For most of its first decade in business, Scalar president and CEO Paul Kerr was obsessed with finding and holding on to great talent.
As an IT solutions provider, Kerr believed Scalar could only grow by hiring individuals with valuable and scarce technology and computing expertise needed by so many businesses. His focus was on doing whatever it took to become a top employer. “Talent was everything,” he says.
That strategy worked, and the company has grown and thrived since its founding in 2004. Today, Scalar is trending toward $400 million in revenue and delivering mission-critical IT services to 900 clients across the country. But along the way, as Scalar matured, the vision for the company had to change, says Kerr.
Here’s how the vision evolved, and Kerr’s recipe for success:
1. Develop a singular focus on customer service: At around the 300-employee, $300-million revenue mark, Kerr realized Scalar was already a top employer and that the next level of growth would come from being best in class for customer service. “Everything we do strategically—every decision we look at, every person we hire—it’s all about how we’re going to service our clients better,” he says. The company was always mindful of good customer service, he continues, “but not with the same religious fervour we are now. Now it’s all about the clients.”
2. Accept that turnover is good: Scalar wants to be a great company, and great staff at great companies attract headhunters. “I lose people to Google and to Amazon,” he says. Early on, Kerr worried a lot about that, but now he’s okay with it. “You realize there’s someone standing behind that person, in their shadow, who is as good or better, and they haven’t had a chance to prove themselves.”
3. Learn new things: A few years ago, Scalar found itself in an uncomfortable position. “All our competence was around stuff that was not the most current,” says Kerr. Specifically, cybersecurity was a hot topic in the industry, so Scalar needed to create a security practice—not an easy proposition in an established company with protocols and procedures.
“I really freed them up from bureaucracy that Scalar created because of its growth and success,” he says of the new unit. “They were allowed to run at a different pace, make different decisions and with different cost structures. They were cracking a new market and building a brand.”
Today, security is a $100-million business for Scalar. “That model taught us that people can learn new skills,” says Kerr. Since then, Scalar has successfully built a cloud practice and is working on a digital transformation practice.