Culture Factor 2.0

How This Tech Company Leaned in Massively on Company Culture to Become a Mainstay in a Competitive Industry

Episode Summary

Kelly Ireland is a Tech CEO, Investor, Advisor and Philanthropist. She launched CBT in 2001 with a focus on offering innovative technology solutions and unparalleled client service. She has evolved as an award-winning entrepreneur IT Solutions Provider with a roster of Fortune 50 clients. She is a catalyst, change agent, mentor, enthusiast...spending her time driving strategic growth initiatives and providing CBT’s employees with an outstanding work environment. Her motto is well cared for employees equals well cared for customers.

Episode Notes

http://www.companytribes.com

 

https://www.cbtechinc.com

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Welcome to The Culture Factor, where we talk to founders and influential leaders about company culture. We share stories from the C-suite that help executives engage their business from the inside, and create a map to transform their culture. Because, the truth is, culture eats strategy for breakfast. 

Holly Shannon:
We want to thank our listeners for joining The Culture Factor, and ask that you subscribe, rate, and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who'd you like to listen to next. 

Holly Shannon:
And, a thank you to our sponsor, Company Tribes. They have an app and a virtual experience to help keep your tribe together during difficult times like now, and business as usual. How strong is your company culture? Reach out to Paul at companytribes.com. 

Holly Shannon:
Kelly Ireland is a tech CEO, investor, advisor and philanthropist. She launched CBT in 2001, with a focus on offering innovative technology solutions, and unparalleled client service. She has evolved as an award-winning entrepreneur, IT solutions provider, with a roster of Fortune 50 clients. She's a catalyst, change agent, mentor, enthusiast, spending her time driving strategic growth initiatives, and providing CBT's employees with an outstanding work environment. Her motto is, "well cared for employees equal well cared for customers." And today, we have Kelly Ireland on The Culture Factor. 

Holly Shannon:
Hi Kelly, welcome to the show. 

Kelly Ireland:
Hi, Holly. Happy to be here. 

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. Today, we also have Paul Jones, our co-host, joining us. Hi, Paul. 

Paul Jones:
Hey, welcome, thank you. 

Holly Shannon:
So Kelly, let's get started. Can you share with us the founding principles you started with CBT? 

Kelly Ireland:
Absolutely. Back in the last '90s, the industry that I was in had a lot of change, a lot of consolidation, and merging, and it just ended up being an environment that I was in a company that just didn't have the same philosophy that I did, when it came to care for a client. 

Kelly Ireland:
When push came to shove, and it was like, "I'm going to have to figure this out," what I decided, with everything that I'd been seeing in the industry, I felt there was a better way. I had to open CBT, just because I wanted to ensure that my client continued to get the level of service that we had been able to afford them with my team, so I opened it. But, I also opened it from the perspective of work life balance. I believed that the nurturing of your employees, and what we called team, is essential in having a good, solid base, and being able to deliver to clients in the manner that we should, bringing that value add. 

Kelly Ireland:
So, I opened it up, and really focused it from a sports approach, since I was in sports from early days, with a father who was a coach in all ranks of education. And, with that basis of, work it as a team, have backup, tag team if one person needs to go attend to watching a child receive an award at school, or going to [inaudible 00:03:28] ... tried to really balance being able to give everybody that work life balance. Other than me, because I was the one trying to create all of this, and that was a lot of work. But, I have to tell you, it was a great reward to me, to see people be able to really do that balancing, which was never a thing in the late '90s, and into the early 2000s. 

Paul Jones:
Kelly, I find that so interesting. Having come from client success, there's almost different philosophies when it comes to serving the customer, isn't there? It's interesting that you felt like you wanted to provide your client this high level, or this specific type of care, and basically left to go take care of that customer. Now, you've gathered people that subscribe to that same philosophy you have, toward the customer. 

Kelly Ireland:
Yeah, we had it previously to CBT, that was the ... we were already working in teams to support the client, because when you're working global clients, you need a big team. But, you also need that team to sync together, and work together. 

Kelly Ireland:
We had been successful in doing that, the missing link was having the management, the overall executive management, see the vision, and support that as well. That's what was missing. So, the creation of CBT was around putting that mix together, of getting the executives, the management, and your workers, who are the ones that are constantly in touch with your clients, supporting them, getting them all in sync, together. 

Holly Shannon:
That's great. Kelly, let me ask you a question. I want to just jump back, you had mentioned about value add, so I just want to focus there, for a second. Has this changed the dynamic of your company culture? In terms of your ... You and I had also spoken prior to this, about your Ops team versus your I team, so I think that's where maybe our value add came in, but you did mention value add a little bit earlier on, from our first question, so I'm going to make you dive back into there. 

Kelly Ireland:
I will dive into this. In the last three years, CBT has pivoted. We were previously more of a high end value add reseller, and I take value add very seriously. It's not just to resell, it's to deliver an outcome to a client. We built that out with high performance computing, but in the last three years, we saw the whole move with Internet of Things, and how that was going to be integrated into solutions for businesses. 

Kelly Ireland:
Well, what we didn't realize was that there are two sides of the house, when it comes to industrial IOT, or even IOT. You have your Ops side, so you have operations technology, which would be associated with manufacturing, utilities, smart pumps, sensoring, things like that. Then, you have the IT, which is the infrastructure that supports the information technology. How do you process that information, how do you store it, how do you use it, how do you analyze it? 

Kelly Ireland:
So putting these together, what we found by working through this, and taking an IT centric company, CBT, and integrating the operational technology, or OT side in, by hiring OT engineers, so control system engineers, and mechanical engineers, and design engineers. We looked at it, and oh boy did we find that there's a difference between those two, not something that any of us even thought about. The more research we did, I finally talked to my HR team and said, "There is definitely different cultures between OT and IT." 

Kelly Ireland:
As I've seen it, and viewed it, what became very apparent is a lot of people were approaching it and saying, "Okay, we've got to converge these two together," but what they weren't thinking of was the people factor. You have to converge different cultures. OT is, what I call, very pristine, it's almost an exact science in many manners. And, when you look at IT, IT has never been exact, I don't think you can reach exact, because in order to do that you probably have to spend so much time, it's not worth the ROI. But, they both have intrinsically different approaches, and manners, and just across the spectrum. 

Kelly Ireland:
So, what we had to do is educate both sides, and nurture them to accept and respect the differences of the two, and come to an understanding that one has to be one way, one is the other way, there is reasons for this. There's no reason not to respect the other, and it's worked out really, really well. But, you have to approach it from that aspect. 

Holly Shannon:
Is there any story, maybe, that you might even be able to share, in how you were able to merge them, and create a team out of them? 

Kelly Ireland:
Yeah. What we've done, we work on something called Refinery of the Future, which is Texmark Chemical, down in Houston, Texas. What that was, was Hewlett-Packard Enterprise started it three and a half years ago, of the client went and looked at a smart pump, at the HPE Lab. He happened to bring 15 of his employees with him, because he wanted them to see what that was all about. That was bringing in both sides, OT and IT in, to see what this pump was, because everybody was like, "What are you talking about? We don't know what that is." They went down the path of looking at it and going, "Wow, that's pretty incredible," because seeing was believing. Like I said, it's from both sides of the house. 

Kelly Ireland:
What they were trying to do with that was get these members of their team to accept that there's this new territory we're going into, that connects the OT and the IT, and that they have to look at approaching this from both sides, and working together. I think them starting out doing that, where it's like okay, bring both those groups together, plus bring from executives down to frontline workers in, from the beginning. And then, over the last few years, it's getting people into discussions, doing collaboration across both sides, really integrating the teams from the beginning of the development of the solutions, and especially the particular use cases. 

Kelly Ireland:
Because you want to deliver a solution that is going to achieve what that frontline worker needs, and if you don't include them in the conversation, then it's all for naught because you're probably not going to deliver what is actually needed, and what's going to give the biggest ROI. So, right from the get go, when we came back to Texmark, he's like, "I want to see this in action," and there wasn't anybody that could really show him the full solutions, and the use cases, in production. So, they offered up their facility, and that really allowed my team, a heavy IT focused team, to come in and spend all that time with OT workers, side by side, going through it, being educated. 

Kelly Ireland:
We needed to be educated on the OT side, they needed to have a better understanding of the IT side. So that melding, over the last couple of years, has allowed us to, one, learn the culture. Two, really integrate and educate both sides, but especially the OT side, of why we're doing this, why it should matter to them, how it's going to help them in production, and make it a win-win for everybody. 

Holly Shannon:
That's brilliant. That probably really bolstered your company culture, for sure. 

Kelly Ireland:
Absolutely. And Texmark's, and the ecosystem partners that run across everything. 

Paul Jones:
It seems to me, too, Kelly, that you really created a new culture. You blended these two traditional groups together, and you've helped to form something brand new. What are some of the changes that that has looked like, as you compare the two groups, and compare what they're doing now? What are some of the add benefits that you've seen? 

Kelly Ireland:
Yeah, you'll find this funny but the biggest thing we've seen is that all of us are having a blast, where a lot of people can't say that right now. But, what we're seeing is we're excited, people are more engaged. We call it the new territory, it is a new territory. 

Paul Jones:
Yeah, definitely. 

Kelly Ireland:
It is a journey. Like I said, it's a team sport. We've having the most fun we've had because, for a long time, IT just ran it. It's like, "Oh, new chip, new processor, new router, new storage types." That can be exciting, but when you're talking about a whole new environment, and having ... We're all very inquisitive, and we're constant learners, and we're finding that we're learning more, we're learning new things. 

Kelly Ireland:
And not only that, is we're solving problems for clients, and we're seeing such massive ROIs. Everything we've seen has been such a high ROI. And not only that, is having those workers embrace this change, which how often do we hear, people don't like change, people view some of the things that are going on in the industry as being able to replace their jobs. What we're saying is by including them early, getting them engaged, we're seeing them embrace this at the highest level. To the point where Carlos, at Texmark, he loved it so much, he trained his entire team. He wasn't asked to by his management, he was just so excited as what it brought, and the value that it brought. 

Kelly Ireland:
So, at first he could have viewed it, this is enriching my job, and that's the message we're seeing more and more, is workers looking at it and going, "That's enriching my job. It's making it safer, it's making it better, I can produce more, I can share more information." And that's one of the greatest things we're seeing out of this. 

Holly Shannon:
It brings me to another question. You took on a new way of bringing together two departments, and it's created newness, if you will, across how you do business. So, it forces me to ask you this question, about the new next, or the new normal, which everybody, of course, is talking about. 

Holly Shannon:
How are you poised to handle what the new normal looks like, post pandemic? And, as you continue to scale, will your company culture change at all? 

Kelly Ireland:
I don't think the company culture will change. Because the one thing, it's through this whole pandemic, the thing we've found is we've morphed, along with everybody else. We became virtual in two days. It helps that we know IT, we're IT experts, and so it made it for a very quick transition, and everybody's done very well. 

Kelly Ireland:
One of the things we focused on was building out our culture continuously, so having those ... Every other day, we have a 15 minute breakout, that anybody who can join in the company gets on, it's a Zoom call, and we have different themes. You join in, and you have your kids join in, because we're all at home, and we're all dealing with things. But, what we really wanted to focus on was the mental health of all of us, because we've all suffered a little bit from being enclosed, and not having that human touch. That CBT, that's our core value, is delivering technology with this human touch. Well, that got taken away, so it's really been focusing on that. 

Kelly Ireland:
What we've seen is growth within our own company, and our own personnel, including management, of figuring out to keep that human touch there. And, we've learned some things that we're actually going to keep in play, as we come out, and we have the new normal. A lot of that is the touch among the employees, we had a lot of employees that had never met each other in person. Well, now they know each other quite well, whether it be the Zoom, or some of the other conference calls that we've had, and the touch bases that we have is sharing that.

Kelly Ireland:
Going into the new normal, the great thing about what we've done is we've already spent two to three years of this Internet of Things, which I think is just going to boom because there's some things that are going to have to be done remotely. There's going to be a time, probably quite a bit of time, before people feel safe being face to face in certain environments, and we're set up to be able to deliver that virtual touch that still keeps them extremely connected, and feeling like they are together. Or, they're being able to complete a process. 

Kelly Ireland:
We're building out a smart manufacturing facility right now, and doing it completely virtually, utilizing wearable, and having someone at that company walk through, and we're guiding him where we need him to go. And, gathering the information we need visibility, as well as electronically. I think we're very well positioned, knowing that we're all going to have to tweak our approaches, and find creative ways to handle the new normal. 

Holly Shannon:
That's incredible, I love that. I think it's nice that you're poised for it, and actually, some of the takeaways are that you're going to be bringing that, things that you've learned now, into your new normal, that it's actually been beneficial. 

Holly Shannon:
Let me ask you one other question. I understand, from a previous conversation, that Boeing is a continued customer of yours, for the past 25 years. Is there a story about your company culture that speaks to the longevity of your customers, that you could share with us? 

Kelly Ireland:
Absolutely. So that happy employees make for happy customers, at CBT I have the same exact team that I opened my doors with in 2001, I have the same personnel supporting that account. We've augmented that, and added additional ones, we've had team members join from associated companies that we work with to support Boeing, but it's almost like family. Because when you keep a consistent interface to your customer, it builds out that trust relationship, so having those same people ... And, they actually were also with me, prior to opening CBT, so very huge longevity. 

Kelly Ireland:
Some of the people that are on the executive teams at Boeing, one of them, his first job was as our purchasing agent, way back in early 2000. He's grown in his career. And, we've had the same team, and when we talk everybody's, "Hi, how are you doing?" We knew when he had his first child, and talked through all that. So, just that intimacy of having longterm relationships, where you talk about family, or you talk about your growth, and you talk about your business, and you talk about your challenges and your goals, and everything else. It just makes for such a great environment for both the customer, as well as my employees. 

Paul Jones:
So basically, Kelly, what you're saying is that ... And, I totally agree, happy employees make for happy customers, and think sometimes it's easy to take the easy way out, right? The easy way is a ping pong table, or snacks in a drawer somewhere for your employees. 

Paul Jones:
But, what you seem to be saying is more high level, it's speaking more to the person. What would you say are those big differences? You know, when you go in, yeah sure, let's have snacks in the drawer, but that's not where you stop. Actually, where should you start? 

Kelly Ireland:
No, it started with me because I was a single mom, with two kids, and I didn't have a life. It was like I was working all the time, and didn't have the time, because of the pressure of my job, back before 2001. It was a time in our industry where 20 hour workdays were expected from some of the companies that you worked for. It was here's the dangling carrot, way out, in some cases, 20 years from now, I think Microsoft, one of the things it was. It was the employees saying, "Yeah, I want to do it." 

Kelly Ireland:
But, what I would back is okay, in that 20 years, you're going to miss your child going up, you're going to miss special events, you're going to miss family interaction. I just didn't believe that was a good culture, I didn't believe that was a good way to nurture the lives of your employees. So, by doing the teaming, and allowing them to have that flexibility ... I was telling Holly, we had babies in our office back in 2001, 2002 because I had new moms, and it was like, I didn't want them to miss that interaction with a child from zero to nine months old. 

Kelly Ireland:
The mothers figured out, at that point where it got to where it was too intrusive for them completing their duties, and it was their decision, and it always worked out great. That they had that time, and then they got childcare. And we, in many cases, we might adjust our timing. But it's really looking at your individuals, and your employees, and to what's important in their life, and not what's most important you want them. What I found is, by doing that, when they're at work, they're very focused on what they do at work, they're very focused at delivering for CBT, because they have that way of supporting their families, and getting that time that they need with their families, to have that really good balance. 

Holly Shannon:
Wow. That's fantastic.

Paul Jones:
I love that, that's awesome.

Holly Shannon:
Yeah, that's really great. Thank you, Kelly, it's so nice to hear that the trials and tribulations that you experienced as a new mom, that you're making sure, ensuring that your company culture's solid, and that your people don't go through that. That's fantastic. 

Holly Shannon:
I want to thank you, this was so great. Thank you for coming on The Culture Factor. 

Kelly Ireland:
Absolutely. I love talking about it, because I call it corporate responsibility, and I always am looking for companies that think the same way. Because they tend to, a lot of times, be the best ones for us to partner with. 

Holly Shannon:
That's true. It's always nice to have that in your pipeline, like minded people that you work with, and work for, that makes a big difference in your day, for sure. Thank you, Kelly. 

Kelly Ireland:
Yes, thank you. 

Holly Shannon:
Paul, thanks for joining us, this was great. 

Paul Jones:
Yeah, thank you, this was great. I've learned so much, Kelly, appreciate all of your insights. And, wish you the best, moving forward. 

Kelly Ireland:
Thank you. We're very excited about it, things are rolling. 

Paul Jones:
Nice.