It was the summer of 1986, one of the hottest on record. Michael Millhouse was heading into his senior year when an explosive conversation with his dad changed the course of his life.
“I was riding with my dad in his work van,” Michael recalled. “He was a union electrician and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. When I told him I wanted to follow in his footsteps, he started yelling at me. He shouted ‘You’re NOT going to do what I do. My knees are shot. My back hurts all the time. You should look at this computer stuff and see what you think.’”
Not wanting to disappoint his father, Michael spoke to one of the executives of his dad’s company about what they were doing with computers. Intrigued, he took his father’s advice and signed up for a computer class. “I did some basic programming stuff my senior year in high school and I liked it,” Michael said. A month after he graduated, he started at DeVry University, where he majored in Computer Information Systems for Business. Completing his degree in just three years, he was immediately hired as a consultant at an IT firm in Chicago. “I was doing programming on mutual fund systems at Kemper and not even 21 years old,” Michael said. “It was exciting! I ended up getting hired full time at Kemper, where I worked for a lot of smart folks.”
Michael got great experience at Kemper, however soon after being hired, shake-ups at the company caused him to search for a new opportunity. Recruited into a startup IT consulting firm called Genisys Consulting, Michael discovered he had a knack for connecting with people. He worked his way into sales and management, where he helped the company grow from five people to over 100 consultants. Ten years later, Michael was recruited by another IT company. But this time, he wasn’t happy. “I hated going into work every day,” he said. In 2002, frustrated by the constantly changing directives, he launched his own IT staffing company, Braemore Consulting, out of a spare bedroom in his house.
Building The Best IT Team One Cup Of Coffee At A Time
Michael found his unique ability to recall people’s history a catalyst for growth. “I had this obsession of collecting business cards and could recall each person’s backstory and how they were connected to different companies,” Michael said. “So, I would take the train into the city every day and put myself in a position to run into people where I could invite them to get a cup of coffee.”
Michael made it a rule that he couldn’t leave downtown Chicago without connecting with someone. “I knew a lot of talented individuals,” Michael recalled. “I started working with other IT companies that needed good resources and didn’t have a good recruiting arm. I got the best programmers and developers I knew and put them together with the businesses that I knew were looking for great, talented programmers and developers such as the Chicago Board of Trade.”
Within a year, he’d grown Braemore to over a million dollars. In 2004, to continue growing, he brought in John Gavilan and Laura Barker as partners and together formed BridgePoint Technologies. “I wanted to build a bigger, better company,” Michael said. “I brought in the best people I knew who had complementary skill sets and could deliver the IT services I was selling. Laura is an excellent project manager and very detail oriented. She became head of operations and CFO for us. John is a network guy turned programmer. He’s a genius and does a lot of phenomenal custom app development and project work.”
As the CEO and Co-Founder of Bridgepoint Technologies which serves lawyers and nonprofits in Chicago and throughout the U.S., Michael concentrated on pulling in the right resources and being the connector that closed deals. The company grew fast and furious. Named to the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies four times, BridgePoint quickly became a multi-million-dollar company. But when the company suffered growing pains, Michael began looking at how he could strengthen the foundation of his company.
Reinventing The IT Experience
“I wanted to improve our customer service quality,” Michael said. “I narrowed our focus to law firms and nonprofits and looked at our hiring process. I found that hiring people who were more experienced on the customer service side, even if that meant they had less experience on the technology side, was a good place to start. I edited our job postings to look for people who had worked in the hospitality industry and also had an IT background.”
Retooling the business, he put scorecards in place, set expectations for employee roles, and looked more closely at what roles they needed to fill to deliver the best service to their clients. “It’s putting the right butts in the right seats to deliver on what we promise our clients,” Michael said. “That’s hugely important when it comes to delivery and execution of what’s sold. We can teach them the technical side all day long, but those customer service skills are harder to teach. “
Michael discovered top talent such as a paralegal turned IT guy, who was brought in to work with their attorney clients. “Our clients love him,” Michael said. “He speaks their language, plus we have expertise and service for legal in house.”
Most recently, for their mobile solutions, he made an extremely strategic hire. “We brought on a full-on product manager for this,” Michael said. “She’s done a lot of cloud-based consulting work and helped develop a software tool and grow a company that was just bought by Google, so she knows what she’s talking about.”
The formula garnered trust and attracted prestigious law firms such as RM Partners Law and Tamari Law Group and nonprofits such as the Ronald McDonald House Charities, SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, which provides foster care homes that keep siblings together, and Embrace Living Communities, a non-profit with 33 affordable housing communities for seniors in the U.S.
“Clients are extremely loyal,” Michael said. “We can’t even fire a client. I tried to fire one recently because the person answering their phone was extremely abusive to our employees. When we told our client we thought it was time to part ways, they resolved the situation and asked us not to let them go.”
An Environment Ripe For Innovation
BridgePoint fosters a creative atmosphere that encourages innovative solutions for clients that help automate their business, increase efficiency, make compliance easy, and their business more secure.
“I surround myself with people that are way smarter than me,” Michael said. “Business owners can get in their own way, and while I know how to do each area or can learn it, my method is to find the people who are the best, give them what they need so they can excel, and then get out of their way.”
His partner, John, who does full application development, built an app called Digital Work Order which is being used around the world.
“Anybody who gathers data out in the field can use this app on any kind of mobile device to gather that data and bring it back to their corporate office,” Michael explained. “For example, we have nurses who are leveraging this application to do in-home drug trials in 55 countries in Europe right now.”
“IT shouldn’t be frustrating,” Michael continued. “We have a team of developers that work with clients to create their own internal custom solutions and help clients by taking the guesswork out of what they need. This year, for example, we are extremely security-focused because of all the cyber-attacks that are happening.”
Michael is adamant that every employee takes full ownership. “We want them to see things through to the end,” Michael said. “We also look for opportunities to humanize the client’s experiences with us.”
For example, when they build out a computer for a client, it is shipped with a personalized letter with a checklist of what was installed and what are the next steps. The employee responsible for the computer makes the list and signs it so the client can reach out directly to complete the setup. “When they receive their computer, it helps set the customer’s expectations and provides them with a personal point of contact,” Michael said. “It removes that piece of frustration and works extremely well.”
Even though Michael is experiencing exciting growth, he still places a huge emphasis on connecting with clients.
“I literally built the business on coffee and it still runs on coffee today,” Michael said. “It’s how I do all my business because technology can be frustrating and confusing and somewhat scary. And somehow figuring things out over a cup of coffee makes it better. So no matter what the issue, I’ll always be happy to sit with a client over a cup of coffee, help them determine the best solution to their IT problem and get them pointed in the right direction.”