Running a fast-growing company isn’t without challenges. It might even bring more.
Michael Smith at Next Level Solutions can attest to that.
Last year, to keep pace with business, the insurance software firm made 155 hires to add to the 160 on board, but it also lost about 50 staff members to either departure or termination. That’s a frantic pace.
“Managing that level of change in a 12-month window can be extremely taxing on an organization,” Smith says.
And Smith is chief operating officer, meaning he not only had a front-row seat to the action but also was present to help.
“It doesn’t start and stop with (human resources) and/or recruiting to handle this change either,” he says. “We had to invoke new processes in our training department, as well as the services teams consisting of engineering, development and business/quality assurance. Navigating that amount of growth is a perfect example of the old saying, ‘it takes a village’ because there is no way that we could have succeeded the way that we did if every department and every person wasn’t pitching in.”
The company started 2021 with roughly $19 million in annual sales. It finished the year with well over $36 million – just a few million dollars shy of doubling revenue.
That all-hands-on-deck approach to solving problems and creating successes is an example of Smith’s management style.
He and fellow property and casualty insurance veteran Chris Sawyer founded Next Level Solutions in 2018. Under their leadership, Next Level Solutions has earned back-to-back honors as the fastest-growing company among Springfield Business Journal’s Dynamic Dozen.
Sawyer credits Smith as the one who “keeps the trains on the tracks and our people and projects running,” in a recent social media post about the firm’s fast growth. The Next Level Solutions’ team handles upgrades and enhancements for P&C insurance clients on the Duck Creek software, as well as system integrations and testing for quality assurance. It’s highly technical work for such clients as international insurer Aegis and two Warren Buffett investments: MedPro Group and Three by Berkshire Hathaway.
“With nearly 300 people working across multiple engagements, I am tasked to make sure every person has what they need in order to be successful and make the project or client successful,” Smith explains. “This doesn’t stop at our client projects where I can be engaged in anything from software architecture to delivery leadership. It can also mean I spend my time helping out resource management with staffing the next adventure, or even taking a stab at sourcing to fill a gap with recruiting.”
Other examples of him jumping in are on late-night conference calls when a team is doing a client production release and in a hack-a-thon that paired Next Level Solutions’ staff with client employees in a three-day development competition.
But Smith’s quick to point out he’s not a micromanager.
“I prefer to cast vision, discuss the objective and then have the team member report back to me throughout the completion process,” he says. “I love to see people come into the organization and succeed.”
Once a week this time of year, roughly 150 men trade business suits and work attire for baseball uniforms – complete from caps to cleats – for the Grip N Rip Baseball league.