Rick Hammell is the founder and CEO of Atlas. Rick founded Atlas, formerly known as Elements Global Services, in 2015, from his dining room table after noticing gaps in the existing marketplace for solutions that enabled companies to expand into new markets simply, quickly and compliantly. Through his commitment to simplifying expansion, Rick pioneered the Direct Employer of Record business model aimed at supporting companies with global aspirations.

As the founder, what is your vision for Atlas, specifically how it can support Chicago’s business community?

Atlas is an Employer of Record (EOR), which is an unfamiliar term to most. We help companies that want to expand globally manage their compliance and pay, as well as onboard talent. This is all done without having to set up your own entity, and without relying on third-party providers spread over multiple jurisdictions.

Today, we have entities in more than 160 countries. Our on-the-ground experts can support expansion and hiring in those countries, which is complemented by our proprietary technology — making it simple to manage a global workforce all on one centralized platform.

The future of work thrives across borders and cultures. So, my vision is for Atlas to be the solution for companies with global ambitions. 

For Chicago businesses interested in entering a new market but don’t know where to start; we can help. Whether you’re interested in reaching a new customer base, tapping talent with a specific skill set, or just wanting to test out a new market, Atlas has a solution that allows you to focus on your business goals while we handle the rest.

We support businesses of all sizes, and all industries.

You founded Atlas in Chicago. Why did you choose Chicago as the headquarter?

Chicago is a global hub for tech and innovation, thanks to proper city planning, investment, and building on historic strengths. That means there’s plenty of talent – diverse talent at that, and opportunity.

When I founded the company in 2015, it was here in Chicago – at my kitchen table! I had a vision to support companies all over the world, so that ultimately led me to Barcelona for a few years. The team in Europe grew, and so did our customer base.

Then, after a business trip to the US at the start of Covid left me “stuck” here, I realized how much I missed my hometown. And business-wise the majority of our customers were based in the US, so it made sense to be centrally located.

Today, Atlas is a much more global organization. We have offices all over the world. But I’m proud to be headquartered here in Chicago, where I get to be part of the community that helped shape who I am today.

Atlas supports businesses with global expansion and hiring. What are the benefits of going global?

Going global can create a lot of different opportunities for organizations, increasing profitability, generating new revenue streams, and elevating a company’s reputation. Some of the key benefits include:

  • New customer base: By diversifying your audience, your company no longer solely relies on a domestic market — which may be oversaturated with competitors vying for the same customers’ business. This untapped market has the potential to translate to increased revenue. 
  • Access to a larger talent pool: While tech layoffs dominate the news, plenty of industries are still struggling with shortages. Employers can now broaden their talent pool from thousands in their immediate area to millions or even billions. The most highly skilled talent or employee with a specific skill set may be outside your zip code. Today, it’s possible to engage with that person.
  • Reduce costs: Moving parts of your operation outside of the US may result in reduced costs for some companies. For some, that means shifting production, manufacturing, or customer service operations to another market. And governments across the globe are offering generous tax incentives to attract outside businesses.

Many small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) find the idea of entering a new market daunting. What are the hurdles those companies face and how should they be addressed?

Entering a new market is daunting. I remember when I worked as Head of HR for a global company and was tasked with hiring and paying employees in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Japan – countries we did not have an entity in. I had very little legal knowledge of those markets, or the cultural nuances. So, I relied on third- and fourth-party providers to help me. I was left with miscommunications, delayed salary payments, and high costs.

When you enter a new market or hire talent in a country outside of your headquarters, many SMBs will likely be challenged with little resources, capital, time and an overall lack of knowledge of the country they hope to enter. The risk of hiring and paying talent in a new market, without the proper infrastructure in place (for example, without the correct business registrations, and in accordance with local legislation) is high. It can mean a heavy fine, and even jail time.

Most SMBs will want to be nimble in their approach, which is why it’s important to partner with a company, like Atlas, that can guide you on the process. For example, in China it can take up to two years and a US$200,000 investment to set up an entity. As a Direct EOR, we have an entity set up already. So, we can help you enter the market in just two weeks and at a significantly reduced cost. Having a partner with an understanding and experience of the market is key.

How does Atlas leave a positive impact in the communities it serves?

Our business model broadens the career opportunities for people working in underserved locales. Until Atlas, many organizations couldn’t access talent in countries they didn’t have an entity in. Similarly, for startups and smaller businesses, it helps to put them on the international playing field—turning commercial innovations into viable global enterprises.

We’re enabling innovative companies and global talent to connect, an option that once wasn’t possible. we have a platform that gives opportunities—that’s global impact!

Closer to home, in Chicago, Atlas is in the process of identifying organizations we can partner with to leave a positive impact on the community. We are currently partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

What does the future hold for Atlas?

In June 2022, we launched the Atlas HXM platform – our proprietary software which allows organizations to manage their global people operations simply and efficiently. Our aim is to enhance this software through automation, self-service functionality, and localization. We want to improve the user experience for our customers, allowing them to choose how we provide support. It may be that a customer prefers human interaction, in which case one of our local experts can help. In other cases, a customer may prefer everything to be automated.

Ultimately, we want to stay ahead of our client’s needs. The future of work is evolving, and so is Atlas.  We’ll continue to expand our global reach and enhance our technology.

Learn more about Atlas!