By Jean Schurman
The change in ownership at A2Z Personnel could actually be a legacy in the making. When Sue Devlin sold the business to her daughter, Jaime Williams, Williams’ eight-year-old daughter Kyslei told her mother she would buy the business from her in about 30 years. It’s a legacy of strong women that Kyslei will add her name to if she takes over the business.
Devlin was born in Toronto, Canada. Her family had a summer home in Quebec as she grew up where she and her siblings – Penny, Brian and Mike – had many fun times. His father was a mining engineer and took the whole family along for his work. As a child, she spent time in the Yukon and several remote areas of South America. Although her siblings attended boarding school, she traveled with her parents. When she was 12, she was left in a convent in British Guiana for two years.
Devlin’s interest in recruitment agencies began when he was 17 years old. She had fled from her home in New Jersey to New York. She didn’t have much, but she had four nice outfits and enough money to buy white gloves. It was the uniform of a “Kelly Girl”, a temporary office worker. She worked in offices in town for very demanding bosses.
While in New York, she saw a job ad in Yellowstone National Park. She took the bus to Lewiston, Idaho, where she was picked up and taken to the park. It was the beginning of spring and even though she had lived in places all over the western hemisphere, she had never seen such beauty, nor known freedom. She worked at Old Faithful for Hamilton stores for seven months. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the national park.
Devlin left the park to follow a fellow student to Austin, Texas. Although the relationship did not work out, she lived in Beaumont for a time. While there, she worked for Snelling and Snelling, another employment agency.
“I was the employment coordinator there,” she says. “I fell in love with the concept of finding work for people.”
Because she wanted to leave Texas, she decided to move to Denver. A friend had moved there to become an army nurse while her husband was in Vietnam. She offered Devlin a place to live. She had worked for Victor Comptometer Corporation, an adding machine company, in Beaumont and had transferred to Denver.
Eventually moving to Montana in 1973, Devlin worked in many fields. She was a 911 dispatcher, sold Avon, and after the birth of her daughter Jaime, she opened a daycare.
“I wanted to see his first steps and hear his first words,” Devlin said. “That was one way to do it.”
It was when Jaime was older that Devlin came back into the employment business. Devlin opened the doors to what would become A2Z Personnel on April 18, 1993. She worked for another “temp” agency, Labor Contractors, and when she was fired by the owner, she partnered with Jenet Marten who had just bought Nolan Agency in Missoula. Devlin named it part of the Nolan Time business. She had a non-compete clause with Missoula County Labor Contractors and so they opened an office in Hamilton run by Devlin. When Devlin won a non-competition lawsuit against Labor Contractors, she took over running the Missoula office. Eventually, she managed the Missoula and Hamilton offices as well as another in Helena. She said she wasn’t sure when the name changed from Nolan Time to A2Z. They were considering changing their name and she sat down and thought, “We’ve been doing everything from A2Z,” and the name was born.
The partnership dissolved in 2002 and Devlin became the sole owner. They sold Helena’s office and flipped a coin to see who took Hamilton and who took Missoula. Devlin got the Hamilton office, and in 2004 she opened the Stevensville office. The company has grown and is now one of the main employers in the valley. It’s not only a temp agency, but they also do placements.
Employers can advertise an opening and must look at resumes, check references and do interviews. Or, they can have A2Z do all the work for them. A2Z will match the required skills to the person and select the top three candidates for the position. Devlin thinks it’s a win-win situation.
“The employee can ask ‘do I like it here’ while the employer can say ‘does this person fit in, can they do the job’.”
The employer pays the costs; Devlin didn’t think it was fair for an employee to pay fees while trying to find a job. The employee can work at a job for up to 520 hours and still be employed by A2Z. If it suits both and the employee is hired, the employer no longer pays any fees, but until this person is hired by the company, they are in fact employed by A2Z and all health insurance and responsibility of workers. is paid by A2Z. It’s actually a benefit for the employee as well. If they feel like the job isn’t right for them, they just call the A2Z office and say it’s not working. Nothing appears about their work experience except that they work at A2Z.
Devlin says people have many reasons to use the company. One of the more unusual reasons came through the door in 1994 or 1995. “He was a middle schooler, kinda plump. He came and said he needed to lose weight. ‘I want you to find me a job that will piss me off’.”
The student was from eastern Montana. Devlin said he showed up for four summers and would have gained weight during the winter only to come off during the summer. After he graduated, he thanked her for taking care of him, for teaching him to stay in school. He said he saw the job market and decided to stay in school so he could do something better.
Devlin and Williams agree that this is a good learning experience for entry-level positions. Many employers want people who don’t have preconceived ideas about how to do a job. Positions range from desk and office to the construction industry, “pretty much any business as long as it’s legal,” Devlin said. They place people in the healthcare industry, like PCAs and CNAs. There are also temporary jobs, such as catering, private parties, window washing and cleaning around the yard and garden. The company employs four full-time support staff and will send out over 500 W2 forms for 2015.
Williams is happy to be back in the business. She went to work at A2Z in 2000 when her mother had a health problem. “I had two days of training before I had to do the job,” Williams said. “It was sink or swim.”
After working there for a few years, Williams moved out and spent time in the construction industry. But she is like her mother. She is passionate about helping people and helping them find a job that suits them. When Devlin decided to sell the business, she didn’t have to look any further than her daughter. She hopes to make A2Z a resource for employers who need their HR questions answered. She also hopes the company will get even more involved in community events.
In addition to Kyslei, Williams has a son who lives and works in the Seattle area.
As for Devlin, she spends the first days of 2016 lying in the sun on a tropical island. She says she’s coming back, but we’ll have to see.