Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Alum starts new tour of duty upon Gallup's purchase of firm

For Charlie Carlson, the keys are methodology and relationships. By parlaying that combination through three decades of collective bargaining, human resources management, local government consulting and entrepreneurship, Carlson and his partners built an online management company so efficient at retrieving data and compiling reports that Gallup Inc. bought the firm after sampling its software.


Charlie Carlson, his granddaughter Estella and friend.


Charlie Carlson and his consulting partner, Scott Dettmann, re-acquired their compensation consulting practice, Carlson Dettmann Consulting, from Gallup, inc. in late 2010. Dettmann specializes in private sector firms, Carlson in public sector organizations, and both serve not-for-profits. Recent changes in Wisconsin labor relations statutes have caused almost every government to restructure their pay and benefits systems.

Carlson, a 1976 alum, and his business associates sold enetrix to Gallup Inc. in December. The sale includes human resources consulting firm Carlson Dettmann. The two brands continue as wholly owned subsidiaries of Gallup, which specializes in polling and performance management.

Carlson was drafted into the Army after finishing his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois. He first served in Maryland as a personnel sergeant for a data processing unit. "Here I am 40 years later, and I tell people I'm still a personnel sergeant in data processing," Carlson says. Next came a year traveling Vietnam's countryside as an information specialist to report human interest stories.

After a stint as political reporter and editorial page editor for the Beloit Daily News, he returned to human resources as personnel director for the City of Beloit, where he became intrigued by collective bargaining. That prompted him to start a master's degree at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Industrial Relations Research Institute, then shift to the Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration, the La Follette School's precursor.

During this time Carlson started building relationships that sustain him to this day. For example, he met 1982 alum Eric Stanchfield, who urged him to apply to head labor relations for the campus teaching assistants union. The part-time position meant he could also work as a private consultant for local governments negotiating their collective bargaining agreements.

"I left Bascom Hall in 1982 to head human resources at UW Hospital," Carlson says. "That meant I had to become a generalist." Four years later, he went back to Bascom as a part-time labor relations advisor and built his human resource consulting company. In 1992, he sold Carlson Associates and worked for the buyer for three years, then took a yearlong sabbatical to think about what to do next.

That was 1996. The Internet was just coming into play, and Carlson had to devise a new methodology. "I knew I wanted to stay in the human resource business and to bring in technology," Carlson says. "I knew how to gather and compare salary survey data, but I wanted to figure out how to marry it to online survey databases. The challenges were reporting speed and user acceptance."

Carlson kicked the idea around with friends who owned a technology company, and they formed a partnership that became Survey Research Associates and then enetrix. "We created a secure web-based database to collect and retrieve data and build reports quickly, just like an online catalog," Carlson says. "Everything became instantaneous."

They put together a salary survey for public sector employees in Wisconsin that helped address pay equity. Next, they brought the technology to the credit union industry. Today, many state and national associations are survey clients of the firm. A project to produce web-based survey software for the Center for Organization Effectiveness in Madison led to the Gallup relationship.

For Gallup, Carlson continues his travels around Wisconsin and the United States to help local governments, state agencies and private entities develop compensation systems and survey tools for collecting and organizing data. The company is a good fit for his beliefs and work ethic. "I'm particularly interested in integrated performance management systems. We'll see where it goes," he says. A large part of Gallup's emphasis is on training people and helping firms hire the right people for the right positions.

"We all have unique abilities and unique methods," Carlson says. "Some of that is genetic, some of that is learned. Quality living is about identifying strengths, your innate abilities, your interests, then refining that with all your strength and vigor."

— article last updated December 13, 2011