Facing the ongoing challenge of securing a qualified workforce, technology companies are using unique methods to attract and retain top talent. At our annual technology roundtable, industry officials commented on the success and impact of state initiatives, while stressing the importance of an ongoing commitment to training and education in the state.
Other issues discussed include pumping up the state’s image as a place to grow a business and a career and the blurring lines between work and play.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Richard Nelson, president & CEO of the Utah Technology Council, for moderating the discussion and Holland & Hart for hosting the event.
Amy Rees Anderson, Mediconnect; Carine Clark, Symantec; Robin Rankin, Spectrum DNA; Richard Nelson, Utah Technology Council
Jeremy Simmons, Asierus; Jeffery Nelson, Nelson Laboratories; David Robinson, TechniScan, Inc.; Jack Sunderlage, Contentwatch; Aaron Hall, MarketStar; John Hill, L-3 Communications; James Stone, Aculis; Kent Erickson, Novell; Michael Proper, DirectPointe
K. Shane Guillory, Ripple, LLC; Kimball Thomson, Next Phase Communications; Pratap Khanwilkar, WorldHeart; L. Grant Foster, Holland & Hart; Matt Cupal, Sorenson Media; Adam Slovik, RemedyMD; Richard D. Hanks, Mindshare; Hal Widlansky, Aculis; Pete Ashdown, XMission; David Colbert, Sendside Networks, Inc.; Gary Goodrich, Pro Pay, Inc.
This is the second year that quality of workforce is the number one issue for our industry and state. What are your companies’ top talent needs in terms of engineers, developers, other technical people or management talent?
CUPAL: Engineers for us.
J. NELSON: We are looking for management talent that also has a scientific background, which is a unique need. It’s people that have graduated with a scientific degree and have some experience managing, as well.
KHANWILKAR: Medical device man-ufacturing, for me. Quality assurance.
HANKS: Product marketing.
GUILLORY: Engineers that have two-to-four years of experience so they are knowledgeable and come in and hit the ground running as opposed to having to be mentored.
What is your company doing to retrain underprepared talent?
SUNDERLAGE: We have a lot of workers coming in well educated and we will train them to the unique skills that we require.
HILL: We don’t need to do very much retraining. I’m very satisfied with the colleges turning out engineering talent here. They jump in, they get it. We are pretty selective and we promise them they will use every skill they learned in college at our place. But when we get into the blue collar workforce, we do have to spend a little more time doing retraining. So those are the folks that have no college, usually no technical school education.
SLOVIK: We do a lot of retraining. Every week, one of our senior technical people does something called “lunch and learn” where they teach on some topic, whether it’s a nasty bug that they found and how to avoid it or some algorithm that they came up with. Every quarter we do one-to-two days off site, where we do intense training and have tests and all kinds of competitions. The topics vary from very technical, things that they probably should have learned in school and didn’t, to other things that are not technical, such as how to give presentations and how to be a good manager or good team leader.
What is your top method for attracting or retaining talent?
GOODRICH: We took a little different approach recently. Instead of going through the typical head hunters for high level positions, we contacted industry specific consultants that had national breadth and expertise and had them zero in on firms elsewhere where there were layoffs because private equity firms came in and there was a big downsizing going on with a major competitor. It was easy to bring people into Utah this time, which has been a challenge for us over the years. So this was a new thing, to take advantage of disruption elsewhere in the country through consultants.
HALL: One of the things that we looked at last year was when Fortune came out with its Great Place To Work type companies. Not having the pockets quite as deep as Google, we developed our own “great place to work” initiatives that looked at retaining and attracting talent from a holistic point of view. We tried to identify those facets outside of just compensation, which is certainly a big piece of it, to make sure that as our employees come into the organization and have an experience with us, that it is something that they enjoy. Whether it’s movie Fridays or whether it’s an opportunity for them to be more engaged with their clients at perhaps a different level, we found that by doing the simple things outside of just compensation, it has paid dividends in terms of being able to retain and attract folks we are after.
COLBERT: There’s a unique individual that gravitates towards a startup; it’s a “work hard, play hard” mentality. So what we have done to attract and retain individuals is we have a 12-inch powder rule. If there are 12 inches of documented snow at any of the resorts, don’t play sick, just go ski. And what happens is individuals still work a full day. They hit the slopes and they are usually back in office by 1:00 p.m. That is an effective tool both in and out of state with individuals who want to come and enjoy the mountains.
GOODRICH: Did you say you have openings?
SLOVIK: Superstar employees at the beginning of their career want to grow. They want to learn. When I interview, I ask them, “If you could take a job for half salary working one-on-one with Steve Jobs would you do it?” And of course they say, “Yes. I would learn so much.” I tell them, “That’s what you need to be thinking at this point in your career. Find those people. It’s not Steve Jobs, but there are a lot of other people you can learn from.” And that’s why we invest so much in training, because I believe the superstars will take less money if they think they are learning and growing and if they think they are being mentored.
HANKS: We do a three-pronged approach. First of all, all of our employees have stock options, all the way to our receptionist. The second thing is that our guys like to play foosball and go paint balling and all kinds of wild things that normally I wouldn’t participate in. The last thing we do to retain people is we give everybody important jobs; we assign projects to our engineers that maybe are beyond what they are capable of doing. It’s a little bit of a risk but it makes them feel like a million bucks. And if they fail, we let them do the next one and hopefully it is nothing too visible to the outside world.
PROPER: I think there are two basic elements. One is strategy, and we all have our own individual strategies here. And two, it’s execution. They don’t teach execution in schools. We have one of the best organizations here in Utah that teaches execution that’s being adopted in the schools, and you are seeing a grassroots approach. I’m talking about Franklin Covey. Right now, they have Seven Habits for Highly Effective Teens being adopted throughout organizations for high schools and others.
I was back on campus last week at Harvard. They are talking about teaching basic principles around what we would call wildly important goals, lead measures, lag measures. How do you know if you are executing? How do you know what the goals are? How do you know if you have achieved them? These are basic things that individuals need to know coming out of school just along with typing. Things like, why are we here, what are we doing? What are our goals? How do you align them? How do you report them? Those things are not complicated to teach; one semester and you can have a course on it. But we are reteaching those things and if we were to formally add it as curriculum in one way or another at the higher education level, I believe there would be a material difference with the organizations that spin out of Utah. Because we can execute. And we can then start keeping businesses here because we are executing and not just getting gobbled up by another organization that executes better.
Utah has developed a strong record of working effectively through tough industry issues with state initiatives such as the Utah Fund of Funds and USTAR. Given these successes, what one recommendation do you have for the governor and his new global competitiveness team to effectively increase and improve the state’s quality workforce?
J. NELSON: First, I think the governor is doing a great job already. But I think the idea of creating an employment gradient is an important concept we will need in the future. I think a lot of people see Utah as a fun place to recreate. High-tech sports are really big and the state has done a lot to promote that idea, but I’d love to see us become more of a location that people see as a place to come and work, to come to Utah as a destination for employment, not just recreation.
REES ANDERSON: One of the biggest concerns I had at a recent meeting was that 25 percent of Utah high school kids are dropping out. Because of that meeting, I started doing research to figure out what was going on. And one of the things I came across was that in states where high schools teach entrepreneurship, they have over 80 percent increase in their graduates because it gets the kids excited about something beyond just the regular basics. They take all their classes more seriously and become much more passionate about their courses.
When we talked about the training issues here, our youngest kids that we are hiring out of high school, their spelling skills, grammar skills, writing skills, just basic skills are shocking to me. The quality of the education they come out of high school with has gone down. Even the kids that are finishing, it’s going down. I think it’s a huge issue that can’t be overlooked and there are ways to get the kids passionate about it. Entrepreneurship and getting the kids enthused about entrepreneurship, where they come out of it with real life expectations in business, would be a huge improvement.
GOODRICH: I agree the governor is doing a fabulous job. However, there is a messaging problem with Utah. While I have lived on both coasts but spent several decades here, I have never known a polygamist. Instead of Big Love, I think we need to talk about the Big Lure. This is the number one state for entrepreneurs. In addition to Life Elevated, this is Career Elevated. This is a great place for people to further and advance their careers, and I think that’s the messaging that the government has got to lead out with, with the private sector, to the country. This is the place to do business.
STONE: As we went around the room, we talked about how everybody is having problems hiring engineers and finding computer scientists. I chair the advisory board for UVU computer science and technology board and the number one problem is enrollment. I think everyone’s feeling was because of all the layoffs we had in 2000 and 2001, the parents got scared and told their kids, “You might want to watch out for computer science. It’s not as stable as it used to be.”
I think one of the messages back to the governor could be to get more funding at the high school level and get a message out that computer science is in demand.
CLARK: Whenever we invite executives from Dell, from HP, from Intel, from Oracle, they come to Utah and they are always shocked at the caliber of talent that we have in the state. Even with the Symantec executives, once they acquired Altirus, we had them meet with our engineering teams and our marketing teams, and every single time they came back and said, “I had no idea that there were this many talented people. And by the way, they happen to be more trained and better qualified than the people that we have at the parent company.”
There does seem to be a gap with these children. There are bright kids out there but it’s shocking to me that there are more kids that don’t know how to use a computer, that only know how to text. They are not engaging in communities of other young people to talk about what they could be or do. So I feel like it’s really ours to lose. We’ve got this talented base of folks, but then there seems to be this forgotten community of young people who didn’t get the training or the opportunity to be great.
SUNDERLAGE: I think we need to keep the emphasis on the K-16 curriculum and getting these kids to think early about careers in math, engineering and science. I will come back to the formation of the college/high schools that we had where the kids came in, the Gates Foundation gave us a nice grant to get that launched. These kids are self selecting in getting in the schools that have a lot of rigor around math, engineering and science. And 35 percent of those students in those high schools were minority; 50 percent were female, which is an important segment we need to attract. We need to get more entrepreneurial involvement in the classroom.
What are you doing to connect with a younger, tech savvy millennial generation? Where does new media fit in?
RANKIN: We launched something called the Extreme Enterprise. We went to the Wharton School and said, “We are going to give your students our ideas to launch as startups in the final year at Wharton.” And it worked out really well. We have been approached by UCLA, Pepperdine and now some of the Utah schools to copy this program. Students get credit to launch a real business. We said, “Don’t write the business plan; launch the business. It’s cheap to do. And if you fail, fail fast. You learn. And if it works out, we will hire you as the management team when you get out of school.” So there are new media projects that they launch in the final year of school. And it’s rolling out throughout the country now.
J. NELSON: We have a fun program that came out of one of our management development courses; we have an annual film festival right now and employees can make a short video. We give them up to 30 minutes per week during the course of the film festival to spend in building those videos. It’s not Sundance yet, but I think this is how those things get started. And it’s fun to have the company come together culturally and watch these almost always humorous videos that have a theme.
HILL: We’re just starting. I asked my staff yesterday, “What are we doing, guys?” They said we are linked in, we are starting to use some of the social Websites. But I’m thinking my recruiting staff was mostly baby boomers. Now I hired a couple of millennials and they tell me this stuff. It goes with being agile and flexible, and you can’t use some of the old staffing techniques you had maybe five or six years ago. You have to keep up with what is going on.
PROPER: It’s important to look at what resources this generation has. And Open Source is a huge tool that the younger generation is learning. I’m blown away at how much they actually already know coming into it. We are hiring workforce and not having to train anything on tool sets because they have leveraged this technology.
Another suggestion would be to Web base your tools. Make them user friendly like this generation is already used to using. Embrace change and develop your systems around what they can actually use.
What do you see as some of the most significant emerging global trends in technology? What trends do you see locally?
ASHDOWN: The energy sector is the next new boom. That’s what we are seeing globally, and it’s starting to hit in Utah. We are seeing a few projects get started up that way.
CLARK: I think the lines between consumer and industry or enterprise person are blurring. As we become more consumed with iPods and iPhones, it’s affecting our business. The lines between work and nonwork are going away. I’m finding people on my team are working all the time, and that to help them find quality of life is important.
I also think that work is becoming where we are, not so much where the job needs to be. When Symantec purchased Altirus more than a year ago, they offered me the big marketing job in the company, and my concern was that the requirement would be to move to California. And it never even was discussed. So after I got the job, I said, “Just curious: Why didn’t you ask me to move to California?” They said, “Would you have moved?” And I said, “No.” They said, “So why ask?” So I’m noticing that a company the size of Symantec doesn’t care where you live. They care that you love what you do, you want to be at the company and you do a good job.
ERICKSON: I’m really keen on this blur between personal and work life as the new forces are coming in. No longer is it an e-mail waiting for a response. No longer is it a Microsoft Office-oriented work style. It’s instant communication. It’s whatever I need, when I want it, how I want it, and it doesn’t matter where I am. The trend I see will be how to preserve quality lifestyle in that kind of a world. I think what you are going to see in the next blur will be between the technologists and the artists. You need to get those coming together and that needs to happen.
WIDLANSKY: Everybody talked about globalization but as a state, Utah can really capitalize on localization. Utah County is the most linguistically diverse county in the country. Western Europe outsources to us now and we have this great opportunity to be software localization experts and globalization engineers to the rest of the world. And that’s a hugely growing part of our business.
KHANWILKAR: I see more and more in the life sciences, the medical devices, drugs sector, there is globalization of delivery of health care. More and more device development is being done all over the world. Information processing is being done all over the world. Clinical trials are being done all over the world. There’s more globalization.
CUPAL: One trend that is hidden out there is measurement. You based your company on it. Because everything is networked now and all connected, you can measure everything. Videos can be measured and you know who has watched what, when, and you can account for it and report it back. And I think that’s going to increase as time goes on.
As proven technology leaders, what one principle has been most valuable in building your leadership skills and why?
SLOVIK: The one advice I give is be excellent. I try and hire people that I consider borderline compulsive; who will work to make it perfect even if nobody else will notice because it’s important to them. In whatever the job is, I think that’s the one thing that will make you a success.
COLBERT: We have been patient in how we’ve built the organization at Sendside. We are trying to get it right the first time when we come out with our commercialized products. And in the process of being patient, we are building believers in our employees, our management team, customers and investors. Those together have really built a good foundation for future success.
HANKS: It’s urgency. For the people that are going to win in the future, urgency became the issue. We take customer satisfaction surveys across service industries and the real leaders are doing stuff immediately. It’s not like a comment card, wait three weeks and they get back to you. An example: A guy is getting chicken strips in the third inning at Wrigley Field and he’s got our survey on his cell phone or iPhone and he says, “The chicken strips were cold. I’m never going to order from you again.” By the seventh inning, there is the manager delivering him new chicken strips. That never would have happened before. It’s a simple example from a restaurant, but that happens in every industry we deal with. So urgency becomes the key.
We see blending of customer and company. It is a global phenomenon where companies no longer say, “Here’s what I have. You buy it.” Now it’s, “What shall I have?” Across almost every industry, there’s usually just one or two great leaders who take urgency to the next level, particularly in service environments.
CLARK: For me everything is built around integrity. The integrity of our products, of how we treat our customers, of our social responsibility as a company, the integrity of doing what we say we are going to do. It’s the integrity of how we measure ourselves because it seems to be so easy for things to be slippery and not be true. And we have used our culture as an asset for attracting and keeping people. I have very low attrition on my team because they know I will always do what I say I’m going to do; that I will be a human shield for them. And it’s concerning to me that that seems to be more and more rare as I grow up through this industry. And that’s tough, because if my team doesn’t have integrity, then none of this matters for me.
SUNDERLAGE: I think the whole idea of relationships is extremely important. I’ll use UTC [Utah Technology Council] for a couple of examples. At the annual Hall of Fame, we are getting 800 attendees and people are coming to hear the CEOs of Intel, Microsoft and HP, but they are also there to do some networking and exchanges. Gary [Goodrich] has been very engaged with the peer-to-peer forums where people have now begun to open up and exchange ideas. James [Stone] was in our office yesterday and we are trying to do some more work in the country of Turkey and looking to get into China and he has some expertise there that we can utilize. There’s an element of trust. We have a good relationship working together. We are building on it now and I think it was pretty much a handshake to say, “We are going to go forward in the following way.” I think to the extent that we can build these relationships, whether they are peer-to-peer, they are partners or they are customers, relationship building will be key.
As an entrepreneur, what price have you paid to ensure your company’s success?
ASHDOWN: Since the beginning, I took a conservative fiscal approach to running my company. I think that there are a lot of startups that take the reverse approach and say, “We need to get millions of startup [capitol] to get rolling.” I got started on about $27,000, and didn’t pay myself. A lot of sweat equity. So I encourage entrepreneurs to go the cheap, conservative route rather than the lavish, expensive route.
HANKS: I think one of the biggest things in this state that would help us is if we could change the expectation of the kids coming out of college that they will be rich in two years. Part of that is fostered by the venture capitalists in this state and also in Silicon Valley, but the average exit is seven years. It’s a seven year process on average. It’s 10 years if you are most companies.
We walk in and say, “It’s seven years, don’t even think anything but seven years.” And we are not even planning an exit. We are trying to build a business. All of our executive team took no pay for almost two years.
ROBINSON: When I came to TechniScan, one of the requirements was that none of the founders got a salary for a year. Throughout the years that we have been in development, we have asked the employees time and time again to ride along with the management team, whether that meant taking pay cuts or making group decisions about where to spend our resources. So like all of you here, we have had limited resources at some points in our development, and [some] of the key part of survival isn’t to have the two top guys in the room making a decision. It’s to bring all of our key players together and say, “Here is where we are. There’s no good decision here, but here are a couple of alternatives that I think we can come up with.” And I think that allowed us to survive as a company and hang together as a group, as well.
GOODRICH: In our early years we met payroll out of personal funds again and again and again. But for 11 years we never missed a payroll, and now finally our problem is where to put all our money after the organic growth, and not being satisfied with two-and-a-half percent in the money markets. So we are buying stocks of our partners. So never, never give up. But be prepared to mortgage again and again and again.
REES ANDERSON: From an entrepreneurial perspective, I think the biggest hit is your personal life. We all have the “Crackberry.” We are addicted. Maybe it’s an entrepreneurial drive we have but we keep it by our bed. I actually am not convinced that it’s ever been a positive thing. I think we need to teach entrepreneurs that it’s okay to have a home life, because I really believe if you went out at the end of the day and had your family life, too, you are probably going to be successful, if not more successful.
KHANWILKAR: It’s a very lonely job to be an entrepreneur. You can’t become really close to your employees because you may have to fire them later on, or lay them off. And that’s happened. And your personal life, it’s work 24/7/365.
STONE: At the end of the day you have to take a lot of personal risk. You might have to sign on bank loans or SBA loans personally. You might have to rent a building. I just signed on a five-year lease personally. You can’t avoid that stuff.
Since Utah has a rich entrepreneu-rial culture, what advice would you give emerging entrepreneurs in one word or phrase?
GOODRICH: Embrace change.
ROBINSON: Plug in. They should be a part of UTC and part of the community. This is the most accessible community I have ever experienced. When I moved here seven years ago I picked up the phone and called Dinesh Patel and Todd Stevens and said, “What does it take?” And they took my call and they arranged a meeting. You can’t do that in other parts of the world.
WIDLANSKY: Be relentless.
ERICKSON: Place a high value on diversity.
REES ANDERSON: Don’t fear failure.
J. NELSON: Maintain your integrity.
SLOVIK: Don’t take the first offer to exit.
PROPER: Care, serve, love. And I know “love” might be a weird word to say in this setting, but in reality, we are all going to die, every one of us. And the stuff that we are doing here together with these relationships matters. And if you are about the people and the customers, it will all work.
Over the past five years, the industry has worked hard to create the Utah Fund of Funds. What effect has it had on our state in just the past two years of operation? What will the newly passed increase of $200 million do?
ROBINSON: I think it’s brought a lot of credibility and money to Utah and I think that’s fueled entrepreneurial pursuits here. When I came to Utah seven years ago and was trying to raise money, the joke was, “What does it take to be sexy to a Utah VC?” And the answer was, “Be from outside the state of Utah.” Since that time, what’s happened is the amount of money available and the access to capital in Utah has improved tenfold. The number of investments that Utah venture companies are making in Utah companies has gone up exponentially, as well.
WIDLANSKY: It’s a stark contrast. I came to Utah five years ago to start a software company and I funded the company, hired people, put the product into the market and sold the company profitably with a 10x return on our angel investment that I put in myself before I got a terms sheet from a Utah VC.
I don’t think you can look at this in isolation. You have to look at the ecosystem. You have an angel community that has gone from one-to-eleven in the last five years. [There were] three VCs, now [there are] seven in Utah. You have USTAR, and the Centers of Excellence program is in resurgence. So all of this is working to bring together capital, entrepreneurs and ideas. And five years ago that didn’t exist.
STONE: I think it’s important to remember that you can always leverage the brick and mortar banks. If you have a receivable of any sort you can get a receivable line and get SBA funding. And maybe that goes along with your funds from the angel group. But don’t feel like you have to rely completely on VCs or angel groups. There’s the banks.
Give a recent example on how raising capital in the state has impacted your company.
REES ANDERSON: I think the hardest thing is that it takes so much time away from your business. When you have to do fundraising, you are so focused on it, and the entire management team gets into presentations and the road shows. It can really impact your business, especially if you are in a high growth mode. And that’s when you need to raise [capital], but you can’t afford to be away from the business at that time.
What else is needed to complete this funding continuum? Are there funding gaps?
KHANWILKAR: I call it the Valley of Death. We do well at the startups now. We have the Fund of Funds, the Centers of Excellence, and we do have industry assistance for profitable companies that we have had to attract from out of state. But we don’t have much state support for growing companies, or growth capital for growing real companies in Utah after the startup stage. And that’s what we need to do.
GUILLORY: Besides that, you may want to pay attention to the difference between small companies that are privately held and trying to take the nonventure route. I’m curious how many companies in Utah and even here at the table are not venture funded. And that’s important. Things like the Fund of Funds are very important. There’s an emphasis on bringing more venture funding to Utah. But I think a lot of our intellectual energy is invested in some of these privately held groups that are trying to grow organically and bootstrap themselves up.
ASHDOWN: I think more support towards that kind of organic growth is healthier for the economic climate in Utah. All the greatest success stories in Utah started as small companies that were privately held. And I think it’s much more important for the government to focus on the smaller companies than to try and attract some transient corporation into Utah.
KHANWILKAR: There needs to be judicious balance. I can see the reason why they want to attract the stable jobs in other places. But I can also see that the balance is way too much on that side of the equation than growing homegrown companies.
GOODRICH: I do think there is a gap in the capital-raising scheme. Certainly we are getting better in the seed capital stage, and then there’s the total exit. In the middle, most of us have lamented companies being bought out and headquarters moving out of the state of Utah. But capital gets tired in a business after a decade or two. And we might facilitate private equity or other capital coming in to buy out some of the tired shareholders; providing facilitating partnerships so we don’t face a total exit. In other words, don’t sell the whole company, but facilitate a partnership, a 30 percent investor, for example, to help some of the long-time tired shareholders get some liquidity without a total sale. That way we keep more headquarters in Utah.
ROBINSON: I think there’s a trap in venture capital, though, and I think Utah is heading into this trap. And it goes back to 20 years ago when I started working with venture capital when a large venture fund might be $100 million. Now a large venture fund is $50 billion. That fundamental change means that those people can’t afford to put $2 million or $3 million dollars to work anymore. They won’t even look at your company.
So as Utah gets the Fund of Funds and Epic Ventures and vSpring, and all the funds start to grow up and become big funds, we are losing this opportunity to be able to really fund some of those seed stage series A’s. I think there’s a big gap now between the point where you get venture capital or you get seed stage capital from angels or grant funding and then you want to go out and be a real business. Because for us to be a real business on the life science side, we don’t need $50 or $100 million, and we couldn’t support the valuation to do that. So the actual number of companies looking at doing a deal is small. I think Utah runs the risk that as that evolution catches up with our venture funds here, that we are going to run out of money and that Valley of Death is going to get bigger, not smaller.
SUNDERLAGE: Silicon Valley has been described as being in the business of building businesses. And I think we have begun to mature here. The reason Silicon Valley has been successful is they’ve had the entrepreneurs, they’ve had the venture capitalists, they’ve had the attorneys, they’ve had the education community involved. And we are beginning to see that, whether it’s the Fund of Funds, whether it’s USTAR or whether it’s a much more advanced technology commercialization effort coming out of our universities. But whether we end up calling ourselves “Silicon Slopes” or whatever, I think we have matured to the point where we are beginning to be in the business of building businesses.
How have state initiatives affected your outlook on the technology industry in Utah?
HILL: The engineering initiative was huge for us. In the early part of the decade we were having doubts of whether the schools were going to keep it going. A lot of courses were dropped because they didn’t have the teachers and the professors. And I think the engineering schools have done marvelous work with the money they got from the engineering initiative. We are just starting to see the results; they are turning out more engineers. That was a home run that we really think about a lot.
For us, those schools are the lifeblood of the business. I can appreciate the engineer four to five years out, we need that, too. But we need to keep the new grads coming into the workforce.
REES ANDERSON: I think the Fund of Funds has helped to attract outside investors in the private equity stage and the higher level stage to take a look at Utah companies. So it’s about people that offer more liquidity capital for growing businesses, and bringing in outside talent and management without taking the talent out of the state.
SUNDERLAGE: Just a word on USTAR. I think we have demonstrated an ability to attract world class talent here in the research community. Couple that with the discipline that we are establishing around these research teams and the ability to really commercialize this into a product, and ultimately a company with high paying jobs. We have seen people like Brian McPherson come in, bringing in a $66 million grant from the Department of Energy, and the next thing we know there’s another $20 million coming in alongside of that from the private sector.
I listened to one of the research professors speak the other day up at the University of Utah about the attitude that prevails here and the willingness for administration within the University to support his efforts as opposed to what he experienced in other states. I think we have a very healthy thing going with the implementation of USTAR, and I think we will see it executed.
When recruiting out-of-state talent, what is your take on Utah’s image? Is our image helping or hindering your efforts?
GUILLORY: Again, maybe here it is good to distinguish between trying to develop homegrown talent versus drawing in superstar talent from other places. In terms of drawing in the superstars, I would come back to the Big Love comment; that there’s a perception of lack of diversity here, right or wrong, and that’s the hardest thing we find.
We also find we recruit people and bring them out here and they are shocked at what a great place to live this is. They are surprised at the talent, the lifestyle, all of these aspects. And that’s really depressing for us. We shouldn’t have to market that so hard. There’s a lot of great opportunities here in terms of personal and professional development and it all comes down to getting rid of that perception that this is a very homogenous culture.
ERICKSON: We just recently moved a manager from outside of Florida. My biggest fear is that in six months, one year or two years, if they can’t get involved at the community level and the neighborhood level, then they will get disenchanted and want out. I have seen that movie too many times. So I think it goes back to really finding ways to encourage people to promote the diversity.
SLOVIK: I think there’s a significant disconnect when you are trying to recruit those workers who are married with kids versus the young kids out of school. I do a lot of recruiting out of college and you go to the Princetons, Stanfords, Carnegie-Mellons and MITs of the world and they visit here and there’s maybe a couple of bars that are open late at night, there’s only a few restaurants, and they compare that to nightlife in Boston and San Francisco. I think once they are married and have kids it’s a different story, because there is a great quality of life here. But for the young kids, it’s really, really hard.
KHANWILKAR: So we look at who we are trying to attract. And for the married, with kids, the issue I have run into is the quality of public schools. It has stopped me from hiring people and bringing them on board.
CLARK: I have lived here for 20-plus years. I started my career at Novell. And people ask me what I do as I talk to them on flights and I say, “I’m from Utah.” And they say, “Seriously?”
We have a reputation for being backward here. And that’s why when we bring clients in, they are really excited about how their perception, for whatever reason, was backward. We encourage anyone who would like to to move to Utah, but we also encourage them to live in Salt Lake or Park City. Because if they move to Utah County, they can’t get a drink on Sunday. It’s a different culture for someone who needs or is used to culture and to be able to buy an adult beverage; it’s setting them up for failure to put them in a community where I know they will be miserable in a couple of years. I don’t care if they work from home. I’m not going to make that commute a problem for them. If they want to come to the office, great. If they want to work from home on Mondays, Fridays, I don’t care. I’m very flexible in understanding the value of bringing diversity and folks that have alternative lifestyles and don’t necessarily believe in the same political or whatever. But I’m also willing to be flexible so that we can grow this community, because there’s a future.
WIDLANSKY: I came out here on business for the first time about a dozen years ago and as I was getting on the plane to fly back to California, I said, “I could never, ever live here.” Five years later I came out for the Olympics and the state of Utah did something really special for the Olympics. We changed for that three or four week period. We put “play hard” center stage for three or four weeks, and people thought of Utah as a fun place to hang out. That’s where you went to go extreme snow boarding. And I literally went home to Santa Monica and sold my house and bought a house at the mouth of Immigration Canyon and never looked back. But that’s a hard sale for someone who didn’t catch that window for four or five weeks in 2002 when it was on display. We have to put the “play hard” front and center. I don’t know if that means publicity reels that the state shoots show bars open after11:00 p.m., and showing folks taking a break from the slopes having a drink at Deer Valley. I don’t know what it is but you have to put “play hard” at center stage.
SLOVIK: I had a candidate in here two weeks ago driving in from his hotel to interview, and there was a press conference that he heard on the radio where the attorney general was down south assuring a roomful of polygamists that he was not going to prosecute them. He comes in for the interview and he says, “I don’t understand. It was a room full of polygamists and he was going out of his way to assure them that this isn’t Texas, we are not going to prosecute them.” And that’s how the interview started. And it’s really hard to recover from that.
REES ANDERSON: The branding is [off]. In a GOED meeting recently, the head of HP recruiting was there with us and he said, “You know what your problem is? When I hear about Utah I always see this picture,” and he held up the arch on his brochure. “That’s all you ever show is the arch. What about the business community of Utah? You say you are a great place to do business and then put an arch on your brochure.”
We promote the national parks and the skiing, but I think we do a horrible job of painting the picture that this is a good career place, because what I’m trying to recruit is top level executive talent. I think the reason that it’s hard to get those people in is because they are looking for a huge career track, and we don’t promote that we are a great place to have a career.
HANKS: How many [Fortune] 500 companies are in the state? I totally agree with everything Amy just said. We always focus on polygamy and Mormons and bars. It’s not the things we don’t have, it’s that we don’t ever talk about the things that we do have. And we have a phenomenal amount of successful careers. A lot of people come to Utah because there are great companies here. There’s a great work environment here, but we almost never talk about that.
KHANWILKAR: And you need to give people the level of comfort that if this job fails, there’s something else they can do.
HANKS: How about, “Utah, Place of the Entrepreneurs. If this job that you’re risking your life on fails, there will be another one.”