Inc. 500 Interview: Kineticom
Kineticom staffs technology workers for telecom companies worldwide. When the telecom sector melted down, CEO Simon Billsberry decided to specialize in personnel for projects companies couldn't postpone, like adding locators to cell phone signals and building out networks that can send digital photos and videos. The company was #33 on the Inc. 500 in 2005. They're currently on a worldwide talent search to find tech personnel for what they anticipate will be a boom when the U.S. market embraces "Generation 3" (G3) cell phone technology.
Inc. Technology: Where do you search for tech talent?
Simon Billsberry: I'm flying down to Australia to look for a talent pool to tap into. The 3rd generation spectrum licenses are now being bid on in the U.S. and all the companies are bidding for the new services. All the mobile networks are about to be upgraded, so we're gathering together a talent pool of people who've worked on G3 phones in countries like the U.K. and Australia. We're anticipating the talent shortage and we've figured out the immigration issues ahead of time. We like to take a proactive response to filling talent spots.
Inc. Technology: Is it sometimes hard to find tech workers? How do you maintain retention?
Billsberry: In our market, when there's a surplus of talent, it's not a good environment. It's when there's a talent shortage that it's good for us. Tech companies become open to the idea "we need a talent partner." Because of U.S. telecoms catching up with third-generation (G3) technology that's been available in Europe and parts of Asia for a while, we're going to these countries to look for talent in anticipation of what kinds of workers our clients are going to need to smooth the transition. The only way to address a talent shortage is to train workers or to bring new people in. In the past month I've spent 50 hours on planes, going to places that have already had successful G3 technology, to find different pockets of talent. We do a final assessment of talent, and then invest in getting them visas, handling their living situation, whatever it takes to make them happy with the transfer. Right now we have master contacts for Cingular, T-Mobile, Lucent, etc. and we're anticipating their needs before they communicate their needs. We're trying to be proactive and we understand the global talent playing field.
Inc Technology: How does that appeal to your clients?
Billsberry: We have two clients; the talent and the customers. We have an agent who is assigned to them, and like an entertainment industry talent agent, their job is to take care of them. One of our customers said to me "A happy contract employee is a productive employee" and as corny as that sounds, the reason we're successful at it is because we make people happy. When you leave a company, or a home base, you leave behind the camaraderie you had and we try to replace that with our care and attention to our clients. And when our clients are happy, it's because somebody is working hard to make them feel that way.
Inc. Technology: The telecom and technology sectors are known for boom-and-bust cycles. How did you manage staff through the meltdown in the telecom industry in 2000?
Billsberry: First, it's about "getting real" real quickly - to accept that it's happening, instead of going through a denial period. The ultimate key to our weathering that crisis was that we took a long-term view. Rather than disband the team, the senior managers got together and cut our salaries in half - if we're going to be successful in the long run, we have to be able to manage our way through a crisis, through a recession. We very much focused on what we wanted to look like coming out of the recession. We even had plans going as far as moving the office to someone's house, working part time, taking a sabbatical. We planned for how bad it could really, really get. And we were prepared for it because we focused on what our company would look like coming out of it. It's important to remember that a recession has a beginning, middle and an end - the world is not spiraling downward. And those sacrifices made from management showed our fellow employees we were doing it for the right reason - we never expected the level of loyalty we got when we came out of it.