A few weeks back, as we were making final preparations for the great NCI 25, our twenty-fifth anniversary, Kristen and Amanda approached me about writing our story. The story of Network Connections. I thought about it, then I thought about it some more. I poured a beer or two, and thought about it even more. Isn’t our story fairly well known by now? From the historic perspective I would say yes. Everyone knows the captivating tales of how this now mighty company grew from a tiny outfit, supported by bins in the back of my Toyota hatchback. How the little NCI train kept making it up that hill, growing bigger, stronger, and better with each mile down the track. Everyone knows that tale by now, I suppose. So from the historic perspective, I’d say, yes, our story is out there, and very well known. What about from the philosophical perspective, however? The philosophy of NCI. The short answer is people, right? NCI is always about good people. We find good people, and we develop them into great employees. Simple, right? No, not even close. We don’t always get it right with our talent targeting, but we have a process, and we are continually refining it. Our process of seeking out undervalued people stems from true historic events in the late summer of 1996.
Back in that summer, our little company was growing, and definitely feeling the associated growing pains. As we took on additional clients and bigger jobs, the time was upon us to hire some veteran technicians, savvy guys who knew the ropes, so to speak. These senior level journeymen would head up our new projects and we would all make money and gain valuable experience while expanding our client list. Win, win, win. Not so fast, Brian. Let’s just say that our sage veteran techs were not so sage, and our resulting product suffered for it. Mistakes, mismanagement, and occasionally, even malingering (look up the word, Nickie Nation) dominated our new operational landscape. Using fewer big words, these guys were dogs! Our craftsmen were more crafty than craft. They screwed up regularly, or they lazed their way out of performing billable work, and we were either kicked off of jobs or we lost money on the jobs that we managed to complete. This stuff isn’t on the Nickiepedia page, right? No, it’s not. 1996 was a very hard year for Network Connections. We were an embarrassment.
So, like any sports minded leader, I did what they do in the big leagues. When your expensive veteran players are lazy and ineffective, and your team is pretty crappy, you start playing the rookies. We dismissed the senior techs (some of which awkwardly) and we then brought in a few young guys that we knew through various circles. These were all good, young men that were looking for a little more from their work lives. Essentially, these were guys that we really felt would work hard, do good by the customers, and represent us well. It worked! Presto, the new NCI hiring model was conceived! Find good, young, hungry, (and, of course, affordable) guys, teach them what we know, and turn them loose. That first class of techs: James, Adam, Robert, and myself - we developed the foundation of NCI Ops. It’s crazy to think that a few young former waiters and bartenders built the initial operational platform for this company, a platform that we still use today! We worked hard, and we placed customer happiness first. It worked, and the rest, as they say, is history!
The message here is that NCI learned a valuable truth during the summer of 1996, the truth that good people can become great employees and teammates. You can teach an employee a lot of important skills, but you can’t teach people to be good, kind hearted, or honest. It’s that simple. That’s the secret of the seemingly continuous stream of great NCI employees! Through the years, we’ve applied our “good people” philosophy to all areas of our hiring. Regardless of age, race, gender, NCI will always strive to find prospective employees that possess the internal qualities that match our core values. Sure, we’ve had challenges with this model through the years dating back to that original class. Job knowledge is an earned premium at NCI, but I will always maintain that good values and likeability trumps a thick resume nearly every time.
In Nickie Nation, we are the everyman…well, I guess that I should say everyperson now. We are ordinary people that unite to form an extraordinary team. We understand how a customer wants to be treated, because in the end, they are also ordinary people with ordinary lives. Perhaps I am the king of the common man, but my kingdom is most uncommon.
As always…Men and Women of Nickie Nation, it has been an honor to share the field of battle with you! Happy 25th Birthday, my Beautiful Monsters, you’ve earned this one!
Brian S. Watterson