Q&A: James Fields of Concept Technology

Concept Technology Inc. was recently selected for inclusion in Entrepreneur magazine's Top Company Cultures list.

Specifically, the Nashville-based company placed 19th in the medium-sized company category.

On the heels of the recognition, Post Managing Editor William Williams caught up with James Fields, CT president and owner, for a quick chat.

What spurred you to place such an emphasis on company culture? For example, you place a strong focus on 100 percent paid health benefits. Thoughts?

We don’t place an emphasis on paying 100 percent of health insurance — we just do it. The kind of company that strives to have the best culture will pay 100 percent because it’s the right thing to do.

I started Concept Technology Inc. because I wanted to create the kind of place where I would want to come to work. Being an IT company is secondary to being the kind of company that attracts the world’s top talent. Company culture is the sum of every decision made, action taken and conversation had.

It was easy to have a great culture when Concept Technology first started because I was the only employee. I was responsible for 100 percent of the company’s culture.

The company’s culture was no longer in my hands by about the third employee, which meant I needed to make sure we got superstar talent that’s enthusiastic and optimistic. They needed to have a clear picture of what success looks like and the freedom and tools to achieve it. Once you have that, the culture mostly takes care of itself. 

What were some of the main challenges you encountered when transitioning from being an employee at Inflow Inc. to owning and running Concept Technology?

Leaving a good paying job to start my own business was certainly a challenge. I knew that I wanted to have a company that took care of its people and its clients, but I didn’t know much else. I didn’t know how to sell IT services, deliver IT services or set up payroll and accounting. With a 2-year-old at home and a mortgage to pay, I knew that I had to learn fast. I established the core values of always acting in the client’s best interest and enhancing the lives of our team members and their families. Those core values drive our business decisions to this day.

Do you see a correlation between employee happiness and client satisfaction?

I do. We’ve had no unforced turnover this year, which means our clients are consistently working with the same people and have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with them. This provides a predictable and steady experience for our clients. It also means we only have to hire for growth, so we can put a lot of energy into refining our services and delivery.

Team members that are proud of their work and proud of their team will always outperform the average. We have a close-knit group of professionals that depend on each others greatness every day. That is the culture that the team has created and it produces best-in-class work for our clients.

What's one management-related mistake you've made?

Not firing cynics fast enough. If there’s one characteristic I can’t tolerate, it’s cynicism (as opposed to skepticism). Cynics are deniers from the beginning. They’re driven by ego, seek to harm intentionally, and are at best neutral.  Skeptics on the other hand are driven by curiosity, and their concern is aimed at achieving good outcomes. You want this in an IT professional.  

I vow to never make that mistake again. Cynics will quietly sow mistrust and discontent. No matter how well they work, it doesn’t make up for the damage they’ll do to your organization in the long run.

What is your strategy for adding employees?

It is important to me to continue to grow the company so we can grow the organizational chart. This creates career paths and growth opportunities for our team members. Whenever possible, I want to promote team members into new and better positions, particularly leadership positions, and then hire to fill the vacancy left behind.

If there’s one thing that sets this company apart, it’s our hiring process. We have a 10-step process that is likely the most rigorous in Nashville. It is not uncommon for us to process over 300 candidates before extending a single offer. We will always hire an A-plus player, even if we aren’t actively looking. Conversely, we will never hire a B player, no matter how great the need. Our process screens for A-plus talent — not just in function, but also in culture fit. 

Concept Technology is located in the BowTruss Building in North Capitol on the fringe of Germantown. What is your take on that area’s dramatic change and how it could positively impact the company?

We moved here because I needed a space where we could have everyone under one roof. Suddenly we were at the point where we could no longer fit around a table, and then in a room. And at 60 [employees], we can still fit in the open concept space here.

I’m a Nashvillian and this is Nashville, so this company is going to be located in Nashville. You can’t be located in Cool Springs and say you’re in Nashville. I feel we have a civic duty to locate our businesses in Nashville.

Germantown is blowing up around us and we’re lucky that happened. We wanted an office with a “wow” factor. When candidates come to interview and see their name on the TV screen, they think, “Wow I’m special.” Our location is also part of that. No matter how cool the office is, the effect isn’t quite the same if your office isn’t in a good location.

Nov 30, 2015 7:10 AM

On the Move: 25 November 2015

Belmont, Nashville Public Education Foundation, The Lipman Group Sotheby’s International Realty announce updates
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Nelson Mullins brings on former Commerce and Insurance chief counsel

Attorney spent more than eight years at state department
Nov 24, 2015 2:56 PM

New Peabody associate dean to focus on diversity, inclusion

The Vanderbilt University Peabody College of Education and Human Development has named Dr. Monique Robinson-Nichols associate dean for students and equity, diversity and inclusion.

The appointment is effective immediately, according to a release.

The newly created position is a promotion for Robinson-Nichols, who has served as the college’s assistant dean for student affairs since 2011. Prior to that, she was director of student life and diversity services at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin.

Robinson-Nichols (pictured) is a Peabody alumna, having earned a Master of Education degree in student personnel services in 1994 and a Doctor of Education degree in higher education administration in 2002. 

“We all have benefited from working with Dean Robinson-Nichols over the last few years as she cared for our students, especially those in distress,” Camilla P. Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Peabody, said in the release. “We all have gained much from her wisdom, courage and strategic thinking. And it is fitting that we ask her to expand her duties to assist us as Peabody, with other Vanderbilt colleges and schools, works to address issues of diversity and inclusivity. I am personally grateful to have her counsel and leadership.”

Read more here.

The announcement follows last week's announcement that VU has appointed veteran academician George C. Hill to serve as chief diversity officer and vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, also a newly created position. (Read more here.)


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Nov 23, 2015 6:53 AM