Jay VanOrden originally retired at age 39, soon after selling a successful telecommunications company he’d built over the course of 12 years.
“Six months later, I was absolutely miserable,” says Jay. “I realized it was never really about the money. It was the challenge and strategy of building and growing a business and interacting with people that got me out of bed in the morning.”
After dabbling in real estate and private equity, Jay realized that what he really wanted was to run another high-growth business. In 2004, he and a partner, Jim Smith, started Worldwide Supply to serve as a secondary network hardware supplier.
From the start, Jay capitalized on lessons from his past experience as an entrepreneur — both positive and negative — to inform his new venture. He made a short list of 20 people who had worked for him previously and whom he’d want to hire again. Today, 16 of those 20 people work for Worldwide Supply.
He also made a list of every mistake he’d ever made in his previous business, and thought carefully about how he would do things differently this time around. “I realized that it all started with our culture. I preach it to employees all the time. We spend more time with each other than we do with our families. We have to have fun and enjoy it.”
Worldwide Supply is a grown-up company. “We run a tight ship and have great processes and procedures,” says Jay, “but we’ve also been able to keep a dynamic culture in place.” Today the company has 80 employees and is headquartered in New Jersey, with offices scattered throughout the U.S., Europe, and South America.
The culture starts with hiring. “We never hire based on experience — it’s always based on the identifying the behavior and characteristics that best fit that role.” The team identifies these characteristics for each open role, and potential hires take an online assessment to identify how their traits match up. While the assessment is just one piece of the puzzle, “it helps us to better understand the person and how they’re going to communicate within the team and the organization.” Jay personally interviews almost every employee they bring on board to evaluate whether they’ll be a good cultural fit.
As CEO, Jay prioritizes alignment throughout the organization, at all levels. “That’s where most organizations succeed or fail.” On a day-to-day basis, the team meets regularly to ensure that everyone is up to speed on key initiatives and goals. “Our alignment starts at the senior executive level,” says Jay. They hold a daily 15-minute phone huddle — “we’re talking about where we are on primary initiative, what’s our next step, and who’s having issues. We’ve become very good problem solvers.” Then the whole organization meets every day at noon, with remote employees dialing in, for a seven-minute meeting that reports on major projects. They also track any other initiatives “that we want to put visibility on” in order to increase accountability toward a given goal. In addition, the meeting serves as a forum for team members to recognize anyone who recently stood up for a core value. Anyone can nominate a colleague.
“Most companies have core values, a vision, and a mission,” says Jay, “but they tend to be terms on a wall.” The Worldwide Supply employees defined their core values as a team during a multi-day workshop, landing on accountability, dedication, flexibility, integrity, and teamwork. Coming out of the session, they identified certain action items that would reflect these values. For example, it was important to the team that they celebrate successes. “We formed a fund committee that arranges specific activities around our various successes.” If they hit their target goals, the entire team takes an annual trip — they’ve gone to Cancun, Las Vegas, and various retreats. “It’s a little bit of business, but mostly pleasure and fun.”