CEO of the Year, Small For-Profit

Home Run Leadership

By
From the December 2013 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Photo by Ryan M.L. Young

Tom Harris honed his leadership skills on the baseball field. The principals that served him well as a Buckeye shortstop and team co-captain have transferred well to HMB, the company he cofounded and leads as CEO.

Harris and his two partners built HMB from a three-man team to a prominent IT services company that works with a roster of major players, including Columbus Gas and the State of Ohio. His leadership style has earned Harris recognition from his business peers.

Our competitive advantage has got to be our people. Our people, that’s our product. It’s where we have to emphasize our mentoring program, our training programs and really preparing our people to be the best that they can be….That’s a key emphasis for us.

HMB started with two of us and quickly became three of us. John Mackessy, Pat Brennan and (I) started the company back in ’94. We quickly grew to ten, to 20, and I think by 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent a year. We got to a mass of about 35-45 people by about 2000. We kind of added five to ten percent a year and we got to about 50 by probably around 2008.

The first 13, 14 years, it was steady, slow growth, real conservative. There were some peaks and valleys there to the economy. We didn’t really feel much of that, I think, because of our conservative growth.

It’s a very exciting time here. I’ll give you a little background. Those first 13, 14 years, we were a very flat organization. We were all kind of working in the trenches. Myself, my partners, we were all working on billable assignments.

When you do that, it’s difficult to grow—you’re working in the business not on the business. And that’s something we really changed in 2008. That was when we kind of had an awakening of, we’ll call it, business maturity.

That’s when we kind of reinvented ourselves and we tried to create a more scalable model. We went to a lot more c-level type roles. We have presidents. We’ve got directors. … We created more levels in the organization, but we created more leaders in the organization.

We’ve broken it up into different pieces of business, put people in charge of those and created practices within our company: Microsoft practice, project management practice, business intelligence practice and put people in charge of those to grow those. So we’ve got all these mini companies within our company.

It was eye-opening for us, because we just saw people get excited. People see career paths. It was a home run because it really put us in a position of now we can scale. … It’s not just based on three or four of us.

It’s really created an environment where you can see people thriving. You can see that if somebody leaves, we can replace that role and move on, and HMB can live forever. It’s a model that can last the test of time. That’s where we’re at. That’s one of the things that has really fueled our growth and success over the last three to four years.

In baseball, I always felt I led by example; in business it’s no different. Leading by example, doing the job that everyone else is doing, being together as one in the same boat with a common goal is critical to inspiring people, to leading, to showing, ‘Hey, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and I’m getting in there with you.’ That’s a big part of our culture.

We really want to transform HMB from kind of a small company to a midsize company and scalable. That’s our short-term goal that we’ve started three years ago. We’re about 75 percent there.

In the long run, really I think it’s to sustain HMB from what we had at the beginning and what we’ve always felt was important. And that is, work hard, work smart and you’ll be rewarded.

Everybody here has a mentor. There’s a handful of people, maybe 25 percent of our company, are mentees. The two premises of the mentoring program are provide guidance to people … the other premise is really for building our product, improving our product. We are our product.

People get connected to the company, feel connected. We have 145 people, only like 20 of them are here. The other 120 are out at clients sites … so they need some connection to the company so they can understand what we’re all about.

One of the things at HMB that we’ve always prided ourselves on is to try and do your work in a 40 hour workweek. Work hard—you can accomplish a lot in 40 hours. In IT, sometimes, yeah, there’s weekends and … sometimes you have to work a little bit extra, but generally, work smart. Work smart.