Originally featured on ocregister.com - December 8, 2017
It may sound like a strange goal for the president of a growing information technology company. But Jim Andronaco — who co-founded Sidepath in Laguna Hills 11 years ago — said he never wants to have more than 50 employees.
“Right now, I know every spouse and every child,” Andronaco said. “If there’s one thing that could hurt our culture, it’s getting too big.”
That family-like environment is clearly working for Sidepath employees, who voted the company one of Orange County’s Top Workplaces for the third year in a row. And it seems to be working for the business as a whole, with Andronaco noting that Sidepath is on track to grow its revenue by $10 million this year as it offers data center hosting for some 350 clients.
While Sidepath remains small, its staff has nearly doubled in size over the past few years to nearly 40 employees. They’ve also maintained an extremely low turnover rate in an industry known for the opposite.
One factor employees cited in their Top Workplaces surveys is the solid benefits Sidepath offers. The company covers 100 percent of health care benefits for workers, plus offers 401(k)s and profit-sharing plans.
Sales staff get monthly commission checks. The other 80 percent of Sidepath workers are eligible for quarterly bonuses. Rather than basing those bonuses on profits, Andronaco said they base them on customer satisfaction. And he said they regularly increase either the bonuses or the salaries — or both — to ensure employees make more money than they did the year before.
Still, Andronaco said he knows most of his staff could earn more working for bigger companies. And he knows they have options since Andronaco said he’s witnessed major firms try to poach his workers. That’s why he’s convinced the culture rather than the compensation is what’s keeping Sidepath workers loyal.
The telecom firm lets workers build their own schedules, with no time clocks, fixed number of sick days or limit on vacations.
They also let workers telecommute. Andronaco said he has employees who live in Big Bear and San Diego who might come to the office just once every two weeks. One of his top engineers even lives out of state. That allows employees to stay with the company even when their spouses get new jobs or through other life changes that can lure even happy workers away.
“We don’t micromanage,” Andronaco said. “Everybody’s kind of on an honor system.”
You have to hire the right people to make that autonomous system work, he said. But rather than take advantage of the freedom, Andronaco said he often has to nudge workers — who never want to be the weak link in their small, tight-knit chain — to get out the door and take time off.
That’s one reason he started paying for employees to take once-in-a-lifetime vacations. Shortly after the company launched, Andronaco said he started bringing key players and their families to Hawaii each year. Last year, to mark Sidepath’s 10-year anniversary, he flew every worker and their spouse to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. Next summer, employees get to choose from a week in Cabo or a week on an Alaskan cruise.
“I think it really helps to have something big on the calendar to look forward to,” he said. “It gets people through some of the stressful days.”
Sidepath offers options for workers to relieve daily stress at its Laguna Hills office. There are pool and ping-pong tables. Andronaco regularly provides family-style lunches. They have holiday parties, do charity events together and enjoy local gatherings with their families.
Workers are also given the opportunity to voice their ideas and offer feedback during monthly sit-downs, Andronaco said. If they propose an idea that’s good for the firm, he said they’re responsive to those requests.
Another key to worker satisfaction, Andronaco believes, is he purposefully keeps the scope of his firm narrow, regularly offering new training and equipment as needed. That helps workers take pride in becoming masters over a few areas rather than feeling mediocre at a wide range of services.
Andronaco said he’s seen workers blossom under that approach. That includes one of his engineers, whose teary-eyed parents approached Andronaco during their son’s recent wedding to thank him for the difference Sidepath has made in both the career and personal well-being of their son.
“Maybe something I’m doing is right,” Andronaco said.
Sector: Information technology
Headquarters: Laguna Hills
O.C. employees: 39
“Right now, I know every spouse and every child. If there’s one thing that could hurt our culture, it’s getting too big.”
Jim Andronaco, Sidepath president and co-founder