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High-touch high tech: MSS Technologies

Mike-HawksworthAs a management consultant for a Big 8 firm, Mike Hawksworth was a seasoned road warrior. Then in 1986, tired of living out of a suitcase and wanting to spend more time with his family, he launched MSS Technologies. Yet Hawksworth wasn’t content to be a lifestyle entrepreneur — he wanted to create a lifestyle growth company.

Fast forward to today, MSS has about 50 employees and annual revenue of more than $8 million. The Phoenix-based company provides business management consulting services with a sweet spot in business process, organizational change, project management, quality assurance and corporate governance.

In contrast to competitors that focus on customers in vertical industries, MSS takes a cross-industry approach — and targets large enterprise clients that are either headquartered or have a substantial division in the Rocky Mountain states. “This doesn’t totally eliminate travel for our consultants,” says Hawksworth, “but it’s less than 25 percent of their time, which compares to nearly 100 percent travel if they worked for one of our competitors.”

Because of the MSS lifestyle model, employees are able to devote time to their community as well as their families, and the company is especially supportive of economic development and education. For example, Hawksworth has been a member of the Greater Phoenix Economic Development Council for more than a decade, serving on its ambassador steering committee. He’s also on numerous educational boards including an advisory council for Arizona State University’s New College and a computer information sciences advisory board at Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business.

In addition to work-life balance, Hawksworth wants to make sure employees grow with the company. With that in mind, MSS builds in a minimum of two weeks each year for employee development, education and training. It also dedicates a pool of “innovation hours” for consultants to work on product development.

MSS’ focus on people extends to its clients. “Our vision is to innovate how business management solutions are delivered,” says Hawksworth, noting that companies often buy complex systems without involving their employees. “Instead of bringing in new technology first and then training staff, we help clients understand how their people are part of the process.” The payoff is a higher rate of project success — and less customization of technology, Hawksworth says.

In 2006 MSS launched an employee stock ownership plan, and employees currently hold nearly 20 percent of the company’s stock. Hawksworth would like to see employee ownership reach 50 percent by the end of 2015. The company also practices open-book management and holds bi-weekly financial meetings that are open to all employees. “This way, people know if we’re starting the month with a forecast of profit or if we have some holes to fill,” Hawksworth explains. “Good times or bad times, they get to see it.” Cultivating an ownership mentality among employees ties into Hawksworth’s goal of sustainability. “We’re not growing this company to sell it,” Hawksworth says. “We’re growing MSS so it can remain a lifestyle business.”

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