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David Russell CEO of MANAGE TO WIN interviewed Chris Chao, President of Centerpoint IT.  Chris shared some great information about Centerpoint IT and what makes us different.

Finance to Tech

“My two partners and I are financial experts.  This is unusual for an IT company as most are run by tech people.  Coming from this background gives Centerpoint clients a great benefit.  We look at each of our clients and what they need to grow their business in terms of technology, as opposed to just selling new technologies.

We keep an eye on the financial implications and ROI for a client’s use of technology.  We get to know what a client’s corporate-level people are working towards and provide them an IT Roadmap to help them achieve their business objectives.

We work with them to see where they are and where they need to be in 12, 24 or 36 months’ time.  And we approach their requirements from a C-Level Suite point of view.”

A True Partnership = Good Communication

“Communication is the key to working in a partnership.  No blame games are allowed.  We simply focus on issues and objectives.

I work at a CO business level, our Operations Manager is our former CPA, and our partner Wayne is in charge of Sales & Marketing.

We also rely on Stuart Crawford at Ulistic for marketing and communications expertise and assistance as we grow.  I started using Ulistic when I was a technology agent providing VoIP services.  From there, I started an MSP that also provided VoIP services.   Stuart helped us get going with marketing and communications, and still, does today.”

Centerpoint’s Culture

“When hiring we look at not only the skills people possess but their personal skills to ensure they fit into our culture. We look for motivated, driven people who take responsibility and initiative.  Centerpoint has a team of great employees with a broad array of experience and knowledge.  We have a “fun” culture and we look for people who want to celebrate success. People are always drawn to something that’s fun, fulfilling and meaningful.

To measure success, we looked at our employees who were the best, developed a benchmark based on their achievements, and test and measure our people using KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on a daily basis.  This way, we know if we’re constantly working towards achieving our goals.  If there are areas individual employees need to work on, we have a plan for this.  We try to stretch our employees’ capabilities.  This helps them, and us.”

Centerpoint IT is a Fun Place to Work

“We like to take our folk’s next door to a shooting range that trains FBI agents and others.  We provide memberships for our employees, set up events, lunch outings, simulations and more.  This adds some fun to the work environment.”

I like to go boating. (I also wake surf and compete.)  I invite our clients and employees to join us on my boat, and to try out wake surfing.  It’s a great way to talk to my clients about mobility and “Mobility First.”  It’s always fun and a great bonding experience.  Plus, it’s a way to get know folks on a different level.

We also invite prospective employees to join us at events.  It’s a good way to view their “soft skills” and learn about them outside of a business setting.  Many IT managers we look to hire have been overworked and need a break to get away for a while doing something fun.”

Employees who didn’t work out.

“We had a level-3 engineer with a brilliant mind.  He needed some coaching and we got him from a level-3 to a 6.  But, it seemed like we were forcing him to do this.  His skill set was best suited to a data center, so we gave him the time (about 3 months) to find a better fit for him. We try to treat people fairly and with respect, and we’ll always be honest with them.”

Client Base

“We turn away about 1/2 of our leads.  Either they don’t work in verticals that we’re familiar with, or they just wouldn’t fit in our culture.  We seek out like-minded folks.

When we were a small company, we took on any business we could. We now know we can’t be all things for all people. You have to know who you are, and what you’re looking for.  This goes for clients as well.  If we have an abusive client, for whatever reason, we always reconsider if this is a good fit for us, or for them.

During the economic crash in 2008, it was all about recurring revenue.  We were trying to be something we weren’t—working for enterprises rather than SMBs.  We realized that we made a mistake and took on more than we could handle. So, we went back to serving the SMB customer.

We really try to understand what’s going on with a prospective client. This is a switch from a cost-basis point of view to one where we focus on helping our clients realize the best investments for them.  When we understand what their key issues are, it’s much easier for them to succeed through IT, and for us to succeed as their IT Partner.

During the economic crash, we helped companies move from using an expensive in-house IT staff, to an outsourced MSP model using our services.  This saved them money in the end, and provided a fully managed option with technical and business experts who always kept an eye on their goals.”

Leadership

“I’ve always regretted delaying decision that I knew was the right thing to do—Even if it costs us.  As financial folks, we use dashboards and spreadsheets to track our progress.  This goes for our total KPI and as well as for individual KPIs.

We do weekly via department meetings. We break each department into pods with leaders, which allows us to scale appropriately and create a structure for management.

We want all of our employees to think like a manager, so they can innovate. We try to have people from various disciplines in each pod (with about 5 or 6 people to a pod).  We watch to see who rises to a leadership role and appoint these individuals to be pod leaders—it’s not based on any particular skill or employment longevity. Pod leaders spend about 8 hours a week managing the team.

We developed a feedback loop and put it up on the wall in a visual so we can see how individual decisions impact other people or the end result.  We try to get every employee to think systemically. We have a form for this, which is much like a “fire drill.”  Folks take responsibility, look at the issue, try to solve it, and if they can’t they bring it to us for help.”

On Closing

“My advice for those MSPs pushing through to the next level? —Touch your people—Bring them along for the ride and show them how they can make a difference.  Let them add their “DNA” to the mix.  Make your employees your partners. Show them that you trust them.  This will help them grow, and free you up to apply your strengths to growing your MSP business.”

Christopher Chao
President at Centerpoint IT
www.centerpoint.com

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