Artie Chang is president and CEO of PanTerra Networks, a provider of secure unified cloud services for mid-market enterprises. He gave a fantastic presentation titled “Business Analytics: Changing Employee Performance and Business Interactions” at ITEXPO earlier this year, so I thought Chang would be an interesting person to speak with about company culture.
Chang is a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years executive experience with SaaS, semiconductor, telecommunications, and storage startup companies. He has also served as CEO of Cradle Technologies as well as for SoloPoint Communications. And he started his career at Bell Laboratories in Naperville, Ill.
Here’s an excerpt of the interview.
How would you describe the company culture at PanTerra Networks?
Chang: We are an incredibly passionate, energetic, but balanced culture that encourages every person to be an entrepreneur and think out of the box. Making mistakes is not discouraged, but making the same mistake twice is.
How do your employees figure in to that culture?
Chang: Since we are still small (under 150 employees), virtually every employee fits into this culture. It is contagious for those who thrive in it.
Does the increasingly distributed workforce make it a challenge to build a strong company culture?
Chang: Since we are a cloud communications company and a distributed workforce, we are able to maintain a pervasive culture across all locations – even internationally since we use videoconferencing extensively. That can convey culture and nuances much better than just a voice call.
What does your company do to build employee morale?
Chang: We love to single out people who go above and beyond their function or show a true entrepreneurial flair! We have regular get-togethers, we use a lot of videoconferencing, and we communicate in real time regularly. We don’t discourage mistakes or failures; we actually almost embrace it because it shows that people are trying instead of just shrinking from a challenge. And we listen and take action very quickly. That builds trust, loyalty, and morale. If an employee makes a suggestion (and can defend it), and we agree it is a good one, we will drive to implement it immediately. People love it when they can see they have that kind of corporate impact.
How difficult is it to find, hire, and keep great people in tech?
Chang: It is incredibly hard to do it while balancing budgets. Certainly, if you have infinite cash, you can hire almost anyone. But when balancing cash restrictions, hiring can be a challenge. Keeping great people is all about corporate/personal achievements. If the company is doing well, great people stick. Also, massive listening skills are important for all levels of management. When people feel they are being listened to, they stick!
What does it take to get and retain the best employees in an industry in which companies like Google have such strong brands, enormous financial resources, and a culture of fun?
Chang: You have to show them things that they can’t get from a big company that matter to them – for example, listening and immediately implementing their ideas and suggestions is big. So is letting people expand their responsibilities or accelerate their desired career path, or providing broader technological challenges or alternative career paths. Throw out the book often, and let the employees see how much corporate impact they can and do have. Most employees can’t get that at a Google.