Tammy Cohen (SHRM-CP, PHR), a background screening pioneer with three decades of experience, is a nationally honored entrepreneur, a successful businesswoman, and a recognized thought leader.
Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of InfoMart, one of the top 10 largest background check and identity screening companies in the industry, Cohen is known professionally as the Queen of Screen and was named among “Atlanta’s Top 20 Women-Owned Firms” and “Top 500 Women-Owned Businesses in the US.” Recently, she was recognized as a WBE Star, the Most Influential Woman in Background Screening, and “Maverick of the Year” by the Stevie Awards. She lends her expertise to renowned publications, including contributions to Forbes, Entrepreneur, HR Executive, and HR Technologist.
Driven by Tammy’s passion, InfoMart continues to be instrumental in the development of processes and technology that are now the industry standard. She is leading the charge in the development of a digital Career Wallet™ that will change the way people manage their career credentials. Tammy’s drive has modernized hiring and given her clients a competitive edge when recruiting top talent.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The company through the pandemic
- Employee engagement program
- Strategy for the upcoming WBENC National Conference
- Advice for WBEs at the national conference
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] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business and this is going to be a fun one. Today on the show we have Tammy Cohen and she is with InfoMart. Welcome, Tammy.
Tammy Cohen: [00:00:29] Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Well, I am so excited to get caught up with what you got going on. But for the few people out there who don’t know, tell us a little bit about InfoMart, how you’re serving folks.
Tammy Cohen: [00:00:41] So, InfoMart is a global background screening company. So, we do the typical background checks of criminal verifications, driving records, drug testing, but we also do third-party vendor screening as well as monitoring of your employees.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:56] So, you’ve been doing this for a minute. Can you talk a little bit about your backstory and how you got into this line of work?
Tammy Cohen: [00:01:04] So, yes, I have been doing it for a minute. So, a little bit over 33 years ago, I was an administrative assistant at a property management company and we did build a suit construction and we built the Glock handgun building and there were three of us on the team. And Glock gave over three handguns and the vice president gave one to the other guy and he kept one and he gave all the others away. And I didn’t get a handgun, which, you know, in the day that was Southern swag to get a handgun. So, I was only 25 and I reacted quickly, probably should have thought it through, but I just quit my job. So, I had a choice to go get another job or start a business that I’d been thinking of and that’s what I did.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:51] So, now where did you see kind of the opportunity that other people didn’t see? What did you notice that clued you in that there was an opportunity here in the screening and background checks?
Tammy Cohen: [00:02:03] So, we had hired a girl who came into our office and she had worked for like half-a-day and put out all her pictures on her desk, everything. And then, she worked one full day. The next day she came in and at lunch, she never came back. And all those pictures and everything she set out was gone. And so, I was like, this is weird. So, I started checking to, you know, is there somebody that can look into the background of somebody before you hire them. And at the time, Equifax was doing it, it was like $150 to do this background check. And come to find out this girl was on like three or four different states unemployment rolls. So, she was getting checks from multiple states because back in the day you could do that. And so, I had worked in banks and knew what credit was about and had worked in real estate so I knew about public records and I knew there was probably like $5 of work in that $150. So that’s where I came up with the idea to do background checks.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:01] And then, where did you see, kind of, your point of differentiation? Where did you see kind of the lever that you were going to use to separate yourself from the others?
Tammy Cohen: [00:03:10] So, at 25, I wasn’t that business savvy to be honest with you. I was more of just keep my nose to the grindstone and this thing’s going to make it.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:22] Okay. So, you said, okay, I can do this kind of work for other people, but then did you go, okay, like who did you start targeting at the beginning? Where did you think the most opportunity was?
Tammy Cohen: [00:03:33] So, back then, hardly anybody was doing background checks. I mean, when I went to go sell, I had to convince people that it was legal to do a background check. So, you know, I first started out with retail and fast food because there had been a lot of situations where there was one particular company that was one of my first accounts that I contacted that somebody had raped a girl and then was working on their line serving food, and she came in to have dinner and saw the guy who raped her. And, they had to close the store. They had so much bad media. So, that was a little bit of how I sort of focused on who I was going to contact.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:14] And then, at that point, part of it was just educating them that they were allowed to do it, number one. But also, there’s a benefit from doing it. There’s going to be an ROI if you do this.
Tammy Cohen: [00:04:27] Yes. Yes, definitely. And it took time. I mean, it was, you know, that I’m embarrassed, but yet I’m proud that people call me the queen of screen because I was in it so early. It was an industry in its infancy. You know, we didn’t have a [inaudible] code. It was just really unknown.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:48] So, now your title is Chief Visionary Officer. Can you talk about that? Is that because you saw this before anybody else did?
Tammy Cohen: [00:04:59] Well, I think yes. But over the years, InfoMart has always been quick to innovate. And I think there’s a benefit of starting a business in the day when there was no Internet or an email and everything was manual. And so, when the email came out and Internet and different types of technology, I’ve been able to be ahead of the game and innovate something that we’ve thought about doing and just having everything in place to be able to do that. So, it’s been a benefit being in business this long. It gives us great opportunities to innovate before anybody else.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:34] Now, are you seeing this kind of work now trickling into areas and industries that you couldn’t even have dreamt that it would get there? Or, did you see early on that this is something that everybody should be kind of leaning into getting this kind of information?
Tammy Cohen: [00:05:51] Well, over the years, I’ve seen it start from just basically retail and fast food and a nuclear power plant to, now, everybody does background checks. And now the differentiators would be, do you do it on your own management only or do you do it on only your hourly people? And then, what level of services that you do? And then, there’s legal compliance that’s really stepped in, that’s regulated industries to make them have certain type of background checks.
Tammy Cohen: [00:06:22] So, I think that over the years, what’s changed is the more of the level and amount of information. And then, what InforMart has done recently that’s really taken off is that after COVID, we have put in a continuous criminal monitoring on employees. So, like, an employer can get a message on Sunday morning that says one of their employees had a booking event and they had a DUI that evening before so they’re not caught off guard on Monday when they’re not in the office.
Tammy Cohen: [00:06:53] So, that’s been a really interesting new twist in our industry, is now looking at social media searches on your current employees, looking at that remote worker since you’re not getting to see them as often.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:06] Now, I saw that even some industries like even these dating apps are having a layer of this kind of screening in their apps.
Tammy Cohen: [00:07:15] Yes, but it’s different than doing an employer background check. So, their sites like been verified that a consumer or anybody can go on there and you put somebody’s name in their date of birth and it’s going to run and see if it finds a criminal history through a database. And those types of criminal record searches, you don’t always have to have a release from somebody. But for what I do, because it’s being used for the decision of employment, we’re regulated. So, anybody in my industry doing background checks for employers isn’t involved in doing dating apps or just random search of information without lots of legal releases.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:59] So, is your information more thorough and you have access to more information than some of these more superficial searches?
Tammy Cohen: [00:08:08] So, yes, the main difference is that courthouses run every county in the United States is like their own little business. That’s why you have some states that say DUI and some say DWI. They have their own lingo. So, we work with all 3000 counties. And because of that, we go directly to these courthouses or their online sites now to gather the data. So, we’re getting the point of entry. So, there’s no watering down or missing it because it’s been passed around or it’s not publicly available on a database.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:46] Now, in your work, as it evolved from you, I would imagine at the beginning you were the kind of main salesperson and also the researcher wearing many hats. But over the years, you’ve grown and built a culture that is, you know, kind of top of its class in terms of best and brightest places to work and this great kind of employee engagement activities that you’ve been doing. Can you talk about why that was important to you as you grew the business to really invest in the culture and invest in your people?
Tammy Cohen: [00:09:26] So, employee engagement is a very – it’s a very interesting science to your business, you know, developing that culture. Because when you’re small, you have completely different things that you’re able to do because you can get closer to your employees and you get your employees more committed. So, like I have employees that have been with me for over 30 years, 20 years. They stayed with me a long time because they were there in those early days when their engagement was very close and intimate.
Tammy Cohen: [00:09:54] But as you grow, you have to look at what’s really engaging to a lot of people. And what we came up with is what we call the IM teams. So, we had I am growing, I am celebrating, I’m living. And these teams are all employee-run not by managers and they had their own little business of running different types of events for employees and just keep them engaged. And it just has made a huge difference in keeping employees long-term, which develops experts which ends up getting you more accounts because you have really talented, experienced people in the organization. So, most everybody on our leadership teams or even in sales, client relations, they all started at the bottom, working in verifications, criminal searches. Everybody has hands-on experience, which is really very different for our industry.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:49] So if you were giving advice to an up-and-coming company, a leader of an up-and-coming company, what would be some things that they could do to lay the groundwork for developing the kind of culture that you’ve developed?
Tammy Cohen: [00:11:04] So, COVID has really changed employee engagement and I’ve really looked at it now as you’ve got to look at your employee experience because you can’t really engage them like you did when they were right there with you. But your experience makes the difference.
Tammy Cohen: [00:11:19] So, some of the things that we’ve done is like we had all of our employees come in and they got professional photos taken and those are – we use professional photos because we’re sort of like a banker. We need to look professional all the time. And then, there’s things like we play games like Rapid Fire called the Chairman Challenge, where basically I put out what are the key things a casino is looking for when they do a background check and nobody knows what the question is going to be and everybody has 5 minutes to give us everything from news services to what are their pain points. So, those end up being fun.
Tammy Cohen: [00:12:00] So, we just look at things like – we’ve really upped our employee meetings and any type of meeting we have where we try to make it like it’s a large conference. We’ve invested in that technology. We’re not investing in our office place. So, we’re investing in the technology of where we do connect with our employees. So, I think for anybody right now, it’s looking at that experience they’re having with your organization.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:25] Right. I think it’s so important to be mindful and intentional when it comes to this level of engagement because what you used to be able to get away with when everybody was in the same place and you’d bump into people with a certain level of frequency and you don’t have as much of that. Now, you really have to go out of your way to intentionally create those kind of serendipitous collisions.
Tammy Cohen: [00:12:48] You really do. We do have guidelines of your camera has to be on unless it’s a meeting where we don’t have cameras on. But most of the time we require it. We have an early morning meeting to make sure everybody is up and running. So, we’ve put a lot of parameters around to make sure – and it’s not to make sure people are necessarily working as much as it is to see each other’s faces and to be one-on-one with each other.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:15] Right. Because ultimately business is humans doing business with other humans. So, you know, you have to – you can’t ignore the human part of the equation. And even though a lot of businesses kind of lean on technology and automation, I think the successful ones really create that balance when it comes to human-to-human interaction.
Tammy Cohen: [00:13:36] Definitely. I mean, the long-term goal is to keep your employees committed and loyal to your organization. And it’s just not tenure. It’s giving ideas, it’s improvements. It’s just totally being involved. And that comes really from seeing people face-to-face.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:55] Now, speaking of involvement, you’re very actively involved with the GWBC. Can you talk about how that organization has impacted your business?
Tammy Cohen: [00:14:05] It is – it’s a very unique organization and it has really brought on large accounts for InfoMart. But I think one of the greatest things that InfoMart or I personally get out of it is a network of professionals that, or sort of in the same fight I am day after day just trying to build your business. So, it’s just sort of unique to be in that type of environment with your friends.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:37] Yeah. It’s very rewarding and it’s emotionally satisfying to know that you’re having an impact on all these other businesswomen that are out there grinding and battling and that you can share your expertise and wisdom and maybe some connections to help them get to a new level.
Tammy Cohen: [00:14:54] Yes. And, you know, and it’s a two-way street. You know, I like to tease that when we sit down together at any of our conferences, you know, some people might exchange recipes, but we’re exchanging new campaign, marketing campaign ideas or, you know, it’s just a different environment. But I even take away so much because just like a marketing company, there’s might be all kinds of things I’ve never thought of that somebody’s going to share that a company like I can do.
Tammy Cohen: [00:15:20] So, it’s very – the women that are involved, the women business owners, they’re very supportive of each other. I mean, I get emails and notices of events or RFPs that are happening that they find out and it’s just a very unique environment and how everybody is out to make each other successful.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:42] Now, there’s an upcoming WBENC National Conference. Can you talk about how you’re going to be involved with that and what you’re doing to kind of bring out the most value from attending?
Tammy Cohen: [00:15:57] So, you know, especially with the WBENC Conference, but any conference, you know, I always go to a conference with a strategy. I don’t look at it so much as I know I’m going to see my friends and I know I’m going to network, but I go in prepared and I think that to get the most out of WBENC for sure, you have to go in. You have to know your pitch. You have to know what is your capabilities, what is your differentiators. And they have to be on your tongue, ready, not rehearsed. You know, you have to be in the portals and be prepared for the questions you want to ask.
Tammy Cohen: [00:16:32] I think there’s just – sometimes we go to these conferences thinking that, oh, we’re going to see people and we’re going to walk around and grab swag. But I think that more than anything, the WBENC Conference is one that this is a great opportunity and you have to treat it like you’re a powerhouse, you know, attend every event. Just let no moment pass you by.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:54] Yeah. A lot of times people see these kinds of events, especially since it’s been a while since we’ve had these kinds of an event to this magnitude where they kind of winging it. They’re like, oh, I know what I know. And, I think I agree 100% with your strategy of you’ve got to prepare for this. Like this is, you know, this is your Super Bowl. This is – get ready to get the most because where else are you going to have this many people in one place?
Tammy Cohen: [00:17:19] Oh, exactly. I like the way you referred to that that it is the Super Bowl of women business owners. So, that’s a great example.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:28] So, is there anything that you can share with our listeners, with kind of the entrepreneurs out there that are out there grinding that keeps you motivated? Is there a favorite quote or a mantra that you use to keep you grinding every day?
Tammy Cohen: [00:17:45] Well, so, you know, I think that the main thing that I always have on the tip of my tongue is power, peace, and wisdom. You know, it’s what I pray for when I don’t know what to pray for. It’s what I pray for when I’m nervous. It’s what I pray for when, you know, I want a new account. And it just seems to be the foundation of everything I do is always looking for power, peace, and wisdom.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:11] And, is there any trend that’s kind of in your visionary view up ahead that we should be excited about or wary about?
Tammy Cohen: [00:18:21] Oh, I am really excited about the future. I look at right now similar to when Internet entered the industry. You know, before the Internet, we were faxing things back and forth between employers. And then, the Internet came about and we were able to do web applications. So, now, we at InfoMart, and just a few other background check companies in the world, are on the largest verifiable credential blockchain. And we’re working on a career wallet which would be similar to your financial app you have in your mobile device. But it would manage all your credentials, your driving record, your identity, your education degree.
Tammy Cohen: [00:19:04] But what’s really cool and different is that right now the way background checks happen is that the employer controls your data. They request you to give it to them, they send it to me. We do a background check. We send it back to the employer. But in the new way of doing background checks in a career wallet, the candidate would basically share their information with the employer. And then, the employer, we would do a background check and then we would offer back to that candidate to claim their credentials. So, it makes the process quicker. It really lowers the expense of doing a background check for an employer. But most of all, we all begin to own our own data, which to me is a huge – is just so important anymore that people have that ownership because we’ve lost all ownership of our information.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:52] Yeah. And that’s exciting that blockchain is helping in this area. We’ve been talking about blockchain a lot in maybe financial services and in other areas, but for it to enter your world and you to be kind of championing it and kind of seeing what you can do with it is exciting.
Tammy Cohen: [00:20:10] Oh, it really is. And, you know, we got into blockchain, Oh, gosh, I would say six or seven years ago. And even then, it just wasn’t quite ready. But over the last two years, it really is at a place now that and, too, it’s again like when we started InfoMart, it’s the learning curve to get people to understand it’s just not cryptocurrency. It’s completely different. It’s just a way of operating and securing data.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:38] Right. And, that’s where being a visionary like you are really helps because by getting in early when it’s in that chaotic, maybe unformed blob of information and possibility and you get involved and learn, by the time it kind of solidifies and becomes more, you know, standardized, you’ve already been doing it for years. You already kind of have the scar tissue and you already have a deeper understanding than something that just jumps in, you know, seven years later.
Tammy Cohen: [00:21:11] Oh, exactly. They call me an information junkie because I love to be spammed because I read it, you know, when I download information and I save trends year after year and I’m able to go back and look at the way things evolve. So, I think any entrepreneur once you get to a certain level with your organization, that is the most fun I’ve had being in business at all, is just constantly looking at what can be developed and innovated for the future. Some are great successes and you’re going to have failures, but that’s all what it’s about.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:50] Right. And that’s your ability to have this deep depth of knowledge in this industry and be able to then take in a new concept like a blockchain and go, okay, I can connect dots maybe in ways that other people can’t and they’re not seeing what I see because I have this deep depth of knowledge over here, and then I’ll bolt this on and let’s see how this plays out. I mean, that gives you a leg up and keeps you ahead of the game.
Tammy Cohen: [00:22:14] Well, Lee, I think you’re giving away my secrets [inaudible].
Lee Kantor: [00:22:19] But I think that that’s what makes you as successful as you are in your business, as, you know, successful as it is. So, congratulations on all the success. If somebody wants to learn more whether they’re an employee, a potential employee that wants to get on your radar and join the team, or a client that might be interested in using your services, what’s the website?
Tammy Cohen: [00:22:41] It’s backgroundscreening.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:45] backgroundscreening.com. Tammy Cohen, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Tammy Cohen: [00:22:52] Thank you. I appreciate you letting me on today.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:55] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on GWBC Open for Business.