Business Writing Sample: Award Nomination


By Mike Johnson
1999 Synergy Networks, Inc.

"The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award"


"More gold has been mined from the thoughts of men than has
ever been taken from the earth."
- Napolean Hill

In a perfect enterprise, the time, talents and treasures of all team members would be highly valued, richly rewarded and enthusiastically channeled toward a single goal that not only enriches the participants, but all who come in contact with the organization. In such a utopia, the synergy created from mining and channeling "the thoughts of men" exponentially exceeds the sum of the organization's individual parts.

Welcome to one such utopia, Synergy Networks, Inc.

The Nominee
Mark D. Gordon
Chief Energizing Officer
Synergy Networks, Inc.

When it comes to entrepreneurs, Mark Gordon is no forty-niner. Thirty seven years old. Founder, CEO and President of an $8 million company. Awards for Top 50 growth. Renowned clients like America Online, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Erol's Internet and Hughes Aerospace.

But look more closely and you'll realize Mark Gordon is as much a miner as an entrepreneur. Not a miner who squanders his life searching for gold, but a miner able to excavate the value already lying dormant within everything he sees. Whether he comes into contact with people, materials, relationships or ideas, Mark not only harvests value for his organization but the bringing forth leaves lasting value to whomever he's touched. In short, Mark Gordon energizes people to awaken their giant within, hence his job title of Chief Energizing Officer.

Gordon is the Founder and President of Synergy Networks, Inc. headquartered in Vienna, VA. Synergy is a 50-employee service provider that designs and installs data cabling infrastructures and configures and maintains sophisticated electronics hardware. In layman's terms, if your computer network were a single family home, Synergy is the company who designs and installs your high-tech plumbing.

For the past 13 years Mark has managed and/or owned four different start-up ventures in the data communications field. He's a graduate of American University, earning a B.S./Business Administration in 1982 and an MBA in Finance in 1983.

In 1996, Mark was selected by M.I.T. and Inc. magazine for the three year "Birthing of Giants" program. In 1998, Mark was named to the Advisory Board of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. In 1998, Mark founded and served as the first chairman of the Information Technology Service Alliance. The Alliance was formed to provide a structured forum for business owners in the I.T. Service industry to exchange "Best practices" in order to help accelerate the growth of their respective companies. Mark has also held several positions on the Executive Board of the D.C. Chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization.

Type of Business and Current Activity

Gordon started Synergy Networks on a coffee table in 1992. Knowing he could never achieve his growth goals using just the cash flow generated by a new business, Gordon came up with a creative solution. He convinced two partners to issue him a $1.5 million line of credit at the electronic distribution business where Gordon was purchasing his supplies.

In a prior job as a Senior Management Consultant at Anderson Consulting, he'd seen there was a great need for someone to provide one-stop network infrastructure. Gordon's plan called for first selling cables, connectors and communication hardware to contractors, then developing working relationships with these contractors to get his foot in the installation door and finally he planned to evolve into a firm that did both.

The name "Synergy" came right from Gordon's plan -- and perhaps his biggest strength - bringing people, materials, relationships and ideas together to create an energized system with a value greater than the sum of its parts.

Things were progressing according to plan until two weeks after Gordon acquired a 12-person contracting firm. Within two weeks, the six people with the most skills quit. Gordon soon learned that the six had been operating a competing business within the business he'd just purchased. Not only did he lose their expertise, but he gained the challenge of facing an experienced competitor who knew everything about him.

Fortunately for Gordon, data networks are now like the third utility. Just like losing your power or telephone, a lost data network brings business to a halt. So Gordon seized on the need for dependability and provided customers rigorous system testing before going live, speedy response to their needs/emergencies and sometimes even lower pricing. Gordon soon prevailed and the competing company fell by the wayside. Today, blue chip companies like Johns Hopkins and America Online trust their mission critical systems to Synergy.

In addition, Synergy is a Value Added Reseller for manufacturers that include: Cisco, 3Com, Lucent, Extreme Networks, Network Associates and Liebert. In 1998, Synergy sales hit $8 million and 1999 projections call for stretching to $13 million.

Innovative approaches

Gordon's workplace is modeled off the Open Book Management concept as explained by author Jack Stack in his book, "The Great Game of Business." The basic rationale of the concept is that for every pair of hands you have working for you, you get a brain for free. Gordon leverages every employee brain by deeply involving them in the business.

"Who knows better what it's going to take to get a job done, save money, make more revenue, than the people who are actually doing all the work?" asks Gordon.

At Synergy, all employees help set a grand company goal and a series of smaller goals that if achieved, lead to success with the grand goal. With the exception of individual salaries, all financial numbers are an "open book" that can be reviewed by any employee. "Business Literacy Classes" educate employees so they understand what the numbers mean. Regular communications, like the SynerNEWS newsletter that is stuffed in employee pay envelopes, keep workers informed of results, news, information and successes.

Progress is then charted on a public scoreboard and employees receive rewards upon the achievement of benchmarks along the way. Because everyone's ideas are valued, employees take ownership and perform as if they owned the place. Creative innovations then flow from all employees, not just upper management.

Recently, several employees at a regularly scheduled "Huddle Meeting" recognized that after network cabling projects were completed there was a 10 to 14 day delay before bills were issued. So employees from two different functional areas, Financial Operations and Field Operations, troubleshot the situation using problem solving skills they had learned in Synergy's "Developing a Collaborative Work Environment" training program. Without the help of a single senior manager, the team reduced the lag time to just one day. Cash flow has dramatically improved resulting in lower borrowing costs.

Another Synergy innovation is the use of McQuag System psychometric testing. Gordon uses the personality test to help place new hires in jobs that best suit their personalities. Results are also shared with the person tested to help them understand how to better communicate with other team members.

Future Plans

Synergy has a future growth plan that is broken into five key areas: growth and revenue profitability; business process; partnering; employee satisfaction and motivation; and customer satisfaction and loyalty. Employees are not only familiar with the plan, they helped create it. Gordon calls this process High Involvement Planning, or HIP.

The HIP process begins by letting employees recount all the significant things that impacted the business last year. Major accomplishments, disappointments, industry changes, new competitors and customer requests, are all discussed so everyone gets a feel for the current environment.

Account executives then project sales results for the next year, explaining their rational for projections. Gordon and his upper managers provide feedback and send the sales team off to make a final forecast. Once a consensus is reached, Synergy moves on to expense forecasting.

Employees from each area of the company then calculate what expenses will be needed to support the projected sales. Employees get very specific about the amount of training, marketing and equipment they'll need, showing a frugality usually reserved for owners.

Management then runs the numbers, plugs in any needed funding for new strategic programs and calculates the profit return. If returns look too low, editing is required and employees must decide where to cut.

Bonus targets are then set to reward employees for hitting sales and profit goals. Two stretch goals are set beyond these objectives to entice workers to perform even better. The plan is then submitted to Gordon's financial backers and if they agree with the plan, it is published and used as the blueprint.

After that occurs, a multimedia kickoff meeting explains the plan to the entire company. Each manager keeps a copy of the plan in a three ring binder assessable to employees and a copy of the plan is posted on the company's Intranet.

In 1999, Synergy expects to hit $13 million in sales with 4.7 percent profitability; a 20 percent increase in the employee satisfaction index over 1998 levels; document 50-70 percent of all key business processes so they can easily be replicated in other geographical regions; increase its virtual workforce to 25-35 percent of all employees; and increase the customer satisfaction index by 20 percent over 1998.

Culture/Values/Incentives

The Synergy culture can best be described by reviewing the firm's five core values:
1) Maintain unquestionable integrity by continually being honest and doing the right thing.
2) Maintain a reputation for being the best by pursuing a course of continuous improvement.
3) Develop an atmosphere that embodies loyalty, trust, community concern and allows all to share in the rewards.
4) Trust everybody, and treat others as you wish to be treated.
5) Have fun, be happy and live a balanced life.

The open book management style utilized by Gordon proves a respect for the talents of every worker, recognizes their contribution to the whole and rewards top individual and team performance.

Currently, Synergy is working toward a profit goal of $500,000 for 1999. Every employee is familiar with the grand goal, the intermediate goals along the way and thanks to a Performance Enhancement Process (PEP), understands exactly how his or her individual actions impact company results.

PEP begins by sitting down with each employee three times a year and translating the goals from the annual business plan into the specific tasks employees need to perform to meet those goals. This creates "line of sight" where each worker then understands how every turn of his screwdriver impacts the Synergy financial statement. Employees are not only evaluated on normal job performance, but on how well they contributed to the company's overall results.

By revealing all financial results, educating employees on how to read them and giving workers the authority to think and perform like owners, integrity, trust and empowerment naturally increase, leading to better and better performance. This environment taps the potential within each worker and allows astounding career growth possibilities like that of Executive Vice President Lou Little, who began as a service technician and worked his way into an ownership position as one of Gordon's partners.

Fun is an important aspect of working at Synergy and is exhibited by their 1999 "Key West or Bust" theme. If company profit results reach "Excaliber Level" of $682,000, the top eight employees and spouses receive an all expense paid trip to Key West, Florida. A giant map is posted on the wall, with intermediate profit goals positioned as actual cities on the path from Virginia to Key West. As each milestone is reached on the map, employees receive increasingly valuable rewards.

Another fun employee recognition program was called, "Done Goods." Launched in tandem with some tough 4th quarter goals, all employees were given a supply of small forms and whenever catching a coworker or superior doing something good, listed the performance on the form and posted it on a wall. Random drawings were conducted from the hundreds of "Done Goods" received and winners received stereo systems, hockey tickets and other prizes. Gordon isn't only focused on bringing forth the value within his organization, he helps do so in many charitable activities as well. Synergy regularly donates time, talents and treasures to community organizations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Darrel Green's Washington Redskins Youth Life Foundation, area public schools, and the Kauffman Foundation.

Synergy also offers high school, college and Kauffman Foundation internships, where Gordon sits on the advisory board. He also participates in college mentor programs and is a member of a local Young Entrepreneurs group where he has held various leadership positions. Gordon realizes that helping community organizations builds teamwork within his own company while giving value back to the community. In addition to these normal philanthropic programs, Gordon now offers all employees a paid day off so they can spend that day serving charities of their own choice.

"It's all part of team," summarizes Gordon. "If I could only pick one word to describe our culture, I would pick team."

"Help they brother's boat across, and lo! Thine own has reached the shore."
- Hindu Proverb

By recognizing, mining and fusing together the value of people, materials, relationships and ideas, Mark Gordon has created an entrepreneurial enterprise that is not only successful in its own right, but has become a utopian example for other entrepreneurs everywhere. Because of Gordon's leadership, Synergy Networks is an organization characterized by high performance, creativity, empowerment, integrity and trust. Mark Gordon is not just growing a business, he's helping people grow.

For these reasons and more, we believe Mark Gordon should be considered for The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

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