Charlie Wonderlic, CEO of Wonderlic, on risk taking, the advantages of a family-owned business, and what sets Wonderlic apart from other test publishers.
I think one of the most interesting things about the founding of Wonderlic is that it was never really intended to be “found.” Al Wonderlic, our founder, created a test called the Wonderlic Personnel Test as part of his Doctoral thesis at Northwestern University in 1937. He didn’t try to bring that test to market but rather, the market came to him. Even though he had a full-time job, other peers in HR (human resources) came to him from some of the largest companies in America and started asking him for copies of this test. Some years later, he and my grandmother would be printing these out of their basement and filling the need of those HR peers that asked.
When I was growing up, I had a fantastic opportunity to observe my father and grandfather working together firsthand for many years. Some of the earliest memories I have were going in to work with them and then going into the warehouse and driving the fork truck and learning about what people did and their roles with the organization. Over the years, I moved from helping shrink wrapping, and basically understanding what happens in the warehouse, to really getting very a solid understanding of what they did at the business level. And it was then that my eyes really opened up and I really understood just what great business people they were and how solid they were. At some point I really did come to the realization that I would really like to work with them.
Al Wonderlic, our founder, was in my opinion a very astute business person. He was very astute because he was willing to consider doing things that others had not done before, as evidenced by the creation of this first test that he built in 1937, the Wonderlic Personnel Test. And what Al taught me time and time again during my career with Wonderlic was that it is not only ok to take risks, but it is your responsibility as a leader to constantly push the envelope to look for new solutions, to take risks, and if you fail that’s ok… as long as you don’t do it twice.
I think the primary advantage of working with family and working in a family business is that family businesses tend to think further out than publicly traded or very, very large companies. While we’re very interested in and strive to grow and make a profit, we don’t necessarily look at things on a quarterly basis, nor do we put forward numbers that we have to meet. As a result, we can build things that might not necessarily benefit us financially today or tomorrow. But we know that whether it’s five years from now or ten years from now, potentially even another generation from now, we’re building things that are intended to last for a very long time.
Unlike other technology companies who focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of their technology, Wonderlic is unique because our focus is always on the quality of the content that we develop. And typically that content is in the form of an assessment. And the amount of time, effort, resource, and care that we put into not only building the actual assessment but to ensure that it is valid, legally defensible, and fair is unparalleled.
Our expertise is making things that are perceived as being very difficult much easier and more pragmatic.
I think the thing I’m most proud about Wonderlic is the fact that we have built such a strong and vibrant workforce, and that the people that work at Wonderlic are very much a business team, but also very much of a family. And as a result of that, the level of passion and commitment and loyalty is extraordinarily high.