Sonya Locke is CEO of EDS Service Solutions, a staff outsourcing company that operates in 80 airports throughout the US within the car rental, mobility and hospitality sector.
She is an accomplished leader with 20 plus years of both domestic and international experience in operations, P&L oversight, product development and marketing involving both start-up and growth organizations. Sonya is a results-oriented, decisive executive with proven success in new market identification and strategic positioning for multimillion-dollar companies.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Welcome to GWBC’s Open for Business. This is Lee Kantor. And this is going to be a fun episode. Today, we have with us Sonya Locke, and she’s with an organization called ADS Service Solutions. Welcome, Sonya.
Sonya Locke: [00:00:33] Thank you very much, Lee. Looking forward to meet up with you.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:33] Well, tell us a little bit about your work. How do you serve folks at ADS?
Sonya Locke: [00:00:41] So, ADS Service Solutions is a national outsourcing managed services and staffing partner for many Fortune 500 companies, primarily in travel, airport industry, hospitality, and the delivery sectors. So, on a smaller basis, we’ve provided consultancy, and augment, and staffing. But for most of our clients that we work with, we provide functional management for the entire department. Meaning that we will put in the actual logistical goals for that, have customer service and delivery goals.
Sonya Locke: [00:01:19] We would, then, hire and employ everyone from the manager down to the field and workers. In some locations, we may have 10 full-time staff. Some locations, we actually have 200 full-time staff. And we serve as a partner for our clients, basically kind of an extension of their business, to provide the full functional services for whether it’d be in the car rental sector where we would control moving of all of their fleet, cleaning their fleet, having it ready for rental to something more in the last mile delivery, delivering products once it gets into a certain city to the actual consumer. So, we provide the full outsourcing function of that, as well as the recruiting, and hiring, and human resources for managing that workforce.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:09] So, how did you get into this line of work? And what made you choose this specialty?
Sonya Locke: [00:02:15] It, actually, became it’s a very small niche all the way back to when Atlanta was first hosting the Olympics. That was my first business. And we started with client with Avis Car Rental at the airport. At that time, we were much more traditional staffing. And with the Olympics coming, they were really needing to augment their staff to have enough people to get vehicles from all over the place. And we just did a very good job.
Sonya Locke: [00:02:42] Our focus was more on human resources and finding talent. So, we brought college kids in, people that wanted part time jobs as professionals. We had a very different workforce to what the airport was used to, and we had some logistical management systems to where instead of just them telling us, “We need 10 people,” we would tell them, “Actually, we can do this job with five people, but based on this workflow.”
Sonya Locke: [00:03:10] And from that, it kind of grew and we’ve been very organic in our growth. We have a couple of very prestigious clients, and they tell us what cities they need help in. And that’s been our primary way we’ve grown through the years. And it was a very interesting niche that we kind of found and have, like I said, expanded that into also the hospitality and the last mile delivery sector as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:36] Now, that’s a great lesson for our listeners that are business owners that these are some things that you can’t really plan for but you are open to it, and then you just let it kind of play out, and then just focused on the area that you can serve and that worked with your skill set, and then just kind of organically expanded that. You were open to that, though.
Sonya Locke: [00:03:57] Yeah. And I always say, one of my favorite lessons that I’ve always had a motto early in life is that, Never chase the money. That will come to you if you follow your passion and what you’re good at in your job.” And that’s no matter what was thrown to us with our clients, we always had what our core function was as a business, and how we could best partner with our clients, and not be more in a vendor-client relationship but more truly a partnership. How could we service them? And what are our core strengths? And expanding from that.
Sonya Locke: [00:04:34] But definitely, yeah, you have to be open for the opportunities and the changes. And I think especially with what’s going on right now in our world, there’s going to be a lot of changes over the next couple of years, and adapting to more flexible solutions with your business while maintaining your core competencies is important.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:54] And when the people you’re working with view you as a partner, they look at you as part of the solution, not as part of the problem, right?
Sonya Locke: [00:05:03] Yes. And that’s why all of our partners, we’ve had them for very long term, and they’ve trusted us. And through like all these complexities that’s going on right now, we have open communications every week and really discuss ideas back and forth, like trying to get PPE equipment to the employees and creating a safe work environment, that creates a partnership because we’re onsite at our client’s facilities, and we’re working hand-in-hand with their employees and their management teams. So, communication is critical at anytime of whether it’d be an emergency or just even a growth strategy.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:43] So, now, one of your kind of open-for-business ways that you have to deal with the safety issues with your employees right now that you’re implementing and maybe you can share with our listeners.
Sonya Locke: [00:05:55] Yeah, and that has been varied. So, because we were at the airport, we’re considered essential workers, and our employees have been working through this whole time period, including in markets like San Francisco, which was our first one that had a shelter-in-place order. And we started dealing with this like early March before it had gone into the full April time period.
Sonya Locke: [00:06:21] So, the first thing that we really had to do was, I think, it was like March 8th, I was actually coming back for my daughter’s spring break and had started seeing all the stuff with the virus, how it was spreading, and the first thing was trying to get critical supplies that we knew were going to be necessary, such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants. Later, we added, of course, gloves, things like that.
Sonya Locke: [00:06:47] And even early on, most of the supply chain had already started breaking. So, we had to look at multiple sources, good connections with more industrial type cleaning supply places and procure those. And even with procurement, you’re always looking at two weeks out time period. So, first step was, of course, like I said, the disinfectant posters, having very immediate policies on what to do if an employee is sick, making sure that they’re staying home, being flexible in terms of not promoting people coming into work that are sick, promoting handwashing, sanitation, using hand sanitizers, gloves.
Sonya Locke: [00:07:31] Once the mask ordinance was also released, even though it’s not required, we had a hard time procuring mask, we’d already started working on it, but we were still waiting on shipping time. So, we had videos on how people could make their own cloth mask. I actually had several of my VPs that had family members sewing masks for our employees. So, promoting that to where, now, we’re actually also implementing temperature checks where we will take the employee’s temperature before they come to work.
Sonya Locke: [00:08:02] But all of it has been one on the PPE equipment is really trying to cast your net wide, go outside of just a Costco and places like that because everyone’s hitting that to more direct routes to the supply chain, and planning everything two to three weeks ahead of time. If you start hearing news like the facemask when they started making gentle recommendations for it, at that point, if you’re not already implementing a policy ahead of that, then you’re going to be behind the eight ball in terms of not being able to get the equipment you need.
Sonya Locke: [00:08:41] We’ve also had some sites that did have to close down that were not at the airport, not essential functions. And now, we’re going into the process of reopening it. How do we make sure of the social distancing? It’s another big factor we’ve had to take into consideration is how to layout our facilities and our workflow to allow for social distancing for our employees. And just kind of having a checklist of, one, do you have the proper cleaning protocols? Do you have your scenarios for what if somebody test positive? How do you do contact tracing to make sure that you inform all the right people? What’s the disinfecting process, especially with facilities that we don’t necessarily own? What is that facility? SO, there’s a lot of factors that have gone into it and keep on getting refined and changed on a daily basis.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:34] Now, from a human-to-human level, how do you kind of help the employees kind of deal with this level of uncertainty and fear that might be cropping up?
Sonya Locke: [00:09:45] Yeah, there has been a lot of fear, and that is where it is in critical training our managers and my regional managers and having constant communication to get back down to the employees. If an employee does not feel comfortable going back to work, the first thing is we don’t know why they might not be comfortable. They may be taking care of an elderly person in their home. They may be part of the vulnerable population. We have to be empathetic to what their fear is.
Sonya Locke: [00:10:21] And then, also, we have to provide those safeguards for them, which is all the PPE equipment and having a set organized plan. Like this is how we’re handling it, and this is what we recommend. Obviously, like I said, we’ve been more flexible on sick leave in terms of if we need to send employees home, making it not affect them as much.
Sonya Locke: [00:10:47] And the other part is we did have to furlough a large majority of our staff early on because the volume strictly wasn’t there. And we chose to furlough versus laying off because we knew we were going to bring our people back. And I think that’s also a thing that by communicating it to the employees, “This is no fault of your own,” we provide them exactly how they could get unemployment. We kept their health insurance benefits throughout that time period, and we are communicating with them. So, we said it’s a 30-day furlough, and then 30 days as to our time to call them back.
Sonya Locke: [00:11:23] So, there’s a lot of steps to try to make an employee feel comfortable, but I think the first is you have to kind of also listen to them and make sure that you’re not blanketly trying to say, “Oh, everybody is in this scenario. People have different comfort levels.” And as an employer, the best you can do is make sure you’re communicating and really providing a plan and protection for them.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:48] Now, let’s talk a little bit about GWBC. How has that organization impacted your business and maybe helped you through this because I know they’re doing a good job of sharing information as quickly as they get it with their members?
Sonya Locke: [00:12:01] Yeah. They have been very excellent at that. They’ve had a lot of very fascinating webinars, and we get mailed into our inboxes. And so, we have some of that my HR team kind of look at that, and I have others that is more on kind of business growth at risk. So, they’re giving the information out and having these different formats has been very instrumental. And having a network of women businesses, I think, it’s also just is … it’s very impactful. At this time, no one has been through exactly a crisis like this, and you need to have a network of other companies and other business leaders that you can talk to to get their opinions on how they’re handling things and to find your best practices working through and navigating all the information that’s out there.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:58] Now, have you had to spend any of your time with your clients to help them kind of brainstorm, maybe pivot, or some changes that they’re going to have to make in this new environment that maybe they can leverage your strengths?
Sonya Locke: [00:13:11] Yes. Actually, we’ve had very extensive talks on it and have been working with our clients directly on pilot programs where it is a different factor of their business that may be more in the future. Also, as we go to contactless deliveries and different models like that, how do we promote that and change our workflow or our patterns to make sure that we can train people get accustomed to what this new normal is going to be.
Sonya Locke: [00:13:46] But we have pretty much talks with our clients. Some of my managers may talk to them almost every day. But then, on a higher level, I will usually speak to their higher levels, at least, once a week or every other week, really, just to discuss all of these things, whether it’d be pivoting to safety and to new workplace measurements. How do we accomplish this? And what are they wanting? And what are they looking at doing? And offering our expertise as far as what we’ve seen as well in this process, and listening to seminars such as what the Georgia Women’s Council can give us too.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:27] Now, are you seeing any silver linings in that anything you’re doing now that you’ve had to do because of the crisis that you’ll be like, “Hey, you know what? When this crisis is over, we may still want to implement this, or maybe this will open up some other line of business that we hadn’t thought of previously”?
Sonya Locke: [00:14:45] Yes, there’s a couple of different things with that. And I do think that from this, there is a silver lining. There’s going to be so much innovation that’s going to be coming out. On a business pivoting level, we’ve never really had to have a huge sales department because of our relationships with our clients. They kind of call, so we grow organically. But now I’ve re-positioned some of my recruiters and my operations managers into my sales team, and they’re having a lot of successes because they know what talent database we have and what our people are capable of. Define more vertical industries such as deliveries has been a big change of focus as well as janitorial. Everybody’s looking at different verticals.
Sonya Locke: [00:15:33] And that’s one thing that has really come positive from this, is we have the transferable skills as far as what we’re capable of and our systems in place. We’ve kept our key management. So, it’s been exciting seeing people change their roles, and people we would not have expected that actually did have a better sales background because they were business consultants.
Sonya Locke: [00:15:57] But on the internal thing,video conferencing has been our biggest, I think, new future that we will have. And it has been a lot of fun. We have literally 10 different platforms we’ve tried. I’ve been most impressed with Zoom is the easiest and most stable internet connective-wise. And what we see is we have our conference calls, which we always had a Monday morning conference call for our regionals from all over the country, but it was a phone call. And now, we’re doing these and big Zoom meetings, and everybody’s in their different locations, but we’ve always been spread out throughout the country. So, it’s a much more personal way to connect face to face.
Sonya Locke: [00:16:41] We also have had operations calls every morning for about an hour as just kind of like a stand up. And we have people from six different states that call in, and we’re just talking about communication that’s going to go out to our managers in the field.
Sonya Locke: [00:16:56] So, the other thing is our corporate office, we set up a system to where we could work at home. And we’ve been working at home for like the last month. So, we kind of have all of my key functions having two offices. So, they have the office setup at the house, and then they have the office setup at the corporate office. So, it provides a lot more flexibility to respond in emergencies like that, and some opportunities for people to remote work, which they are able to do at the full productivity level.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:33] So, now, if somebody wanted to learn more about your organization and have a more substantive conversation, is there a website?
Sonya Locke: [00:17:41] Yes. Our website is www.edsservicesolutions.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:52] Well, Sonya, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work. Thank you.
Sonya Locke: [00:17:56] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:58] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina