At the start of his career, Jesus Unzueta was challenged by a mentor to dream bigger. Now, as the head of IT for TrueBlue, he challenges his company to consolidate and provide the best and most comprehensive platform in the industry, even after a series of mergers and acquisitions.
Unzueta, TrueBlue’s senior vice president and global chief information officer, is currently charged with the task of moving the company from several different internal systems used by several brands TrueBlue has acquired over the years, and replacing them with a single customer- and employee-friendly platform. The ultimate goal is to support operations as TrueBlue moves from a company with about $3 billion in annual revenue to one exceeding $5 billion by 2020.
Unzueta says it’s unlikely he would be the leader he is today without the guidance of a friend and mentor who not only saw but also challenged him to realize his potential. After serving as an IT specialist in the US Marine Corps in 1993, his first job out of high school, Unzueta met Robert Urwiler at Peregrine Systems in San Diego. Urwiler encouraged Unzueta to consider a two-year program for IT managers at the California Institute of Technology and a bachelor of science from the University of Phoenix. In the meantime, Urwiler put him to work in almost every area of IT to learn how to both manage systems and lead teams of people.
“He mentored and coached me, and almost fired me a couple of times,” Unzueta says with a chuckle. “But he never stopped pushing me. When I called to tell him I had gotten into the MBA program at USC’s Marshall School of Business, he said, ‘Good. Now let’s see if they let you out,’” Unzueta recalls.
Being challenged in such a way set Unzueta up for success. “Because of him, I’m still reminded that it’s not what I start but rather what I finish,” he says. “I believe I have been a role model to all of my teams in demonstrating the power of combining formal education, business acumen, and technology experience. I’m proud to have motivated others to go back and complete an education instead of only been relying on technical skill sets.”
TrueBlue By the Numbers
206 on-premise sites
840,000 people connected to work each year
130,000 customers served annually
Over the course of his career, Unzueta has held several senior leadership positions in tech companies, including Peregrine and Macromedia, and has managed more than thirty acquisitions or divestitures. The combination of experience in domestic and international divisions of companies—even operating his own firm for a while—and integrating newly acquired companies made him a perfect fit for TrueBlue. When Unzueta came on board, the company was conducting a series of significant acquisitions that have greatly expanded its global presence.
With Unzueta at the helm of its IT department, TrueBlue was poised to make major changes in technology, as well as transform its IT team into an integrated organization by including the talent gained through acquisitions. “The company needed vision and execution to take the IT team from where it was to where it needed to be,” he says.
TrueBlue’s core purpose is to connect work and supply companies to talent with a goal of creating the best possible workforce. The company was built on supplying specialized on-demand labor—something that resonated with Unzueta. His father had been a blue-collar worker, but always encouraged him to earn his living with his head instead of his hands.
Needless to say, he followed his father’s advice and taking a leadership role at TrueBlue allowed Unzueta the opportunity to lend a hand to hard-working people who—like his father—just want to support their families. “I felt an instant connection with [TrueBlue CEO] Steve Cooper when he explained the company’s mission, vision, and values,” Unzueta says. “He spoke about the value we provide to our customers and workers, and what it means to them as they return safely to their families. It was the first time since being out of the Marines that I felt I was carrying out strong values and an important mission every day.”
When Unzueta took on the role of CIO in January 2015, he knew that merging TrueBlue’s nine brands would be a major part of his work. Just six months later, he and the executive team were ready to dive into an ambitious plan to consolidate TrueBlue’s numerous business units—most of which had operated relatively independently—into just three, and then to integrate those three into one cohesive organization supported by innovative technology.
Unzueta and TrueBlue were faced with combining its flagship brand, Labor Ready—which specialized in staffing across the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico—with acquired brands CLP and Spartan Staffing into one entity, debuting as People Ready.
In addition, operations in Canada, Australia, Poland, India, and elsewhere in the world came under the company’s PeopleScout brand, which fills permanent positions for some of the world’s best-known companies and places more US military veterans in full-time employment than any other recruitment firm in the world.
The third step for Unzueta and his team will be to bring four more brands that offer on-site workforce management together—a process slated to be completed next year.
A major benefit to integrating so many companies into just a few is the ease of sharing data across platforms, Unzueta explains. That’s especially important at TrueBlue, which has a talent pool of hundreds of thousands of workers, but a structure that has made it difficult for all of its brands to access data on those workers. Now, when workers register with one company, it’s easier for them to also go into the pool of workers for other TrueBlue companies. Merging systems also allows for significantly less licensing, compliance, and coding maintenance, as well as making the process more efficient for customers, workers, and staff.
Improving the customer and employee experience is another significant goal that Unzueta and his IT team are prioritizing, including the creation of online tools for customers and workers. “Higher Insight,” one example that was piloted in 2015 through PeopleScout, is a business intelligence tool that allows customers to see their recruitment progress in real time via a customized dashboard.
“It was the first time since being out of the Marines that I felt I was carrying out strong values and an important mission every day.”
Another tool is a mobile app that allows workers to view, apply, and accept jobs—even get paid—right from their phone. The same app will allow customers to post job specs, select workers, and rate employees. “We are engaging our customers and workers through a device that has become second-nature to them and integrated into all areas of their lives,” he explains. “Customers will be able to place orders at the moment they realize a need, and workers will be able to review and commit to a job whenever and wherever they are.”
“This efficiency and ease-of-use makes finding work easier and more predictable—knowing we have everything else handled.”
Unzueta is proud to be TrueBlue’s first Hispanic executive, and he says diversity is something TrueBlue takes very seriously in every part of its operations. The company sponsors a diversity and inclusion council made up of thirty people from different levels of the company with a variety of backgrounds, who make sure all voices are heard and respected. “Diversity makes our work better,” he says. “Everybody brings different experiences to the table, which improves the work process and the final product.”
Unzueta says that because the way people work will continue to change, so will TrueBlue’s technology and processes. The company is growing at a global level, continuing to make acquisitions and working to stay ahead of an increasingly young workforce that doesn’t always embrace the trade skills of their parents.
“We are moving at such a rapid pace on all fronts to get ahead, and stay ahead, of our customers’ needs, that now is a very exciting time. From a technology standpoint, we’re building and delivering our future in an environment in which new opportunities for our customers and workers present themselves every week,” Unzueta says.
“We can’t stand still because we know there are other companies focused on similar ideas and models. Our goal is to be the leader.”