An employee at CentricsIT used the company’s 21st-century Suggestion Box — anonymous email to CEO Derek Odegard — to lodge a complaint about the malfunctioning toaster in the lunchroom.
Think about it. What is the ethos of a company where an employee feels the CEO is so mindful of his employees’ welfare that they can take a nominal matter like burnt toast and present it to him?
It seems so anodyne to the lickety-split world of IT where innovation matters most and emotion is baggage, but Odegard said CentricsIT’s employee-centered culture means something. This is about more than burnt toast. While everything spins in fast-change around the industry, he believes in one constant: employees deserve the careful consideration of the successful entrepreneur.
“Culture helps forge the identity of the company itself, not only inside the walls, but out,” says Odegard (BBA ’96). “There is no doubt that if your employees are happy and in a good place that will shine through to your customers as well.
“It is a super-fast industry and our products and services are literally changing every day and our culture needs to support that.”
In 12-plus years, CentricsIT has grown from an idea among four partners strategizing in a cold basement to 130 employees in 10 cities and five countries. Companies around the world seek expertise and solutions from CentricsIT.
What the founder, Odegard, and his executive team stress is that a business can be hard-nosed and competitive, but working there does not have to be a grind.
The headquarters in Norcross has a small gym, a putting green, a video arcade golf game, ping pong, and 15-20 TVs scattered around. The intertwining of fun and entrepreneurial spirit, Odegard says, is by design, not accident.
“We wanted to create an environment that we would enjoy working in and, over time, there was a natural evolution where it took the shape of our personalities,” Odegard says. “You can’t be a spectator to the kind of culture you want to create.”
The CentricsIT office is mostly cubicles with two offices and five breakout rooms for larger meetings. Employees are standing over modular desks, or sitting and exchanging ideas. It is a relatively noisy place and the collaboration is perceptible.
The employees set the pace and the environment.
“Our culture is very entrepreneurial so we do strive to give our people autonomy,” Odegard says. “That helps us with the types of transitions that are constant within IT.”
The culture is not superficial. CentricsIT held a Halloween costume party for employees. It brought in a chef who made paella for the staff for the Spain-Portugal World Cup game in June 2018. The company hands out turkeys at Thanksgiving and asks for pictures to share on its Facebook page of the bird all dressed up. Employees who do not work at the HQ receive gift cards in lieu of turkeys.
There is a closeness in shared events, too. Some employees went to north Georgia and drove tanks as part of a team-building exercise. The company routinely supports causes such as The Atlanta Community Food Bank, the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta, and The Salvation Army, not just with money, but with time.
So is this congenial culture worth the effort? Judge for yourself. The average tenure for employees at CentricsIT is five years. Now look at the tenure rate of tech employees at other companies. Tesla 2.1 years. Square 2.3. Facebook 2.5. Alphabet (Google) 3.2. Netflix 3.1. Almost 20 percent of the firm’s employees have been there for more than 10 years, which is remarkable considering CentricsIT is 12 years old. So there is not a significant brain drain pushing against the company’s bottom line.
“Culture has to be consistent; it’s not a one-and-done endeavor, or else it will not take hold,” Odegard says. “You don’t have to be constant, but you definitely have to be consistent.”