But even though his face is friendly enough, and his success story is an impressive one, Former Eagle Mike Chalenski doesn’t consider his biography as important as other key things, like, say, results.
Chalenski is the founder and CEO of Comprehensive Screening Solutions, Inc., a Gibbsboro, NJ-based firm dedicated to full service employee screening. Employers can give the ball to CSS for background checks, drug screening, administrative scheduling, anything they need to make educated hiring decisions.
Since its founding in 1999, CSS Inc. is now contracted with 2,300 businesses, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Their growth is in double digits nearly every year these days.
They’ve been delivering the goods well enough to be ranked third nationwide in HRO Today Magazine’s “Baker’s Dozen” for Employee Screening in 2017, up a notch from fourth in 2016. It’s a worthy achievement, Chalenski believes, because HRO’s surveys are based entirely on customer feedback.
It’s a testament to his leadership skills, certainly. Yet Chalenski seems reluctant to take credit publicly. You currently won’t find his face or even his name on the CSS website. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be seen as a former football player cashing in on his regional fame, but in truth, it’s simply because he views CSS as a team effort.
“They always say there’s no I in team, it’s a cliché,” he says. “But one of things I really try to promote here with the culture is the teamwork aspect.
“The staff here is tremendous. I kind of reinvested in the company in 2012, 2013. I always equate it to building a foundation. If you don’t build that strong foundation, by the time you get to the 13th floor it just crumbles. So, I really looked to get talent and everything on board then, because if I don’t get those reports like this (snaps fingers), I’ll be out of business.”
Chalenski understands the importance of hiring the right people. There’s no exact science to it, of course. But his company is a valuable resource to help businesses at least avoid hiring the wrong ones.
“There are staggering statistics on how many people, I wouldn’t say lie, but…’embellish’ is a great word…on their resumes,” he points out. “You want to make sure that an employer knows who that person is, and a little bit about what their past is. Companies in general want to see people succeed, but if they don’t have the skill level, the talent, and/or a lot of external issues…the cost of a bad hire is devastating.”
“I was going to invest in an idea that is completely different from what I’m doing now,” he reflects. “But one of the parts of this was drug testing. I started talking to people that were in this ‘testing’ space. The background checking was there, some companies did it, some didn’t. They always wanted this one, combined technology piece that would give them the drug testing, the background, everything all in one.”
It seems obvious now, but combining drug screening with background checks and offering a full suite of screening services to employers has turned out to be a pretty savvy idea. But Chalenski credits the company’s growth more to vastly improved technology and the ability to rapidly collect information. That, and a country sobered by what could happen in its own backyard after September 11, 2001.
“9/11 changed the way people do business. That was a monumental transition. We got attacked right here by people who were in the U.S. It could be me and you, sitting right here. I think that really propelled a lot of the industry to know who you’re hiring, because nobody wants to hire somebody and have them be a disruption at the least, or things worse than that which I really don’t want to mention.”
Employee screening has, in fact, become a competitive arena. To differentiate itself enough to make an HRO Baker’s Dozen list, Chalenski says, requires more than consistent high-level performance.
“We have to turn these reports around and they’ve got to be 100% accurate, and they’ve got to be turned around quick. Employers don’t want to wait. Then you separate that with customer support. Anything we can do to alleviate some of the tedious tasks, to allow them to focus on the company direction. Especially in the HR space. They’re looking to hire people; their hair is pretty much on fire a lot of times.
“We also have a business process outsourcing unit in here; for a fee, we’ll manage all your busy work, we’ll talk to all your candidates. We’ll set them up with fingerprinting depending on what industry they’re in.
“The customers love it, because it’s really saving them a lot of time.”
“I was out a couple years by the time he got into this,” Chalenski says. “He was like, yeah, I want to invest in a company. OK, great, I had probably three people at the time. Of course, you want money, but I also didn’t want to have someone get into something like I did in the beginning, where I really didn’t know what I was doing.
“I said, I want you to come here and work for a couple of months. Because money’s great, but I need somebody else to work. He came on, he worked a couple of months, and he said he wanted to invest in the business.
“I give Mike a lot of credit, because, especially him, first round pick, you’re not making that money when you get into the business world. You gotta work for it, and he did. He showed up every day and tried to get better at whatever it is, and now he’s good at business development.
“Mike still has a pretty good name around this area, so he’ll meet people, we have VPs of sales and everything that he’ll work in tandem with. He’ll play golf…I say if I come back reincarnated I want to do that, relationship building…we have people that want to go to a game or something, they’ll go with Mike. Clients like that.”
So, is a professional football background helpful in running an employee background screening business? Maybe not directly, but Chalenski will tell you that being a pro athlete has helped him succeed on a different level.
“I think it gives you a different perspective, because there’s a lot of parallels between sports and business. In sports, you’re gonna get your teeth kicked in a million times. I tell my kids this, the difference between winning and losing is getting up one more time. You gotta have that drive and that will, to want to become the best. Because I’ll tell you what, it’s not easy. I’m almost trying to compare what was harder, making it to the NFL or starting a business! (laughs)
“I’m glad at this point that I did it. And you know, I met a lot of good people along the way. In sports too, that exposes you to these people that are successful in business. The people that wanted your autograph while you were playing, now you’re the one going to someone who’s been successful and saying, “Can I get five minutes with you, just to talk?”
If the character building of sports helps, it probably doesn’t hurt an athlete turned business owner to have spent a few years playing in a proudly rabid sports town. Like nowhere else, Philly fans demand that drive and will in their athletes.
“Probably the most passionate fans are here in Philadelphia. They’ll tell you that you stink while you’re playing, they’ll tell you exactly what’s on their mind…and they also love you to death. Even after you were playing, whether you were good, bad or indifferent, they still embrace you.”
“Would you want it any other way?”