SESCO's Comprehensive History

In 1941, Joseph W. R. Lawson, Sr. was employed by the U.S. Department of Labor, Federal Wage-Hour and Public Contracts Division. His assigned office for initial training as a Federal Wage-Hour Compliance Officer was Richmond, Virginia. This was also the office for his immediate manager and the Regional Director of the Federal Wage-Hour Division in the 1940’s.

He studied and trained as a Federal Wage-Hour Compliance Officer to investigate and enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The law applied to those employers “engaged in interstate commerce” or “in the production of goods for interstate commerce.” The primary provisions of this new federal labor legislation was to establish a minimum wage, overtime premium pay requirements, exemption tests for salaried personnel, compensable work time regulations, and child labor restrictions in business and industry. The first minimum wage passed was $.25 an hour with time and one-half premium pay over 40 hours in a workweek.

Compliance Officer Joseph W. R. Lawson, Sr. resigned his position with the U. S. Department of Labor, Federal Wage-Hour and Public Contract Division, on February 1, 1945, after four years of service. It was apparent to Lawson, Sr. that the federal government was not the arena for individuals like himself who were dedicated and committed to success, professional growth, and competency in this new technical frontier of federal law that regulated wages, salaries, hours of work, certain employee benefits, and discretionary and non-discretionary bonuses.

Another reason he resigned from federal government service was based on a suggestion from a federal judge in Welch, West Virginia, who had ruled on several of Lawson, Sr.’s cases. The judge suggested that Lawson, Sr. should consider specializing in this new law and its many provisions and provide employers with the knowledge and understanding necessary to comply with the regulations.

His desire to establish his own firm, a Federal Wage-Hour and Labor Relations Consulting Practice, became a reality on February 1, 1945. Not only had he become a specialist in the Federal Wage-Hour Law, but he was also one of the first Labor Relations Consultants specializing in union avoidance, labor negotiations, strike settlements, and arbitration services. This was especially significant since following the end of the Second World War in 1945; unions were once again free to begin unionization activities and were no longer restricted to federal wage and price freezes that had been established by Congress under the Wage Stabilization Board during the war years.

The initial client base for the new firm of J.W. Lawson & Employees was the same employers that Lawson, Sr. had investigated as a Compliance Officer. Because these employers knew him from previous investigations and he was familiar with the employers and their previous problems with compliance, he was able to quickly identify and assess their consulting needs and make recommendations that would enable them to meet the compliance standards of the Fair Labor Standards Act as amended.

The first “retainer agreement” was primarily focused on complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act and all its provisions. In addition, he provided clients with recommended personnel policies, procedures, and personnel forms to document compliance with the new federal recordkeeping requirements. These requirements contained the basic twelve criteria for time recording, time sheets, timecards, payroll records, job descriptions to prove compliance with the exempt salary requirements, and proof of minimum age to avoid child labor violations.

Our founder’s goal was to establish an operating income base that would cover his salary needs for himself and his family of three children (later to become six), a part time secretary, and office rent. Lawson, Sr.’s first office was located at 1605 North Walker Street, Princeton, West Virginia. Retainer fees were quite small, ranging from $15 to $40 per month, averaging $25. He did not charge any per diem fees or travel expenses and would provide personnel forms to clients at no cost.

On-site Federal Wage-Hour Accounting Audits were performed by Lawson, Sr. with every retainer client semi-annually. Also, the retainer provided for his assistance in preparing for and defending on-site investigations for alleged violations.

Later, J.W. Lawson, Sr. found it necessary to employ other individuals as Management Consultants in the field of Federal Wage Hour Compliance, Personnel and Employee Relations, and Labor Relations Services. However, until 1961, the professional staff of the firm averaged no more than four including himself, a secretary who did all the typing and secretarial work in Princeton, West Virginia and later Bristol, Virginia when the Lawson family decided to move from Princeton to Bristol. The move was due to the very large client base that Lawson, Sr. had established at the state line between Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia that were “engaged in interstate commerce.”

The first office in Bristol, Virginia was located on Lee Highway in a room attached to the Lawson home. This location is now a Shoney’s Restaurant. The second office was in three separate rooms built behind their home at 809 Euclid Avenue. Because of growth and expansion of the professional and support staff, he purchased the property at the corner of 505 Seventh Street and Cherry Street in 1963 and remodeled the Civil War Home of Dr. John Ensor. The Corporate Office of SESCO Management Consultants was officially established at this location in 1964. There were six employees on the professional staff and two secretarial/ accounting support staff.

The SESCO compliance services were specialized to each industry represented by the client base. J. W. Lawson, Sr. had developed a very extensive, detailed “Compliance Audit Checklist” for each industry following his investigation experience as a Federal Compliance Officer in the 1940’s. Checklists were developed for each industry with unique compliance situations and unique vulnerability areas. There were special compliance audit checklists for the coal mining, lumber and saw mills, common carriers engaged in interstate commerce, soft drink bottling and distribution, and construction industries. These compliance audit checklists allowed the SESCO Consultant to become knowledgeable and proficient in conducting audits for a growing diverse client base.

During the first 10 years of SESCO’s history, another major federal labor law was amended in 1947 known as the Taft-Hartley Act, which was an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The amendment in 1947 established for the first time the right of employees to “refrain from union activity” and gave management, for the first time, the “right of free speech.” This new federal labor law provided J. W. Lawson, Sr. and his labor relations staff with new demand for labor relations consulting services for non-union employers who wanted to know how to effectively prevent unionization, how to communicate with employees, how to train managers on the disadvantages of unionization, and how to remain union-free in a business or industry. For many years, SESCO’s reputation in the southeastern states was established as the very best compliance consulting firm for federal and state employment regulations, minimum wage laws, child labor laws, and other state employment guidelines and restrictions on employers.

The Fair Labor Standards Act has been amended four times by Congress since it was passed in 1938. With each amendment, more and more employers were covered by the Act, which presented new opportunities to market SESCO’s Federal Wage-Hour Accounting Compliance and Personnel Management Compliance Audits for new client retainer services.

In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, creating an entirely new, complex federal employment law that covered many employers for the first time. This new federal employment law prohibiting discrimination in employment, compensation, benefits, and working conditions provided SESCO with a new compliance service to provide to present and future clients. President Joseph W. R. Lawson, Sr. announced to all clients that the new compliance service would be provided to them under their current retainer agreements as part of the semi-annual compliance audits. Moreover, when any SESCO client was investigated or received an allegation of discrimination for any of the prohibited reasons, SESCO would be available to assist the client with their defense.

One of SESCO’s first management books was How To Comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This compliance manual was published and distributed by Dartnell in 1965. Dartnell also requested that the SESCO professional staff conduct Dartnell management seminars in four major cities to provide employers with the information necessary to understand and comply with the Act. Seminars were conducted by SESCO staff, and the firm quickly gained national recognition as a compliance specialist for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Thus, the firm added another new federal compliance audit service and subsequently expanded the audits to include the development of Affirmative Action Plans and the Affirmative Action Progress Report for those clients who became covered under Executive Order 11246 during the Johnson Administration.

As expected, each time Congress or state legislatures pass new federal or state employment laws, new opportunities are created for SESCO to provide required compliance systems for retainer and per diem clients.

The history and development of SESCO client compliance services continued with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the new Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). To help establish and continue the professional competency and image of the firm with present and future clients, SESCO has continued authorship of specialized management books and management compliance manuals published by The Dartnell Corporation, Chicago and AMACOM Books, New York. These have included the following published books:

How to Meet the Challenge of the Union Organizer [Dartnell]

How to Control Absenteeism, Improve Attendance and Employee Morale [Dartnell]

Employer’s Guide: Understanding and Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act [Dartnell]

How to Develop a Personnel Policy Manual [AMACOM Books]

How to Develop an Employee Handbook [AMACOM Books]

Since its humble beginnings, SESCO Management Consultants has grown as a professional firm, staying abreast with the latest trends in human resource and employee relations management. In addition to ensuring quality consulting to its clients across the country, the firm has also been strongly committed to surrounding itself with individuals that apply the beliefs and philosophies that the firm holds dear to its heart in the same degree and skill of its founder.

In 1995, the firm underwent a major restructuring and a new management committee was formed. The firm embarked on a completely new mission entitled “SESCO 21,” which was the brainchild of long time friend and SESCO Senior Vice President, David V. Tudor. The classic book for entrepreneurs, “The E-Myth,” was the basis for the restructuring.

Aggressively pursued, SESCO 21 included an ambitious plan of reducing all of SESCO’s services to systems for ease of training and developing new consultants as well as ensuring a consistent and quality service.

It was also decided that the size and profitability of the firm was no longer limited. To assist the firm to achieve growth, the University of Tennessee Office for Customer Responsiveness Studies was contracted to conduct a thorough management and marketing assessment of SESCO Management Consultants — the first time an assessment of this magnitude had ever been conducted for a consulting firm by the University of Tennessee. Subsequent to the analysis, the team from the University of Tennessee was extremely excited about the potential of SESCO Management Consultants and subsequently offered specific recommendations with corresponding timetables. SESCO 21 remains the core and backbone of the firm’s professional and administrative services and will guide the firm into the future.

In 2004, the firm, again, achieved a historical mark when it moved into its third (3rd) generation of family ownership. Andrea Lawson Ford, COO, and husband, Bill Ford, purchased the firm. The basic principles and core beliefs of J.W.R. Lawson, Sr. remain at the center of all management and professional consulting efforts.