The ‘Physics’ Behind How Trion Solutions ‘Supercharges’ SMBs

By James Tehrani

When looking over Trion Solutions’ website, something jumps out at you in the About section. It says, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to achieve more with human resources.”

It’s a simple concept but one that countless small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have grappled with over the years. What’s the best way to manage our people? What would be the most efficient way to process our payroll to ensure accuracy? What approach can we take to stand out against our competitors?

For starters, those businesses might want to check with Bonner Upshaw III and David L. Stone, Trion Solutions’ co-founders to get more insight.

A decade ago, Upshaw and Stone, both veterans of the Professional Employer Organization (PEO) industry, joined forces to build Troy, Michigan-based Trion, which is now one of the 10 largest PEOs in the country.

Before teaming up, their paths to success couldn’t have been more different.

Bonner Upshaw III
with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Upshaw, for one, knows a thing or two about teamwork. He was a star athlete on the Alcorn State University basketball team, a historically Black university in Mississippi, in the mid-’80s before—apologies to LeBron James—taking his talent to Europe to play there for 10 years. He laced up for teams in France, Portugal, Macedonia and Switzerland. Upshaw, by the way, is only about an inch shorter than the 6-foot-9 “King James.” Overseas, Upshaw even became fluent in Serbian and Macedonian; the latter skill he was able to translate into a gig hosting a Macedonian radio program. After sinking baskets for many years, he decided to sink his teeth into the world of PEOs to help SMBs thrive by forming a company called E-Connect.

David L. Stone, left, with sportscaster Mike Tirico.

While Upshaw got his start on the hard court, Stone, on the other hand, got his start in the courts themselves. During his law school years at Detroit Mercy School, he served as a moderator for Mercy Law Moot Court, which simulates courtroom experiences for law students. Later, as an attorney specializing in human resources and workplace-related issues, he spent several years in the Litigation Department of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan. Eventually, Stone would start his own company called Total HR.

Fast forward to 2012, and the good times were really about to roll. 

Upshaw and Stone decided to share office space, and a year later they made the decision to join forces and form Trion Solutions.

While just 1% of Fortune 500 companies currently have Black leadership at the top, Trion can say it has two Black leaders at the helm. PrismHR caught up with Upshaw and Stone to learn more about Trion and how it helps SMBs across the country succeed.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the word ‘trion’ is a physics term. Where did the name Trion Solutions come from, and what is the connection to the world of physics?

David Stone: Yes, the word ‘trion’ is a physics term referring to a localized group of neurons consisting of three charged particles. In the case of Trion Solutions, the name reinforces the dynamics and synergies between an employer, its employees and the PEO. By working together, seamlessly and effectively, the PEO relationship with Trion supercharges the productivity and efficiencies of a client business.

Trion was formed a little over a decade ago, and is now one of the largest PEOs in the country. What opportunity did you see at that time in helping SMBs grow and has that evolved in any way since?

Bonner Upshaw III: We always knew that SMBs want to remain focused on their core businesses and need the gamut of HR services without building an infrastructure of internal experts on staff. Also, the fact PEOs can provide SMBs Fortune 500-type benefits they can offer to their employees while mitigating risk in the business remains appealing to entrepreneurs and C-level executives. The market awareness of PEOs has increased significantly since we first started, but still has a relatively low market share with massive upside potential for industry and PEO-specific growth. 

PEOs in general do so much for small businesses across the country, but how would you characterize the influence PEOs such as yours have on Black and minority-owned small businesses in terms of supporting those companies and helping them to launch their businesses? Has that evolved in any way since Trion was formed?

David L. Stone: As a certified minority-owned business, of course, we are thrilled when we can help a minority-owned business grow and succeed. But we feel the same when assisting any of our approximately 800 client companies across the United States—largely entrepreneurial businesses founded by those who risked their personal finances and perhaps those of others. Every decision made by the entrepreneur and company leadership affects the company’s success and the livelihood of others. And few decisions in a company are more important than ways to remain focused on their core business. We say at Trion that our ‘greater purpose’ is helping business owners and other leaders achieve peace of mind—a sense of well-being and contentment is an extremely important aspect of their lives that, otherwise, could be stressful and overwhelming. It is satisfying and rewarding that Trion plays such an important role for so many businesses across the United States.

Bonner Upshaw III and David L. Stone 
with DBusiness magazine editor R.J. King.

How does PrismHR help Trion grow its business and support its SMB clients?

Bonner Upshaw III: As an important partner of Trion, PrismHR helps us provide our clients with Fortune 500-level technology that the backbone of America, small to medium-sized businesses, can bring into their workplaces when they otherwise never could afford to do so. Through our partnership with PrismHR, Trion clients enjoy world-class software that is user-friendly and tailored for their own specific needs. Unlike other HR software platforms that require client businesses to do all the programming themselves, and having to hire high-level staff to do so, Trion takes care of all the implementation and processing ourselves so clients can remain focused on their core business.

Beyond helping your clients, any anecdotes on how PEOs such as yours help the communities where SMBs do business?

David L. Stone: Bonner and I feel strongly about Trion supporting important community causes. Our support assists nonprofit organizations that are focused on workforce development for people with disabilities, mental health, autism, drug prevention and treatment, domestic-violence education, local-community shelters and others. Along with the National Football League Pro Football Retired Players Association-Detroit chapter, Trion purchased and helped distribute in inner city Detroit 800 turkey dinners the past two Thanksgivings.

As Black business leaders, do you feel any extra responsibility to help Black-owned small businesses thrive?

Bonner Upshaw III: It always is a great joy to see Black-owned business thrive, and we at Trion love to be part of the team in helping them do so.

During Black History Month, DEI, of course, gets a lot of attention, but DEI should be a year-round initiative. What would your advice be for SMBs and PEOs about the importance of DEI and what they can do to improve those efforts?

David L. Stone: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are important all year-round for all businesses, because they are so much more than simply about race. Businesses need to encourage and embrace thoughts, ideas and perspectives through a diverse workforce of race, sex, experience, age and other areas. Equity should be part of the inner fabric of a business to ensure all are treated with respect, dignity and fairness. And, inclusion is the appreciation of everyone’s value in bringing something helpful and meaningful to the process. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are essential foundational elements in the corporate culture of all successful businesses.

James Tehrani is PrismHR’s digital content marketing manager. He is an award-winning writer and editor based in the Chicago area.