One-On-One with Chris Carrington

By: Luke Wyckoff Issue: Innovation, Growth, Job Creation Section: Business

CEO of Alpine Access

chris_carrington

ICOSA: What is your background and how did you get into Alpine Access?

Carrington: I received my undergraduate degree in economics from Indiana University. After graduation, I began working for Bank One which is now JP Morgan Chase. After a couple of years, I decided I was much more interested in sales than banking, and I eventually was recruited away by a financial services group called DDS. I went through their management development program and from there went into sales with DDS where I progressed into management, then operations, and eventually into global sales. I was president of the Americas division where I ran a 600-person consulting team. I left DDS after 12 years and moved to Denver, Colorado where I became CEO of a small private equity company. I had to take that company through bankruptcy, re-package them after bankruptcy; and prepare them to be sold. I also worked for Capgemini Consulting for four years. Over the years, I met the equity-based companies involved with Alpine Access in 2002. So I joined the board in early 2006 and became CEO in July of 2006.

ICOSA: How big was Alpine Access in 2006 compared to where it is today?

Carrington: We were about $20 million and shrinking. We had never made a dime of profit in the eight years we had been in business. We had a great business model but had yet to make anything substantial happen. But that has changed. We’ve done about $128 million this year and are extremely profitable. Last year we finished our fourth year of double-digit growth. We grew 43 percent in 2010, and the first quarter of this year we grew 77 percent.

ICOSA: Who are some of the people/companies in business today that you consider to be great innovators?

Carrington: At the end of the day we are a Business-to-Business (B2B) type company. We serve Fortune 500 companies, so I always look to other B2B companies that are successful. I also look at some of the great consumer brands in terms of being innovative — like Apple, Inc. Apple is the creator of an elegant type of technology that provides a quality product and a unique experience from the moment that someone purchases it. We try, at Alpine Access, to create an environment for our employees that is very elegant — that the work is online and that employees can easily do their work in the comfort of their own home. We try to make our training a very smooth and unique process. We look at companies who have incredibly high standards for customer service, and we try to emulate those standards. We are a young company and we have plenty to learn, but I think that our growth suggests that we must be doing something right in that area.

ICOSA: What would you attribute to your growth?

Carrington: First and foremost I would give the credit to our unique business model. The whole concept of our company is, why bring the employee to work when you can bring the work to the employee? The foundation the company was built on was the virtualized call center model. And in doing that, we opened up complete access to all the possible talent across the United States. While examining the competitive landscape, we see other call centers and customer service centers that have a very basic brick and mortar based approach and can recruit within a 30 mile radius around the call center. What’s different about Alpine Access is our ability to go where the talent is, instead of trying to get the talent to come to where we are. Because of that, we have a lot of productive, skilled individuals working for us. Customers have a better experience and therefore want to buy more, thus helping us grow.

ICOSA: With that growth, what are some of the growing pains that you’ve had to go through?

Carrington: When I first came to the company we were really focused on “easy calls” such as seasonal retail calls. We had clients like 1-800-FLOWERS. We used to flip through PowerPoint presentations to train our new employees because there really wasn't a high level of difficulty involved. We soon learned that there was no way to grow a profitable, sustainable company using seasonal retail clients. We really needed year-round Fortune 500-companies as clients because those calls are very complex. Now we do advanced technical support. Training for those types of calls is more like 200 hours instead of 20 hours. Our biggest challenge was finding out how to transfer knowledge to somebody who was never going to come to our location and sit in a classroom. We had to figure out how to train people, on their computers, in the comfort of their own homes, in an efficient manner. Back in 2007 we invented Alpine Access University, a fully integrated multi-media platform that allows adult learners in all 50 states to participate in a 200-hour training program and come away with a wealth of knowledge. That, in a lot of ways, has been our biggest challenge, but at the same time, our biggest success.

ICOSA: What types of things do you do as a leader that fosters innovation within the company?

Carrington: I listen to all of our employees, not just my management team. We are constantly surveying our employees asking them for their opinions and ideas. Our employees always have great innovative ideas. As a leader, I like to create an environment in which to nurture those ideas. I always try to create incubation labs that allow people to test ideas and spend the money needed to do so. I believe in investing in my employees’ ideas, and I think that has really fostered an environment of innovation within the company. We will be very close to being a $250 million company in a couple of years. Because our model is so innovative, we’ve turned an industry upside-down. People are trying to catch up to us — but it’s just too late. We are an employee-based company where we value the strong bond between the employees and the employer. We don’t use contractors. We want Alpine Access to be a place where people can develop careers. Last year alone we created 200 new management positions within the company, and 90 percent of those were promotions from within. People can have amazing careers from their home.

ICOSA: What will Alpine Access look like two years from now?

Carrington: Two years from now we will be the next Denver-based public company. We have a very efficient growth model. There are a lot of people who would like to participate in the growth of Alpine Access, and we’ll accomplish that through an IPO. Denver is often known as a city that loses large companies. We want to be a company that claims Denver as our home base.

ICOSA: If you had advice for executives across North America, what advice would you give them?

Carrington: America is the greatest pool of talent in the world. Too often, we are lured by lower costs of outsourcing overseas. Sometimes you need to look beyond the appeal of lower costs to understand the greater opportunities that are available to your business. Alpine Access’ model proves that. We’ve proved that you can re-invent an industry right here in America, be cost competitive, and offer a greater service.

Luke Wyckoff is the Chief Visionary Officer for Social Media Energy. He can be reached at Luke@SocialMediaEnergy.com.