When Susan Blue bought Community Services Group in 1988, it had 300 employees in three counties.
Today, the West Hempfield Township-based company, which offers mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities, child and youth and autism services, has nearly 1,800 employees in 19 counties.
Blue, who lives in Manor Township, is a graduate of Juniata College and Rutgers University. She started her career as a social worker at a state mental hospital, then worked as assistant director of an outpatient mental health, drug and alcohol and case management organization before joining Community Services Group in 1976.
In addition to leading Community Services, Blue is co-chair of Pennsylvania’s Rehabilitation & Community Providers Association and second vice chair of the National Council for Behavioral Health.
You worked at CSG for a while before buying it. Is that something you would recommend to others interested in owning a company?
I worked at CSG for over 10 years before the founder of the organization decided to sell it and move onto other endeavors. Owning a business is very different than managing and leading an organization. While many of the skills are the same, the level of risk is significantly different.
What drove your company’s growth? Did you have a master plan that called for continual expansion? Or did opportunities keep arising?
CSG has grown more than tenfold since 1988. The majority of growth had to do with the growth in services to individuals with mental health and intellectual and developmental needs. In the early years the growth was the result of opportunities arising. More recently the company has made strategic decisions about what expansion opportunities to consider.
Are you paid by individuals and insurance companies, or does all your reimbursement come from the government? What ramifications does that have for the company?
The vast majority of funding for the services we provide is from the state government. We are reimbursed for services by individuals and insurance companies as well. The biggest challenge with government funding, particularly state funding, is the lack of increases to keep pace with inflation and the timeliness of passing the state budget. When the state budget doesn’t get passed, there are no funds to pay for many of our services.
What have you found to be the most important factor in making good business decisions?
There are three qualities that I believe are necessary to be a good CEO and leader. They are courage, resiliency and humility. I also think it is critically important to hone your listening skills in order to make good decisions and to be flexible as the environment is changing so quickly.
What’s the biggest challenge your company faces, and what are you doing about it?
Finding and keeping a quality workforce is the biggest challenge we face. A part of the challenge has to do with the funding to support the quality workforce. We are focusing in on the entrance into our workforce, finding the right people and mentoring them in their new jobs and investing in leadership training and initiatives to keep those quality employees.
The CSG Facebook page frequently features job openings. Has that proven an effective way to find good employees?
Yes, Facebook has emerged as a new pathway for find employees. Referrals from our existing staff are still the most successful avenue to find good employees.