Hager rewarded for hands-on info tech

In a business community establishing itself as an information technology player, Paul Hager is leading the way as the chief executive officer of Information Technology Professionals.

The company’s consistent growth has not only landed it on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list four consecutive years, it impressed our Executive of the Year judges enough to name Hager as the “Chief Executive Officer of the Year.” Hager and seven other Executive of the Year winners will be honored at an awards reception on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Information Technology Professionals has been on a mission to help business clients complete their technology transformations, and that mission has fueled its growth. With a three-year growth rate of 101 percent, the company is on track for a coveted fifth straight year on the Inc. 5000 list, something only 6 percent of companies achieve. Executive of the Year judge and past winner Joe Pleshek, president and CEO of Terso Solutions Inc., spoke of ITP’s organic, workforce approach to growth. “Paul has led incredible business growth fueled by the acquisition of new employees and development of current staff,” Pleshek notes.

As Hager explains, there is no one overriding factor that has contributed to this growth, and that’s a good thing as the company and its business clients ride what he calls the cloud strategy wave. “Fortunately, there is not one sexy item that makes an organization like us grow,” he states. “It’s certainly a statement about the market as a whole continuing to need technology guidance in order to achieve their technology transformation. Every organization, whether you’re a very traditional agricultural business or a traditional printing company, is being challenged by technology to be able to innovate and transform.

“So, the market needs people that understand that path to transformation, and that’s what our company has been able to provide over the past four or five years, and obviously back to the company’s founding back in 2003.”

In Wisconsin, the technology industry has less than a 2 percent unemployment rate, and the most successful IT consultants are able to train and retain the best talent to help businesses make transformational changes in technology. In two years, ITP staff has doubled in size to more than 50 employees with an executive team that is 50 percent female (a rarity in the IT industry), and the company has become a modern technology partner, not a mere value-added reseller. “That’s a derogatory term now,” Hager states. “I would never want to be called a VAR because that’s just a technology company that helps people acquire tech stuff. That’s not the business we’re in.”

ITP is in business to be a “translator,” Hager says, in order to translate technology concepts into meaningful terminology that empowers businesses to make good decisions. “If they need product to make that happen, that’s fine, but our customers define us as their trusted advisor,” he states. “Some of our customers flatly introduce us as their chief technology officer to their board of directors. That’s the seat at the table that we represent, and that’s not just one person. That’s our whole company that provides guidance to them.”

Hager’s hands-on approach on everything from the onboarding process to diversifying his management team has elevated ITP, and his eye for what’s next in the technology space has ensured the company’s continued growth in all markets. He recently spoke at the UW–Madison E-Business Consortium and was asked to offer a 2019 prognostication on technology trends. He predicted that for technical reasons, blockchain would stumble because it’s not being adopted in the business world as fast as people expected. Hager also told those in attendance to keep an eye on “containers” and “orchestration services” that automatically help businesses leverage the cloud on scale.

“Containers and orchestration are services that help businesses not only leverage things like cloud on scale, but also are using more automation to be able to handle that,” Hager explains. “Before, a customer came to us and said, ‘We need to develop a device that we can put on our product to gather data, and we’re going to do this internet of things-type enablement of our product around the world,’ and we would have to build very complex structures and servers and guess at capacity requirements. With containers, we can say, ‘Here is what the structure is going to look like in the cloud,’ and we’ll just let the cloud itself say when it needs another server, and it will spin it up on its own with all the right software and pieces in place to handle that scale. When it doesn’t need it, it will scale back down.

“So, we’re really helping people with containers realize software-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service in a way that aligns to their business. You can scale up or scale down as needed.”

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Hager’s other piece of advice for 2019 is to watch for 5G wireless because he believes that more devices will start to support this next-generation technology in 2019. “Coming from Hewlett-Packard and Dell, I would expect it by 2019 or 2020 for sure,” he states. “We’re talking about wireless 1 gig internet anywhere you are. That changes the game for technology because some people’s biggest limitation to adopting technology is cheap access to larger amounts of bandwidth without having to bury any fiber — no wires in the ground and no cables in the ground.

“Access to up to 1 gig of internet on any device anywhere for very low pricing — that’s going to change the game. It’s going to lead to another large round of technology adoption.”

On the workforce development front, ITP has fully embraced the youth science, technology, engineering, and math movement, as the company has hired between three and five paid technology interns each year in collaboration with Madison schools. The ITP team spends a lot of time supporting high school and college level STEM programs, including young women in STEM fields, and Hager touts the competitive advantages of having a diverse executive team. “We support diversity within our own staff, and an important part of any business culture is to make sure you are attracting the best people, and that’s across diverse lines,” Hager states. “Without diverse people and backgrounds, I can’t make good decisions, especially if the people that are giving me advice are all from the exact same world view. That’s not going to help, and our customer base obviously is diverse. We have a wide range of customers in a wide range of industries, and we should match that. We should look like the melting pot our customer base is, as well.”

More growth, both in terms of revenue and staff, is in store for 2019. It’s easier to project growth when you’re a much smaller business, Hager notes, but the numbers get “bigger and scarier” to him every year. “We’re still projecting double-digit growth and still projecting to add at least 10 to 20 percent to our headcount in Wisconsin. That’s just off the back of continuing to grow, not just with the number of net new accounts we have, but also getting deeper within the accounts we have, wider into new technology areas like business intelligence, and some additional lines of business that we have to support our existing customers.”

The team, the team, the team

As the leader of ITP, Hager gets the lion’s share of the credit, but he knows the CEO of the Year recognition is really a team honor. “It’s like when you ask NFL quarterbacks about an award and they say it’s really a team recognition,” he notes. “Any leader of an organization would say we don’t win unless all the folks on my team are successful.”

For more details about the Executive of the Year event and to purchase tickets, visit IBMadison.com/ExecutiveOfTheYear.

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