Growing up, Amy Sparks and Michael Barnes had a close sibling bond. Although Amy was the older sibling by seven years, the two organically became friends. When their father, N.A. Barnes decided to become an entrepreneur, it was the beginning of a family business that Michael and Amy would one day lead together. Michael is currently the President and Amy is the Vice President of Business Development and Human Resources.
“I never thought I would work in the business,” Amy said. “Michael didn’t expect me to be here either. So imagine the tension when all of a sudden you have to be the boss of your big sister. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy in the beginning.”
N.A. Barnes, a father, friend, and trusted business man began his career in the textile industry. From there, he ventured into contract management, employing over 1,500 contractors to perform residential meter readings for Duke Energy. When technology advanced, eliminating the need for manual meter readings, it was Barnes’ character that opened the door for his next opportunity.
When local companies needed pre-employment screening, they would often defer to Barnes because of his trusted vendor relationships. Barnes saw an opportunity to add value to organizations using the relationships he had built during his previous career. In 2002, Barnes founded Carolina Connections Inc. to promote and market pre-employment drug screenings. The theme of ‘trusted connections” would continue as his son, Michael Barnes, became president and the company evolved into Unique Background Solutions, expanding their services in pre-employment screening, specializing in background and criminal history serving thousands of organizations in all 50 states and some foreign countries.
We sat down for a Q&A with brother-sister team Michael Barnes and Amy Sparks
CPB: How have trusted connections helped your business grow?
MB: Trust and partnership has meant everything in our business. Trust is something you have to earn, but it’s also something you work not to lose. All the turning points in our business growth came through trusted connections.
CPB: What have some of those partnerships looked like?
MB: We have had so many over the years. One that comes to mind right now takes me back to my first role in the family business. My dad sent me to Charlotte to build our business presence there. I was a one man team working out of coffee shops, my kitchen table, and my car. I met Scott Donaghy, owner of BestinTech, at a networking event. That connection changed the trajectory of our business.
CPB: It’s inspiring to think that businesses are just one partnership away from a connection that could have that big of an impact. What happened?
MB: The right connections can change everything. The first time Scott and I sat down for a meeting, I noticed there was some unused space in his office. I asked him if he had plans for the space and if I could rent it. Scott trusted me and we’ve been office-mates ever since. Because of that partnership we were able to deliver new services to our clients that increased our value proposition and drastically changed our business model in a good way.
MB: Girls on the Run has been another trusted partnership that we’ve had for ten years now. We’re so happy to support what they do by providing their volunteer screenings. We cut them such a great deal because it’s our way of giving back. We love what they stand for in empowering young girls to have a strong voice and self esteem. Supporting Girls on the Run gave us national exposure we didn’t even know would come. We’ve got at least one client in all 50 states and a lot of that is because of connections through Girls on the Run.
CPB: Amy, when you think of trust and partnership, what stands out for you?
AS: How much time do you have? Since Michael talked about an outside partnership, I’ll share more internally. Our UBS Team is amazing. We are good and loyal to each other. One of the highlights of Family business is the freedom and the flexibility you have to make family first. That goes for our entire team. We’re all family here.
CPB: How do you get to that place of trust and respect when you’re working with family?
AS: Family owned businesses are extremely complicated. Michael and I have been through the ups and downs of learning how to trust each other as business partners. One key for us is having complete transparency and communication (really saying what you mean to the people you need to say it to). Being in Business Leader Forum has been huge for us. It has given us a common language to communicate. I started Forum first and it was helpful for me. Once Michael started too, our communication grew exponentially!
Also, maintaining balance is another big one for us. Leaving the work at the office is hard to do especially since we all live within a couple of miles of each other, but it has been really helpful for us.
CPB: You all recently won the Triad Business Journal’s Family Business Award. What did that award mean for the UBS Team?
AS: The award shows the dedication and commitment of the entire UBS team from the owners, the staff, and the clients. We are dedicated to move this business to 3rd generation. We’re dedicated to the community and our craft. It’s a kudos to my dad who believed in the business. For him to build it, bring on his kids, and then step away, that was huge. His trust in us gives us the confidence to keep building and moving forward.
CPB Spotlight: Unique Background Solutions | Written by Brooke Thomas | Oct 27th, 2020