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February 2005
A New Era of Consulting Services
By Ellison Clary

Just as it appears, the name NouvEON stands for a company that purposely mixes disciplines. “We are a hybrid,” President and Chief Executive T.J. Eberle readily admits of his fairly young Charlotte firm, NouvEON Technology Partners, Inc.

“We offer a combination of both traditional management consulting and technology consulting,” Eberle says. “We also provide staff augmentation services. That’s usually the dividing line. You’re either a staffing firm or a consulting firm.”

Certainly, there are staffing companies that call their contractors consultants and there are consultants that try to offer employment services, but it usually doesn’t work, Eberle says. Then he explains why NouvEON does work.

NouvEON offers three broad services, or what Eberle calls “solutions.” They are strategic management solutions, e-solutions and contract and placement solutions.

Strategic management brings oversight for multiple initiatives that occur simultaneously, helps with fashioning business processes and identifies outsourcing needs.

E-solutions offers experts to help with technology upgrades. It includes application development and also systems integration and design, such as Web and brand integration.

Contract and placement provides targeted staffing on a variety of employment plans, from contract workers to permanent placement.

NouvEON makes any combination of these services available through its unique approach known as “Resource Optimization.” According to Eberle, this process blends the firm’s internal resources with those that it can provide with contract workers. That means NouvEON never tailors a solution to fit its own employee configuration; rather it assembles resources appropriate to its clients’ needs.

So what about that name? The “Nouv” preface is short for the French “nouveau” or new. When in print, the company tints it green. EON, printed in black, is an era or a generations, signifying a new era in consulting services. EON is capitalized because it also stands for “employee-owned network.” The goal is that each employee will own a portion of the company and the management team is working on a plan to accomplish that.

Currently, Eberle is the majority owner. Jeff Hobensack, his close friend since the fifth grade, is director of operations and a part owner. So is Carl Johns, director of client solutions, along with a silent partner.

From its start in February 2003, Eberle says, NouvEON separated its service offerings from its delivery mechanisms. So its strategic management solutions, e-solutions and contract and placement solutions vary by how a client needs them delivered. The delivery could be project-based, contract-based, contract-to-permanent or permanent placement.

Jim Meeks, vice president of information technology at the Charlotte headquarters of Meineke Car Care Centers, attests to the effectiveness of the NouvEON approach.

“You don’t get a lot of boilerplate stuff when you ask NouvEON to come in,” Meeks says. “It’s really down to the nuts and bolts and they quickly pick up on what we need. They come back with a proposal that’s right on the mark the first time.”

NouvEON is helping Meineke migrate from legacy technology into what Meeks refers to as a “Web-based, total Microsoft environment.” It’s a big technology project, he says. Meeks praises NouvEON’s personal touch: “T.J. [Eberle] is very involved in the account. He understands the business very well.”

 

“100 Percent Referenceability”

And Meeks brings up a phrase NouvEON coined when he says it provides “100 percent referenceability.”

“That’s our number one phrase,” Eberle says. “Everything we do, if we don’t have a positive reference at the end of the engagement, it’s not worth doing.”

Proof that referenceability is working lies in NouvEON’s record of profitability since its seventh month. In 2004, working with 16 clients and 20 full-time employees, NouvEON came in just shy of $2 million in revenue.

The company is anticipating the Charlotte Chamber Technology Council’s Blue Diamond Awards in March. It is a finalist in the “Diamond in the Rough” competition that recognizes performance among businesses that are less than three years old.

The company’s favorite market segments are insurance and financial services, manufacturing, health care and franchise retail. Besides Meineke, larger clients include Royal & SunAlliance, the Transamerica Reinsurance division of Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Co., The Timken Company, and Premier, the alliance of not-for-profit hospitals and health care systems.

NouvEON plans a spring move from cramped quarters at Fairview Road and Barclay Downs Drive to 5,000 square feet in another SouthPark location. It’s also opening its first satellite office this month, in Richmond, Virginia.

In five years, Eberle hopes NouvEON will have expanded into 10 cities along the southeast coast. Potential targets include Raleigh, Greenville-Spartanburg, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Nashville. He projects small offices will generate $2 million to $5 million in annual revenue and larger ones might produce in the $10 million to $15 million range.

Helping NouvEON grow, Eberle feels, is its combination of strategic management, e-solutions and staffing. “We’re unique in that we have the three under the same umbrella and that we’re able to deliver consistently,” he says.

 

In People We Trust

Another reason for NouvEON’s growth is associating with quality people, Eberle adds. “When you start a business, you want to make sure you surround yourself with people you can trust,” he says. “Certainly, I’ve done that with Jeff [Hobensack] and Carl [Johns].”

Eberle and Hobensack played American Legion baseball together growing up in Pennsylvania and the long-time pals maintained contact as they attended college, pursued their careers and began families. Eberle, his wife Missie and their two children periodically visited and vacationed with Hobensack, his wife Karen and their pair of kids.

So when Eberle telephoned Hobensack in Atlanta in early 2003 to tell him his plans for starting NouvEON, he wasn’t surprised at Hobensack’s reply. “Well, you’re not doing it without me,” Eberle recalls Hobensack saying.

“It was a 10-minute conversation with my wife,” Hobensack says. “She said ’Let’s do it.’ The move has been fabulous for my family. Charlotte is an outgoing community.”

Hobensack fashioned an information technology career after graduating from Lehigh University with a mechanical engineering degree. He had been in Atlanta since 1995, working for Siemens Business Services and Inacom managing service delivery on big-name accounts such as BellSouth and Coca-Cola.

Eberle graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in industrial engineering and operations research. After working with Andersen Consulting, he joined what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers and came to Charlotte with them 13 years ago. He also worked for Sea-Land Services in Charlotte before joining technology-oriented Ballantyne Consulting Group, which whetted his appetite for entrepreneurship.

Eberle also goes back a way with Johns, the other top officer and part-owner of NouvEON. Eberle was working a PricewaterhouseCoopers project at Springs Industries when he ran across Johns, a fresh-faced intern and recent computer science graduate of the University of South Carolina. Eberle took Johns with him to Ballantyne Consulting and both he and Hobensack convinced Johns to join them at NouvEON.

Now Johns is prominently involved with NouvEON projects at Royal & SunAlliance in Charlotte, where the firm is helping the insurance giant deal with enormous change that results from transitioning various lines of business.

 

Good Fit with Clients

     NouvEON prides itself in having consultants who work so well that they can’t be distinguished from the client’s employees, so Eberle says he was pleased when one of his consultants was invited by Royal & SunAlliance to play on a company softball team. But the NouvEON consultant let a fly ball elude his glove and smash into his face.

Eberle shakes his head at the consultant’s resulting broken nose and double black eyes, which kept him from blending in for a while. Then he praises the consultant’s dedication, adding that he stayed on the Royal & SunAlliance project and finished the season with the softball team.

That kind of dedication will help ensure growth, says Hobensack, particularly when it is coupled with the NouvEON business model that was planned from the start to embrace both the consulting and staffing disciplines.

“We thought it was easier to begin with a plan in mind and one business model,” Hobensack says, “rather than starting exclusively with either one of the two areas and evolve through acquisition. In this day and age, the way the market is, you really need both consulting and staffing.”

As they sit casually in slacks and open-collared shirts, Hobensack and Eberle seem confident in the future of NouvEON. From a second-floor conference room with a window overlooking SouthPark Mall, they say they believe they can handle their biggest challenges, which they lump into two categories – both concern finding the right people – internally and externally.

“Our biggest challenge has been capacity with a limited number of employees and contractors,” says Eberle.

There’s no shortage of people with technology and staffing skills in the market, adds Hobensack, and the experience that he and Eberle have built up helps them identify the best of them: “You just have to take the time to qualify them, make sure they’re the right people.”

“We have established ourselves as a company that people want to work for,” Eberle maintains, and that is helping them find top talent. Eberle points to an unsolicited e-mail of praise from a client’s chief risk officer. The officer wrote that a course charted by NouvEON produced “one of those rare instances when you can say with 100 percent certainty that a decision and actions taken delivered benefit to the organization and avoided severe costs,” he paraphrases.

That leads Eberle to the second challenge: finding the right people externally.  “It’s getting in front of the right people to get our message out,” he says. “We’re just on the edge of getting enough marketing, branding and name recognition out there for a larger audience.

“The great thing is, when we get in front of people, we actually have a very good success rate,” Eberle says, adding that references are a big help. “We very much believe in references,” Eberle adds, reinforcing his emphasis on that coined word, “referenceability.”

Then Eberle pauses and brings his growth projections in line with the 100 percent referenceability credo.

“Five years from now, we may be at 40 employees or we may be at 400,” he says. “The culture has got to be the same; the 100 percent referenceability still has to be there. The mindset of our employee-owned network is fundamental regardless of how we grow.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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