ORBIE Leadership Award recipient: Hire the right people and empower them to do it their way
by The Business Journals Content Studio
Long before ping-pong tables and beer taps in every tech startup office, long before hoodies and work-from-home Fridays, long before the Great Resignation, Jim Kavanaugh was thinking about culture.
More than 20 years ago, the co-founder and CEO of World Wide Technology was focused on how to motivate and engage his employees so they did their best work, driving fantastic business results. The recipe he and his colleagues devised has two simple ingredients: Hire the right people and train them well, including how to behave within the company.
"When we were smaller, everybody understood the values, the behaviors, the kind of people we wanted to have in the business," Kavanaugh said. That was eons ago in terms of the company's evolution. World Wide Technology, which was founded as a reseller of technology components in 1990, is now a $14.5 billion global information technology services company with 8,000 employees. It has more than 40 facilities that span its St. Louis headquarters, as well as locations in Anchorage, Alaska; Amsterdam; Singapore; and Mumbai, India. Forbes ranked World Wide Technology the 20th-largest private company in the U.S. in 2022.
With that kind of reach, creating and maintaining company culture requires a little more structure. "So I took some time, probably six months, to write down what our values were," Kavanaugh said. He discussed them in detail with the executive management team and then began implementing them with the creation of World Wide Technology's Integrated Management and Leadership Curriculum.
The system starts with leaders and cascades all the way down through the organization, including the hiring process. Kavanaugh is looking for people who are ambitious, creative, innovative, caring and team oriented.
"At the end of the day, your culture is really based on the way your employees act, behave, interact, the way they treat each other, the way they care for each other — or not," Kavanaugh said. The best possible end result for him is "a highly ambitious organization that is always pushing for growth and innovation. But one that's also a very caring organization when it comes to the health and well-being of our employees."
The recipe is working. World Wide Technology has been named one of the top workplaces in the U.S. for 11 consecutive years by Fortune. Kavanaugh was the recipient of best CEO awards from Glassdoor in 2017, 2020 and 2021. And he is being honored with the Leadership Award in this year's St. Louis CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards.
What is the culture at World Wide Technology like? It's one of thoughtful design, Kavanaugh said, where managers listen carefully for team preferences and adjust accordingly.