connection to others in the community. Now the President and CEO of CapRelo, a relocation management company dedicated to helping corporations and the federal government assist their employees when they ask them to relocate, Mickey’s work and influence may have taken on a global vision, but he continues to operate according to those local values he learned long ago.
At its heart, the business of relocation understands that the most important component of any company or government entity is the people that dedicate their lives to rising to the call of duty to keep it running. On those occasions when an organization must ask its employees to relocate to a new city, state, or country, that organization has an obligation to those uprooted workers and their families to assist with the transition—a responsibility traditionally summed up in its relocation policy. Organizations that want to ensure this process is as streamlined and comfortable for their employees and as effective for themselves as possible hire CapRelo, which provides comprehensive facilitation and support throughout the relocation process.
“We not only administer the policy and provide all the accompanying services, but we also handle the financial side of the process, aggregating all the expenses and making the billing process simple and straightforward for our clients,” Mickey explains. “It’s a better experience for the employees in transition, as all the goods and services they come in contact with have been vetted by us. It’s also a better experience for the corporation because they get one bill and one point of contact. Thus, consolidation through CapRelo saves time and money while minimizing uncertainty during what is often a delicate time.”
With core competency in real estate, customer service, relocation finance, and supply chain management, CapRelo has offices in the metro Washington, DC area and Toronto, Canada. As a virtual company, CapRelo has employees in all U.S. time zones, and with affiliates in approximately sixty countries, they can move people all over the world.
The company’s history extends back thirty years to when its founder, Charles (Chuck) Kuhn, was only sixteen years old. He worked summers at his uncle’s company, which specialized in the transportation of household goods. Drawn to the industry, he bought a truck with a $5,000 loan from his dad, launched his own moving business, JK Moving Services, and never looked back. In the late 1990s, Chuck began to realize a trend in the business toward full program outsourcing for relocation services, resulting in relocation management companies aggregating all services needed to move employees. Between 1990 and 2000, big relocation management companies took the relocation aggregation space by storm, capturing the majority of the market by offering household goods, mortgage services, real estate services, expense administration, spousal employment placement, tax services, and more through a single company.
With this dramatic shift to a holistic, full-service business model, Chuck realized that it was time to do things differently. “He found that he was no longer interfacing directly with corporate clients, but rather working with middlemen,” Mickey points out. “He knew he needed to either jump on the bandwagon or become a relocation management company.” Independent-minded and entrepreneurial to the core, Chuck chose the latter, launching a company called Capital Relocation, or CapRelo.
The business thrived through the latter 1990s until the bottom fell out from the relocation industry in 1999, causing the company’s steady growth to come to a grinding halt. The enterprise then began to regress through the next several years. It was in the wake of this decline that Chuck decided that he needed an expert to join CapRelo’s board. They needed help, and as luck would have it, a CapRelo employee, George Herriage, passed Mickey’s name along to Chuck as the need began gaining traction.
When Mickey received the call from Chuck inviting him to join CapRelo’s board, he was on a year’s sabbatical as he waited out the terms of a non-compete agreement he had signed after selling a relocation business in Denver. “I joined the board in 2002, and after only several board meetings in which I had apparently been way more vocal than I had intended to be, Chuck pointed out that I had identified everything that could be improved with the company,” Mickey laughs. “He then asked me if I could commit to making those improvements.”
With that, Mickey joined Chuck as a partner in CapRelo, allowing Chuck to continue managing JK Moving Services with its focus on transportation and logistics, and Mickey to focus on relocation management. “We’re in two separate locations running two separate businesses, but there’s a synergy,” Mickey explains. “CapRelo’s clients become JK clients, and many of JK’s clients ultimately become CapRelo’s clients.” When he joined the board in 2002, the relocation business was well under a million dollars in revenue and had only eight employees, including Mickey himself. Today, their budget for 2012 will be $17 million, and the company is 75 employees strong.
Mickey’s ability to lead the venture to such success stemmed from a long and nuanced history in the industry, accentuated by entrepreneurial ventures that had refined his palette for business prosperity. His extensive career in relocation services began in 1980 with Transamerica Relocation, after spending time in the U. S. Marine Corps followed by a seven-year stint at Dun and Bradstreet. Transamerica Relocation was acquired by PHH Corporation in 1984, which had the largest relocation company in the country—now called Cartus. Then, in 1986, Mickey was recruited by Associates First Capital in Dallas, where he was President of Associates Relocation until 1989. At that point, he left to start a consulting company specializing in relocation acquisition, which he ran for several years before he spearheaded an effort to buy a company in 1991 that became U S Relocation. Mickey and his partners sold U S Relo in 2002, and the resulting company remains among the top four companies in the relocation industry today.
When the sale was complete and he was free to pursue new horizons, Mickey set his sights on nothing short of perfection. “I had a vision for a business model to create the perfect third party company,” he concedes. “At the same time, I became a partner in a consulting group, Relocation Knowledge, LLC. I knew I wanted to ultimately return to the industry after my non-compete expired, and when that happened, I wanted to create the perfect relocation management company by creating the perfect customer experience. I sincerely believe that if you make the client experience perfect, then that essence of perfection extends to everyone associated with the company. If you take care of your client, they’ll take care of you.”
This belief lends a sincerity and genuineness to CapRelo’s client relationships that is often lacking in other companies in the industry—a difference highlighted by various aspects of Mickey’s approach to leadership. “Like other marketplaces, when businesses in this industry have problems, they tend to focus on the financial impacts of those issues,” he points out. “I don’t obsess on the financial impacts. I’m concerned about the impact on the long term client relationship, and on making sure that we do the right thing. So far, our clients have supported us one hundred percent in that aim.”
And, for a business charged with acting in the best interest of both the client and of the employees of those clients, doing the right thing can, at times, be no easy task. Indeed, whether an employee has misunderstood their companies’ policy or isn’t offered enough support through the relocation process, conflicts are bound to erupt. However, CapRelo’s culture of integrity allows it to act as an equitable and fair mediator through such situations.
A strong sense of integrity isn’t the only element Mickey has drawn from his rural Tennessee roots to define his professional influence. His first job was selling TV guides door to door at age nine, followed by the acquisition of a paper route at age thirteen—both of which instilled the value of hard work and independence at an early age. He absorbed a flair for entrepreneurship from his father, who had a side business selling two-way radios to local companies in his spare time. Though neither of his parents attended a day of college, they both stressed the importance of education as strongly as they stressed the importance of a strong moral character. Equipped with these values, he worked his way through a college education at Union University and served in Vietnam as an officer in the U. S. Marine Corps, which solidified the currents of leadership and integrity he observed growing up. Upon graduating, he married and moved to Memphis to work for Dun and Bradstreet, where his business education really began.
Through the next several years, Mickey experienced both positive and negative corporate cultures, both of which imparted some of the most valuable lessons he continues to pass down to young entrepreneurs entering the business world today. “There’s no reason to ever lie to or withhold information from a client,” he emphasizes. “You might lose their business, but at least you’re not in danger of losing your soul.”
Beyond that, Mickey reminds young people that they must at once be students of both leadership and fear—two concepts he believes go hand in hand precisely because they are such opposites. “Leadership is about empowerment and courage, while fear is the mind killer,” he avows. “Anyone who is constantly fearful can’t be a leader, so it’s important to study and understand fear. In doing so, you can know how to dispel it from yourself and from others, allowing empowerment to grow and allowing your team and your community to advance forward. To be seen as a leader, you must be seen leading, so go and lead.” By seeing in terms of people rather than profit, communities rather than corporations, and empowerment rather than fear, leaders can strive to create cultures of strength and staying power, whether they span streets or continents.