By Elliot Clark, CEO
I thought a long time about whether to write this column. I only have one spot in this magazine to express my opinions, and I take that opportunity to connect directly with our readers very seriously. I feel an obligation to tell this story. I will try my best not to characterize the actions I will describe below, but rather ask you, the reader, to assess the situation. And, one more thing, as our most recent readers’ survey shows, we know that more than 80 percent of you use our Baker’s Dozen Rating system in some aspect in your partner selection decision. This imposes an enormous burden on HRO Today to be as accurate as possible since we know you are betting your careers on these multi-million dollar decisions, and we need to get it right.
I have mentioned before we have an elaborate infrastructure to catch questionable Baker’s Dozen surveys. In spite of this, and to our continuing frustration, we get them. We have decided as an editorial and research team that for the first time ever, we are going to name a company that had several “questionable” surveys. We hope this reassures our readers and stands as a stark warning to other companies that would allow or encourage the submission of “questionable” surveys. The company in this most recent case is a pre- employment screening company called Chane Solutions and a firm that is owned by the same CEO called McGrath Systems, Inc.
Perhaps it would be best to start with explaining how we discovered the issue. After the database for the 2017 HRO Today Magazine Pre-Employment Screening Customer Satisfaction Survey closes, our VP of Research Larry Basinait shared a courtesy copy with me. He noted a concern on the database that one company had a concentration of surveys -more than 27 percent from a single staffing firm -and a number of staffing firms as raters. I commented back that pre-employment screening is often a product purchased by staffing firms on behalf of clients so this alone was not alarming. The company in question was named Chane Solutions, a firm I was largely unfamiliar with other than the perception they were small. Chane had very high scores for size of deal, breadth of service, and some of the highest quality of service scores we had seen in this vertical. Given its remarkably high scores and the concentration of survey responses from one client, Larry and I wondered if this was one of those situations when a firm’s surveys were so perfect as to be impossible, something we always watch out for. I asked our Managing Publisher, Gale Tedeschi, who had notes on Chane Solutions in Salesforce, if the organization had experienced high growth or had some technological advantage. In the course of that conversation, she mentioned that the CEO was named Michael Wiley. I responded that Michael Wiley was the CEO of one of Chane’s clients, McGrath Systems and he had done a survey. She gasped and said they were sister companies.
We have confirmed that they are two different legal entities both owned by Michael Wiley. I want to explain the facts as we know them and let you, the reader, decide if this was an act of wrongdoing or a lapse in judgment or you may decide it is something else. We spoke to Mr. Wiley before publishing this column, asked for his side of the story, and offered him the opportunity to give us a comment that we would print for this story. As of publication, Chane Solutions, McGrath Systems, and Mr. Wiley have declined to comment on the record.
Let’s start at the beginning, Mr. Wiley did inform Gale in an email sent in December 2016 that he was CEO of both firms. In our Baker’s Dozen process, our research team sends the survey link to providers for distribution to their clients as well as to our own database of pre-employment screening service users who are HR practitioners. We do not rely only on provider referred respondents. We know they “cherry pick” a bit and our own database is a backstop against this. Most HR practitioners will not exaggerate for their service partners and usually the two groups are close. Now, here’s what we know. Our records indicate Michael Wiley himself took the survey as CEO of McGrath Systems reporting on Chane Solutions on August 15, 2017.
On September 5th, Gale sent a standard solicitation to all providers in the space to market advertising in the issue (we do run a business, you know). Wiley had long since taken the survey on his company, Chane Solutions. Wiley responded to Gale on September 5th asking if this was confirmation they had made the list. Gale responded the same day at 4:19PM that Chane needed a few more surveys to qualify but that there was still time and that her emails do not indicate anything about the results. Between 6:44PM and 7:14PM on September 5th, three more surveys were submitted with the names of McGrath executives as Chane Solutions clients. Those responses and Wiley’s survey had some differences. Our analysts had separately flagged these inconsistencies. For example, Wiley indicated that Chane managed a staggering more than 20,000 screens per year for McGrath and functioned in every region of the world. He did indicate that McGrath was a staffing firm. One of the other McGrath surveys agreed they were a staffing firm, however, another listed McGrath as an advertising and media company and another said they were a manufacturing firm. The surveys purported to be from executives at McGrath who should know what the company does (my first amendment attorney would tell me I should not comment beyond the facts but I am not going out on a limb with that assertion…I will try to be good from now on).
They disagreed on the number of screens. Two McGrath surveys say that Chane processed 2,000 to 2,500 screens per year while another indicated 2,000. Everyone but Wiley indicated service was only available in North America. They all by the way listed McGrath Systems as only existing in North America so Wiley’s assertion of service in Europe, Latin America and APAC was not supported by the other executives surveys and conflicted with another one of his own answers.
The four surveys, however, agreed service was perfect in every sub-category available, and every service got a perfect “5” to every question by all of the McGrath “clients.” But, wait, there’s more. In response to a free text question on areas of possible improvement, a question clients love to answer, sometimes at length, Wiley wrote and I quote, “We are extremely happy – maybe offer to buy at happy hour :)”. The others did not comment. I do not find Mr. Wiley’s tongue in cheek response to rating his own company funny.
Gale Tedeschi, who manages media sales for HRO Today, does not see the results or know them until the end of the process. It is important to note that she would have never known “who rated who” as this is treated with the utmost confidentiality if I had not connected the dots while talking to her in late October.
Back to the timeline. On September 20th, Gale sent out another solicitation to dozens of pre-employment screening firms making them aware of opportunities to sponsor the announcement results video. Wiley responded to this email saying, “You mean we WON!” With perfect scores from 27 percent of their rating group, they very well may have ranked at or near the top of the list had we not found out that the two companies are jointly owned. We have, also, since verified using an IP tracing service that all of the surveys emanated from an IP address connected with McGrath Systems.
At HRO Today, we love that the Baker’s Dozen is important. We love that the marketplace trusts us (this proves we catch questionable surveys and should be trusted). We love that more than 80 percent of our readers rely on the Baker’s Dozen process to help select partners, but we are concerned about the recent increase in “questionable” surveys and I am not writing this column to be mean. It serves two purposes. First, it puts providers on notice that we catch “questionable” surveys and will expose the firms that submit them. Second, it protects our readers and the integrity of your decision-making, and frankly, your careers.
Wiley’s example is no different than a flight attendant filling out his or her own feedback card and submitting it with positive comments. For us, we decided that the McGrath surveys could not be counted, if for no other reason than that the two companies are related and the owner of both filled out a survey ranking his own company.
Was it an act of wrongdoing for personal gain or an explainable “lapse” of judgment? I will let you decide that it is one of those two possibilities or you may see it in a completely different way. That is up to you, but I know it is something we at HRO Today felt obligated to report.
Please, rest assured, we do this survey for you and the results later in this magazine can be trusted.