Successful minority entrepreneurship has family ties
Northeast Portland’s Brooks Temporary Associates is a successful minority-owned company led by Sam Brooks, his wife Margaret (left) and daughter, Simone. Photo by Mark Washington.
In 1981 a young executive named Sam Brooks was working for the Oregon Employment Department when he decided to take a gamble and open up his own staffing agency after getting strong support from a handful of friends.
He took out the money he had saved up for retirement, which was somewhere between $14,000 and $24,000, and opened up Brooks Temporary Associates, the state’s first minority-owned employment agency.
Since then, he and his wife, Margaret, have established S. Brooks and Associates as a reputable company that employs 200 people in five states.
But Sam and Margaret Brooks are preparing to fade into the backdrop of the company as they pass the reigns to their daughter, Simone.
Simone Brooks, 35, will be steadily taking over the day-to-day management of the company during the next year and a half. But deciding to take over the family business was something Brooks came to reluctantly.
Starting the business from scratch wasn’t easy, and getting the company (now called Brooks Staffing, which is a division of S. Brooks and Associates) to where it was now took lots of sweat equity and many long hours.
The company graduated from a Small Business Administration program for minority businesses, and has remained steady even in the turbulent economy with a strong mix of private and government contracts. S. Brooks and Associates Inc. was awarded over $332,000 in contracts from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Sam Brooks proudly points to as a sign of the company’s health.
Growing up, Simone Brooks saw all the time and effort the business took, and wasn’t sure if she wanted to follow in her parents path.
The younger Brooks attended Hampton University in Virginia, graduating in 1995. From there, she enrolled at the University of Washington where she studied marine and environmental sciences, but left the program after realizing she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life studying the behavior of fish.
From 1997 to 1999, Simone worked at Boeing doing administrative and project management work, before taking a job at S. Brooks and Associates. During her two years there working on a number of aspects of the business including payroll, accounting, and interviewing of staffing candidates. She then worked at AMEC, an environmental consulting company, for five years.
By that point she had reached what she describes as a “ceiling” at the company. Meanwhile, business was booming at parent’s company, and it made sense to go back.
“Those two things just kind of converged,” she said.
Simone had conversations with her parents about taking over the business, but was a bit skittish about the idea. A deadline of June 30 of this year was set for her to make a decision, and she took all the time allotted to her.
“How often do you get to work for someone whose sole purpose is for you to take their job?” she said, about the process of accepting the offer.
But the passing of the reigns will be slow and will take about a year and a half to two years, and there will be no day marking the official passing of the torch.
“What does retirement look like?” said Sam Brooks. “It means that I’m not in charge of the company, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t have value.”
Sam Brooks, 63, will continue on as chairman of the board and majority shareholder of the company. He and Margaret, 65, will continue to keep offices at S. Brooks and Associates’ headquarters on Alberta Street, and will be there to give advice and share contacts as Simone steadily takes over more control of the business.
Simone Brooks is still figuring out exactly what she wants to do with the company, but has a couple ideas. She’d like to enhance their presence in the states the company works in, and maybe expand its staffing capabilities, which currently are focused on clerical and light industrial work, to other fields, like forestry.
“You have grown the business to a certain level,” said Brooks. “You presume that you have taught them all that you can teach them. They’ve learned, and now they are going to bring the business to another level. It could be the same, it could be other things, but if you’ve done your job well it will be successful whatever it is.”
Both Margaret and Sam Brooks are happy to have someone to pass on to the business to. In the process, they’ve talked with consultants to see what could be tightened up with the business, and has also talked with Michael Powell, owner of Powell’s Books, who is passing his business to his daughter.
A new era is slowly beginning to take shape at Brooks Staffing, with the business staying in the family. Will Simone Brooks, a mother of two, pass it on to the next generation?
“My kids say they’re not interested, but I already know that story,” she said.