In 1963, Ray Sheakley decided to quit the large unemployment and workers' compensation company he worked for to start his own business.

With his wife/receptionist as the only other employee, he began operating from the basement of their Madeira home.

From that modest birth, Sheakley's fledgling business expanded beyond his dreams. 

Now headquartered in a large, stately, red-brick building in Springdale, the Sheakley Group of Cos. employs more than 2,000 people and has regional offices in Akron, Columbus, Toledo and Youngstown, Ohio, and in Nashville, Tenn., Houston, and Burlington and Des Moines, Iowa. It has more than 30,000 business clients.

Range of Services

The company provides a wide range of administrative services for small to mid-size employers. Workers' comp and unemployment are only two of them. Others include payroll, benefits, medical management, vocational rehab, retirement plans, and safety products and services.

Ray Sheakley's son, Larry, became the company's third employee in 1970 and helped lead its extraordinary growth over the past 30 years. Currently the CEO, Larry Sheakley has devoted an enormous amount of time and money to local arts and non-profit organizations. He has been a major donor to University of Cincinnati sports programs, contributing a large portion of the money for a $15 million football practice facility that bears his name. 

"Make My Mark"

As the company celebrates its 50th birthday, a third generation is poised to take the leadership reins when needed.

Matt Sheakley, Larry's 42-year-old son, is president of Sheakley HR Solutions, a division of the company that handles human resource management, payroll administration, risk management and employee benefits. Matt feels a strong sense of responsibility to continue the Sheakley family's legacy.

"I would like to make my mark here and carry it on," Matt Sheakley says. "One of the great things about it is there's definitely an amount of pride in what we've done here. I was reading that one or two percent of businesses make it to the third generation. My ultimate goal would be for one of my two kids to come out here and work beside me and take it over."

That fourth generation has plenty of time to prepare. Maddie, 11, and Peter, 9, live in Indian Hill with their dad and mom Robin, who is chief executive officer and vice president of Sibcy Cline Relocation Services.

Matt was a few years older than his children are when he began working for the family business. During his junior and senior years of high school, he sorted medical files after school.

He attended Tulane University on a partial golf scholarship, and after graduating in 1993 went to work at the Sheakley office in Phoenix, then Cleveland. He believes that working away from the Cincinnati headquarters helped him build confidence and establish himself. He returned to town in 1996 as a product manager, and after other roles, became president of Sheakley HR Solutions when it was formed in 2009. Under HR Solutions, the Sheakley Group consolidated several services into one operation.

By paying HR Solutions to handle the administration of employee payroll, medical benefits, risk management, hiring, firing and other personnel issues, business owners save money and time, Sheakley says. The avalanche of new and changing regulations has made it difficult for many small business owners to handle these issues effectively.

"A lot of people with businesses are working owners," Sheakley says. "They don't have the time to deal with this stuff. They may be using someone who is an office manager or a secretary to handle it. But this stuff has become too complicated for that."


One of HR Solutions' clients is Afidence, an information technology consulting company in Lebanon with 24 employees. Barbara Hogan, an owner and vice president of marketing of Afidence, says the three-year-old company decided that contracting with a company with expertise in human resources and administration would be better than assigning the job to an employee.

When Afidence began, it was paying a human resources employee $75,000 a year, plus the cost of training and education. "We had to make sure they knew how to make sure our company was doing things the right way," she says.

"Now we're paying HR Solutions a fraction of what we would pay to be doing it ourselves. When we have a question, we call a rep at HR Solutions and they get the answer for us. It has turned out to be a really great service for us, and it's financially sound as well."

Hogan cites medical insurance as one area where HR Solutions has helped save money for her company. If Afidence was handling its medical insurance, it would have to send multiple applications to insurance companies to find the best rate. By letting HR Solutions handle it, Hogan says, Afidence receives the best rate without having to go through that time-consuming process. "This year, our medical insurance benefits costs went down," she says.

Variety of services

According to Sheakley, of one the Sheakley Group's biggest challenges is overcoming the perception that the company offers nothing but workers' compensation services. The company works hard to tell potential clients about its vast array of services. "We're continuing to try to come up with new products that will help our clients be more productive and reduce their liabilities," Sheakley says.

As rewarding and fulfilling as his career has been, Sheakley is well aware of the potential pitfalls of working in the family business. It can complicate relationships among relatives and other employees. From a personal standpoint, Sheakley says his biggest challenge has been "keeping the relationships separate between work and family. My father and I have worked hard to not let it cross over. Sometimes, some different emotions can get involved in making decisions that don't happen in other businesses."

Sheakley's grandfather, Ray, died three years ago. But he lived to witness an event that served as a satisfying and fitting conclusion to his life. Just before he died, the Sheakley Group acquired Gates McDonald, the company he left in 1963 to start his own business.