National companies merge in West Linn

Nearly 4,500 clients and 40 employees will benefit from merger and CEO's leadership
by: Jim Hart, Amid the most recent West Linn business merger is this quartet of businessmen representing three separate businesses, from left, Rob Farley, chief technical officer, David Halseth, chairman, Mike Sunderland, chief financial officer, and Jason Hess, chief executive officer.

The decision to merge three West Linn firms was more than just securing a financial advantage, said Jason Hess, chief executive officer of and the newly merged The BI Group.

The co-mingling of management teams enables the new company to offer more complete services to its clients, Hess said.

With 37 people on the West Linn staff, the companies - Background Investigations, Oregon Credit Systems and, will still provide the same services, but in a more efficient manner.

The merged company, The BI Group, will provide a mix of the services provided by each of the three companies, including property debt collection, tenant and employment screening and complete credit information.

'The idea is to pool our purchasing power,' Hess said. 'We can take advantage of a volume discount. We sell information, and the more volume you have the cheaper it is. That savings in lower overhead allows us to grow and add staff.'

Currently, the three companies are squeezed into more than 6,200 square feet of office space in one building. Increasing the staff to 40 and adding a couple of high-school interns for the summer would require more space or another building, but Hess says The BI Group will stay in West Linn - even though it serves about 4,500 clients nationwide.

It accomplishes that spread, even though its staff is headquartered in West Linn, through associations with 38 partners who are affiliates of the National Association of Credit Managers.

'That gives us access to 30,000 potential clients nationally,' Hess said.

Hess points to what he calls the 'synergy between the companies' that makes the merger a good fit for everyone.

But it's also the management philosophy that Hess exhibits that will help the companies continue to grow, according to The BI Group Chairman David Halseth, who financially backed Hess seven years ago with his startup company.

'I'm very excited about this (merger),' Halseth said. 'Mr. Hess is talented. I'm a bit of a visionary, but it's nice to have individuals that are much better at the facets of our business package. So, coordinating all of our companies under an umbrella of one leadership model is very beneficial for an entrepreneur like myself.'

Rejecting the house-divided syndrome, Halseth said he likes the idea of having one visionary leader.

'This merger will put everything under one single vision for the whole group,' he said, 'which structures security for everybody as well as growth.'

The businesses also have an education component, which can help make each community safer - less likely to be affected by people or businesses that go bankrupt, fail to pay debt, turn out to be destructive renters or prove to be unworthy of employment.

Among the groups that have benefited from BI's education are Cascade Aids Project, Women in Community Service, YMCA, Ready To Rent, Metro Multifamily Housing Association, Fair Housing Council of Oregon and the National Association of Professional Background Screeners.

All of the company's activities have impressed those who look from a distance, and Hess says that has been one of the fastest growing private 100 companies on the 'Portland Business Journal' list.

Hess, who describes himself as goal-oriented, has challenged his management team to earn a place on the next annual list of the Top 100 Companies in Oregon.

Halseth believes that Hess can lead the merged companies toward that goal.

'A visionary can look beyond the horizon and see what's out there,' Halseth said, 'and put together the wagon train to go across the mountains - and yet it needs the wagon-train leader for that day-to-day monitoring, managing and taking care of business.'

Halseth says his group goes to the people who have barriers to everyday living and provides the information they need to succeed.

'We actually go out to the Coffee Creek prison,' he said, 'and meet with the inmates who are about to be released. We show them the tools they can use to gain a second chance.'

Hess said his company serves the full spectrum of clients, from small startup companies to Fortune 500 corporations.

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