A ringing success: For 25 years, Cranbury has had the back of Jim Bell Sr.


Jim Bell

By Mike Morsch, Regional Editor
Jim Bell Sr. loves Cranbury and its people. The police officers and firefighters, the emergency medial technicians, just about everybody he has encountered as founder and CEO of Abel HR.
That’s because Cranbury has always had Abel’s back.
“They are there if I need them and I know that,” said Bell, whose company is celebrating its 25th anniversary in business this year. “But they don’t bother me. They leave me alone to run my business. I don’t have politicians chasing me around. Yet I know if I pick up the phone, I will get satisfaction in that town.”
It’s a strong community position from which to operate a long-time business. Among its broad range of services, Abel HR forms co-employment relationships with its clients in human resources, administration and support, benefits administration and compliance, payroll processing and administration, workers compensation and risk management and government compliance.
In its quarter of a century, the business has grown to $260 million in annual sales, is operating in more than 40 states and now employs 48 people in its current location, at 2 Corporate Drive in Cranbury, where it has been located for the past 15 years.
Bell started his career as a company controller, but eventually became frustrated with that role.
“I could recommend what had to be done – I could strongly recommend what had to be done – but it too many cases, it just didn’t happen. So I wanted to grab the wheel myself,” said Bell, a native of Old Bridge Township.
He was working at a company in East Brunswick and its owners, both in their 70s at the time, wanted out. One of the potential buyers of the company offered Bell the general manager’s position, an offer that he was happy to get.
“My next question was, who picks my replacement?” said Bell. “I was told they weren’t going to replace me, that I was going to be introduced to something called employee leasing.”
The ownership had hired a company called Action Staffing, which is now considered a grandfather in the industry. And it put a vice president of sales on a plane to meet Bell because the company wanted to break into the New Jersey market.
“He walked in with a box of forms, procedure manuals, you name it, it was in this box. He walked through it with me. But with my experience, I knew more about the nuts and bolts of his industry than he did,” said Bell. “When I went home that night, I plunked the box on the table and said to my wife, ‘I think I’ve found the company. We’re gonna mortgage the farm.’ She said, ‘This is a great idea. You can’t possibly fail at this.’”
And he didn’t.
Bell said a critical part of his success – and one that has allowed him to retain some of his customers from the beginning who have grown with Abel – is because he keeps it personal.
“I know who my customers are, I know what their needs are and I try to anticipate their needs,” he said. “My customer is my only concern. I don’t care what Wall Street thinks of me because I’m not public. And it has worked. The customers need somebody watching their backs, and I’m it.”
In addition, Bell said his clients take comfort in the co-employment relationship.
“If I make a mistake, they’re coming after me, not my client. That gives my clients plenty of room to sleep better at night,” he said. “And they know it. So most of them take the comfort that they’re getting from me and they convert that into selling time. And in a small business environment, nobody sells like the president of his own company. That has worked, too.”
Bell earned a degree in commerce – with a double major of accounting and business administration – in 1973 from Rider University. He currently lives in Monroe Township, a quick seven-mile commute from his office in Cranbury.
The company had a small celebration to mark its 25th year.
“But we didn’t ask anybody to put on gowns or anything,” he said.
Bell admitted that he had a little help 25 years ago, in the form of a magazine article, that helped convince him that Cranbury was the right place for his business.
“I was reading Matrix magazine and at the time, it was trying to convince the world that Exit 8A was the exact center of the state of New Jersey. They were doing a good job of it,” said Bell. “And it worked.”
He took his first office in one of the Matrix buildings, then moved over to the bank building on Route 130. The company grew out of that in a couple of years and then the building at 2 Corporate Drive in Cranbury became available.
“The beauty of 2 Corporate Drive is 14,000 square feet. I expect to continue to grow the business now even faster than I have in the past. I could easily double the size of this company without any major expenditures at all, capital-wise. And we’re going to try to do it.
“I wouldn’t leave here at gunpoint,” he said.