Eileen Hooker was the Washington director of a Chicago-based health company when she had her second child three years ago. She had been doing a lot of traveling and her life wasn't getting any less complicated. She kept coming across an ad for a child care center on Capitol Hill called Supertots.
Finally she called the founder of the center, Lenore Riegel, and before long, they went into the child care business together. In October, they made history.
Supertots was acquired by Ogden-Allied Services Corp., making it the first child care company in the nation to be acquired by a Fortune 500 company. Ogden-Allied Services provides building, aviation, leisure, industrial and human services. It has contracts for catering and fueling at airports, for providing housekeeping services at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, and for managing stadiums and running such services as stadium maintenance, parking, security and food operations. The Capital Centre is one of its clients, as is the General Services Administration. It has a record of providing business services to both the public and private sectors. Through the acquisition of Supertots, Ogden-Allied has opened a new front.
"They didn't buy a big enterprise," says Hooker. "Basically they bought three people." How this came about is an instructive story about a business success, and it is also a story about how child care is evolving into a sophisticated service industry that is attractive to big business.
Before it was acquired, Supertots had developed its own niche in the child care business. Besides the center on Capitol Hill, it was running a center in Arlington and the center in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas. The centers provide care for infants, younger children and before and after school for elementary school children. The centers emphasize well-trained staffs and parent involvement through parent committees.
Hooker and Riegel initially set up their business as the Center for Child Care Alternatives. It managed the Capitol Hill center and began branching out into other areas. It developed expertise in designing surveys to find out whether a company's employes need a child care center or are better off with another benefit. It also developed expertise in sorting through local zoning, licensing, health, safety and building codes so that any child care facility it helped a company set up would meet local requirements.
"One of the benefits to being small and gutsy is you are creative," says Hooker. The company went after and won the contract to set up and operate a child care center at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board here. "That was the first time that Public Law 99190 was used," says Hooker. That law, sponsored by Rep. Frank R. Wolfe (R-Va.), allows the federal government to provide start-up costs and to provide space rent-free for child care centers in federal buildings.
The partnership was expanded to three when the women's attorney put them together with Harry Fitzwater, a retired Navy captain who had worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and retired from the CIA in 1985. Fitzwater brought extensive administrative experience to the firm. He also knew someone at Ogden and over lunch one day mentioned that he was involved "in this little company," says Hooker. "The guy said we've been thinking about this for years. At the time we were being courted by an English company. Harry said you've got to meet this guy."
The deal was struck on Oct. 1. Since then, Hooker -- who is the senior vice president for sales for the Supertots division -- has gotten commitments to set up two more centers. The big difference since the acquisition, she says, is that as an Ogden executive she deals with the top official in a company who wants to know the cost of this new service Ogden is offering. Before, she'd find herself dealing with committees looking into child care. What used to take six months is now getting done in 30 days. Supertots employes, such as the child care workers at the Dallas center, are Ogden employes, and thus eligible for full company benefits. Ogden also takes care of the liability insurance for centers it opens and operates -- a factor that has been a big sticking point for companies wanting to help their employes with on-site care.
The acquisition is another step toward child care becoming serious business. The need is certainly there. Think of the possibilities: Five years from now, T. Boone Pickens could be engaged in a takeover battle for control of the Supertots division of Ogden-Allied.