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A 'huge gap' in the HR world was filled by local startup

When Tony Boyle says he wants more fun, he means it.

There are foosball tables in one office and music blaring from another. On Fridays, the employees play video games like Rockband and often get to leave early with pay.

The day a visitor arrives, the employees at HRdownloads are hitting bright blue balloons back and forth, celebrating being named one of the best workplaces in Canada for the second year in a row.

"Everything we try to do is more fun," says Boyle, who founded the human resources research and advisory firm in 2005.

But make no mistake: HRdownloads is serious about its business.

Boyle first conceived the idea for "Canada's largest HR one-stop shop" when he was a single father raising two young boys. Growing up without much, he wanted a financially secure future for his family.

"I was broke. I was broke as broke can be. I was in an entry-level job and I was making websites in my spare time. The desire to have a better lifestyle for those two boys really pushed me," he says.

Boyle was working in sales when he was promoted to a management position. He always had a natural knack for sales but says managing people was the toughest part of the job.

"As soon as I was promoted to management, I saw a huge gap in all of the companies that I worked where, you're sort of thrust into management for being a top performer, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have any people skills. You're just good at getting the results."

Tasked with disciplining people, hiring and firing, Boyle went online to look for help but found none. The human resources department of the company was too busy focusing on filling positions in the company and couldn't focus on coaching middle managers on how to manage staff.

That's when he realized there was a massive gap in the industry: There wasn't a way for middle management or the owner of a business who doesn't have human resources experience to really discipline people or hire the right people.

"The cost of a bad hire is almost unmeasurable it can be so big," he says. "No one's really teaching them how to do that. I think a lot of companies just wing it and hire people on gut feel or based on their resume."

Boyle realized what middle managers and those in leadership roles needed was one spot where they could get help with all of those things.

So in 2005, he paid HR professionals to write content for his website and started making cold calls from his basement. The first day, businesses were ready to buy an annual membership to the site that would give them access to those documents.

"I saw right away this is a giant opportunity for local businesses to really grab a hold of something and an opportunity for me to really change my life."

Boyle grew up in Chatham, where his father and grandfather worked at Navistar that later became International Truck before the plant closed.

"I do attribute my hunger for success from Chatham because not having a lot always really made me want to drive for more."

As a teen, his family moved to a hobby farm in Newbury.

Then, at a young age, Boyle struck out on his own, moving to London.

When he arrived, he walked from Highbury Ave. and Dundas St. to White Oaks Mall and handed out resumes to every business he passed. By the second day, he had a job with a company that sold silk ties to other businesses.

"As soon as I got a hold of those silk ties and started talking to people and realizing, wow, I'm actually really good at talking to people, I started blowing up numbers and selling a ton of stuff."

His parents may not be surprised. As a boy they often told him he should go into sales because he wouldn't stop talking.

Boyle sold silk ties with that company for a year until it moved to Toronto. He stayed in London and started working in his new-found niche.

Today, Boyle still works hard, but also plays hard. When he's not at the office, he spends time with his long-term partner, Sandie, and four children.

"Really anything outdoors is what our family is about. We try to get out almost every single weekend with the kids to do something."

It was Sandie, he says, who supported his vision for HRdownloads before Boyle quit his day job and dedicated himself as a full-time entrepreneur in 2008.

The couple met while both worked for another technology company in the city.

It was while at that company that Boyle also met good friend Matt Telford, who is the chief operating officer at HRdownloads.

Boyle says the company grew with Sandie's support and Telford's "sharp business mind."

Telford remembers meeting Boyle on his third day of training at the tech company.

"Right off the bat he impresses you with his leadership and energy," Telford says. "He can really command a room."

Telford says when his friend showed him what he was working on, it was an "aha" moment. "I instantly knew we could make a go of it." And they have.

More than 7,000 companies across Canada use its service and the site has 10,000 different users.

HRdownloads quickly outgrew its first 1,000-square-foot office space and now commands 9,000 square feet in the core.

With that growth has come success.

HRdownloads was ranked 10th in this year's PROFIT Hot 50 list.

For two straight years, the company was also named one of the best workplaces in Canada by the Great Place to Work Institute and Your Workplace magazine.

For Boyle, it's not just about the accolades.

The company is involved with Junior Achievement and every month donates $1,000 to a local charity.

"The community gave me a lot of stuff to get me started. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have the chance to go to a great school, if I didn't have support from the City of London."

THE STATS

Born:Chatham

Age: 36

Family: Spouse, Sandie; four children: Dylan, 14, Wesley, 11, Connor, 16 months, Katja, 4 months

Education: Chatham-Kent secondary school; Glencoe District high school; St. Patrick's Centre for Lifelong Learning; Fanshawe College, for web design

Previous jobs: Roofer, door-to-door salesperson, selling everything from steaks to vacuums; drywaller; furniture mover

EITHER/OR:

Leno or Letterman: Leno by a mile

Ski or sun: Sun

Beatles or Stones: Beatles

iPhone or BlackBerry: iPhone

Cable or satellite: Cable

Cremate or bury: Neither I'm going to live forever

Action or rom-com: Comedy

Bottled water or tap water: Tap

Burger or dog: Burger, hot dogs are gross!

Beer or wine: Both depending on occasion

Coffee or tea: Coffee

Fiction or non-fiction: Non-fiction

DVD or movie theatre: DVD

Drive or walk: Drive

Port Stanley or Grand Bend: Neither I like Muskoka!

Pen or pencil: Pen

Early riser or sleep in: Sleep in

Print or online: Online

Salad or fries: Salad

Glasses or contacts: Glasses

THE QUOTE:

"I couldn't do any of this stuff without my family. I'm super lucky."

London Free Press: A 'huge gap' in the HR world was filled by local startup

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