Daphne Large - Data Facts
1 - 50 Employees | Winner
photograph by Larry Kuzniewski
(page 1 of 2)
At age 16, while in high school at Briarcrest Christian School, Daphne Large went to work for the consumer-reporting company Equifax. She heard about the job opening on her lunch break and remembers using the school pay phone to set up an interview. Soon she was hired as a mail clerk, working every weekday afternoon. “All I had at school after one o’clock were study halls, “ Large says, “so that schedule worked for me.”
The decision proved pivotal for the energetic student who used the money she earned to cover her car note, help her mother pay bills, and finance college classes at then-Memphis State. Says Large: “I’ve always had a drive to get what I wanted on my own.”
She stayed with Equifax 11 years, managing several departments and rising to the position of assistant regional manager. Then in 1989, some key changes in services took place at Equifax. At age 27, Large saw a chance to replicate some of those services, and she founded her own company, Data Facts, Inc.
Since then her firm — which provides information to employers and lenders to help them make sound hiring and lending decisions — has grown from four employees to about 50, most of them local, with customers in 35 states. “We’ve never intended to be the biggest company of this kind,” says Large. “Our goal is to be the best.”
Recalling the economic meltdown that started in 2008, Large says, “It was devastating for some companies like ours, especially those with a customer base made up mainly of mortgage brokers. Data Facts was fortunate in that our customer base for our lending solutions — that is, credit, flood, tax return verifications, appraisals — is made up mainly of banks. And our background screening division is made up of a very diverse customer base so that no one segment taking a hit adversely affected us.”
Beyond that, Large holds a “no excuses” philosophy and declares, “The economy is going to be good or bad. You can always slice that pie another way. Our job is to provide extraordinary customer service and keep on going. We hunkered down and survived without a mark.”
In a business where change is constant, “we’re always reinventing ourselves,” says Large. “What’s at the forefront right now is compliance. In 1989 there was nothing. Now it’s like, ‘I need your blood.’ It’s very stringent.
We have to keep up with state and federal laws and pending legislation, all very specific — privacy protection, permissible purpose, authorization in place. When our customers sign up with us, there’s paperwork this thick — verifying the entity itself, the license, references, agreements, protecting passwords. I have two full-time compliance people and we’re always coaching our employees on compliance.”
For firms like Data Facts, searches now extend to social networking sites. “It’s controversial,” Large says, but potential employees “may look good, smell good, smile pretty, and dress nice, but they could be watching porn or belong to a hate group. Employers should know if that person is inappropriately posing with guns on Facebook or shopping cocaine online. So we’re taking on more of that with our deep web search technology.”
Data Facts also has cutting-edge tracking systems that can integrate with large data banks. “That means if a person applies online for a job at a hotel chain or a retail store, and the employer — our customer — wants to order a background check, the information integrates seamlessly with ours.”
As CEO, Large sees one of her biggest responsibilities as caring for her employees and clients. “We could have sold this place 20 times by now. I’ve had many offers from conglomerates. But that that’s not what we’re about. My job is to provide employees with security and protection. And if we run Data Facts conservatively and well, I can give them that. We want to be small enough to care but big enough to retain our employees and handle our clients’ business.”
Another big role she plays is setting vision and purpose, and she refers to Verne Harnish’s book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. “We used the book to help create our strategic plan and to help set our vision,” says Large.
Brainstorming together, she and her employees came up with adjectives to describe Data Facts’ employees and services: loyal, passionate, consistent, fair, responsible, diverse, and innovative. “And at the center of it all is trust,” she says. “In a business like ours, if a company makes lending and hiring decisions, everything revolves around trust.”
And that means trusting employees to do their jobs. “Years ago I worked 70-hour weeks,” says Large. “I came to realize if the company needed me to that extent, I was doing something wrong. Either I hadn’t trained or empowered my people, or I was micromanaging and that needed to stop. I should be the least important person in the company. I’m not on the front line with the customers. My people are.”
These days, while she still works some 50-hour weeks, Large travels often with her family. But she always returns to the job with enthusiasm and passion. “We’re changing lives at Data Facts,” she says. “We help people achieve the two most important things in their lives: getting a job and buying a home. That’s still the American dream.”