Want to know what the most important word in technology is?
Dave Hartman will tell you: “It’s ‘people.’”
“It’s not ‘system,’ it’s not ‘technology,’ it’s not ‘information,’ even,” says Dave, the president of Hartman Executive Advisors. The most important word – the most pivotal factor influencing the past, present, and future of technology and the way it impacts businesses and organizations the most – is “people.”
“I think that’s one of the most unique pieces of our model,” Dave says about the ‘co-sourced’ IT advisory firm he co-founded with wife, Marie, in 2004. The company does not sell technology solutions or make a dime from them in any way. Instead, it offers C-suite executives the opportunity to work alongside senior IT and cybersecurity advisors who know the ins and outs of the industry and who can help them achieve their business goals.
“You can have the best technology, systems, architecture, and security in the world, but if your people aren’t aligned and your customers aren’t benefitting from it… if your people are not able to use it to help make their jobs easier and make the experiences of the customers better, then why are we doing it? And, so, while we certainly focus on systems and infrastructure to ensure it’s foundationally sound and will align with our clients’ needs, our real focus is the business.”
Luckily, Dave and Marie have always had a few great ideas up their collective sleeves.
The IT Factor
Back before Hartman Executive Advisors was born, Dave was hard at work leveraging lessons learned during eight years as a U.S. Naval Flight Officer, and building a career at Andersen Consulting, as well as several CIO/VP of Information Technology roles for companies in the healthcare and retail markets.
Marie, on the other hand, was busy bringing her passions and an unmistakable energy and charisma to bear in the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, it was rare to be successful as a female, especially one who lacked a science background (Marie had earned a business degree) in an industry that typically sought to hire representatives with science degrees or former military officers, most of whom were male.
But the couple had a son who was just turning 2, and a daughter on the way.
“You had two executives who were doing very well in their respective businesses,” Marie continues. “And the challenge – for us personally – was that there was no one running the home.”
Big decisions were needed.
“We had to step back and evaluate our goals and priorities as a couple and a family.” Together, they made the decision that Marie would step away from her corporate role.
As Marie recalls, “Giving up my career was not easy. I wanted to be present for and enjoy my family, as well as have a fulfilling career.” This would have been a difficult feat in a corporate environment where business and personal goals were not supposed to mix.
“For me, the important life lesson was that you can never run from who you are, what you’re attracted to, and what makes you happy,” she says. So, when volunteering opportunities presented themselves, she couldn’t help but lend a helping hand.
What can she say, she laughs: “I’m good at raising money.”
While volunteering together, friends began to ask for Marie’s advice with their sales and marketing initiatives at work. She giddily recalls the day she was headed out the door to meet with one of them, when Dave, flabbergasted, asked, “Why are you dressed up in a suit and where are you going?!”
A new plan was formulated to offer cohesiveness. An umbrella company – Hartman Consulting – would be launched to showcase each partner’s strengths; Marie guiding her own clients on marketing and sales initiatives, and Dave focusing his energies on the people-driven projects surrounding technology.
An early branding exercise prompted a website concept with dual themes. The blue side, Dave says, would have served customers of Hartman Technology, while the green would have catered to Marie’s sales and marketing clients.
“But we quickly realized that there were a number of sales and marketing firms out there that we found ourselves competing with,” says Dave. “We felt like we had something unique on the technology side that was different.”
The IT Crowd
The Hartmans’ idea was simple.
CEOs of large companies and multi-billion-dollar enterprises were already flanked by Chief Information Officers and Big Four consulting firms. They had an abundance of information to draw from when making critical business decisions.
“If you were the owner or CEO of a mid-size or smaller business, however, especially in technology, you may not have been surrounded by the same C-suite of leaders. You certainly didn’t have a Chief Information Officer,” says Dave. “There were plenty of vendors trying to sell you something, but strategic advisors just weren’t interested in smaller companies.”
But Hartman was. And before long, they were delivering Big Four-style strategy and unbiased, trusted technology advice to small business owners and mid-sized companies throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
“The model is the same as it’s been since day one,” Dave says. “Every piece of advice we give is business-focused, independent, and truly in the best interest of our client – not based on something we sell.”
They call their model “co-sourcing.”
“You outsource process. You outsource payments. You outsource payroll, maybe. You outsource your email processing, or whatever. You can’t outsource leadership. Co-sourcing really says, ‘You’re not outsourcing to us – we’re insourcing to you.’ So, while all of our employees are full-time employees of ours – they all work in fractional ways for our clients so it’s more affordable for them, which is a big part of our model.”
The IT Concept
Clients are continuously surprised to discover Hartman’s technology-based business strategy.
“Even today, we hear the same thing from most clients: ‘When it comes to technology, I don’t know what I don’t know.’ That idea became core to their business model. Most business leaders understand the finances and core operations of their business, but technology is often a big, scary, black box.”
Because of that, many business leaders find themselves paralyzed or uncertain how to make critical technology decisions that impact their organizations. They either push those decisions down to more tactical management layers or they avoid them altogether.
Hartman believes that a company’s technology platform is just another critical element of their business portfolio. If you treat it like a critical part of your business, you expect your technology leaders to discuss it in business terms, but when IT is allowed to exist out on an island, with IT leaders speaking a ‘foreign language,’ suddenly its treated as a separate entity, and problems begin to multiply.
As companies grow, Marie adds, individual departments begin making decisions in a vacuum. Finance may suddenly determine that a new system is needed to automate manual processes. Or Operations will purchase a new enterprise system. Or the sales department buys a CRM.
“That’s kind of the normal way that businesses have evolved over the years,” she says. “What is lacking is: ‘Why do we need them? What are we trying to accomplish? What does good look like?’ ‘What are the optimal outcomes we want out of our team members and do we have a successful way to get there?’”
Most clients, she continues, purchase a system based on the bells and whistles – the benefits that the vendors laid out.
“Those things resonate with people,” she says. “But no one thinks of how we’re going to get there. Because we don’t sell anything, the real value Hartman Executive Advisors brings to the table – the real difference – is that it’s really about business goals first. It’s all about ‘What does success look like and what’s our plan on how to get there.’”
What Success Looks Like
Hartman Executive Advisors serves more than nine industries in over 25 states.
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, and the nation locked down, everything changed for everyone… but it didn’t change in the same way for everyone.
“In hospitality, their revenues plummeted 75% over night. And for healthcare, demand for services obviously increased,” Marie says. Other client organizations, she adds, like government contractors, pivoted from producing goods to producing PPE as a result of the pandemic. Hartman was there every step of the way, helping these companies and their leaders to create new strategies – and the legs to support them.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Dave says. “There were times in April and May where every day we were tackling a new challenge or uncertainty. We didn’t know for sure what was going to happen. We were getting calls from clients who thought they had to cut back our services.”
“In some cases, we made the decision that, because what we did for them was so critical to their operations – even if they couldn’t pay us – we needed to keep serving them,” Marie adds. “We just hoped it would work out. In some cases, we weren’t paid at all for several months. But I think our clients appreciated that … that we were still there for them, doing critical work.”
Another key step to survival, Dave adds, was that Hartman Executive Advisors’ way of thinking changed wholesale.
“The things we once evaluated monthly, we started evaluating daily and weekly. We were taking a weekly look at cash and income, receivables, payables… We were looking at our client portfolio, and how people were working, where they were working, and [what our resources were.] We had weekly calls with our partner group … and I was having daily calls with our practice leaders. Every day something was changing. That really was a lesson for us and a lesson about business, is that sort of ability to get down to really what’s important.”
The Importance of ‘AND’ in IT
Would you believe the continued success of an IT advisory firm during a business-crippling pandemic all comes back to “people”?
Dave says it was their talented team, their faithful clients, and a “really strong, almost universal focus on the right things that got us through.”
One of those things was never asking employees to choose between business and family.
“The pandemic made that so much more obvious,” Marie says. “For many businesses, it’s an either-or kind of culture, right? But at Hartman, it’s an ‘AND.’ That conjunction is so important.”
Tucked away in the Hartman Executive Advisors office is what Dave and Marie refer to as their Book of Dreams. Inside are detailed the hopes and goals of over 50 employees. Putting it all in writing is part of the onboarding process for every team member at Hartman.
“It may sound corny, but you wake up in the morning and you realize, ‘This is what’s at stake for the team and the company,’” says Marie. “And why we need to protect that. [Everyone] should have clarity and understanding of what’s important to them and their family. Writing it down gives you that clarity. And sharing it with others makes us all accountable. As a result, it’s another ‘AND.’ We have more than 50 families’ dreams riding on our own – AND we have to be profitable in order to achieve our clients’ goals, drive the company, and enable these dreams to become a reality.”
“That’s what you work for at the end of the day,” Dave adds. “You don’t work for a paycheck. You work to achieve your goals. I think people sometimes forget that.”
Luckily, Hartman Executive Advisors is here to help point the way.