The innovation equation: How culture drives big ideas at 4 Chicago companies

by Alton Zenon III
July 11, 2019

Innovation rarely occurs in a vacuum, and enabling talented employees to turn their best ideas into successful products requires a number of variables, with company culture being one of the most vital. When built thoughtfully, culture encourages team members to produce their best work and think creatively. How are those conditions established in the first place? We asked four Chicago tech leaders to find out. 

 

FTD Companies staff working in conference room

Companies that include Shari’s Berries, Gifts.com, ProFlowers and more fall under the umbrella of FTD Companies — an international provider of gifts and floral arrangements. Senior Principal Engineer Vijay Sekhri said unity and welcoming change is the basis of the company’s culture. 

 

What aspects of your company culture encourage people to think outside of the box?

The tech industry keeps evolving, and so do we. We foster a culture of being open to changes and admire those with a passion for trying new things. Our team believes that change is the only constant. We are already leveraging cutting-edge technologies in our e-commerce platform, but it is our collaboration and willingness to work across silos that defines our culture.

It is our collaboration and willingness to work across silos that defines our culture.”

 

How was your company culture built? 

Our culture grew organically out of necessity. We work with bright minds in a fast-paced environment and we collectively created a culture where people are empowered to try new, innovative ideas and technologies. The success of FTD is our ultimate goal and our culture is focused on moving forward as one team.

 

Vibes team on a boat

Vibes works to improve the mobile user experience for brands — which include Home Depot, Verizon and Comcast — across multiple channels, using personalized outreach. Vice President of Engineering Clarke Retzer said maintaining an entrepreneurial vibe on his team helps drive company success. 

 

What aspects of your company culture encourage people to think outside of the box?

We value independent, outside-the-box thinking to find the best solution for a particular problem. We have found that by bringing together people from different social and professional backgrounds, we increase the breadth of solutions brought to the table. And by encouraging active and inclusive participation, coupled with a mindset of embracing failure as a learning opportunity, we help find the best solutions to continue pushing the business forward. 

By bringing together people from different social and professional backgrounds, we increase the breadth of solutions brought to the table.”

 

How was your company culture built? 

We have intentionally built, and continue to build, our culture of diversity and inclusivity. Vibes is fortunate to have leaders across the company from various backgrounds, so there is a natural inclination to foster this environment and empower all team members to be their best. An example is in engineering, where we are working on hiring a team of people in close succession. By bringing new team members from differing backgrounds and experience levels onboard at the same time, we can help build camaraderie so that each person can bring their full selves to the team and help us all become better.

 

Kenna Security team members working at large table

Kenna Security provides companies with a risk-based vulnerability management platform backed by data science, which they can use to stay digitally well-protected. Vice President of Engineering Dave Bortz said the company’s current culture is one he built intentionally, based on his previous career experiences.

 

What aspects of your company culture encourage people to think outside of the box?

When I look to hire any role within engineering, I focus on these three qualities: aptitude, self-motivation and collaboration. If I'm able to hire people who figure out which problems need to be solved, and are capable of solving them collaboratively with the rest of the team, I know I can create a culture of autonomy where managers guide their teams rather than micro-manage them, and we'll end up building great technology. 

We try to facilitate communication between people and teams at every level.”

 

How was your company culture built? 

We try to facilitate communication between people and teams at every level, and define simple processes to ensure that new and innovative ideas have quick and consistent peer and leadership visibility. While specific aspects of our culture developed organically, these high-level principles are definitely deliberate, and chosen, quite frankly, because it's the type of culture I've always enjoyed and worked well in throughout my career as an engineer.

 

NVISIA working in conference room

Businesses in the healthcare, insurance, financial services and manufacturing industries partner with NVISIA to improve their software capabilities and evolve their tech teams. President Shaun Lovick said maintaining and evolving the company’s culture is a constant and fulfilling enterprise. 

 

What aspects of your company culture encourage people to think outside of the box?

As a company of hand-picked engineers and craftsmen, one of our goals has always been to keep in step with the technology market and then leverage those technologies and processes to help our clients. We find this is done most effectively if everyone in the company is included in providing guidance and a voice to accomplish our goals.

By equipping our engineers with the right tools and training, we have the confidence to hit the ground running and help out client teams from day one.”

 

How was your company culture built? 

We hold small group meetings to discuss the trends and processes we should be investigating. Additionally, we participate in lunch and learns, hands-on training and client knowledge share. We feel that by equipping our engineers with the right tools and training, we have the confidence to hit the ground running and help out client teams from day one.

 

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