Georgia Tech’s Georgia Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Business Center client Ken Taunton was recently honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Georgia’s 2023 Small Business Person of the Year. Taunton is the president and CEO of executive search and professional staffing firm The Royster Group.
Taunton got his start recruiting with a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company in sales and human resources as the southeast recruiting manager. After ten years, he went to work at an international executive search firm recruiting C-suite and high-paying positions in the healthcare sector, where “he never saw people of color or women” as part of the pipeline search pool, he said. When he started his own recruiting and professional staffing firm, he set out to change that. “My goal was executive recruiting, concentrating on diversity. Every engagement that we worked on, there would be a diverse slate of candidates,” he said.
The Royster Group is a certified minority-owned business founded in 2001. Since then, its focus on diversity has garnered business success. The company has expanded from a one-person shop to 80 employees. In 2008, Royster’s revenue was $2 million; today, it is more than $20 million.
The Royster Group’s growth caught the attention of the SBA, which singled Taunton out for the award from among nine nominations in Georgia.
“What made Ken stand out was the phenomenal growth his business had,” said Terri Dennison, district director of the SBA Georgia District Office, “not only growth in the number of employees but also growth in sales and profits. It’s an example of how SBA and other business development resources can make a difference in a small business’s long-term success.”
Taunton, too, credits SBA and other resources for his success. In 2008, he was part of SBA’s inaugural emerging leaders’ program for business executives, e200. That program helped him navigate the Great Recession and pivot to securing federal contracts. He’s also a graduate of the SBA 8(a), a program that helps small, disadvantaged businesses secure federal contracts.
He decided in 2006 to expand his business, which had focused on corporate recruiting, into recruiting for the federal government in an effort to diversify. That’s when the Georgia MBDA Business Center got involved. “The Center helped me with my business plan, business development, and my strategy on how to get into the government sector, and with proposals, because the government space is a whole different animal,” Taunton said. “The Georgia MBDA Business Center was instrumental in helping me get into that space.”
The Royster Group has maintained its relationship with the Georgia MBDA Business Center since 2002. The Center is part of his proposal team, he said, reviewing them before submissions to ensure all the “Is are dotted, and the Ts are crossed.”
“Ken is a great choice to represent Georgia as Small Business Person of the Year,” said Donna Ennis, operator representative of the Georgia MBDA Business Center. She has worked with Taunton for more than a decade to help scale his company. “We’ve done a lot of strategic growth work with him and his team. We’ve recommended training, programs, and resources. We’ve become a trusted advisor as he grows his business, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for him.”
The Royster Group currently does a lot of work with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) and Department of Defense, staffing hospitals on military bases across the country. “That’s what got us through COVID,” Taunton said. “We had these long-term contracts that were mission essential, meaning that regardless of what happens in the world, they’re always going to need the healthcare providers and contractors we employ. The Georgia MBDA Business Center has been instrumental in ensuring that we continue to be ready and able to do business in the government sector.”