nabs large clients while staying
small and hiring the top temps
WELCH SUGGS Staff
CARROLLTON - The sheriff goes out and
rounds up a bunch of the town's best men
to go after the bad guys. Off they ride
at full gallop amid a swirl of dust.
After the varmints are behind bars,
the newly-deputized citizens shake hands
and go back to their stores and farms.
What if the posse were the paradigm for
the Information Age society?
For Tom Chenault and Wes Gardner, it
is. By rounding up a crew of specialists
for each computer consulting mission, the
two have lassoed a client list for
Chenault Systems Inc. that includes Mobil
Corp., Budget Rent-a-Car and Laidlaw Inc.
By outsourcing people and operations,
the two-man consulting firm run out of
Tom Chenault's study can serve its
customers better. With $200,000 in sales
in 1997 and projections for as much as
$600,000 in 1998, "we are doing fine
for a two-year startup," Chenault
Chenault's background is in accounting
and software development, while Gardner's
is in computer science. The two met while
working for Power Computing Inc. in the
1980s, after Chenault had started with
Arthur Andersen L.L.P. Chenault went out
on his own, while Gardner went to work
writing software for the electric power
Chenault Systems' projects include
customized computer systems, database
management, Internet solutions and Year
2000 computer solutions.
Chenault's client list is a little
surprising considering that most of the
nation's largest accounting firms,
including Andersen, Coopers &
Lybrand, KPMG Peat Marwick, Deloitte
& Touche, and, locally, Travis Wolff,
all have consulting subsidiaries which do
precisely these types of jobs with far
But Chenault Systems operates on a
completely different model, which Gardner
calls the "1099 approach,"
referring to the IRS form for contract
labor. The firm subcontracts on projects
with perhaps 10 people with specific
technical skill sets. Having been in the
Metroplex for a long time, they both know
the talent pool pretty well, Gardner
This appeals to clients' sensitivities
and to their pocketbooks, Chenault said.
"I saw that there could be a need
for this kind of approach," he said.
"This is about leaner, more nimble,
agile consulting. We saw a niche and went
Add Gardner, "We can talk to the
CFO, we can talk to the engineers, we can
do the software, because we've both got
Background is particularly important:
The larger firms often hire junior
consultants right out of college, hiring
and training them for problem-solving
skills rather than expertise in a
That approach has its value in some
applications, but Chenault and Gardner
said having been around the block a few
times is a key selling point.
"Experience helps," Gardner
said, "When I got out of college, I
knew how to program a computer, but I
didn't know much about programming. A lot
of these people out there have to be
mentored and groomed, but they have sort
of a trial by fire instead."
"It's a less expensive way to get
the experience we need," Chenault
By hiring people on a contractual
basis, Chenault Systems also can
eliminate additional employee costs,
further decreasing overhead expenses. And
since the company is still gathering
momentum, having contracted employees
keeps Chenault from having workers around
with nothing to do.
"Also, it's kind of like we get
to test drive our employees,"
Gardner added. "Once we get our
client base to a point where we can keep
people employed full time, we can bring
people on board with the right skill
sets. We've had a lot of people approach
While Chenault Systems isn't hiring
quite yet, the company is starting to get
a lot of repeat business from Mobil and
other clients, Chenault said. That will
be the company's catalyst for growth.