Q: Does being minority-owned and female-owned help to get some extra notice at times?
A: It certainly helps in being associated with the [minority and women business] organizations. I think that's another way of meeting potential clients, and being out there. It also helps, I feel, in subtle ways.... Although, you know, once we're in a company [and] performing, we have to suddenly compete, as well as outperform, the existing suppliers, whether we're a minority or not. So, it's not a concession in any way. It's just in the initial marketing -- I believe it helps.
Q: Does being a smaller firm help as well, by guaranteeing greater flexibility?
A: That is true. I believe some of the bigger companies also have that model of operating in smaller units and making smaller profit centers, and they're able to do that as well. But, I believe, as we grow bigger, that we'll want to keep the nimbleness and the flexibility of the earlier days...it's very important for our people, when they're out there in front of a client, to be able to make a decision, and not have to go to several levels and lose the business in that process.
Q: You've said you have very good employee retention, vs. the industry norm. Why is that?
A: From the beginning, we've not kept a very hierarchical structure. We believe in a matrix organization. ... The very early consultants that came in have now grown in the ranks, and now they're vice presidents, handling more and more management responsibilities. I believe that's very encouraging and inspirational to people who would like to grow -- who are looking for opportunities, which are harder to find in a big company. For the higher positions, we have never hired from outside. We always promote from within. That helps quite a bit.
Q: Keeping the same people for so many years must also be a bonus.
A: It is. I think it's a benefit at both ends. It's good for the employee as well as the company, because there's so much knowledge that they have about the company, the values -- all that is retained and passed on in training to the new people.
Q: How did you handle things in 2002, when the slow economy really hit you?
A: We didn't do a lot of cutbacks. Our hiring slowed down. We did some [layoffs] in administrative positions. But instead of letting [a lot of] people go, we just had to freeze salaries across the board.
Q: Open communication with employees seems like an important part of your management style.
A: It is. [In 2002,] everybody realized how bad it was outside, because we would read about our competition doing so many days off and having cutbacks. It was all out there, and people were very aware of it and very supportive about the salary freeze and no hiring for a certain period of time. Everybody wanted to participate in saving the time and just helping the company cruise through those bad times. Communication is a big part of that.
Q: Is keeping your employees in the loop something you started out doing from the beginning?
A: I think the basic value of keeping everything open, and communication channels going, was there from the very beginning. I felt that the difference between the good companies and not-so-good companies was communication. There are issues in every company. There are disgruntled employees once in awhile in every company. It happens everywhere. There are things that you deal with along the way.
Q: What would you tell someone interested in following in your footsteps? What's your business philosophy?
A: Persistence. I believe that's important, because in the beginning years, and through all the years, it's a very cyclical thing. There're up and down cycles in everything. For example, telecommunications: That industry went through its own roller coaster, and a lot of our business came from it -- and then it didn't. [But] we just stayed with it, and stayed with [those clients] through their hard times. And that really helped us, in keeping those clients. So, persistence is the main thing.
Besides that, communication is another one, and then delegating [and] investing in your infrastructure, heavily. Not just trying to invest in it after the business comes, but before, in anticipation, like we're doing with offshore. It's all in anticipation -- investing heavily in your business, whether it's marketing or in your own employees, just investing in them. That's important.
Other interviews with SBA award-winners in this series:
"The Top of the Barrel"
"Tailored for the Rugged Invidualist"
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