A 25-year anniversary would be a major milestone for any company. But when that company is an IT staffing and recruiting provider, and when those 25 years coincide with the most dramatic technological progression in modern history, it’s doubly impressive. When MDI Group opened its doors in Atlanta in 1988, few understood the value of the personal computer. Yet Howard Leff, MDI's founder, foresaw that the workplace would need experts who understood these clunky and mysterious products inside and out.
Of course, we know now that adoption of technologies in the workplace only grew from there. There were Compact Discs (1988), and then there were laptops (1989). Next came the Pentium Processor (1993). And after that, Google (1998) and the era of cloud computing. In 2012, MDI-veteran Richey Brownfield took the reins from then-CEO Ella Koscik, who was instrumental in expanding MDI's footprint. Now, the company operates in seven states and earns $50 million a year. Recently, I spoke with Brownfield and director of marketing Kelly Clark about how the company not only navigated these sweeping changes, but capitalized on them. How does reinvention continually happen?
“It has to do with knowledge of your subject matter. Our staffing specialists are not going to be ‘technologists’ per se, but they’re going to have a very good understanding of the skill sets and technology they support,” said Brownfield, who believes the evolving nature of IT is what makes it a fun labor segment.
While many staffing firms have chosen to spread the net wide, recruiting for several industries, MDI Group has chosen to specialize. In the world of IT, that’s a true advantage.
“By specializing, we get to know the industry better. And from a recruiting or client interface standpoint, we can share that general knowledge and even help them define what it is they’re looking for,” he said.
On top of the dramatic shifts in the technological sphere, the recruiting landscape has undergone a major makeover too -- and not just in terms of social media.
“When I started in the staffing business in 1999, requirements were much more generic. You’d see orders for a business analyst or project manager with 5 years of experience," he said. "Now... they need more specific skills –not just technologically specific, but industry-specific, too."
Clark explains that much of this increased specialization boils down to risk management. "With each new technological upgrade, it becomes a new security risk, and [clients] don’t have time to ramp up somebody from outside to explain the risks involved." He offered the example of mobile banking, and how privacy operates under a whole different set of principles than it would on a PC or on a mainframe network, or even in an industry outside of finance, such as retail.
Amid the changes, however, MDI Group has remained traditional in a few senses of the word. For one thing, they’ve kept their services focused locally despite the trend of a national delivery model.
“There’s a lot of benefit to understanding what the labor market looks like, and finding out who [our client's] competitors are," Brownfield explained. "Just because a skill set is readily available in Washington, that means nothing to a potential employer in Georgia. So that’s a big differentiator.”
They also attribute much of their success to good old-fashioned relationship-building.
“Our critical success factors have never changed… it is a relationship-driven business, with open communication on the part of all parties – it’s about mutual trust, and knowledge of the subject matter,” he said.
Both Brownfield and Clark predict that IT will only trend upward from here, and that there's no demand "bubble" about to burst.
"[IT] used to be seen as a necessary evil. Now, companies view IT as a strategic method of growth," said Brownfield. "They’re under pressure to be more efficient, to keep costs down for customers. Technology plays a huge role in enabling that concept. So it’s only going to increase in the future."