How Steve Torres helped Vology establish a new set of core values—twice
When Steve Torres first joined Vology, in 2007, the struggling Clearwater-based IT firm had annual revenue of around $17 million. By the time Torres left Vology at the end of 2016, he’d helped grow that number, by more than 10 times, to $175 million.
To get there, Torres, and the company’s leadership at the time, raised “lifeline capital” that kept Vology afloat, while shifting its focus from product and software sales to becoming a strategic technology solutions and cloud provider.
Most important to Vology’s exponential growth, however, may have been how Torres influenced the company’s culture.
“Employee engagement is key,” Torres says, “and that means you have to be a people-first organization.”
Drawing from his experience working with some of the largest tech companies in the Tampa Bay area—Tech Data, Jabil and Syniverse—Torres helped Vology establish a new set of people-first core values.
By focusing on positivity, transparency and fostering the growth of its team members, Vology grew its employee engagement score to match that of the world’s most respected tech giants. It’s no coincidence Vology also had its strongest period of growth during that era, Torres says.
By the time Torres left his position as Vology’s chief operations officer, the company was on strong footing. Torres felt it was the right time to take his expertise to growing companies that needed him more.
But as the years passed, Vology began to struggle again. It seemed the company was never able to fully complete the transition from selling products to providing solutions that Torres had initiated in 2007.
“When a business is in a period of transition, the worst spot you can be in the middle,” Torres says. “And that’s where Vology got stuck.”
Late last year, Vology approached Torres about returning. Still one of the firm’s largest shareholders at the time, Torres never lost faith in Vology and felt confident he could help resurrect it. He started as a consultant to assess the situation and quickly helped recapitalize the company through a private equity transaction. In May, new CEO Tom York recommended Torres be named president.
Although the Vology that Torres returned to looked different, it still faced many of the same challenges. “The leadership team, at the time, was not focused on the core values, and you could tell,” Torres says.
He enlisted the help of Jennifer Glor, who served as Vology’s vice president of people operations from 2012 to 2017. Glor, too, says the company had been losing sight of its values before she left.
“Vology was having a real issue letting go of the past to embrace a new future,” Glor says. “It had a great solution set, a great market position, a great customer base and amazing talent within. Despite our advantages, our shortcomings were beginning to derail us.”
Glor says she harbored some guilt for leaving Vology at a low point, and the opportunity to go back was a chance for her to do better. Torres’ return was also a significant factor.
“Steve is people-first and his actions match his words when he says that people matter most,” Glor says. “He knows that ‘not one of us is smarter than all of us’ and he allows others’ knowledge, and insight, to influence him. That is the sign of a true leader.”
Once again a team, Torres and Glor focused on Vology’s people. They implemented a top-down, bottom-up approach that values ideas at all levels. They committed to employee growth and invested in professional development and training. And they promoted an open-door policy enabling employees to speak up.
“A true open-door policy encourages employees to ask the tough questions,” Torres says. “We can’t fix what we don’t know is broken.”
Vology also makes a point to emphasize transparency. Its entire staff has access to the company’s key performance measures, which Torres says helps create a healthy pressure.
About eight months into Torres’ return, Vology’s future is bright—even despite new challenges brought by COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, Torres made sure Vology remained committed to its people. He challenged the leadership team to forge a path without layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts.
In response, Vology increased its working capital by $10 million to uphold that commitment.
When Vology went remote the first week of March, Torres also wanted to ensure the company wouldn’t lose the level of engagement it had just rebuilt.
Fortunately, if there ever were a company designed to thrive in this new, physically distant, technology-reliant environment, it’s Vology. It helped that cloud migration and optimization—essentially the process of moving technology applications, data and workloads into a more elastic internet-based cloud environment—is one of the company’s specialties.
Vology reached full remote productivity within two days. So far, employee engagement and communication between supervisors and their team members haven’t wavered. In fact, Torres says employees are more engaged than ever. He credits this in part to the company’s policy of video chatting whenever possible. He video calls with his own direct reports several times a day.
“If we just did it by phone, we would really miss a lot,” he says, adding that the video element helps break down the walls that people would normally put up in a professional environment. When you get to see a colleague’s kid walk in the room or dog jump on their lap, he says, it helps you see them as people, not just employees.
His own chihuahua-rat terrier mix, named Saul Goodman after the “Breaking Bad” character, is on his lap during most of his calls.
“This remote environment we have today has fundamentally changed the way we lead,” Torres says. He’s seeing that change not only within Vology but also among its clients, who are realizing the importance of cloud migration and implementing strong collaboration technology. It’s a mindset shift that should bode well for Vology’s future business. ♦