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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

C-Suite Advisory

Never Lose Sight Of What’s Most Valuable To A Company: Your Employees

Looking back on the start of AMERGINT amidst the economic downturn of 2008, there is no irony lost in the fact that our company name evokes a combination of the words America and emerging. It was, in fact, the intention of its three co-founders, Randy Culver, Mark McMillen and Sean Conway when they exited their previous company that they founded in 1997 and the next day decided to start AMERGINT. As a self-funded startup, AMERGINT quickly became an essential and trusted partner in the evolution of the space and defense sectors, enabling mission-critical solutions focused on the ground systems and communication links for numerous space programs. Our products now directly support manned space, Earth observation, satellite launch, on-orbit operations, defense, telecom, GEO (geostationary), LEO (low Earth orbit) and numerous new smallsat (small satellites) programs. It is quite a list and an honor to play a key role in a wide range of our nation’s space systems, including the International Space Station.

As President since 2016, and an engineer who worked with AMERGINT’s founders since 1998, I have been acutely aware of the significance in protecting company culture from the pitfalls of rapid expansion. And thanks to my predecessors and mentors, I have been well-prepared. In 2009, when I came on board to join the small group that started the business, we were a tight-knit team all very focused and aligned. Our family-oriented, small-business culture meant a lot to us and it still does. As we have grown, our culture has inevitably evolved since those early days. Yet, there remains those key components I very much want to maintain. While parts of the culture have to change, namely adding more infrastructure and a few more processes and checks and balances, we continue to stay true to our Core Ideologies: Do What’s Right, Keep It Lean, Unleash Intellectual Capital, and Deliver Value.

As a leadership team, we focus on transparency and trust. Our ever-growing staff, currently just over 100 and counting, has made all the difference to our continued success. We want the best and the brightest engaged and empowered to make smart decisions. To do this, alignment throughout the business is critical. While not all business decisions can be made in an open forum, we share our financial performance, technical accomplishments and forward strategies with the entire team. We emphasize open communication at every level in the organization and proactively find ways to encourage that. Everything from frequent group meetings to social gatherings play their part. As we grow it becomes more challenging for everyone to meet each other, but I believe it is important for everyone to know their leadership team at least. I want them to feel welcome and encouraged to reach out to us if they have any problems. To help with this, I set up an informal, one-on-one meeting with new hires about a month after they join. This gives us an opportunity to meet and assess how we did during our on-boarding process. I like to learn about them, what makes them tick and why they joined AMERGINT.

Admittedly, going from a small and well-aligned group to a bigger operation has resulted in a few changes, and rightly so. It would be unrealistic to expect a much larger company to operate the way we did when we were around a dozen folks. We of course have had our challenges. When people join a business, they jump in at a certain size and point in the company growth. They were attracted to the company at that point in time because they aligned well with the thinking and forward strategy. The people who came onboard early, for example, brought with them a lot of the vision and established our great small-company culture. Their entrepreneurial spirit gravitated toward a new startup and they’re probably the ones who have experienced the greatest shift in that culture over the years since. We are all fortunate that very few have moved on as we have grown over the past decade. In fact, many of our new hires over the years have come through referrals, and I think it is because we have done a great job keeping those early adopters engaged and excited about the business. Sharing in our successes plays a big part in this, and we owe a lot to the founders who generously allowed everyone to participate in AMERGINT and share in the ownership of the company.

If asked what is most important to me as President, I would say making sure our employees know how much they are valued. We deal mostly with highly skilled people—engineers, operations, technicians—from top to bottom we hire the best. We want them to know they are appreciated and valued. In an industry like the defense industry, it’s not unusual to work for a large company that is all about the bottom line, scaling down to necessities and eliminating anything that is considered nonessential, like coffee. It’s amazing, though, how people appreciate those things when at work. It seems  inconsequential, but when snacks, drinks, recreation, open communication, awards and incentives are provided along with the feeling of being valued and respected, productivity soars. Our employees have access to a well-outfitted gym, and even showers stocked with clean towels, so that they can work out at lunchtime. We bring in families whenever possible. On Halloween, for example, children and grandchildren of our employees come to trick or treat in the hallways. We host company trips like our winter outing to a YMCA camp near Winter Park called Snow Mountain Ranch. About half the staff bring their families to ski and participate in other outdoor activities.

Some of what we do is purely aesthetic, but even that matters. We have spent time on our décor in our conference rooms to open spaces, adding to the highly professional nature of our work and our talented staff. But it’s always a balance, and we have a soft spot when it comes to family and dogs in the office. All of the staff are in hard-walled offices which allows for an individual to bring his or her dog and keep it close. We find that having dogs present can be very beneficial, particularly when considering our industry and the high-stakes engineering and innovation taking place. Dogs always bring a smile and add joy to the day. For example, one of our staff members has a little Chihuahua mix named Honey. She is about the size of a loaf of bread—a funny little micro-dog with a huge heart who runs security in my hallway. She’ll wander in with a little stuffed sheep in her mouth, tail wagging, or just play and roll around on the floor and smile. It’s the kind of thing that can make a technical problem or a bad day look brighter or go away completely. We’ve got lots of brilliant engineers diligently working to invent serious technologies and executives working hard to land big contracts. When Honey is present, everyone seems more relaxed. Even clients leave with a smile on their face.

I can say today, in the throes of this COVID-19 pandemic, it is our culture and our people that keep us strong, positive and excited about the future. Even while we are separated physically, all of us working remotely, we are very much united in spirit, with leadership committed to providing an equally satisfying work environment no matter where we are situated. Just the other day, I sent out an email to staff to reiterate how important AMERGINT is to the nation’s infrastructure. (Many of the systems we support have critical ratings that our customers and suppliers are subject to, so we’re part of a much bigger critical supply chain.) From their responses, it is clear we share a tremendous sense of pride and a willingness to support each other at every step. And that is no small feat with the uncertainty of COVID-19. But, given the strong company our founders created and the culture we all work to sustain on daily basis, I have no doubt we will emerge from this stronger than ever.


Written by Rob Andzik. Have you read?
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Rob Andzik
Rob Andzik is President of AMERGINT Technologies, responsible for leading and growing a team of about 100 of the industry’s brightest and most experienced engineers, software developers, technicians and professional staff who are experts in solving complex and varied problems. Rob Andzik is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.