“I worked internationally on six continents and got a lot of exposure to enterprise IT. Then I found myself living in Washington, D.C. with young kids. Our kids were born three months before 9/11, followed by snipers and anthrax. My wife and I said, ‘what are we doing here?’ It was a no brainer to come back to Montana.”
– Tom Stergios, VP, ATG Missoula Solutions Center
By Shannon Furniss
Last summer, Tom Stergios sat on the deck of Finn and Porter in Missoula with some of his clients, watching people fly fishing on the Clark Fork River and listening to the legendary Paul McCartney who was performing across the river at the University of Montana Washington-Grizzly stadium. The next day, Stergios, vice president of Advanced Technology Group Missoula Solutions Center, took the C-level executives from a Fortune 1000 company fishing on Flathead Lake and for a helicopter ride in Glacier Park.
“They fell in love with Montana,” said Stergios. It was a “magical” week in Missoula, and it’s likely his clients will be visiting again.
Tucked away next to the Shack restaurant on Missoula’s Main Street is the Advanced Technology Group, or ATG, a high-tech firm that does business with multi-million to multi-billion dollar companies throughout the world. ATG has more than 50 employees who work in a cubicle-free, shared space with a refrigerator that’s well-stocked with Rockstar energy drinks. “It’s insane how much caffeine we go through,” said Stergios.
ATG has grown rapidly since Stergios opened the Missoula office in 2011 with a couple of employees. Of the 50-plus employees, more than half of them are fairly recent graduates from the University of Montana’s business school and computer science department.
Starting a Business from the Basement
Before opening ATG’s Missoula Solutions Center, Stergios was a remote worker, consulting with the Kansas City-based ATG from his basement office in Missoula. A native Missoulian who grew up in a house near Grizzly Grocery, he returned home after working as a consultant for Accenture, Axiom, IBM, Cygent, and Convergys.
“I worked internationally on six continents and got a lot of exposure to enterprise IT,” said Stergios. “Then I found myself living in Washington, D.C. with young kids. Our kids were born three months before 9/11, followed by snipers and anthrax. My wife and I said, ‘what are we doing here?’ It was a no brainer to come back to Montana.”
And when you’re working in the global economy, “you could be in downtown Manhattan and you’re still on the phone every day with your customers who are around the world,” said Stergios. “Where you are doesn’t matter anymore – it just matters that you have good communications and are able to work in different time zones.”
Going “Forensic” to Determine Clients’ Challenges
ATG works in an industry that is highly competitive and constantly changing, with Fortune 1000 companies that have revenues ranging from $160 million to $16 billion per year. ATG’s clients include some of the fastest-growing companies: Centurylink, Trimble, Yodle, Concur, Constant Contact, InterCall, and many others.
The Missoula tech company delivers strategy, implementation, and managed services for clients. They also provide strategic consulting – particularly around billing and accounts receivable, Customer Relationship Management, and complex quoting and contracting processes. Collectively, these areas are called “quote to cash.” In addition, they offer Software-as-a-Service implementation and flexible managed service offerings. ATG’s headquarters are in Kansas City, with offices in Missoula, Denver, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Dallas. Missoula is now the largest office at ATG.
A shift in consumers’ spending habits is reshaping the American economy and is keeping tech companies like ATG busy, said Stergios. The rise of the “subscription economy,” where consumers and businesses pay every month for recurring services – like cell phones – instead of a buying a product for a fixed price is well underway. Many of ATG’s clients (telecommunications, cable operators, wireless providers, and new media companies) operate in this type of environment.
For example, Stergios says, in the past, people used to just go to Blockbuster to rent a movie. But now they get movies online from Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, or elsewhere and pay in a variety of ways. So instead of simply renting a movie at the store, people have subscription relationships where, say, Netflix, is tracking and watching the relationship to figure out “how many customers they have, how much money they get from them every month, how they can add more customers, and how they can get existing customers to spend more.”
Managing complex revenue and customer interactions processes in these high-tech industries can get complicated, and ATG helps clients solve problems that arise in an arena where technology is always changing, said Stergios.
ATG’s team specializes in identifying what’s in sync and out of sync in a client’s environment. Most of the time, the challenges revolve around technology – but not always, he said. Sometimes the problem occurs because of an organizational or structural issue. The ATG team “goes forensic like were trying to solve a murder” to figure out precisely what is going wrong.
“We look at all these problem areas around people, process, and technology domains,” said Stergios. “It becomes our secret sauce.”
Building a Montana Workforce for a Global Economy
Energetic, bright students are vital to ATG’s operation, said Stergios, and the company recruits and hires graduates from the Montana University System. “Business models are changing very quickly, and consulting models are not keeping up with the pace of change. I need to create ‘consulting on demand.’ I need teams that can work really quickly. They need to be able to be really smart and do deep strategy and implementation. The market is asking for consulting companies to operate in a totally different way.”
ATG invests a lot of time training new employees to help them succeed and grow, said Stergios. “We train twice a week on accounting principles and consulting principals, how to match shoes and belts, how to write a contract, how to read a contract. I tell employees, ‘we’re growing so fast that in six months you’re going to be senior. I need you to keep reaching for the stars and keep learning. But I also need you to reach down and grab somebody and pull them along with you.’”
Employees work hard, but they also have fun together, said Stergios. Every week, the “Kitchen Czar”—a rotating position – is given a budget and is responsible for stocking the company refrigerator with snacks and hosting “Club MSC” where employees play games like jeopardy or whatever the Czar chooses. The Golden Rockstar (a can of Rockstar that is spray-painted gold) is awarded each Friday for someone who has “done something above and beyond” for ATG’s clients during the week.
ATG consultants also are paid well for their hard work. The average consultant salary is more than $75,000, with entry level positions starting in the low $40,000s plus bonuses. Raises are aggressive, with the original team of consultants from 2011 more than doubling their salaries. Senior consultants (with 10-plus years of experience) routinely earn well over $100,000. Stergios plans to grow his business and hopes to employ 150 or more in Missoula over the next few years.
Photo Caption: Tom Stergios (pictured far right) founded the Missoula Solutions Center of Advanced Technology Group (ATG) in 2011 and has since grown his team to 50+ employees, including many recent graduates of the University of Montana and Montana State University. ATG is a Management and Technology consultancy headquartered in Kansas City with locations in Missoula, St. Louis, Denver, Dallas, and Cincinnati. ATG’s largest office is in Missoula. Photo courtesy of ATG.
About the Author: Shannon Furniss is a Missoula-area journalist and communications specialist. Ms. Furniss is currently the communications director at the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research and the editor of the Montana Business Quarterly. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 175 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates. More information on the Alliance can be found at: www.MTHighTech.org.