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Leading by example

Leading by example

Adaptive Technology has experienced a meteoric rise since its Sydney office was established in January 1998. Riding on the back of the e-commerce boom, the company has gone from a five-person team to a staff of 50 in just two and a half years.

The company focuses on creating Web site architecture and providing integration services for high-end corporate Web sites.

While the business success is welcome, the administration and human resource concerns associated with dramatic growth have led the company to develop an interesting approach to attracting and maintaining staff.

Business development manager Anthony Roberts, reports that since the business was established, staff levels have grown by a factor of 10.

"Managing HR issues is about finding the right people in the first place and encouraging them to stay. With 50 employees on staff we recognise we are feeding 50 families and paying 50 mortgages. Keeping employees happy means keeping their partners and families happy as well," Roberts said.

This is a lesson that Roberts has learnt from experience, having failed in two personal relationships of his own because of work commitments.

"When someone has been pulling the all-nighters and putting in the hard yards to finish a job, we try to find a bonus that will benefit the people supporting them through that time. A monetary bonus isn't enough; sometimes you have to do something a little different," he explained.

Adaptive Technology's HR focus appears to be working, as Roberts reports that the company has only ever lost two employees.

"When we are recruiting, we do a character interview before we ask about technical skills. When you have to work beside someone for longer than you get to see your wife every day, you have to like them or it becomes impossible," Roberts said.

In addition to the Sydney office, the company has also opened offices in Melbourne and Brisbane as well as San Francisco, and have built up an impressive client list including many of the major banks and financial institutions in Australia.

"We were picking up a lot of work in different verticals because the Y2K issue kept many of our competitors busy," said Roberts. "Now we are looking at scaling back our approach and really [focusing on] the financial sector."With a background in accounting, Roberts entered the workforce as an auditor. A retrenchment early in his career saw him develop a very stark work philosophy which appears to fly in the face of Adaptive Technology's management style.

"[The retrenchment] made me realise that you can't love a company because it will never love you back. When push comes to shove the company has to survive and you will get caught up in the crush. Getting retrenched really made me think about what I wanted from work, and how to go about getting it," Roberts told ARN.

Roberts identifies two mentors whose commitment and enthusiasm for hard work and attention to detail gave him a solid grounding in management.

The first is his father, who he watched build a marginally successful water filter company into a business with over 60 per cent market share. During school holidays Roberts worked in the company warehouse.

"My father basically said either go to university, or end up with this kind of work. It is good that I did go to uni and found IT, because I made a hopeless storeman."Some years later, Roberts worked at car hire company Hertz during the recession we had to have.

"I worked under a man by the name of James Bowyer at Hertz. It was the middle of the recession and we were facing some very difficult decisions. He was a real bean counter; working with him made me realise what I was capable of because he just wouldn't do things by halves," Roberts said.

Roberts left Hertz after deciding to change industries. He swapped a company car for a headset and took up a position in IT tech support. However, this change was not as arduous as it sounds.

"It was a bit like making my hobby my profession. [Growing up] we had a computer at home and I was always playing with it. I think I started programming when I was about 12," Roberts said.

These days Roberts' work philosophy can be characterised by a "play hard or go home" attitude. "You just have to do what it takes and do it thoroughly to get the job finished. In the end it is about commitment, focus, hard work and long hours. You have to be prepared to do all that it takes," he said.

Describing the difference between working for a company run by someone else or working for a company you helped start from scratch, Roberts said: "It is frustrating when you see things can be done significantly better than they are being done, but you don't have a role in the decision process. The better your work is, the more money you make for others. Although it is hard work, starting up your own business is worth it."His managerial position has not led to any cutback in his workload as Roberts recognises the importance of leading by example.

"As part owner you really have to be prepared to put in the long hours. You can't expect people to give you the commitment you need unless you are prepared to go all the way," he said.


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