Originally featured on ocregister.com - December 11, 2020
The idea behind tech company Sidepath was first sketched out on cocktail napkins after a game of racquetball.
Sales executives Jim Andronaco and Patrick Mulvee had been fantasizing about starting a company of their own, a company where employees aren’t treated as a number.
Then, AT&T bought their employer, SBC, and Andronaco got word he’d have to relocate to New Jersey. Either that or take a demotion.
A Southern Californian since he was 5 years old, Andronaco wanted to stay put.
That’s when those cocktail napkins resurfaced as his third option.
Both men quit their jobs and turned their fantasy firm into reality, creating a consulting company that helps businesses set up networks for storing, managing and accessing their data.
Fifteen years later, the Laguna Hills company has a staff of 48 employees and gross revenue topping $80 million this year. They work with about 300 companies, 250in Southern California, plus 50 elsewhere in the country and overseas.
This year, Sidepath also ranked No. 1 out of 76 small employers in the Orange County Register’s Top Workplaces program.
It was Sidepath’s sixth year ranking seventh or better in the employer recognition program, and its fourth time as No. 1 for a company with 99 or fewer employees.
Administered by Pennsylvania-based Energage, Top Workplaces ranks participating businesses based on employee surveys. The program drew 151 of Orange County’s 864,000companies with 50 or more employees this year.
Andronaco and Mulvee credit their “awesome hires” for creating a close-knit company that requires little supervision.
But they take credit for giving their staff the autonomy to do their jobs while keeping the atmosphere decidedly unbureaucratic.
“We are the opposite of corporate America,” Mulvee said.
Employee comments show their staff appreciates that approach.
Sidepath has a “great family-oriented environment, (with) strong vendor relationships,”one former employee said on Glassdoor. But, the ex-employee added, thefirm could be more agile in adopting emerging technologies.
“No one micro-manages me,” another employee said in response to the Top Workplaces survey. “I’m trusted as an expert and given the freedom and flexibility to do my job the way I want to.”
A first-class package of benefits also boosts job satisfaction. Those include100% coverage of health insurance premiums, flexible hours and profit-sharing. Non-sales employees receive quarterly bonuses.
Before the pandemic, the company treated staff to a group lunch every week and sponsored company vacations that included cruises or trips to Costa Rica for employees and a guest. Or they could choose to take the whole family to Cabo San Lucas. Two years ago, Sidepath took 52 people — 21 of them employee’s kids— on a family holiday.
Employees long had the freedom to work one day each week from home — a practice that stretched to five days a week after the pandemic hit in March.
It was scary at first. A lot of small companies were going out of business. Some employees offered to forego their quarterly bonuses. (Sidepath turned them down.)
But it turned out that a lot of companies needed Sidepath’s help setting up remote access to their offices so employees could work from home.
“Our business has been up since COVID,” Mulvee said.
Sidepath hired two more workers, increasing the payroll to 48.
“Our competitors are laying people off, and we’re hiring,” Mulvee said.
Before the pandemic, clients could visit Sidepath’s data “lab” to test drive the gear the company offers and view whiteboard demonstrations.
Now they can get those demonstrations virtually. Sidepath built three Lightboard studios — two of them in the homes of company engineers — where glass panels are used in place of whiteboards.
Virtual dinners and happy hours replaced the staff lunches. The company-sponsored trips are scheduled to resume next spring. And Andronaco holds regular video calls with staff.
“Every week or two, we need to be touching (base with) everybody in some way, even if it’s just, how’s your kid doing?” he said. “All that stuff is important.”
While “the year of COVID” has been a tough year, filled with curveballs, Sidepath’s owners believe they’ve succeeded in keeping employees safe and confident that they’ll keep their jobs.
“It’s been a crazy year. We feel like we’re coming out of it from a business perspective. I don’t think I could have said that in March,” Andronaco said. “We’ve adjusted well. More importantly, our people adjusted well.”
Sidepath: No. 1 Small companies
Industry: Information technology
Headquarters: Laguna Hills
OC Employees: 48
Quote: “It’s been a crazy year. We feel like we’re coming out of it from a business perspective. I don’t think I could have said that in March. We’ve adjusted well. More importantly, our people adjusted well.” — Jim Andronaco, president and co-founder of Sidepath