Creating Jobs, Changing Lives: A Conversation with Shelly Wilson, Co-Founder and COO of Chime Solutions

April 28, 2021
In our feature article, we speak with Chime Solutions Co-Founder and COO Shelly Wilson about the company’s mission and vision, the impact the business is having in the communities in which it operates and what’s next following tremendous momentum over the past year.

Mark and Shelly Wilson founded Chime Solutions in 2016 with the mission of helping underserved communities thrive. The company, which delivers high-touch contact center solutions for clients, appears to be on the right path, as it continues to help revitalize the communities in which it operates and now has 2,000 employees – and its growth is only getting faster. We recently spoke with Shelly about Chime’s mission and vision, the impact the business is having in the communities in which it operates and what’s next following tremendous momentum over the past year.

Tell us about your professional background. You are a microbiologist turned COO. What drove the change?
I attended Howard University studying microbiology and enjoyed the sciences. However, once I started working in a hospital setting, I realized I did not have the stomach for some of the specimens that came into the lab for examination. I had always been close to the medical field, so I started working in healthcare. When we founded our first business, Ryla Teleservices, I started with a focus on benefits, since I had a good foundation, and leveraged my experienced to lead our human resources and recruiting departments. You do not always know what your path is, but I enjoy where I am now, so it’s been the best match for me.

Let’s talk about Chime Solutions. What does the business do?
Chime Solutions, Inc. (Chime) is a leading customer care solutions provider in the U.S. outsourced customer care industry. The Chime leadership team founded the company in 2016 as an outsourced customer care partner for a leading global research firm and has transformed it into a provider of high-quality, customized solutions for Fortune 500 corporations and mid-sized companies across numerous industries, as well as government agencies. Chime’s strategy is to offer high-touch customer care solutions for clients that rely on the customer service experience as a key point of competitive differentiation. Headquartered in Morrow, Georgia, Chime operates “purpose-built,” latest generation contact center facilities in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. Chime currently employs over 2,000 dedicated customer care associates and will successfully handle approximately 10 million calls this year. Chime supports its clients with a fully integrated, enterprise operations platform, leading-edge private cloud technology and infrastructure, a highly trained and motivated workforce and a distinctive corporate culture established by a diverse senior management team. Chime Solutions’ core competencies are in handling complex, high-touch interactions with an inbound customer care emphasis for clients operating in a range of industries, with an emphasis in healthcare, financial services, technology and insurance.

Why did you and your husband decide to found this business?
We previously founded a call center that was called Ryla Teleservices. Ryla was named after our children, Ryan and Lauren, and after 10 years we eventually sold Ryla. After selling Ryla, we had an opportunity to partner with one of our former investors in purchasing a background screening company. While operating that business, we were contacted by one of our customers from Ryla to open a call center in California. Once we established that center, the business increased dramatically, which caused a bit of an identity crisis. We had to ask if we were a background company or a call center. We answered the question by spinning off from the background company.

Together you’ve started a number of companies. Who has the entrepreneurial gene?
My husband. He worked for Dun & Bradstreet for a number of years, and when they started outsourcing their call center work, he had the opportunity to start our first call center supporting Dun & Bradstreet. We had a contract, but we did not have a building, the infrastructure or the telephony, so we partnered with a company in Houston. After about a year, we were able to establish our own 75-seat operation in Atlanta. Over the next nine years we grew that business to over 4,000 employees before we sold it. Currently, we have about 2,000 employees at Chime.

Do you always have the same level of risk tolerance as your husband as you start and run businesses together?
I do not think we’re ever afraid to step out there; we trust that things will work out. We also have a strong faith and believe the path we are on is the one we should be on. And we work well together. We do different things within the business, so it doesn’t really conflict. If there are decisions that Mark must make the final call on, I am comfortable with that. We have worked this way for so long, I don’t know how we would do it any other way. The only real negative is that the work truly never goes away. But to specifically answer your question, I do not have the same level of risk tolerance as my husband – we more balance each other.

Do you try to put up barriers to separate work and life?
Not so much. It is an integral part of who we are and what we do. Our kids are now involved. Our daughter works with us, and our son runs his own business, so we talk about his company as well. Discussing the business is the fabric of our family.

You mentioned that your daughter works at the company. Talk about how she got involved and the unique perspective she brings.
She joined the business in 2015 when she graduated from University of Georgia with her undergraduate degree. She was not exactly sure what she wanted to do upon graduation, so we encouraged her to join us and work in the family business. It has been a great decision because she brings a different perspective – one from a millennial standpoint. Since starting, she has continued her education, graduating with both her master’s degree in human resources and MBA. Many of us on the team have worked together for the past two decades, so we kind of have likeminded thought processes. Using her education and fresh perspective has been very helpful in causing us to think about aspects of the business differently. She has helped us think through new policies and procedures that may help us attract millennials, which is a target demographic for us.

Chime seems to be a company that is mission-driven as well as business-driven. What is the mission behind Chime, and how was it influenced by your family’s values?
Both our mission and vision are to have an impact in underserved communities so that we can create as many jobs as possible, and by creating as many jobs as possible, we are trying to change as many lives as possible in the process. Chime’s mission aligns with our family values in that we have taught our children to work in community service and to be a part of the solution. We feel like we have been blessed, so it is our duty to then bless others. As a family, we strive to be active in the community and to serve, which is what Chime is trying to do as a business.

Talk about the impact Chime is having on the communities in which it conducts business.
Our chosen locations in the cities we have offices have been intentional. When we first opened in Atlanta, we used information to identify locations with high unemployment rates. We used that information to establish a presence in Clayton County, which had the highest unemployment rate out of all counties in the Atlanta area at the time. We wanted to tap into the talent that was in that community. We were able to bring our business into the community so that people could say they worked where they lived.

The impact we have on the communities is what we call the “multiplier effect.” For every job we create, two and a half more jobs are created. As an example, look at the mall we are currently in in Morrow, Georgia. The mall was on the decline. Since we have been there, public transportation has been extended to the mall, and new stores have opened. We’re happy about the win-win for both Chime and the mall.
 

The impact we have on the communities is what we call the ‘multiplier effect.’ For every job we create, two and a half more jobs are created.



It seems like Chime is busier than ever. What is driving that productivity and growth?
We have become an experienced and proven provider in the space, so a lot of companies are familiar with our brand and proven track record. We have been able to start partnering with corporations who have the same mission and vision as us to try and create jobs in the community.

Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH) is excited to be partnering with Chime to help accelerate your growth and impact. How did you make the decision to take on a private equity investor, and how will this partnership enable you to amplify your mission?
We made the decision to take on a private equity partner to help finance our growth. Chime has experienced exponential growth over the past couple of years, and a solid financial partner was needed. We wanted to make sure that we had the right partner that would also support our socially driven mission. Our long-term plan is to expose our employees to the wealth of knowledge and information that BBH offers its clients.

Like many businesses, Chime was forced to pivot and convert its workforce to working from home overnight last year. Talk about how you approached this change.
Prior to COVID-19, we were always a brick-and-mortar shop and did not have a work-from-home workforce. We were following the trajectory of COVID-19, and once its severity became clear, we had to invest in the technology that would allow us to provide the opportunity for our employees to work from home. It was important to allow our employees to continue to work and provide service for our customers.

We were able to get 95% of our employees working from home. The majority of people who were not able to do so were people who were on an assignment where the client wouldn’t allow them to work from home or individuals with extenuating circumstances.

Chime places a huge emphasis on culture. How have you maintained company culture while working remotely?
We have tried to continue to mimic the things we were doing in the office and hold events regularly, but we’ve had to be creative. Our team exercise classes are now taught virtually. We have had Instagram parties with a DJ and prizes, a manager recognition party and a “Verzuz” party, where you compete for best playlist, all in this remote environment. We have also had engaging town halls and financial and 401(k) seminars. But the most important connection to our culture is the frontline managers’ interactions with employees, so we are in the process of creating a playbook for them through which they can use various tools to connect with people on their teams.

Post-COVID-19, what does the return to the workplace look like? How will work change?
With the call center business in general, the industry has seen so much success with people working from home that I think a lot of what was in place before will not exist post-COVID-19. We are going to have to navigate what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it as things evolve, but Chime will likely see a hybrid, where we will have people who work from home and people who work in the office. We do have available capacity in all three of our locations because we have shifted the majority of our workforce home. We will continue hiring work-from-home agents and will have an in-office presence as well.
 

We are going to continue supporting our clients and providing opportunities that facilitate job creation and community revitalization.



We touched on the immense growth you are currently experiencing. What’s next for Chime as we look ahead at 2021 and beyond?
We are going to continue supporting our clients and providing opportunities that facilitate job creation and community revitalization. In addition, we are excited about introducing new ideas and innovative technologies that will disrupt and redefine the outsource industry.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Take time to enjoy each moment. We spend so much time trying to get to the next level or phase that a lot of the time we do not stop to take in everything and enjoy where we currently are. When you look back on it, you realize that every step of the way has been pretty good. I would not say I have any complaints or that I would have done things differently, but I could have tried to spend more time in the moments as they happened.

Shelly, thank you so much for your time and fabulous insights.

 

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