Business: Maker of retirement plan processing software
Locations: Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; and Boston
Site rationale: Pursuit of talent

When Dharmesh Shah cofounded Pyramid Digital Solutions Inc. (#121 on the 2000 Inc. 500), in 1994, he had every intention of building his company entirely in Birmingham, Ala., where he had worked for U.S. Steel Group and SunGard Employee Benefit Systems. The third employee he hired, a highly prized programmer, happened to live in Chicago. The programmer commuted between the cities for a while but started to dread the weekly trip when he was about to become a father. To keep him, Shah opened an office in Chicago.

The new office also had the advantage of widening the market for talent. "There's not a lot of technology talent in Birmingham," Shah concedes. In 1998 he further expanded Pyramid, which builds software that allows customers to access their retirement plans and update or retrieve information. He acquired a 12-person retirement consulting firm in Boston and decided to let the company remain there. Last year Shah moved to Boston himself. "I had an affinity for the Boston area," he says.

Now he employs 21 people in Birmingham, 27 in Boston, and 9 in Chicago, and he's opening a satellite office in New York City, with 2 employees. Shah says he remains committed to the follow-the-talent policy that has worked well for him so far. "Since we've already made the logistical leap to four places," he says, "we'll probably expand more."

A downside to the policy, Shaw admits, is the lack of "a small-company atmosphere." Employees don't really know their colleagues in different locations. On the upside, Shaw says, is the possibility for each office to maintain its own identity. Most of the programmers, for example, are based in Birmingham, where employees keep odd hours and sometimes wear slippers to work. The Boston office is mostly the province of consultants, who typically wear suits -- and shoes.

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