AEG Employee Spotlight: Founder and Board Member Mark Church
Tell us about what you do at AEG.
Though I have stepped back from day-to-day operational responsibilities, I remain on the board, guiding our team through challenges that arise, providing strategic insight as needed, and advancing the mission of AEG. Daily activities are handled by our outstanding leadership team.
What inspired you to start AEG in the beginning?
When I started AEG in 1992—and I did so primarily because of entrepreneurial interests— my objective had always been to start a business after college. Once I was better established in my career, I looked for opportunities to make my desire a reality. And being in the IT field, it just made natural sense to use my tech knowledge and experience in the project management and staffing space.
The opportunity arose when I was working as a data processing manager for an international moving and relocation company. While my team and I were developing a new suite of applications, I would frequently get calls from recruiting firms asking me to provide them with contacts from my network. It took a couple years before I realized that instead of giving away my knowledge and contacts, I could use my network to develop my own business. Ultimately, I decided to leverage both my project management and systems development experience and my recruiting capabilities to create AEG.
Our mission at the time was two-fold. First, build a competent IT development team and begin engaging local companies in software development services. Second, help local companies with their IT staffing needs.
AEG was off to a great start, and we were seeing solid success. I was primarily managing the business while my teams were in the field, onsite at client locations. Soon after I started the business, I had a newborn—and a second on the way! That reality, and a downturn in the economy, added complication to the business model which presented some challenges. AEG continued to flourish, but I was required to return to the field and manage projects. The first of which was a large effort at Anheuser-Busch’s Metal Container Corporation.
I was tasked with managing parts of that project, and eventually added AEG team members underneath me to do that work. That project evolved into an opportunity on a new (at the time) technology called SAP.
My team and I—and the country in general—had zero SAP experienced professionals. Fortunately, our client had faith in our overall project development abilities. As a result, the client sent our team for SAP training. Not long after completion of that training, we successfully implemented a multi-million-dollar project for Metal Container Corporation. Our success catapulted AEG onto another SAP project for Busch Agriculture, which became the most successful project that Anheuser-Busch had undertaken in the SAP space at the time.
AEG’s success snowballed from that point forward. Around 1998 we opened our first physical office, and I left the field work to manage it. I primarily handled sales at that point, selling new accounts and hiring internal staff. Aileen Phillips, my first employee, is still with us today and serves as a fellow board member!
We continued to add team members, grew the Anheuser-Busch account, and took on additional clients (i.e. Monsanto, Enterprise Rent a car, etc.). At this point, it didn’t matter what the technology was—we could build a team around it. Our reputation for success quickly spread across St. Louis, and we became a trusted partner for many great companies in the city. We had all the work we could handle!
After about ten years, we branched outside of St. Louis and began working on a national scale. At this point, we felt very confident in our SAP, training, and hardware installation and management skills. Because of the growth we’d experienced, we began debating the benefits of an off-shore offering. Many of our competitors had off-shore teams, but I wasn’t fond of the idea. I figured when you factor in the productivity losses, you’d really offset the lower cost—i.e., the client wouldn’t be saving much, if any, money in the long run.
I resisted off-shore for a long time, but then I decided to compromise with a near-shore offering. I knew that in order to provide a better off-shore service we needed a team that was closer to home and in the same time zone as St. Louis. After deliberating, we decided Costa Rica was the best location to establish a near-shore office. We quickly lined up meetings in Costa Rica with everyone from accountants and attorneys to furniture suppliers. A short 30 days later, we were up and running in San Jose with an office full of our newest AEG Costa Rica team members!
While the Costa Rican team did great work, we decided to exit the near-shore business after four years, and at the same time, discontinue our in-house software development offering. Instead, we decided to focus on our other core competency, staffing solutions.
And that’s pretty much where we’ve specialized since! None of AEG’s success would be possible without the support and dedication of our amazing team members. In the beginning, AEG was synonymous with my name. Now, I’m proud to say we’ve reached a point that the company name stands on its own, and our reputation of excellence precedes us. For 31 years and counting, people have trusted AEG as a premier provider of exceptional tech staffing solutions!
What are the toughest challenges you’ve had at work? The biggest wins?
The toughest challenge? Competition for the best talent. The professional types we recruit are in high demand. Once we get them on board though, they stick around for the long-haul. Our contractors know they are valued and supported and with their personal needs being met, they can focus on their expertise, and serving our clients. And those that we place in permanent positions with our clients, they know that we have done the proper vetting to make sure they are a great fit.
The biggest win is the opposite side of the coin—our ability to attract and retain the quality professionals our business partners need. I could talk about taking on new business or landing exciting client accounts. But those wins wouldn’t mean much if we didn’t have the ability to identify and bring on the best talent like we do, because we wouldn’t be able to serve our clients effectively.
So, the win really is all about people and building quality relationships. When you treat others well, that kindness comes back around—our customers and consultants take care of us, too! We take pride in the way everyone we work with benefits. Our partners receive teams of motivated, highly skilled professionals, and our contractors have steady, quality career opportunities where they can thrive.
What’s the biggest benefit to partnering with a staffing firm in a job search?
On the contractor side, they have an employer that has their back—their success is our number one priority! We focus on the behind-the-scenes aspects like salary negotiation and lining up their next contracting assignment, so they can focus on doing their job and doing it well.
Our contractors also gain access to exciting career development opportunities like upskilling and reskilling programs to help them grow. We highly encourage continued learning for our contractors to advance the whole IT skills base and elevate the entire tech industry.
Those seeking placements services as client FTE’s gain access to some of the best companies in the country. Among other things, we handle all the introductions, resume preparation, interview scheduling, and salary negotiations.
As for clients, they’ll gain access to a wide talent pool of incredible folks who are excited to join them. We not only have our clients’ interests in mind, but our clients’ clients are being considered as well. Our team is dedicated to building true partnerships, and we don’t pass the buck when problems invariably arise during engagements. We work to solve those problems in an equitable way. My mindset from the beginning has been to take good care of our customers, making sure they receive high-value services from AEG—and it’s this belief that’s kept us successful for all these years!
What’s the #1 quality you feel is important to achieving success in the staffing industry?
Do it ethically—that’s it. Conduct all aspects of your business ethically, it’s a can’t miss approach.
In business, you often come across situations where you have the opportunity to take advantage. I encourage leaders to run in the opposite direction. Always consider the bigger picture, because operating on a foundation of integrity will always bear good fruit. Keeping everyone’s best interest in mind and being good to those I serve has always paid great dividends for me throughout my life, personally and professionally.
What’s your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
I stay busy! I run a charitable foundation called The WayMaker, and I have a few other businesses I have some ownership in. I’m also an author, and I enjoy writing in my free time.
My wife and I are very involved in our church. We enjoy listening to live music, especially at outdoor venues in the summer months. We love to hang out at Hammerstone’s in Soulard! We also enjoy going RVing and meeting up with our RV group during our travels.