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Turning Tides: Company Brings Hope to ‘Depressing’ City

Some companies might consider being headquartered in one of the five most depressing cities in America a setback for employee recruitment and retention, but Turning Technologies isn’t one of them.

Thanks to its “unique work atmosphere and innovative approach to technology and business,” the Youngstown, Ohio-based company continues to attract and retain top talent, empower employment in the city and contribute to the area’s overall economic growth. A recognized leader in audience response and polling software, Turning Technologies serves over half of the country’s colleges and universities, as well as organizations like Hewlett Packard, Johnson & Johnson and the McDonald’s Corporation.

I recently spoke with Mike Broderick (pictured above), co-founder and CEO of Turning Technologies, who discussed how Turning Technologies’ efforts to recruit and engage top talent have helped the company become one the top of its industry leader and contributed to its remarkable growth.

You started Turning Technologies right after 9/11. What was that experience like? We started the business on a tight, shoestring budget. We had to figure out a way to build this venture from scratch with very limited resources. The director of the Youngstown Business Incubator, James Cossler, helped us in a lot of ways by introducing us to people and customers and connecting us with local universities. Youngstown sits in the middle of a very large number of good, strong higher education institutions; therefore, recruiting for us has been very, very good in that regard.  Throughout our company’s history, with only a couple of exceptions, we haven’t had to spend money on recruiters in the traditional sense.

What are some of those non-traditional ways you recruit workers?
A lot of folks come to us because we’ve gotten significant recognition as a local success story, and we’re viewed as one of the better places to work in town. We use online tools to search for ideal candidates, but a lot of people have been referrals.  Whenever we have an opening, the first thing we do is tell our employees.  They have been really effective in spreading the word to family and friends.

What is Turning Technologies’ employee value proposition?
Turning Technologies is a great place to work.  We’ve built a very strong, unique culture of ownership and empowerment.  We leverage a mindset where everybody’s a career builder. We work in very open team environment, we encourage creativity and collaboration, and we reward people for their contributions.  On a quarterly basis, employees vote on awards to their colleagues for being great folks to work, and as a company we award employees for going above and beyond. In the seven or eight years we have been profitable as a company, all of our employees have participated in profit sharing.  Our key employees are shareholders, both from a stock option standpoint in other meaningful ways. We want to provide incentives and align them with our company’s goals.

What professional development and employee training initiatives do you have in place at Turning Technologies?   
We have a plethora of training available. For one thing, every new employee goes through a two-week onboarding process with extensive training in our products, in our company, our company culture, and our approach to the marketplace.  There is specialized training for their roles.  All of our salespeople, for example, go through extensive sales training.  We also have a tuition reimbursement program where we reimburse 75 percent of the cost of ongoing formal education.  We really provide a broad range of training.

What does the ideal Turning Technologies employee look like? 
Cultural fit is key. We look for people who want to contribute and want to innovate.   These attributes speak loudest in the interview process. The second priority is experience, and the third is qualifications. Intangibles – such as leadership, experience, vision, self-direction, drive, and discipline – are what we look for first and foremost.

In a company that’s growing the way yours is, how do you stay connected with your employees?
There are a number of specific things we do – and that I do personally – in that regard. I regularly meet with individuals across the organization, and at least once a day, I walk through our offices and talk to employees. We have an internal company newsletter we deliver a monthly basis, and for which I always write a front-page article. We do company events, outings, Christmas parties. There’s a group of about a dozen young leaders in the organization I mentor and meet with individually once a month. There’s a lot we do that, collectively, has created this culture of communication and openness. That’s a very important part of who we are.

What do you love about working at Turning Technologies? 
I love that our products enhance educational outcomes in schools and universities around the country. I read emails on a daily basis from educators who are so appreciative of what we do and what our products have done for them in the classroom. Our products are innovative: They can change what goes on in a classroom in positive ways, and we hear about it all the time.  To do what you love and to be successful at it, that helps. But to know you’re making a difference in a positive and meaningful way to a large segment of people—there’s nothing better than that in a career.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
If you’re really committed to starting something, you can’t have a Plan B.  I’m the first to admit, if I had something I could have fallen back on, Turning may not have been here today. The first few years were the most difficult time of my life and career, but you have to be very pragmatic when you start a new business. The dedication of getting there cannot be negotiable.

About Turning Technologies: Turning Technologies develops interactive response systems and assessment solutions designed specifically to increase learning outcomes. Their proven research-based student response technologies enable teachers and administrators to gather vital data needed to increase the effectiveness of instructions and presentations. Learn more at www.TurningTechnologies.com

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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