At a time when every other week, the reporter was writing about a company in the midst of a scandal, he asked Huling if he was crazy for making values such a focal point of his company.
"Aren't you afraid in 90 days I might be writing a story about how embarrassed you are because you went public with integrity and then it turned out you, too, were corrupt?" the reporter asked. "How do you know?"
Huling was unfazed.
"I was able to say to him, 'Let me tell you how I know. If we're not living up to that value of integrity, I have 168 auditors and 1,200 consultants who will tell us we're not living up to it,'" Huling says. "I'll know long before the newspaper does, because I give them a mechanism to do it. You can never know everything as one person, so what you must do is enjoin the people of your company in the keeping of your standards.
"I have found a way through this measurement system to share the responsibility for the upholding of our values with every single employee."
Huling's mechanism is a biannual report card in which every Matrix Consulting employee rates the company on its six values -- integrity, respect, excellence, innovation, fun and results-driven.
"We tabulate those results and give ourselves a report card," he says.
What happens next is even more important.
"We post the results in the lobby of every office where we do business," he says.
That dedication and Huling's openness resulted in the company winning the first-ever Turknett Leadership Character Award, presented by the Atlanta-based Turknett Leadership Group. The award recognizes the company that best exemplifies the standards of organizational and individual integrity, respect and responsibility.
Huling has been with Matrix since 1997, but it is his third relationship with the firm. He was twice placed by Matrix in executive positions with other companies. And during his 28 years in the IT staffing and consulting business, he has hired numerous people from Matrix.
Smart Business spoke with Huling to learn how a value system fits into business operations and why it is so important to a company's success.
B>How did this value system come to be such a huge part of Matrix's operations?
In 2001, when everything in the world was changing, we embarked on an internal initiative to solidify and identify those things that were unchangeable in our company. Everything else seemed to be almost catastrophic. So we said, 'We need bedrock to stand on while everything else is swirling around us.'
We found that part of ourselves in our shared values as a company. We did hard work in 2001 to clarify who we are and what we stand for as an organization. And remember, we did that at a time when corporate accountability has never been more in question than it was.
We published the Matrix Charter, which is today the central component of our culture. That codification of our values, that clarification of what we stand for, has literally transformed our company. We became the only company that we know of in the entire world that measures itself against its value system. We post those results in our lobby.
B>Aren't you concerned that those scores could be embarrassing?
It's a little bit like thumb-tacking your college report card outside your dorm room door. I'll (admit) that I wouldn't have done that (in college). Imagine the gut-check you would have had if everybody who walked by was reading your report card. That's how we are.
Every client who comes through our door sees our report card -- every employee, the candidates that we're trying to find jobs for, the consultants who are on our staff, our friends, our families and reporters that come through our door. They all see our report card.
It is a way to utilize public accountability to say that this value system and culture are real. We've done that survey seven times. Every time we've had 100 percent participation. What that also tells you is that the people of Matrix care about this process.
B>So, did you make the dean's list?
We put a very high bar on ourselves. We are striving to have our score on every value be at 5.0 or above (of a maximum 6.0). All of them are above 5.0 except for one, which we are working very hard on.
We are our toughest judges, and we have a score below 5.0 on respect right now because the people of Matrix have been saying that while the market has been picking up and business is getting better, we are getting very frantic and dropping those common courtesies like being patient with each other and saying 'thank you' when we do something great. It's a level of person-to-person respect. We think we can do better.
If you interact with us, I think you'd find us to be the most respectful company you'd ever dealt with. And yet, we're very hard on ourselves. One of our goals operationally is to raise that score on the December Charter checkpoint.
B>Do you hold your clients to the same standards?
We would absolutely turn down a client who asked us in any way, form or fashion, explicitly or implicitly, to violate our value system. We've walked away from business this year where we were asked to deviate from our value system -- sometimes to our economic short-term discomfort.
We've done it, and it's not difficult to do because everything depends on that value system. Those companies that are built to last are those that have a changing strategy and an unchanging core. That's what we're trying to be.
If we allow that core to become changeable and relatively applied, we know that we've begun the downfall of our company.
B>What can other CEOs take away from your value system approach?
We're a $180 million company and we just closed a $240 million contract. How many CEOs in America can say that today? If you try to talk to them about it, what they want to know about is the execution part of it.
But what I've really learned, in a very great way, is execution alone is a very finite strategy. Getting people to do the right thing -- and do more of it -- can only take you so far. But if you approach that focused execution on the platform of a strong value system, the results you can get are truly extraordinary.
B>How has your industry changed in the past three years?
As I look at this broad landscape, I look at an industry where 20 percent of companies in it are no longer in existence. In that same time period, Matrix has remained profitable, has remained debt-free, has strengthened its culture to the extent where we are the winners of the national leadership character award, and we have launched two new lines of business, which are already in their second year of operation and are phenomenally successful. You've got to call that a pretty good period.
B>What changes have you made to the structure of the business?
We have broadened the solution that we offer to our clients. When you only do one thing, and that one thing is not in high demand, it's a difficult time.
The last three years became a catalyst for us to launch two new divisions -- a project solutions division, which does project work, and a managed service division, which is really a contingent labor management offering. Both new lines of business are having phenomenal success.
Our projects business came in at 500 percent of goal for last year. That was pretty good. And then our managed services business has closed a number of major agreements, the most recent of which was a $240 million services contract with a major financial services institution.
We are a $180 million company and we closed a $240 million services contract in a new line of business. That's a pretty good story.
B>Which division is growing fastest?
The fastest in terms of revenue dollars is probably managed services, but the fastest in terms of its overall contributions to the company's financial success is certainly the staffing part of the business, specifically the contract staffing part of the business.
Companies are hiring again, and they are hiring in larger numbers than we have seen in the last three years. But they are hiring people in the beginning on contract assignment and then later converting them to permanent positions. We're doing more permanent placement this year than we have in the last three years. That side of the business is up as well, but I think most companies are starting out by hiring people on a contract to permanent basis.
And as an old CIO, I just see that as a way of being really, really sure before you switch them over to permanent status.
B>How has technology changed your business?
It's been phenomenal. I go all the way back to punched cards and hard-wired CPUs and things like that, so I have a long history with this. The easy answer, the principal thing that has happened is that the Internet's impact on the staffing business has been dramatic and really irreversible, and it works in two dimensions.
It used to be you read the Sunday newspaper to find out what jobs were available in a city or you worked with a staffing company. Those were the only two places. Neither a staffing company nor the newspaper ever had all the jobs that were available, so there was difficulty in learning about the opportunities. Today, you can log onto the Internet and find all the jobs that are available in every company instantaneously.
What that means to the staffing company is you have to offer more to the candidate than simply knowing about the jobs. You have to know a deeper level about the company, environment and the person that they'll be working for.
And you also have to do more to prepare the candidate and help them be successful. It's forced us to raise our game beyond that major competitive advantage we had of just knowing the jobs.
HOW TO REACH: Matrix Resources Inc., (800) 627-3533 or www.matrixresources.com