Entelligence, the Houston-based IT services provider and consultancy, is growing by leaps and bounds. Offering virtualization, network security, data protection and other IT services, Entelligence specializes in training consultants who can effectively design, deploy and manage data systems for their enterprise customers.
I sat down with Steve Satterwhite, Entelligence's CEO, who's been featured in stories on both CNBC and in Inc. Magazine, to dig into the secret of Entelligence's ongoing growth — financial and cultural.
What are three growth challenges your company has experienced?
The biggest challenges we face are, collectively, how to continually hire, grow and retain great people through that process. I think this is the main challenge that all mid-market, fast-growing companies are facing today. In our industry, the IT data storage sector, great talent is hard to find and in high demand. At Entelligence, we take a long-term approach to building relationships with people whom we want to be part of our team. We have our own hiring system for finding the people we want. We have a great on-boarding process that prepares our technical consultants to hit the ground and be positively productive Day One. And, I think our team does an excellent job of nurturing our people.
How have Entelligence’s financial practices adapted and morphed in response to these growth challenges?
I used to think, like a lot of entrepreneurs do, that we had to plow every dollar we earn right back into the company. We used profits to keep hiring and expanding the team — sometimes successfully and, other times, not so much. Then, we shifted our focus to a key metric called Labor Efficiency Ratio, which is basically the sales productivity per full time staff member. I first discovered this term from Greg Crabtree’s book “Seeing Beyond Numbers” and, later, as we hired his firm as our outside accounting and audit firm. The concept is key for us because in order to grow sustainably, the amount of revenue (and gross profit) we receive for every labor dollar invested became central to growing in a more healthy and sustainable way.
What financial practices and resources have been most critical in supporting your company's growth?
In addition to the answer above, we also started posting financial dashboards to every member of our team. Everyone in our company affects revenue or expenses in some way. Therefore, everyone is part of the profitability of the company. We discovered that it wasn’t enough to just have great people doing great work. We needed to show every person in the company how their job directly affects profitability. We also review financial dashboards on a weekly basis and use them to create individualized coaching to help everyone improve.
How often does Entelligence’s leadership have candid conversations about financial data?
We review data every day starting with a short daily all-company huddle. We review individual financial dashboards on a weekly basis. We also review the company-wide information with our entire team once a month.
How does Entelligence’s company culture play a role in its overall profitability?
Company culture and profits are inextricably linked. In our model, we hire great people. We teach those talented people how to deliver great customer service. As a result, our customers are happier, more loyal, and return to us time and again for more. This keeps our company growing. It begins from the inside out, not the other way around.
If you could offer one piece of financial advice to other small- to midsize-business owners, what would it be?
Years ago, I had lunch with a consultant specializing in helping fast-growth companies. I spent about 15 to 20 minutes telling him where we were stuck and how my biggest challenge was to get our folks to execute our vision and a host of other frustration. He finally stopped me, looked me in the eyes and, somewhat incredulously and said, "Steve! You can’t grow your company. That day is over. If you want your company to grow, you have to grow people.”
That stuck with me, and it’s become our mission ever since to focus on growing people first. I’m not saying we’re great at this — we’re still learning. But we’re growing faster now than we’ve ever grown before. And I’m still a big believer in growing people first, as it’s the only way your company will ever financially grow.
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