Andrea Hill-Cataldo

Age 39: President, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services

One career was beginning while another was ending. And a local success story was born.

Andrea Hill-Cataldo was pursuing her graduate degree at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst at the same time Kelly Services, a chain of employment agencies, was taking back its privately managed franchises; one of those had been run by her aunt, who had been with Kelly for 35 years.

“So my aunt’s daughter and I started a company,” said Hill-Cataldo. “I was the sweat equity, and my cousin was the financial backing.” They hired two key employees of the former Kelly franchise, and Johnson & Hill Staffing Services hit the ground running in 1995.

“It wasn’t a typical startup,” Hill-Cataldo said of an operation that had plenty of connections right off the bat. “It had different challenges, like, how do I build an infrastructure to support this business coming in? At the beginning, we didn’t have computers, marketing … I was doing payroll for the staff at first, which wasn’t my skill set; I forgot to sign the checks the first week. But we built the business quickly.”

Johnson & Hill has grown, in fact, even when the general economy has not. “We tend to follow the economy, so if people expect a downturn, we see it first, and we usually come out of it first,” said Hill-Cataldo, explaining that employers will test the waters on an improving economy with temporary or temp-to-hire workers. “No business is recession-proof, but, having been through two downturns, I think we’re less reliant on the economy than some.”

Working a flexible schedule and juggling work and home obligations — she and her husband have a 4-year-old son, Frannie — can be tougher than a typical 9-to-5 job, said Hill-Cataldo. That’s especially true for someone heavily involved in civic leadership, on organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, the American Cancer Society, and the YWCA. “It’s harder because there are so many responsibilities, and people depend on you for leadership, and you’re never done,” she said.

“But on the other hand, because I work for myself, I can make choices that are right for me personally, that wouldn’t be OK if I worked for someone else. To decide to be with my son today instead of making another sale — to be accountable to myself and not have anyone pressure me or question my priorities — that’s nice.”

Joseph Bednar

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