William Russel Kelly

William Russell Kelly 

William Russell Kelly, the founder of the Kelly Services, was a pioneer of the modern staffing industry, with some of the earliest records of providing temporary staff in the USA.


After working throughout the war in procurement and logistics for the army, “Russ” turned to his lifelong dream of owning his own business. In 1946 he invested his savings in Comptometers, the high-tech calculating machines of the day, and typewriters and started “Russell Kelly Office Service”, from a small office in Detroit, Michigan. Russ’s aim was to start a business where other organizations could bring their typing, mailing and general admin work to have them completed by his bureau staff.

Throughout 1946 work began to come in at a steady rate, with the processes being followed as Russ had imagined it. But the most significant change for Russell Kelly Office Service came when his very first customer came back needing a typist to work from their office for a few days, rather than bringing the work to the Kelly office.

While not providing temporary help as we know it today, by loaning out one of his permanent employees Russ had taken an important step beyond the service bureau business. But at this point he did not see the dawn of anything new, just an additional service for a customer. He still saw the service bureau as his primary business.

However, the need for that “additional” service soon arose again. First it was a steel company that needed help with its payroll but was reluctant to send company records to an outside service. Kelly hired 13 women specifically to go to the steel company’s offices to complete the project. Next came a call from a firm in Marysville, about 50 miles from Detroit. Fifty office workers were needed for an emergency. Russ responded by hiring 50 new employees specifically to do that job. 

Russ began to realise that his business model needed to change: the post-war lack of machinery to complete admin tasks was now beginning to fade, as more companies could access the equipment they needed to complete the tasks in-house. He began to supply more and more workers to companies across Michigan, and so the temporary staffing industry and Kelly Services as we know it today was born.