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Executive Q&A: Jewelry store work shines the way for staffing company standout

Pam Fountain-Wilks, president of Principal Technologies Inc., worked a decade in retail before moving into the staffing industry.
by Paula Burkes Published: April 28, 2013

Pam Fountain-Wilks, president of Principal Technologies Inc. staffing firm, sometimes feels that she's just fallen into her career.

When she started in retail 30 years ago, that was “supposed to be my high school, part-time job,” she said. Then she worked a decade in the industry before accidentally falling into staffing, she said.

But when Fountain-Wilks ponders her career paths, and subsequent successes, she “totally believes it's by the grace of God that I've been so fortunate,” she said.

Her 15-year-old firm — which specializes in placing engineering, information technology and accounting professionals in permanent and temporary positions -- “weathered some pretty miserable years in 2009 and 2010,” Fountain-Wilks said. To survive, she had to lay off staff and tap a line of credit, she said.

Debt-free again, her multimillion-dollar company has more than doubled its revenues in the past two years, Fountain-Wilks said. The firm, which employs 17 full time staff along with several contracted workers, has about 200 active clients.

“I never aspired to be a big company, but somewhere along the way I had to keep growing to give my employees, whom I respect, career paths and a place to grow,” Fountain-Wilks said. “It's not about me, it's about them.”

The Small Business Administration recently named Fountain-Wilks, 48, Oklahoma's small business person of the year. From her offices at 11600 Broadway Extension, she sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:

Q: Tell us about your roots.

A: I'm a homegrown girl. I grew up in Oklahoma City, with a sister four years younger. My mom worked as an admin in H.R. for Grace Petroleum and my dad was a drafter. He drew industrial product illustrations for advertisements and manuals.

Some of his career, he worked for himself and, when he did, his drafting table took up one-third of our den. I graduated high school from P.C. Original.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I started as a stock room clerk for Zales Jewelers in Shepherd Mall, three weeks shy of my 16th birthday. When I left five years later, I was assistant store manager.

I worked another five years with Whitehall Jewelers, hiring on before they opened in Crossroads Mall. I started as a store manager and moved up to regional manager.

All the while I was also going to school at UCO, often attending class in the mornings and working noon to 9. It took me eight and a half years after graduating high school to complete my college degree. Some semesters, I could take only one or two classes. But I never quit.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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Position: president, Principal Technologies Inc.

Birth date: July 25, 1964

Family: Brian, married in 2006 (a client at Kerr-McGee introduced them); children, Lauren Fountain, 21, and Eric Fountain, 19; stepdaughters Amanda Jones, 24, and Kathryn Wilks, 20 (all four are in college).

Education: University of Central Oklahoma, bachelor's in marketing; she earned her Senior Professional in Human Resources certification in 2010

Pastimes: Flower gardening, painting (pastels and watercolors), Thunder home games, theater

On the nightstand: “Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone” by Mark Goulston M.D. and Keith Ferrazzi.


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