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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 21, 2017 1 year ago

Train Rolling

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Not many companies can successfully hire, and then train, and then retain, 150 people in one year. A Tampa firm is undaunted in its mission to accomplish that feat.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Amid a blitz of new hires at the company he founded, ReliaQuest, Tampa technology and cybersecurity executive Brian Murphy likens training the plethora of new people to a condiment.

“When I worked at Publix when I was 16, they didn't train you to tell customers the ketchup is in aisle six,” says Murphy. “You walk them back to the aisle and show them.”

Show them is a key theme at ReliaQuest.

The company, founded in 2007, has grown from just Murphy and a few backers into a national cybersecurity leader, with multiple Fortune 2000 clients. It has 262 employees — including 62 hired so far this year. Sales rose 200% in 2016 over 2015, and are up 360% so far this year, says Murphy, who declines to disclose specific revenue.

The ReliaQuest model is to show customers that cybersecurity can be co-managed and customized per client, instead of the top-down, fix-it-on-demand approach for which the IT industry is known. ReliaQuest allows customers to utilize tools and technologies clients already own, while providing daily incident response, engineering and threat management from the Tampa office and another facility in Las Vegas.

Competitors in cybersecurity, says Murphy, go for up-sells and add-ons with clients, using the looming threat of a data breach as leverage. But ReliaQuest gains new customers, and retains most of its old ones, by avoiding that model. “I don't make money on selling software,” Murphy says. “I make money making sure what you buy works. And that gives us a lot of credibility.”

That model takes a highly skilled, trained and motivated workforce — a challenge with which the entire cybersecurity industry grapples. To wit: The worldwide cybersecurity workforce will be short some 1.8 million people by 2022, according to a recent report from research firm Frost & Sullivan. That represents a 20% hike in the workforce shortage since 2015. “There's a shortage of trained and skilled cybersecurity talent,” says Murphy, “but there's no shortage of people who would like to be a skilled cybersecurity professional.”

Murphy says the company uses a variety of methods to find people, from recruiters to LinkedIn to referrals from current employees. One aspect he and hiring managers prioritize in candidates is problem solving.

Then there's RQ University.The training center, both in the curriculum and the physical space it occupies, is a big part of the company's new 26,000-square-foot headquarters on Harbor Island, across Garrison Channel from downtown Tampa. One room dedicated to RQ University can hold up to 80 people. There's also a pair of innovation centers there that simulate any security environment or scenario.

The investment in training and RQ University has run at least $1 million in the past year, says Murphy. And training and development, he quickly adds, is an ongoing cost.

The program has evolved over the past 18 months. In the beginning, ReliaQuest worked with professors at the University of South Florida and Florida State University to learn about new training tools and best practices in education. One takeaway there: Start with culture.

At ReliaQuest, that means every new hire spends his or her first five days studying the company's culture. That culture, says Murphy, is akin to a tough love family. “We can be a hard place to work,” says Murphy. “It's intense here. I'm an accountable person.”

The culture is also one part camaraderie, one part cooperation. Employees often spend time in the office, with the pool table and video games or just eating pizza, after shifts. Teamwork and decision-making, not devotion to hierarchy, is another important element of the culture. That's apparent in the first week of case studies all new hires go through. “We put them in experimental sessions,” says Murphy, “where they problem solve around what our culture is.”

RQ University runs seven weeks, then there's at least two weeks of “ride-alongs” and job shadowing, where there is more case-based learning. Another part of the latter weeks is showing employees how and what it takes to get promoted — a big part of Murphy's commitment to a transparent workplace.

All together, the devotion to training is ReliaQuest's best move in the ongoing battle tech companies all across the region face in building a sustainable, and adaptable, company. “Ninety days of RQU,” says Murphy, “is like two years anywhere else.”

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