HR Excellence 2019 Lifetime Achievement winner: Sharon DeLay, founder, Go-HR

In 2002, Sharon DeLay was in the midst of a successful career doing sales field communication and training at Longaberger at a time when the basket business was not far removed from its sales peak of $1 billion. A health issue, however, prompted her to pause and evaluate what she was really trying to accomplish.

She had been hospitalized with a blood clot in her leg and her first day home from the hospital was the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“I said to myself, ‘You gotta do something different with your life.' I wasn't happy, and I felt like I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing, and certainly didn't feel like I was in control of my life, my career or my options,” she says.

That something different was taking the risk of leaving corporate America and her guaranteed paycheck and benefits to start her own business. It was an idea she had shunned for years for fear it would worry her mother.

That same year, DeLay launched Permanent Ink Professional Services, a training, development and communications company. Now called Go-HR, the firm evolved over the years to offer full-cycle HR, coaching, career transition, behavioral assessments, recruiting and sourcing. It also offers non-traditional benefits consulting, which DeLay calls “huge” for her clients.

“Our focus is really helping these small business owners compete with the big businesses,” she says. While the business has changed since its launch, what was true at the time of the founding remains—a passion for primarily helping small businesses.

“Her vision was to give small and micro-businesses access to the same high-quality and skilled HR resources that larger firms enjoy in-house, on staff,” David Klinge, COO at environmental consultant ASC Group Inc., wrote in nomination materials for DeLay.

“She has thoughtfully grown the company and the services provided in response to client requests and needs,” Klinge wrote. “She remains focused on micro-businesses and businesses that fall well below the 50-employee mark, which is a dramatically underserved market.”

Key to getting her up and running, though, were two large organizations who had been her most recent employers—Longaberger and Hondros College. The smaller firms started to come into the fold after DeLay joined the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2005, allowing her to gain referrals to women business owners who needed help with issues such as growing from a small firm with one employee to equitably hire and treat everyone the same.

She operated as a solo practitioner before hiring her first employee in 2014. Go-HR has five employees now who work with about 50 active clients across the United States.

DeLay attributes her consistent revenue growth of between 11 percent and 19 percent over the past five years to both the practical and the emotional. The practical—going beyond just maintaining industry certifications and digging deeper for clients on issues like state employment law or research for an insurance analysis. The emotional—a passion for the work she does. “Small businesses are the ones who are struggling to compete,” she says. “They can offer the same good services and products a larger business can, but they need some help with some of the bigger HR issues.

Klinge says ASC found Go-HR five years ago through NAWBO and there was an immediate fit in terms of scale, cost and expertise. Go-HR originally helped with documented processes for every step of the HR world and today still serves as the firm's high-level HR consultant.

“Sharon is a wonderful person to work with. She's hard to confound. A ball of energy. Ready to handle any challenge you can throw at her and has probably done it before,” Klinge says. “She's a pull-no-punches person with her advice; no-nonsense. She has a vested interest in what is in the best interest of her clients and lets you know in no uncertain terms what the correct course of action is.”

At 54, DeLay has no plans to slow down. She has all kinds of ideas about growth opportunities, whether that's creating a staffing arm or a licensing deal to get Go-HR “out into the world.”

Lifetime Achievement recognizes a longtime or retired HR professional who has demonstrated exceptional leadership, knowledge, decision-making skills and commitment.

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.

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