There was a lot going on in the early days of Ron Daugherty’s company.
He was trying to get Daugherty Business Solutions off the ground, and his wife was giving birth to their first child in a hospital bed across the street from Daugherty’s shared office space.
After being there for the birth of his daughter, Daugherty retreated to his office to finish a huge presentation he needed to make after securing a contract with Citibank, the first big deal for the fledgling management consulting firm.
At 3:30 a.m., he finally laid down on the floor of his office, dressed in his suit and tie, unable to sleep just hours before the meeting. As he agonized over the presentation – “It was a big deliverable … It was make-or-break,” he said – something occurred to him.
“I remember laying there thinking, ‘this is kind of hard,’” Daugherty said. “’And here’s what’s going to happen: Years from now people are going to look at me and say, ‘You’ve been really lucky,’ because I’m going to build a large, important company. They’re going to say, ‘You’ve been really lucky,’ and I’m going to tell them, ‘You’re exactly right.’”
And so was he. From that first big contract, Daugherty his built his company into an international firm with more than 2,000 “teammates,” as he calls the employees, and offices in 30 states along with locations in Panama, Costa Rica and, most recently, in Poland.
“We started the company 38 years ago with no outside investors, and here we are,” Daugherty said,
Daugherty sat down to talk about a variety of business issues during the most recent episode of “CEO Thought Leadership Series on LinkedIn Live” (CEO Talk with Ron Daugherty Final (vimeo.com)), the discussion series hosted by the National Association of Business Resources.
Produced in conjunction with the Best and Brightest Companies to Work For and Corp! Magazine, the series is hosted by NABR CEO Jennifer Kluge and features business leaders from around the country.
Jennifer Kluge: You realize there’s not much diversity in your industry. You’ve gone out of your way to committing to building diversity in the IT space. Why did you tackle that?
Ron Daugherty: A few years ago, I was talking with a number of CIOs about the need for technologists, and it turned out it was easy to identify thousands of job openings that could be filled at the entry level.
It just occurred to me looking around at the world and some of the things that mattered most, that here was an opportunity. If we’re going to have to fill thousands of positions basically by training people to do that work, why not include the diversity component? Why not map diversity into that same equation?
We formed a program called Access Point, which comes from the concept that while talent is equally distributed, access to opportunity is not.
We’ve had over 200 students through the program. We take high school students, jointly enroll them in college during their senior year in high school, we develop training courses that align very specifically with the jobs in the corporations we’re working with, and we established an agreement with a number of major corporations that if we can bring them students who’ve learned this material, they will give them jobs.
Our students finish less than a year out of high school they have 16 hours of college credit and they have a guaranteed paid apprenticeship that transitions to a job making $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
That’s one of the initiatives we’ve established to create more diversity, primarily focusing on African Americans and females in the technology industry. Technology is related to everything these days, and we need perspective points of view from lots of different kinds of people. Diversity helps all of us.
Kluge: You’ve got to start in high school. Candidates are out there, interest is out there, you just have to get them young.
Daugherty: That’s such an important part. It’s very much in line with what we’ve learned. Most of the students we’re bringing through the program would not be able to achieve a four-year degree in the traditional manner.
If we don’t catch them in high school, they’re lost to us. It’s almost impossible to get them back. They have to make some hard life choices. But if we can help them get to a point where they have a good income, a supportive employer, tuition reimbursement and already have their first semester of college done, they can get as much education as they want.
Kluge: Culture and values are very important. Some of the values (of) your company include integrity, collaboration, innovation and community. Give us a feel for what your role is in driving culture.
Daugherty: Some years ago I declared this company to be my life’s work. If something is your life’s work, you just need to be proud of it. Making money is fine, but it’s not enough. There’s a concept of success vs. significance that I find important. We can be successful, we need to be successful, we need to help our clients, but it’s not enough. You’re significant when you use that success to make a difference. That’s a message that’s continuously reinforced here.
I do my best to lead by example. I’m on a number of boards, we contribute to a large number of very worthy causes. We’re the presenting sponsor for an Advocates Professional Golf Association golf tournament, the division of the PGA that helps African Americans enter the world of golf. We bring our Access Point students to golf clinics with the young African American professional golfers, who talk to them about a lot more than golf. There’s this wonderful thing that happens, the “If I can see it I can be it” thing. They start to see they can do anything.
Kluge: Measuring significance is not easy.
Daugherty: I tend to measure it in terms of how many people are we helping? How do you measure positive difference? A lot of our energy is around education and jobs. How many individuals did we help prepare to get jobs? Did we help actually get jobs?
One of the big things I see in being out there working with very worthy causes … everybody’s heart is in it, everyone is well-intentioned but not everybody is really making that much of an impact. It’s easy to get caught up in talking about doing good, but not really doing good in a way that’s tangible.
Kluge: You mentioned all the innovation your company does. How do you inspire innovation in a company?
Daugherty: The first, and maybe one of the most important, things we do is hire smart people. I’ve found that smart people like to learn. Our business is positioned on the forefront of technology. Our smart people want to keep learning – what’s next, what’s newest, what’s the most innovative?
Another thing that’s helped us – it wasn’t this way on Day 1, but it’s definitely the case today – I have 75 Fortune 500 companies that I work with every day. We pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in those companies.
And then here comes the really important key: Collaboration. We put a lot of mechanisms in place to allow our people to compare notes. We can collaborate and we can learn from our customers.
Kluge: One of the things the data is telling us is that CEOs think they’re communicating effectively … and when we survey the employees they’re saying they’re not doing a great job in communicating. How do you make sure that culture, vision and values are communicated in an effective way?
Daugherty: I started this at the beginning of the pandemic, and then I realized it’s something I should have always been doing. I send a message to all 2,500 of my teammates every Sunday night, telling them what I think is important, what I’m working on, how much I appreciate them. I reinforce values, I share quotes I think are meaningful.
I also do some internal podcasts. I started to travel more. Video calls are great, but you have to get out there and be with people. It’s not just them hearing from me; it’s me feeling connected to them.
Kluge: Is your company on a hybrid schedule or in-person?
Daugherty: Hybrid, for sure. We make sure we have office space available, we make sure it’s easy for our teammates to get together in person when it’s helpful, but we don’t force anyone to come into the office.
We’ve left a lot of flexibility in the equation. We’ll continue to evolve with that as the pandemic continues to fade. A hybrid approach works really well for us.
Kluge: If you had a crystal ball, what do the next six months look like? What leading indicators are you seeing out there?
Daugherty: Artificial intelligence is going to continue to boom. It’s a combination of a number of things. Computing power continues to increase; we can do things that we weren’t able to do years ago. Advanced analytics is a subcomponent … that’s going to continue to boom.
Continuing to digitally engage with our customers, and to do it effectively, to improve the (customer) experience. Those are trends that are going to continue. We’re in an interesting economic climate right now. Things are really pretty good, but there’s a certain amount of uncertainty in the air and it’s causing some decisions to be delayed, or handled in a conservative manner. We just have to be out there connecting with our customers and staying in touch with our teammates. That’s another part of the next six months. I believe things are going to stabilize, confidence will continue to build, and momentum will continue to increase in technology. The future looks good.