Brand aid: How Paul Sarvadi knew it was time to turn Administaff into Insperity

Paul Sarvadi wanted to launch his company’s rebranding from Administaff to Insperity in the right way — in a big way. So he and his team rented Minute Maid Park and invited all 2,000 employees, some friends of the company and guests. Forbes publisher Steve Forbes was the guest speaker and NFL sportscaster Jim Nantz served as emcee.
If all that fanfare wasn’t enough, the rebranding also leveraged the company’s 25th anniversary into the message.
“It was a very high energy and exciting event,” Sarvadi says. “But at the same time, the rebranding was a little unnerving. It was kind of like your foundation was changing. It was like every one of us was having our first day on a new job the next morning.”
By the time employees got back to the company’s 57 offices, the new brand was in effect — not only a new name that better defined what the HR and business services company provided, but also a solidified lineup of the company’s expanded services.
“The reason for the rebranding was partly because of the limitation of the old brand,” Sarvadi says. “Administaff had a connotation of being in the temporary staffing business, which we never were, and we found that it limited our ability to get in the door because people presumed that was what we did.
“However, people who knew us well loved the name because it was our identity. We served customers well for so many years, and we had a lot of advertising that supported that brand. It was a very positive brand in the marketplace among those who knew us.”
But the real reason behind the $10 million rebrand was that Sarvadi needed something that went past the core service that the company originally offered.
“We were known so well for that one product — Workforce Optimization™ — and it was very difficult to use that brand to ever do anything else beyond that,” Sarvadi says.
“So we needed kind of a bigger vessel, something that could really allow us to extend our competencies into other product offerings and into other markets.”
While the huge but short-lived event heralded the arrival of Insperity, the impact was that the company could now take care of customers for life. Here’s how Sarvadi lead the rebranding process for the company that capped a complete business transformation over the last several years.
Transformation precedes the rest
Rebranding often arises out of a negative event that happens to a company; for instance, a scandal or faulty product the company wants to put behind itself. But in the case of Insperity, it came out of the desire to improve how the company performed in the past, and to leverage the strength developed over 25 years of existence.
“We had to make some serious changes,” Sarvadi says. “We really didn’t have cross-selling in our DNA. Now we do. Now we have the ability to look at a customer for life: when they are first in business, when they find out where they are, and then help them as they move through different stages with different solutions that are appropriate for them.”
For most of its life, Administaff sold one product to a perfect-fit customer at just the right time. Customers were receiving administrative relief, better benefits, reduced liability, a technology platform and a systematic way to improve productivity.
“We had been in business for 25 years, and we had tremendous success as a company,” Sarvadi says. “But the one issue that we had was, ‘Why hadn’t we grown faster? Why weren’t we larger? I know $2 billion is pretty good but why weren’t we $10 billion, $20 billion?’
“We just felt like there were a lot of companies that we could have assisted if we had some way to help them get started rather than to just take the leap to the full comprehensive service.”
The first step in such a transformation is to develop complementary businesses that serve as stepping-stones toward the full-service product.
“For example, we use what we call a Build by Partner strategy to either build our own new service offerings or build out of what we had already been doing,” Sarvadi says. “For example, we now do payroll on a standalone basis, recruiting on a standalone basis and retirement services.
“We also bought some companies that helped to fill a gap in our service offerings such as expense management, time, attendance and organization planning.
“So for me as an entrepreneur, it was like entrepreneur heaven because now we had a dozen or so new businesses in different stages of development that were all part of the new brand.”
 Start with a name
Once Sarvadi had the package to offer, it was time to brand it. The company went through a two-year process to evaluate the current brand and conduct internal and external studies.
“There was literally a full year before a decision was made to rebrand or not,” Sarvadi says. “Then it took another six months to pin down the approach we would take.”
Administaff hired Addison Whitney, a rebranding company out of Charlotte, N.C., but also did a lot of branding work in-house.
The first step centered on the new name and the promise that went with it.
“We decided to hone the mission of the company even further,” Sarvadi says. “Our mission is to help businesses succeed so communities prosper. With the recent economic upheaval and reversal, you could see the opposite effect that when businesses were not succeeding, the community suffered.
“We chose the word ‘inspiration,’ which is so important in entrepreneurship — having that inspiration about a new product, a new service or a new company to provide an improvement in the marketplace, that particular inspiration in the business owner — and the desire to find ‘prosperity,’ not just financially but to be successful to achieve, to create.
“We took those two words, and we put them together into Insperity.”
Once the name was established, extensive planning was made for all the people involved in the process. A small group within the company had to be fully aware of what was going on because it handled implementation.
“Planning is so important,” Sarvadi says. “Having some advice from people who have done it is always a good thing. We were so deliberate about the process and the steps and the communication, and that is really what paid off most. We could demonstrate the ‘why.’ You know, people want to know what we are doing, but they want to know why we are doing it too. The better you can articulate the need for change and what change you are trying to drive and why that is important, then the more accepted it is.”
The company went through a full education process over the time period.
“We held monthly company meetings,” he says. “We took another step to kind of demonstrate where we were and where we were going, and eventually toward the end of that process, why a new brand was not only necessary, but represented a huge opportunity.” 
Know when it is time to get on board
It takes a tremendous amount of communication to nurture people in a rebranding, giving them a chance to come on board and then ultimately just saying this is the way it is.
“At some point, you just have to say, ‘This is what we are doing,’ Sarvadi says. “People normally are going to stay in their comfort zone absent a significant reason to get out of it. So after you try all the different positive ways to do that, eventually you just have to say, ‘You know what? The train is leaving the station. If you’re staying on it, you’ve got to get with it. If you’re not, the best to you, and thanks for your contribution.’ But at some point you have to get on board.”
While Sarvadi and his team did have a few bumps along the way, trying to make sure that a company could still have consistent predictable results while going through a massive transformation like this was no small feat.
“I’m not sure it could have been done faster, but my gut is if we would have spent more time with the field leadership people to get them along faster, they could’ve helped us get to the frontline people faster, but that’s all under the bridge, and you just got to go from there now,” he says.
“It was almost like we were refueling an aircraft in midair, or changing the tires while we were going 60 miles an hour.”
The rate of unaided awareness was one of the sure signs that the rebranding was working.
“We developed some very powerful television commercials to have a big impact initially to get the brand out there, and the effort has been very successful,” Sarvadi says. “In fact, in about a year and a half, the old brand disappeared. It was amazing how much work we had to put in on an ongoing basis just to keep that brand alive. The new one almost doubled the recognition in 18 months.”

  • Transformation often precedes the rest.
  • Start with a rebranded name.
  • Know when the train is leaving the station. 

The Sarvadi File 
Name: Paul Sarvadi
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Insperity 
Born: Aurora, Ohio
Education: I attended Rice University and the University of Houston, but I never completed college. I got the entrepreneurial bug about halfway through and never finished — much to the chagrin of my mother. But I think she got over it.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? The first one I would call a job was caddying. My brother was the caddy master, so that taught me never to work for your brother. But the other thing was that you learn to serve people. With caddying, you actually learn a lot about personalities and people when you are watching them play golf. Golf has a way of bringing it all out of you. You learn the value of service, and I think that is always a very important thing for young people to learn.
Who do you admire in business? There have been a lot of folks that I have admired over time. Early in the development of our company, I was particularly intrigued with Compaq. They had been the fastest growing company, $1 billion at the time. Rod Canion ran that business, and he really spent a lot of time and effort on the culture of the company and getting discretionary effort and creativity. He had kind of a consensus-style management that works a lot, but depending on different times, it can be effective, or not as effective.
What is the best business advice you ever received? I think the best advice any business owner could have ever received is about persistence and perseverance — you just can’t give up. Believe me, when you own a business, the thought of giving up does enter your mind periodically when the challenges are great. That is really why we started our company, because I felt like the success equation for business owners was going the wrong way. It was getting harder to be successful, both in the level of success, the degree if you will, and the likelihood, and we wanted to provide services and support to improve that success equation.
What is your definition of business success? The beautiful thing about business is that there is a report card — financial success is certainly an integral part. But I don’t agree that is the only part that makes you successful. I think you can be successful financially and leave a wake behind you, if you will, that was not of benefit. And that to me is not success, just having financial results without making something better. You have to make your community better, help employment, help individuals be successful. To me business success means that you contributed in your community in a way that has been uplifting. You have provided a good product and service, your customers benefited, your employees benefited, your shareholders benefited and all of them throughout your community.