NO. 6 LARGE COMPANY: EVANTA
A pumped Bob Dethlefs, president of Evanta, leads the cheering in his Friday morning “praise progress meetings.Photo by Leah Nash
There’s a framed paper napkin hanging on a wall in Evanta’s headquarters on the 10th floor of Portland’s KOIN Tower.
It comes from a Thai food lunch 3½ years ago, where company founders Bob Dethlefs and Don Sader decided to create the business. The napkin — the type of rectangular white napkin found at any unassuming restaurant — was their notepad for a list of must-haves for employees: profit sharing, flexible hours and telecommuting. The list went on and on until square handwriting covered almost the entire wrinkled surface of the napkin.
As he shows off the framed memento, 42-year-old Dethlefs, the company’s president, could almost be described as giddy talking about how the business has been able to provide everything on the list, plus all-expenses-paid trips, company cruises and big bonuses. “You’re going to get everything you want if you work here,” he says.
Evanta creates and runs invitation-only leadership conferences for chief information officers (CIOs) from the world’s largest companies. Dethlefs describes those executives as wallflowers who’ve been thrust into the limelight by advances in technology. Additionally, federal legislation that followed the infamous accounting scandals six years ago has drawn CIOs into the legal web of who is legally accountable for a company’s financial data, a responsibility that has led to more executives looking to share and learn from each other.
Evanta started with two conferences in 2003. In 2007, there will be 22 across the United States, plus one each in England and Australia. Each is chaired by a handful of CIOs from $1 billion-plus companies, such as Chevron, Pfizer and Coca-Cola, who dictate the content and speakers. Only CIOs from $250 million companies and above, or those who directly report to CIOs at a $1 billion companies, are invited to attend.
Nancy Hess calls them the rock stars of the executive world. She’s a program director who oversees, among other summits, Evanta’s Houston event, and she doesn’t hold back when she talks about her job: “I have a fair amount of business experience, but I’ve never worked in an environment like this. Never.”
It’s an open, sometimes intense environment. Hess describes it as a “secret sauce” that combines leadership and like-minded people who feed off each other both when times are challenging and rewarding. Everyone’s cubicles — yes, even Dethlefs has a cubicle — are clustered near each other.
Laurie Perdue, vice president of content development, says knowing that everyone can hear her phone conversations pushes her to deliver. “You have to have as much energy as they do,” she says. “That drives a lot of people.”
When it comes to that drive, she says she’d rather lose the perks of the job — even the eight-day cruise to Central America that all employees and their spouses just took — rather than lose the companywide expectation that people be personally committed to their job.
In Dethlefs’ sparsely decorated cubicle there is a photocopied motivational chart entitled “Guide to Success!” After pulling it off the wall, he points to one side where it says “employee satisfaction” in big black letters.
Last year, Evanta did $10 million in sales, and DMG World Media bought the company for an undisclosed amount. While he’s obviously proud of those facts, Dethlefs insists that the satisfaction of the people who work with him will always be a key indicator of success for him.
Hess is an example of the satisfaction Dethlefs is hoping for. With her long background in sales and sales training, she marvels at how she’s able to work at a place where so many people, from the person answering the phone to the program directors, have such an impact on what the company produces.
“That is a result of leaders who create an environment where everyone is valued equally,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing it without that leadership foundation.”
— Abraham Hyatt
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