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From left: Christie Browne, VP of delivery; Michael Smith, COO and managing partner; Cheri Fisher, associate VP of quality; and Brandon Angelakos, VP of technology
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
From left: Christie Browne, VP of delivery; Michael Smith, COO and managing partner; Cheri Fisher, associate VP of quality; and Brandon Angelakos, VP of technology

2024 Dynamic Dozen No. 12: Next Level Solutions

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SBJ: Would you still consider Next Level Solutions to be in the startup phase of growth?
Michael Smith: From a resource count and revenue basis, I think we’re out of that phase, but there are also things that fall under startup mode. A lot of companies that have been around for 10-plus years have fairly rigid processes and rules-driven attitudes. It might speak more to our culture than our longevity, but we don’t always stay within those boxes. Companies that have been around a long time have a red-tape theory that doesn’t really exist here.

SBJ: What issues have come with growing at a fast pace?
Smith: The things you really hold in high value when you first start a company, you have to really keep those at the top of your list as you’re growing and expanding. It’s very easy to lose sight of some of that stuff. Remaining true to what you set out to do is something that is top of mind.

SBJ: Is growth at this pace sustainable for NLS in the long term?
Smith: With the growth we’ve seen from year two to year five, that type of growth isn’t sustainable, and it has nothing to do with our ability to sell or hire. It has more to do with the energy it takes to do something like that. There is a threshold point at which 200% growth, although we love it from a revenue and jobs creation perspective, reaches a level where we can’t equip people fast enough to keep up. A growth trajectory that still pushes the envelope is definitely something we feel is sustainable. When you talk about 30%-40% growth year over year, that is still something that the majority of companies aren’t doing, and we definitely believe that we can grow to those levels and continue to create the same value-add to our clients.

SBJ: What internal metrics do you use to determine if your growth is verging on an unhealthy level?
Smith: It’s easy to hire to meet client needs with the amount of billable services work. Hiring to meet that need is fairly one to one. But when we start thinking about what those types of hires need, it can impact the rest of the organization. When I say we don’t want to grow so fast that we can’t keep up, I mean we don’t want to forget about the behind-the-scenes resources at NLS that help make the larger machine operate simply because we’re trying to solve client problems.

SBJ: Have you had to employ different talent strategies to maintain growth in your overseas markets?
Smith: It’s different in the U.S. The wants and desires of (staff) in Puerto Rico vary from the wants and desires of people here in Springfield. Whereas one location might be almost entirely driven by salary, another location might look more at (paid time off), variable compensation and different perks outside of salary that drive their motivations.

SBJ: How have the organization’s goals changed as you’ve grown?
Smith: When we first set out to do this, we were thinking that maybe we would have 50 people who work here, and we would focus on hiring the highest skill set. The market has driven us in a different direction. It was in the middle of year two that we started seeing that we’d have to figure out how to grow organically. We’re not always going to be able to hire a 10- to 15-year veteran in the space we’re working in. What helped us get to 300 people now is learning how to grow those people here inside our four walls.

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