How a middle-market software developer came to realize that its future would be measured by its employees’ lines of sight.
For many fast-growth companies, corporate culture remains stubbornly adolescent — an awkward organizational construct that never quite reaches maturity. For less inspired middle-market leaders, the company’s holiday party may still serve as a worthy surrogate, while for others, it’s casual Fridays.
We’ll begin with the name and primary location of the middle-market company — Geneca, of Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. Its industry and product? High-tech, custom software development. It’s perhaps no surprise that such a culturally minded firm resides within the high-tech sector, where the virtues of corporate culture have long punctuated the industry’s narrative.
Geneca is a standout in light of how it promises to spread the best aspects of its culture across not only its own organization, but also those of its clients. “Don’t add process, add culture” reads the company’s website, which boasts that no unexpected costs, delays, or disappointing results will interfere with the success of a Geneca project. Honoring such bold statements would seem a rather tall order in a realm where winners are often judged by their ability to tightrope-walk the chasm between client expectations and deliverables, but here’s where Geneca’s culture appears to help arm and educate its employees.
“I don’t know if culture is as important for all companies, but some of the things that we’re trying to do are very different from how the rest of industry works. A lot of our capabilities are based on people — not process — and these people really need to know what they are doing to pull off some of the results that we want to achieve,” says Geneca CEO Joel Basgall, who adds that along the way, the company has navigated different growth hurdles by developing a culture that incentivizes employees to look forward and beyond current client requirements.
“Accountability is assigned, ownership is taken,” says Basgall. “We focus on allowing people to take ownership of things, and when we do that, it helps them to identify more quickly when something needs to change. They see things earlier, and we are able to strategically evolve automatically.”
Clearly, the firm has evolved from a product standpoint as well as a cultural one. Back in 1998, Basgall, along with cofounder Mark Hattas, launched Geneca after landing a sizable Y2K staffing project. In the years that followed, the two executives quickly refocused the company by using a strategy to derive greater client value from custom development. Today, the company is largely focused on helping to develop the actual product or service offerings of its clients — an impressive collection of firms that includes the FTD, Inc., florists’ network; the Redbox movie rental company; and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. With their help, Geneca has garnered a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies for the last six consecutive years.
Still, the company’s growth has come in fits and starts.
“We’ve actually experienced a plateau effect, when it comes to growth, four or five times. You begin to recognize the type of dynamics that reveal a plateau, and we now know the types of things that we need to do to address them and influence things ahead of time,” explains Basgall, who says that despite the firm’s appetite for growth, Geneca has relied solely on its profits to fuel its expansion — and has left a line of credit untapped.
Inevitably, the growth discussion leads Basgall to the firm’s current hiring challenge.
“What keeps things interesting for us is that while many of our customers are still looking to cut costs and find more revenue while using less, our business is really growing, and it’s about finding people. So salaries are going up and there is a big squeeze on companies like ours,” says Basgall.
He once more underscores the impact that Geneca’s culture aspires to have on both the company and its employees: “People don’t like to change, but they do like to evolve and be a little different every day and get a little bit further every day.”