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Not strictly business Featured

7:50am EDT October 21, 2004
At age 36, Darrin Grove has already received a number of accolades for his business accomplishments, and he's understandably proud of his achievements.

But the co-founder, president and CEO of TrueFit Solutions, a Cranberry-based company that provides manufacturing and CRM software, is just as passionate about his employees and his corporate commitment to community service.

"I don't think you could be a leading company in Pittsburgh without reaching out beyond your own business and partnering with the people in the community to really help develop the city," Grove says.

Grove and TrueFit employees offer both strategic and tactical assistance to several nonprofits, including the Imani Christian Academy in East Hills and the Pittsburgh Project, both Christian-based community assistance organizations. TrueFit's controller helped Imani with financials, and the company produced a video presentation that documents the organization's work.

Grove also retains a close relationship with his alma mater, Grove City College -- the name is pure coincidence -- through which the company secures interns, from whom it draws many members of its permanent work force. Grove estimates that about half of TrueFit's 33 employees are Grove City grads, one factor he believes has limited turnover since he founded the company in 1997.

Grove himself worked as an intern while a student, writing software for material tracking and other manufacturing systems for local manufacturers. After a brief stint with Union Switch & Signal Corp., he took on the task of creating software for all of the business functions at Penn United Technology in Saxonburg.

That experience led him to a relationship with Lilly Software Associates, an upstart company whose software, Grove found, could be customized for virtually any manufacturing application. That lead to his decision to devote his energy to the software industry.

Grove spoke with Smart Business about business, values and a passion for technology.

What is your approach to developing your work force?

We have always been very intent on developing everyone on our staff. We started out with a very young staff. We hired a lot of kids straight out of college.

It was an interesting challenge to take very new employees, people new in the job market, and be able to put them in front of customers. The internship program is very important because you want to find just the right people.

We actually try to hire people in their sophomore year rather than try to do senior recruiting. The people that we hired this year were that exact model.

When did you begin your efforts in community involvement?

From Day One we have looked for organizations that we could partner with that are making an impact. We believe in partnerships between business and education. Education is going to be more relevant, and business is going to get better people.

Did you always have a desire to be an entrepreneur?

Technology is definitely a lifelong dream. I started developing software very young. Actually, as soon as software was able to be developed by the average person, we were building software when I was in junior high.

I also have some background in manufacturing. My dad was a manufacturing guy, so it was very early on I started to combine technology and manufacturing and really developed a love of both as a career.

Why was your experience at Penn United Technology so important?

That was a big challenge, but what it afforded me was the ability to first understand the business problems that they were trying to solve in all aspects of the company. I had to understand what their scheduling issues were, I had to understand what their inventory control issues were, what their sales issues were, what their financial issues were, so I got a very broad look at a $50 million company and then was given charge of finding a business solution that would fit all of those needs.

I found the first manufacturing product on the market on the Windows platform from a company called Lilly Software Associates. I had the philosophy going into this project that we were only going to get a certain percentage of our requirements from a packaged software, but rather than build it from the ground up, start with a packaged software through a relationship with a company that would allow us to customize it to meet the rest of our requirements.

That's what the relationship with Lilly afforded us. I had a team of developers, I had a team of infrastructure networking folks, and I was going to take that team and add to the software so that Penn United Technology wouldn't have to change any of its business processes. Eventually, we started building useful additives to their product, so much so that I just became so passionate about software that I realized that Penn United was a manufacturing company; they needed to be about manufacturing.

I wanted to be about software, so the early days of becoming an entrepreneur were about becoming part of the software industry instead of being a necessary component of another industry.

TrueFit Solutions has won several business awards. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I think we've got a good company, and I'm proud of the company we've built. One reason why we've been successful is because we have a set of core values that we have used to define who we are and what we stand for.

It was something I learned when I was at Penn United Technology because I was with some very seasoned businesspeople who had a principled approach to running a business. We defined what those values were and said, 'This is how we're going to run our business.' So everyone that we work with -- the customers, the employees, the people in the community -- all know where we're coming from.

They can count on us to make decisions in a certain way, based on a certain set of values. The next thing I would say is, once you have a strong set of values, you have to base your thinking on the relationships involved. It was our passion for technology, it was our passion to see our customers succeed with the business problems that they were trying to solve.

We were applying technology that really frees them up to be creative. We were selling solutions, not technology.

How to reach: TrueFit Solutions Inc., www.truefitsolutions.com