Russ had saved about $10,000 by this time, and he used most of it to buy 20 Comptometers (the "high-tech" calculating machines of the day) and several typewriters. He rented space in the Transportation Building in downtown Detroit and opened the Russell Kelly Office Service for business in October 1946. Kelly was president, salesman, recruiter, trainer and handyman. His wife supervised the staff, which consisted initially of two women whom Russ had trained himself. The fact that there were more machines than staff was a sign the company had plans to grow.
But the real foundation for growth was something less visible. Russ pledged that any work he won for the bureau would be done to the highest standards. From the beginning, Russ was a firm believer in the philosophy, "A satisfied customer is always a customer." He guaranteed his services from the very start. If a customer was dissatisfied, a bill was not sent, or an adjustment was made. This policy has prevailed since the company's first sale in 1946.
Russ brought to his own business a work habit going back to his days at the A&P, to rise early every day and hit the floor running. He always believed his most productive part of the day was long before most people started theirs. As it turned out, Russ would need every minute and every ounce of energy to make a go of things. And his experience in sales would be drawn on to the maximum possible extent.
In the first two weeks, sales totaled exactly zero. The first customer was a local CPA who brought in a small typing job. Russell Kelly Office Service discharged the assignment to the highest standards, and the customer went away satisfied. Though neither he nor Russ knew it at the time, this customer was going to play a notable role in the company's future.
Over the balance of 1946, work came in at a promising if not breath-taking pace. Events seemed to follow the plan for the service bureau -- typing and inventory calculations brought to the office, processed there and returned to the customer.
In December, the CPA (his first customer) called again, in desperate need, not of work to be done at the bureau but for a typist at his office. To help him out, Kelly sent one of his regular employees to work in the customer's office. The billing for that first day was $6.75.
While not providing temporary help as we know it today, by loaning out one of his permanent employees Russ had taken an important step beyond the service bureau business. But at this point he did not see the dawn of anything new, just an additional service for a customer. He still saw the service bureau as his primary business.
However, the need for that "additional" service soon arose again. First it was a steel company that needed help with its payroll but was reluctant to send company records to an outside service. Kelly hired 13 women specifically to go to the steel company's offices to complete the project. Next came a call from a firm in Marysville, about 50 miles from Detroit. Fifty office workers were needed for an emergency. Russ responded by hiring 50 new employees specifically to do that job.
Not according to plan
About this time, Russ realized that something new and different was happening. The idea of loaning permanent employees for a short period of time was not new. Accountants and others had done that for years, and Russ had already begun assigning permanent employees to certain customers. However, hiring temporary employees specifically to do office work for short periods of time was new -- and a very promising idea. But it was unconventional, and in the late 1940s the world of business was not organized for the quick adoption of unconventional ideas.
At the same time, Russ was beginning to see a leveling off in service bureau work. The post war shortage of office machines was over, and the customers Russ had targeted were now better equipped to do their own work. However, they often lacked the skilled people essential to the task.
"When the first customers called and asked for a comp operator without a machine, a typist without a typewriter, I was aghast," Russ said later. "You know, this was heresy! Finally we relented, and we got into the 'people business.' I believed we could find the skills to do anything that needed to be done in an office."
1947 proved critical to the new enterprise. The company landed its first auto industry contract, typing purchase authorizations for the car companies as they scaled up for civilian production. Another development was the creation by Russ of policies and procedures that gave structure to the growing "temporary" business. Many of these remain as industry standards today.
For instance, Russ extended to his temporary help business the service bureau's guarantee, still in effect today. It was a real confidence builder for companies trying out his new "temporary employee" idea. He also established an indemnity policy requiring customers who hired away Kelly's temporary employees to pay a specified amount for the loss of the employee. In Russ's words, "I wanted people to appreciate the investment we had made in our temporary employees."
In the same year, Russ suffered a personal tragedy. His wife Marian was killed in an automobile accident. Russ's huge and growing workload proved to be a blessing, and he threw himself even more deeply into his work.
Russ was facing new challenges now. As his idea caught on, Detroit businesses were often heard to call out, "Get me a Kelly Girl!" He now had to find a way to recruit enough workers to fill the positions for which he was getting calls. Temporary help was taking off. "I had two choices. I could lower our standards or make a concentrated effort to find the additional quality personnel needed," he said.
Anyone who knew Russ knows that there was really no possibility of lowering standards, which meant that he had to double his efforts to make this new concept work. With limited funds available for want ads, Russ's best source of new employees was referrals. His own employees, enjoying the kind of work the company offered, were only too happy to help by directing friends and relatives to the company.
In order to fill positions in the new business of temporary help, Russ turned to people who were not already in the workforce full time. Despite his shyness, he began to speak to women's organizations, to PTAs, civic groups, and clubs. He found a vast untapped resource of talent, especially women whose children were in school. Many had enjoyed their previous office experience and were interested in the opportunity to accept temporary employment. He also worked diligently to contact and welcome skilled older women, and minorities, who often faced difficulties when they wanted to change jobs or enter the business world.
By 1951, the company was on a secure footing, recording more than a million dollars in sales. That same year, things improved in Russ's personal life as well. He married Margaret Adderley, a personnel recruiter and shorthand instructor for the company. For many years, she and Russ hosted the company's popular annual manager meetings. Russ also took Margaret's young son Terry under his wing. He was more than pleased that Terry showed an early interest in the business and considered that in planning for his own succession.