William Russell Kelly, who as founder of Kelly Services Inc. turned temporary work into an industry - and a way of life for many Americans - died Saturday at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the company announced. He was 92.
In 1946, when Kelly started his company - known for many years as Kelly Girl Services - temporary employment was just a fancy name for odd jobs.
Last year, however, Kelly Services found temporary jobs for almost 700,000 people, male and female, in professional, technical, manufacturing and clerical fields. It is one of the three largest professional service companies in the country, with revenues of $3.3 billion last year.
Kelly, who was known as “Russ” to his friends and “Ol’ Dad” to executives at Kelly Services, according to a 1963 profile, got into the “temp” business almost by accident.
The son of a wealthy oil prospector, Kelly was the only undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, he recalled, “who went home to a hilltop castle in France for summer vacations.”
But he had to drop out of college after his father became ill. First Kelly sold cars and then became a staff accountant with the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. in Altoona, Pa.
Rejected for active duty in World War II because of bad feet, Kelly joined the Army Quartermaster Corps and became a believer in modern management techniques and labor-saving equipment.
After the war, he moved to Detroit, bought some calculating machines and began offering inventory, typing and copying services to automotive suppliers and other companies.
As a convenience to customers, Kelly would send equipment - and a “girl” to operate it - to clients’ offices. But as his customers bought their own machines, he said, “it just seemed to be a natural development from that point to send the girls and forget about the machines.”
His first year in business, Kelly had only three employees, 12 customers and $848 in sales. But soon the business of “renting” employees began to boom, and Kelly began to recruit housewives, many of whom once had been in the work force but did not want to work full time. As one advertisement put it, “The next time you get fed up with the household routine, join Kelly Girl Services.”
Though the company sold shares to the public in 1962, it remained a family enterprise with three of Kelly’s brothers serving as executives. The family controls the voting shares of Kelly Services, which now is based in Troy, Mich.
Since 1965, when Kelly became chairman, the company has been run by Kelly’s adopted son, Terence E. Adderley of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Kelly also is survived by his wife, Margaret Adderley Kelly of Fort Lauderdale, and six grandchildren.
At the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, Kelly recalled that some of the early obstacles he encountered in the business “were things we don’t even think about now.
“I remember we had our employees view a filmstrip to help them explain to their husbands or fathers why it was all right for a woman to be working.”