Tim Wallace guides iPipeline through rapid growth

 

Taking a company from $8 million in annual revenue and growing that number by more than 400 percent in only six years is no small feat. But leading companies through phases of tremendous growth and subsequent profitability is Tim Wallace’s career specialty.

His work for iPipeline is no exception.

Prior to taking the helm in 2008 as CEO of the Exton, Pennsylvania-based software company, which sells a suite of sales-distribution software products created for the financial services and insurance markets, Wallace held chief executive roles at XeroxConnect and FullTilt Solutions Inc., among others.

“My career has been predominantly about building companies up and scaling them and helping them grow and achieve their potential,” he says. “And when you have the opportunity to grow companies very, very quickly, it brings a whole host of challenges as well as opportunities that you have to deal with.”

He attributes growth to a positive outlook, hiring the right people, fostering community in the workplace and sharing the company’s vision effectively.

“Negativity is not a recipe nor an ingredient in the overall quest for success,” Wallace says.

 Culture as a part of growth

At iPipeline, employees can be found taking part in wellness programs, attending dietary seminars and involving family members in company events and picnics. The company promotes and sponsors employee perks such as gym memberships, educational seminars, athletic teams, clubs and more.

“We really promote this as being a company that’s really focused on its employees and their well-being and their families’ well-being,” Wallace says. “Culture is part of the growth.”

Identifying the type of culture and work environment that will foster success is important.

Wallace poses a few questions that help define this: What type of organization do you want to be? What type of dress code do you have? What type of message do you want to send to your people about their career paths and opportunities for promotion, progression and development? And then how does that factor in from a social standpoint, a family standpoint?

Wallace knows his own personal definition of success and strives to see the same for his employees. In the end, the right employees need to have balance to continue to be successful.

“My definition of success is having a great family life, and a work life that’s in balance and that you’re happy with. You know if you don’t like getting up and going to work every day, you’re in the wrong profession,” he says.

Transparency is integral in making sure employees know the company’s values and expectations for its workers.

“I’ve found that — at least with a software company — the more transparent that you can be with your employees, the more you can feel, and have them feel, like they’re part owners of the company, the easier it is to get all the other pieces working effectively as well,” Wallace says.

How does he define ownership? To him, it means taking pride in one’s work.

Hiring the right people

Many companies grow at a rapid pace, but sustaining that growth long term is a challenge.

“There are a whole lot of ingredients that go into making sure that not only, one, can you grow, but, two, can you grow successfully? And those are just some of the types of things that we’ve got to deal with on a constant basis,” Wallace says.

Once the right product is in the marketplace and the demand from customers is there, employees become integral to continued growth, he says.

iPipeline, which was founded in 1995, has grown from 35 employees to 450 employees in the past six years alone. On average it has hired 100 employees annually for the past three years.

“If you think about it, one in every five iPipeline employees has been with the company less than 12 months,” Wallace says. “That puts tremendous stress on the organization. It puts stress on the HR department. It puts stress on the recruiting engine.”

iPipeline uses a third-party recruiting firm to help ease this burden. Employees in management still influence the final hiring decisions, however, and Wallace has more involvement in hires at the executive level.

“It puts pressure on us to make those employees welcome, but also productive. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right training programs in place, the right content that they can review, the right mentoring programs,” Wallace says. “Then you get into process and methodology and, putting those things together in order, to make sure that we’re not duplicating everything, that we’re building a process once and that we’re making sure that we do it the best way we can, which allows for efficiencies to accommodate the growth.”

Avoiding common pitfalls

With rapid growth comes a greater chance of missing something during the hiring process.

“The biggest mistake that you can make, when you grow that fast and you have to hire that quickly, is not putting the right hiring criteria in,” Wallace says. “You must hire people who are going to be successful in their roles and fit into the organization.

“You hire the wrong people just because you need people versus focusing on hiring really quality people who are going to fit well into the organization and be successful.”

From application submission to offer letter, it usually takes four to six weeks to hire at iPipeline. At least 10 applications come in for every position.

When it comes to retention, right now iPipeline is hovering at 90 percent, which is respectable, Wallace says, compared with the 14 to 18 percent rate that technology companies often experience.

“I think the retention is offset by the fact that, as we’ve grown so fast, we probably weren’t doing as efficient a job of hiring as I would have liked. The turnover that we’ve had probably was more related to not hiring the right people at the right time,” Wallace says.

Company and team values play a large role in recruiting talent that will fit well with the company long term. At iPipeline, employees are encouraged to be: innovative, passionate, accountable, customer-centric and team-focused.

“We build fairly strict adherence to policies about the type of people we’re looking for. They’ve got to align with our core values. So we’re looking for people who are innovative and hardworking, want to be at a software company, and are focused on the team versus the individual. Those are all things that are important to us,” he says.

Prospective hires need to show passion for what they do and to pass employee testing on business methods and skill sets, along with passing a psychological profile test to make sure they will be attuned to the iPipeline culture, Wallace says.

“Then we put them through an interview process that typically (starts with) a phone interview. Then — if we decide to bring them in — they typically meet with five people on-site for the day. Then we make a decision about whether we want to hire them,” he says. “I’m involved in making sure that those processes are followed and adhered to, and I helped build them.”

Encouraging a shared vision

Having a clear vision of where your company wants to be in the next five to 10 years is essential to building employee loyalty. In addition, at iPipeline creative thinking is encouraged within the organization via the company’s core values, allowing employees to participate in the execution of that vision.

“We build innovation into our core values and we talk to employees about it all the time,” Wallace says. “There are many situations that we get into with our customers where employees actually have to innovate to create a product that we don’t currently have.

“We’ll pull certain people (from) throughout the organization, put them together on small teams and let them build things. We always talk about and foster innovation and creativity.”

Unique programs play a large role in fostering this innovative spirit.

iPipeline is in the process of rolling out a program called “innovation time,” in which employees will take a half or a full day off work, build an idea and bring it back to their team to present.

Another program, “5-5-5”, takes five team members and gives them five days and $5,000 to execute a great idea.

Quarterly meetings for all employees help contributors stay connected to management’s vision, mission and strategy. Employee newsletters at iPipeline help communicate and support that same vision.

“Our employees are much attuned — and we communicate to them on a constant basis — to what our core values are, our missions, our strategies, our overall financial plans,” Wallace says.

Along with sharing the company’s vision, it doesn’t hurt to think big.

In recent months iPipeline has introduced a new website to cater to North America, the United Kingdom and the Asia-Pacific region, which aligns with its goals to grow iPipeline into an international brand. Most recently, the company’s focus has been on seeking out new opportunities in Europe.

“We want to be the No. 1 provider of SaaS (software as a service) solutions to the insurance industry, and we believe we can build a really great software company here. Our goal is to take the company, and double in size in the next four or five years,” Wallace says.

 

 

Takeaways:

  • Find the right people.
  • Spearhead confidence in the product or service.
  • Value a healthy work/life balance for all employees.

 

 

The Wallace File:

Name: Tim Wallace
Title: CEO
Company: iPipeline

Born: Pittsburgh
Education: Bachelor of Science in business from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job was delivering the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and I was probably 10 years old. I just remember I had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning, deliver the newspapers, and I could come back and go to sleep for an hour before I went to school. I learned discipline and hard work. There weren’t too many kids my age getting up at five in the morning delivering newspapers.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? I’m not sure if it’s been one individual person — I would probably say it’s been a multitude of people throughout my life and career development that have affected me at different points in time.

My dad obviously had a big influence on me from a work ethic standpoint. My father had a phenomenal work ethic. My parents were very close and our family’s very close, so my family’s been absolutely instrumental throughout my life and my career.

And then from a business standpoint, I had a couple of great partners. When I first started my career (at Arthur Andersen), they took me under their wing and gave me a lot of tutelage and guidance. And then as I got out into the work world it’s just been a multitude of different people that I’ve looked to for advice and counsel that have helped me be successful.