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January 2012
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By Barbara Fagan

     At a time when companies are closing offices and growth for many is stagnant, companies with plans for expansion are big news.

     “We just opened in Dallas this past October,” says ettain group CEO Jeff Harris, “and we plan to expand into other regions. We’re looking at Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago as future key markets. We expect we’ll open a Manhattan office in the next 18 months.”

     ettain group, inc., headquartered in Charlotte’s SouthEnd, seems to have found the Holy Grail of growth in an information technology staffing and business solution company. ettain group has had an average annual growth rate over the past three years of 65 percent and expects to exceed $100 million in revenue in 2012.

     Both IT and staffing industries have shown resilience through the latest economic downturn; the combination has proven highly successful for ettain group.

     “Right now, unemployment in IT is around five percent, lower than four percent with certain IT skill sets,” says ettain group partner Jon Olin, “and IT jobs are expected to grow at almost double the rate of other jobs.

     “Staffing flexibility is also important to companies in today’s economy. The growth rate of IT jobs plus the flexibility of temporary staffing makes our services particularly valuable to companies.”

     While recruiting and staffing through contract, contract-to-permanent and permanent placement are a major segment of ettain group’s business, the company also offers technology and business consulting, including process, program and project management. They offer experienced project managers, business analysts and software developers and testers to assist clients in developing, managing and executing projects.

     “We’ve provided support to startups,” Olin says, “and can assist businesses of various sizes. Right now the majority of our clients are Fortune 500 companies, but we also focus and service small and medium businesses as well.

     “What makes this business so exciting is that it’s always changing, there’s always something new out there. The latest trend might be mobile applications or cloud computing, but there will be even newer technologies soon and we can help our clients with them.”

 

ettain Attains

     Harris and CFO Brian Deblitz, who attended Wake Forest University together, began ettain group as TechSolutions in 1996 from the living room of a house they rented in Myers Park. Olin was brought on as a partner shortly after, and Rob Eubank became the fourth partner in 1998. [Eubank, who served as president, passed away in February of 2011 at the young age of 41 after a courageous battle with colon cancer.]

     During the dot-com craze, the four started another company they named ettain. Its aim was website and custom application development. The two companies merged in 2002 to become ettain group.

     ettain group now has offices in Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, Jacksonville, Nashville, Raleigh, Washington, D.C. and Winston Salem and has experienced consultants in 19 states.

     “We’ve grown every year we’ve been in business,” says Olin. “We started by focusing on a couple of verticals—health care and financial services. Healthcare IT is a hot button right now because of the government’s electronic medical records requirements, and financial services IT is very big in several of our markets.”

     “We’ll remain focused on health care and the financial sector,” adds Harris. “There’s still tremendous growth in both but we will continue to grow other industry verticals as well. Exciting things are happening in energy and consumer retail. Our goal is to open one or two new offices each year.”

     In choosing where to open offices, ettain group uses both standard and unconventional reasoning.

     “Of course we will open an office for a large client who needs support,” Olin explains, “but we’ve also opened offices because a valued employee desires to move to another city. The current head of our Nashville office was working in our Atlanta office. His wife is a country music writer, so they decided that they needed to move to Nashville for her career. We opened up in Nashville and now the office is our most successful next to Charlotte. We opened our Winston-Salem office under the same premise.”

 

It’s a Process

     “We had worked with several national recruitment firms when we decided to give ettain group a try,” says a management resource who supports recruiting for financial services companies. “It was Charlotte-based and had a boutique-type feel that was unique. The pairing has been extremely successful. We started with less than 10 resources and now use 104 ettain contractors.

     “We found ettain had a consultative approach. They concentrate on making the right connections. The contractors they hire are customer-focused and receptive to feedback. ettain even restructured their account team to better support client needs. We’ve successfully used ettain in Dallas, Jacksonville and New York as well.”

     “A lot of staffing companies talk about the quality of their contractors but the difference is we can prove it. We have an actual process,” explains Harris. “Our product is not just our people. Our product is our process.”

     The process, the RAPID Pipeline Matching (RPM) program, involves technical screening, personal interviews and reference checks. Candidates who successfully complete the process are then eligible to be matched to the individual needs of ettain group’s clients.

      “RAPID makes us unique to other staffing companies,” Harris says. “It’s a highly disciplined process that identifies great people.”

     The RAPID Program’s objectives are threefold: to provide clients with high quality resources with the right skills, knowledge and fit for their needs; to improve contractor retention; and to improve cost effectiveness for the client.

     “There’s a lot of competition at the level of clients we service,” notes Deblitz. “What stands out is the quality of our service. Our corporate culture is built around quality.”

     Ensuring quality is the aim of eQM (ettain Quality Management). eQM is a contractor performance management tool that works in tandem with the RAPID program and systematically evaluates contractor performance in four key areas: skills and knowledge, productivity, professionalism and cultural fit.

     “We measure our success by customer feedback,” Deblitz says.

 

Quality Input/Output

     “One of our largest clients in Nashville is a large healthcare organization,” Harris says. “We’ve worked with them for 18 months and have 85 contractors there now. In 2010, the company recognized us as their No. 1 supplier in terms of the quality of people we provide, the quality of our back office, and the way we take care of our contractors.”

     One manager of human capital at a large healthcare client, responsible for a work force of 1,500, says, “Ettain makes us a priority. We own and operate approximately 130 hospitals, clinics and doctors’ practices. We use ettain group contractors not only to assist us in complying with ‘Meaningful Use’ (the federal electronic medical record mandate) but also to integrate IT systems when we purchase a new company. ettain group will deploy contractors to wherever we need them. I consider ettain group an extension of our team.”

     “We were chosen as their No. 1 vendor because not only did we provide good talent,” Deblitz comments, “but also good retention. We came in and did every little piece, top to bottom, A to Z, better than everyone else because that’s what we focus on as an organization.”

     ettain group was also recently distinguished nationally when it was named to Inavero’s 2011 Best of Staffing Talent List. Less than one percent of North American staffing firms have been named to the list, which recognizes staffing and recruiting companies who provide exceptional service to their staffing talent.

     “We were very happy about the award,” says Harris. “Contractor satisfaction is something we strive for and the great feedback shows that we’re achieving that goal. What surprised and pleased us the most, though, was the level of response we received. Typically, 20 to 30 percent is a good response level but over 90 percent of our employees completed the survey. We were excited that our people wanted to talk about us.”

     Justin Hrazco agrees. “It’s a great company.” Hrazco currently works as a network administrator for ettain group but started as a contractor for them.

     “I had a very different idea of what it would be like to be a contractor before I started with ettain,” he says. “I thought that contractors were just dollar signs for staffing companies but that just isn’t the case with ettain. The screening was extensive but it’s a great work environment. The human resource people are especially helpful.”

 

Platform for Development

     ettain group speaks often of their corporate culture and how it’s reflected in every aspect of what they do. Choosing the elements that make up this culture was a deliberate effort.

     “About two to three years into the business,” Harris recalls, “we sat down with our management team and decided that in order to scale this business, we had to have a platform of expectations and a behavior culture that everyone understands.

     “We went through a white boarding process of all the words that described the company we are and what we want to be. From that we came up with the behavioral platform of APART—attitude, performance, accountability, respect and teamwork.”

     Olin adds, “In our corporate culture we value our employees and promote from within. Most everyone starts as recruiters and we have an extensive eight-week training program, starting out in Charlotte headquarters for the first week and then continuing in their individual offices. New employees are required to pass a certification each week of their training. All of this helps ensure we have the best employees.

     “We’ve developed a career path for recruiters and, if someone wants to work in sales, we’ve developed a career path for them too.”

     “We have a commitment to developing people, building career paths and setting expectations,” says Harris. “Our employees get to be leaders at every level. If we decided tomorrow that we were going to sell peanuts, we could use the same staff and they’d be a success in selling peanuts.”

     Deblitz has a simple way of defining core company ideals. “Our philosophy is that we have three customers: our clients, our contractors and our staff. If you’re not doing something to service one of those three customers at any given time, then you’re not doing your job.

     “Many organizations have a customer service department. For us that department is company wide. No matter who you are or what you do for our organization, customer service is part of your job responsibility.”

     “Our challenge in the next few years,” Harris says, “will be maintaining that corporate culture while we grow into a much larger organization. Our focus will remain on hiring great internal talent and providing the highest quality service possible for our growing client base.

     “This will create a lot of internal opportunities for our employees. We’ll need to promote and create regional manager and senior leadership positions in sales and recruiting. Our middle management level is fairly flat. That will have to expand. Leadership development will be a priority in the next three to five years.”

     “But at the end of the day,” adds Deblitz, “our focus will still be delivering top talent, no matter the service offering, the company size or the market. Our goal is providing our clients with top IT talent.”

Barbara Fagan is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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