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From Troy High to heights of creativity

A time of Thanksgiving: Trion's journey to national branding – thanks to Troy native

Article by Todd Haight

Photography by Portraits With Michelle

Originally published in Troy City Lifestyle

You no doubt have seen the Trion television commercials, one of its many sponsorships and its logo on one of the tallest buildings in the heart of Troy. And you may have asked yourself, “Where did Trion come from so suddenly?”

Trion Solutions (relyontrion.com) was co-founded more than a decade ago by Bonner Upshaw III and David L. Stone – managing payroll and taxes, benefits administration, workers’ compensation and regulatory compliance for more than 800 client businesses nationwide.

The more revealing answer though is Trion’s marketing/PR/branding, which has made the Trion name so recognizable. How was that achieved?

It hearkens back to Troy High School, where a teenage Jeff Caponigro discovered a love for words and persuasion – and has used that passion to build an iconic PR/marketing career eventually leading to building the brand identity of one of the nation’s largest and most-respected Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs).

Jeff began writing professionally for the Troy and Rochester editions of the Observer & Eccentric while still at Troy High; and, was a reporter/columnist for two daily newspapers while studying Journalism and English at Central Michigan University.

After graduation, his career shifted to PR/marketing. At the age of just 25, he worked his way to being named Vice President at one of the nation’s Top 50 PR firms. A few years later, he became Executive Vice President and then President/CEO of a PR firm that grew to become Michigan’s largest PR firm at the time, Casey Communications Management.

He felt the calling to hang his own shingle and, in 1995, launched Caponigro Public Relations and a few years later Caponigro Marketing Group.

National accolades followed. His became the first PR/marketing firm in the world to earn ISO 9001:2000 certification for quality processes and procedures. He authored THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A step-by-step guide to managing a business crisis, named one of the “10 best PR books” by PR Week, published in five languages and released in an entertaining audio book.

Along the way, his path intersected with Bonner and David, who worked at a now-defunct Detroit-area PEO – a client of Caponigro PR in the ‘90s. Fast forward years later and Bonner and David have a fast-growing company in Trion Solutions. It became a client of Caponigro PR and, three years later, invited Jeff to join the expanding Trion staff on a part-time basis to help transform its brand identity, enhance its reputation and increase its market profile as Executive Vice President-Corporate Communications and Chief Marketing Officer.

It was an intriguing invitation. Jeff always had a high regard for Bonner and David and loved the value proposition of a PEO – knowing even faster growth could be on the horizon.

For Trion, it meant acquiring a marquee professional with the rare combination of public relations, journalism and marketing/advertising experience – someone in industry circles known as the “Pro of pros” and considered over the past four decades as Michigan’s best-known PR/marketing executive.

The part-time position quickly shifted into full time in late 2018, and – enjoying himself and making things happen with the support of Bonner, David and others – he decided to phase out his agencies. The position at Trion was Jeff’s first in 30 years for which he is not the CEO, and he has adjusted well.

Under Jeff’s direction and execution, Trion has sponsored Marco Andretti’s Indy car, the first balloon in America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, Michigan State University sports, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards and many others. Trion also is a generous corporate citizen, supporting many nonprofits such as locally based Dutton Farm.

In addition, Jeff is unusually “hands on” for someone at his level. He personally writes the popular twice-weekly Trion Update, distributed to Trion’s 200 team members. He has authored more than 300 issues since starting the publication a few years ago.

Jeff humbly points out the marketing accomplishments at Trion are not achieved alone. He guides two marketing/design agencies and one in-house staff member, Matt Belletini, who he appreciates very much.

Despite the humility, he has been inducted into three industry Halls of Fame – and has served in leadership positions on several community and civic boards such as being named Chairman of the Board of Central Michigan University.

“Jeff brought Trion to a whole new level,” says CEO and Co-Founder Bonner Upshaw III. “He created our brand and brought significant ROI. We look forward to continued growth by living out our brand.”

President and Co-Founder David L. Stone agrees. “Thanks to Jeff and our work together, employers across the nation know about Trion Solutions and our strong value proposition. And, we live up to our brand as our excellent staff delivers on what we promise.”

The results are incredible. Trion is by far the largest PEO in Michigan, a Top 10 PEO nationally and the largest certified minority-owned PEO in the United States.

Trion enjoys an impressive 96-percent client-retention rate, among its client companies that range from 10 to 7,000 employees. The common thread is the quality of Trion’s team members and the company’s client-service model – in key areas such as payroll processing, workers’ compensation, benefits administration and many others. Trion has five attorneys on staff to help ensure HR compliance and to counsel on critical workplace issues.

The company’s national headquarters is in Troy and it has service offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., Aventura, Fla. and Traverse City, Mich.

The Trion brand is rooted in community and culture. Personal relationships and service. Promises made, promises kept. It is harvested by a highly regarded, good-natured Troy native who always is thinking about the next steps for further building the Trion brand.

Outside of work, you might find him golfing at Orchard Lake Country Club with sons Nick, Mike and Rocco; bowling at the Detroit Athletic Club; or, cooking and baking at his home only a few miles from his former Smith Middle School and Troy High.

“We have an all-star cast at Trion and an extremely bright future ahead of us,” Jeff says. “It is such a tremendous honor to team with Trion team members, who are wonderful people and outstanding at what they do.”

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