During this episode, Jackie talks to Betsy and Tony about her unexpected path to owning a successful Information Technology solutions company. From an entry-level position where she forgot to save her work on her first day (oops), to running a company with 150 employees, Jackie has stayed laser-focused on customers. Listen in to find out three critical things you should consider as you launch and strategize for scaling your business.
The other half of the conversation is focused on how employee (and customer) loyalty is a two-way street. JYG chose their employees and her employees chose JYG everyday by showing up to work. In a digital/remote world, face-to-face time with her employees is still an important aspect of maintaining the company culture and taking care of her #1 customers (the employees).
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About Jacqueline Gamblin
Ms. Jacqueline Gamblin is the Founder/CEO of JYG Innovations LLC, a Woman Owned Small Business headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. JYG is a trusted IT Solutions provider, specializing in Systems Engineering, Systems Analysis, Cybersecurity and IT Operations for the Department of Defense, Federal and Commercial industries.
She has over 30 years of experience in the IT industry, Jackie holds a Bachelor of Science from Wright State University and a Master of Science from Central Michigan University. As a transformative thought leader, community activist, and mentor, Jackie is motivated by the belief that each of us has the ability and responsibility to positively impact the lives of others. This mission serves as the inspiration behind her service on numerous Boards and community organizations.
Understanding Your Company Vision And Scaling Your Business With Jacqueline Gamblin
The Importance Of Taking Care Of Your Customers
We’re so happy to have you with us here.
I’m excited to talk to Jackie Gamblin. We had such a great interview with her. One of the pieces that I pulled out was this dynamic of understanding in today’s market and how fast it’s changing. She works in the IT space. It’s changing probably faster than the market as a whole. We dive deep toward the end of the interview into this idea of the dynamic between knowing when to grow and knowing when to exit a particular part of the service that she’s been offering. It’ll make a lot more sense as we go through the interview for people. It’s important because if you really know your customer, you’re going to know on the front end if you should be growing with them or say, “Maybe there’s another partner you should be working with.”
Jackie dives into that. To pull that out, I want to say there are three things that she talks about, so people think about them as we’re going through this. She says that if you want to grow, know where to grow and know where to exit, you pay attention to what’s the demand. Is the demand growing or is it decreasing? Also, finding resources. Essentially, can you scale? If you don’t have the resources or you don’t have the talent or the skills across the country to bring people in to do this type of work in IT, you can’t scale it. It doesn’t make sense to go there.
The third piece of it that she talks about is the fit with the company and the vision she has for the company. Anyone that is growing a business, no matter what size your business is today, those three things hold true. Is there a demand for it? Is there the ability to scale or do you have the resources to scale? Thirdly, is there a fit to the vision of where you want the company to be in the future?
A sign of such a good leader is to be able to articulate something like that at a high level, but have it make sense. Jackie is the CEO of JYG Innovations in Dayton, Ohio. She has built a phenomenal company. She’s got 150 employees and built it from scratch. It’s a great background story. I’m excited for our audience to hear that piece as well.
One of the things that she said that struck me was when she talked about how her employees are her number one customer, and she really knows her customers. I thought that was a fascinating conversation. Along those lines, one of the things she mentioned is that loyalty is a two-way street. Not only did she pick them as an employee for her company, but they chose her company. She will dive into that a little bit more. With that, let’s dive into the conversation with Jackie Gamblin.
It’s awesome, Jackie, to have you here. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
We are so excited to have this conversation. As most of our readers know, we go through a prep session with our guests. We have some things that we’re excited to talk to you about. Let’s go ahead and jump right in. Jackie, can you start off by telling us a little bit about your path to get to where you are now and what you love about what you’re doing because we know you do?
First of all, I didn’t have the traditional path to be the owner of an information technology company. I hated computers growing up and I had no interest. I thought that to be in technology, everyone had to be a programmer, which did not interest me at all. I remember my first job at an IT company where I worked for several weeks in an entry-level position. I was so bad at it, I forgot to save my work so I had to go and start all over again.
I found that there were so many other jobs related to technology, which made me curious about what else I could do in this space. I started to work in different areas from computer operations to more of the systems work, security, and that’s how my career started in the field. Several years ago, I decided to venture out on my own. I always say I stepped out on faith and I started my own IT consulting company sitting at my kitchen table. I said, “I’m going to try to build a business.” It was the best decision I’ve ever made. We have over 150 employees now in multiple states and I love what I do. I love working with our people and our customers.
Jackie, tell us a little bit about why you stepped out on faith.
It was a quality-of-life decision. I know that sounds curious when you are talking about going into business on your own as if you are going to have more time. It was about controlling my time, dedicating myself, and spending things on the things that I thought were important. I’m a hard worker. I’m a type-A and I’m always going to give that 100%. I wanted to say that I have control over how I do this. I was a young mother and had a small child at home. I wanted to make sure that I could spend the quality time that I thought she deserved while at the same time, continuing my professional career. It was a balancing act that I said, “I think I could maybe do this a little better if I have more control of my own destiny.”
I love that distinction because a lot of times, people think, “I’m going to have all this time to myself when you’re an entrepreneur.” It never turns out that way, but that’s a good distinction that it’s not so much about having more time but being able to control your time. I think that’s a good point. Tell us about JYG Innovations.
I mentioned we were an information technology company. I like to say we were a solutions company. We go into a customer site and try to determine what’s the challenge and what’s the problem. Normally, they are complex problems that need technology as an enabler. We are not leaning towards any particular solution or product. It is about the discovery and the analysis process saying, “How can we help you accomplish whatever objective you are trying to accomplish?”
That may be systems engineering or an operation solution. It could be hardware or software or a process people solution, where you have particular resources that maybe you need to develop and create a training plan in a certain way to get them prepared for what you are trying to do in your organization. That’s why we like to say we were a solutions provider. We don’t provide any products. It’s all about the people, which is the focus of our company and our culture as well. We just try to provide the best talent to take our customers where they want to go.
That brings up an interesting question. In our prep session, you were talking about your employees. You made this comment that we’ve heard a few other entrepreneurs make, but I want to get your take on it. You said that you see your employees as your number one customer and alluded to people that matter. Your employees, in a sense, are the product. They are also the customer. Talk through that with us for a moment so we understand. On this show, we need to understand who our customer is.
As a services company, people are our service. They are my customer. It starts with how we take care of them. We need employees who feel prepared and have all the tools and resources they need to be successful. We need employees who are happy and enjoy what they do, and employees who feel taken care of. It is the whole family. Anyone who’s ever worked, it is your family that goes to work with you.
If you feel like your family is not being taken care of, whether in terms of your compensation package, benefits, work schedule or work location, all those things go into play for people to feel good about what they’re doing to be able to deliver the exceptional results that we hope that we deliver every time we go into an engagement.
Is there a particular way you go about to hear and listen to your employees to gain this information or knowledge?
I know we are in this virtual world where we do a lot of things remotely via email and phone calls, but I still believe in the power of face-to-face. I’m one of those people that like to look into someone’s eyes. It’s amazing the things you see with body language and the unsaid to get to know people. It’s not about what they do. It’s why they do it. Why are you here? What led you to this career? I’ve had so many interesting stories.
What I’ve found in the technology industry, most people didn’t start in technology. I’ve had Music and History majors who are working in this field. They’re in here for a particular reason. The more you get to know them, the more you know what motivates them, how to incentivize them and help them be their best selves.
Jackie, tell us about your customer base. I know you serve a lot of different roles as well as a few different areas. Talk to us about how you train or coach your employees to know their customers.
The majority of our business is in the defense sector. Many people don’t realize the Department of Defense is like a big shopping mall where you can buy anything. Everything that takes to run a city or an organization is purchased by the Department of Defense. Where we go in is we’re focused on the technology side. Most of our people work at the customer location. They are on a military site, base or an environment.
You have a mixture of different people there. You have industry or contractors, as they like to call us. You may have civilians who are government workers, and then military personnel. You have this integrated environment with people with all these different backgrounds sitting in one space with the mission to accomplish something as one team.
You have to prepare people for what they are going into because a lot of people who come into our space have never worked in that environment before. It’s very different, with lots of acronyms, as you could imagine in the defense space, even getting to know the different ranks of military personnel so they know who’s who. You can’t take those things for granted and you want people to feel comfortable going into those environments.
One of the bonuses, though, is I think they will discover that it is a family atmosphere. The military encourages that one team, one fight philosophy, so you will find that although you are working with these people from all these different backgrounds, you quickly become a family within a family. You have the JYG family as a part of our organization, and then there’s another family with your customer side as well.
It’s interesting as you talk about that. I have some experience in government contracting. One of my clients works in that space, and you have so many different individuals to understand their needs and requirements. I look at it from the outside because I don’t work in that space on a regular basis. I was going to say confusing but maybe even a bit scary. I’ve got all these rules and regulations to follow.
I’ve got a contracting officer and the IT team, the Internal Team, to satisfy. I’ve got the actual end-user and the department head or the agency head. Talk us through a little of that because that has got to be a special skill for someone to be able to handle that and see the big picture, but then also to work with the individuals.
Probably the biggest challenge is for our program managers who have oversight over multiple projects where these people are in these different environments. It can be as different as a project that sits on one side of the hall and the other side of the hall. It’s completely different rules, standards, guidelines and environments. One of my favorite answers when they say, “This is how we do this?” “It depends.”
There’s not a standard answer that’s a cookie-cutter fits all situations. It depends on that situation. You have to take the time. It’s challenging especially for someone who may have worked on one particular contract, and then to go to another space where things are so different. It takes a person who likes change and adapts, who can take the unknown because it takes some time to figure things out and get to know who you’re working with and what the objectives are.
It’s definitely not for the faint of heart because there is so much uncertainty there. That’s where we found where some people find it a little more challenging where they’re like, “I need some stability where I know what to expect every day. Every day is going to be the same.” Number one, you probably shouldn’t be in the IT industry because of the way things are changing in our industry. Number two, the defense sector definitely lends itself to transformation and evolution.
Jackie that brings up a good question. Everybody knows there is such a huge fight for labor. You’re looking for a very specific, not just technical skillset but a skillset that can adapt to those crazy environments and shift gears quickly and easily. You’ve got 150 employees. That’s a lot of people. How do you go about that? That’s so fascinating to think. What does that look like when you’re trying to attract and retain those types of people? I have to think they’re not just growing on trees.
It’s very competitive, as you could imagine, especially in this space where we are, with having a major military installation nearby. There are a lot of people vying for the same resources. You have to get creative and figure out what fits in your environment. For leadership positions, that’s where I get engaged. I want to make sure that I know who we’re hiring and what type of skills they have.
I love taking people out to lunch. People say, “Why? Because it’s informal?” No, I like to watch how they treat the waitress or waiter and the reception person at the beginning of the restaurant. It’s all those little people skills because you want to make sure they’re a good fit not only for our culture but for our environment.
If people don’t have those skills or have challenge in those areas, they’re probably going to have a problem working for us. It’s a lot of soft skills. It’s not just the technical talent. That’s tough. Engineers are tough. Some don’t like to talk as often as you would like, but you least have to say, “Can you work with a customer?” Maybe you’re not as comfortable in a group setting, but if you’re in a one-on-one, are you able to listen? Are you able to understand? Can you communicate back what our intentions are and what the solution is so that we can get the job done?
I love that about watching how people behave in public when maybe they don’t know they’re being watched. I think that’s so telling. This is a sidebar but my dad had a client back in the day, and he would never go into a business deal with a client before going out on the golf course with them. He said, “You can tell if they’re going to be honest or have a temper. There’s nothing like a round of golf to bring out your true self.” I think that’s such a good way to do that, whether it’s golf, breakfast, lunch or whatever, to observe people and see how they treat people.
Jackie, this has been fascinating to me. As you look forward, you alluded to this earlier, IT changes very rapidly. We talk specifically to and for CEOs, so anyone reading this is aware of this. Many years ago, I was in the business intelligence, CRM, and customer experience space. There’s been this progression. I’ve watched the technology, and there are things that remain constant and change. Where do you see IT nowadays? We can throw out some of the Agile, Cloud, and those types of things, but what is it that you see on the horizon right now for IT? Why is it changing so fast? What areas do you see growing and are paying attention to, especially in your sector?
You mentioned some of the buzz words when we talk about Cloud, Agile, artificial intelligence, and cyber security. If I were to sum it up in my career, what I’ve seen is technology is getting closer to the user. It’s about knowing your customer. We used to think in technology, the customer was the guy in the back computer room, working on the machines, and that’s all who counted.
I remember one of my first jobs in the industry as we were migrating a large mainframe system and upgrading the operating system. We’re all about technology. We make sure everything is set up correctly and running, and then we left. I remember I got a call in the middle of the night because the computer operator had set up the shortcut buttons that they used for the operating system for commands.
As a system programmer, I knew the commands. It never dawned on me that this person would be impacted, so we had to go back in. It was function keys back then. Function 1 does this and does these commands. That was eye-opening. If you look at how technology has progressed over the years, the end-user is becoming more and more important. It is all about the ease of use and how we bring technology closer and make it an enabler in every industry.
Whether it’s human resources, business or healthcare, it’s all about how we can use technology to make people’s jobs easier. That is what has led to this transformation. Let’s not even talk about smartphones. You think about a cell phone was this thing that somebody wealthy could afford. It wasn’t ubiquitous for everybody, a five-year-old has a cell phone. It’s all about ease of use.
When you look at some of the successful companies, that’s what they have been able to capitalize on and take advantage of. It’s, “How do I make this easier for people to use?” I bought my dad a new iPad a couple of years ago. There was no instruction needed. I didn’t have to sit down with him and explain. He could pick it up and it led him through. That led to him pursuing other products and being open to other technology. That is what we’re seeing in our field. The easier we can make it for someone who’s not an engineer or a programmer, and this is not necessarily the space they’re focused on, and they can use technology, that’s the future.
It’s funny because I had these conversations with people over the years. They’re talking about the future where there are robots and all of this. We imagine these Android-like devices from Star Trek or something like that. The reality is we already have these robots. We’re using them right now. It’s the software that runs the hardware. I’m amused as you’re talking. We have robots all around us and we don’t think the function key was a form of a robot.
It gave me a flashback. I remember when we first started getting desktop computers. It would be an all-day affair, hooking it up and getting it out of the big boxes. This cable goes to this and what a deal it was to buy a computer and hook it up. Now you just plop it down and turn it on. It’s amazing.
Innovation then was like, “Plug the red into the red.”
Jackie, as the leader of your organization, what is the process you go through when you are thinking out toward the future? Tony and I have this conversation almost on a daily basis. Nobody is talking about a five-year strategic plan because things go way too fast and change in ways that you couldn’t begin to imagine. When you’re thinking about the future of your company, technology and the military, what’s the process you go through to get your mind where you think things are going to go?
A lot of it is a gap analysis. Where do I think things are going? Where are we as a company in terms of our skillsets and capabilities? It’s determining the gap and how far the gap is. Is that a gap I can close? One particular area that’s hot right now is SBIR, which is Small Business Innovation Research. It’s how the Department of Defense takes commercial solutions ideas and says, “Bring it into the defense space. Let’s see if we have an application to solve one of our problems, and maybe we can help even commercialize it to take the solution to the market.” It’s a hot area. They’re trying to make it very accessible, especially to small businesses, and businesses from different socioeconomic groups.
We looked at it and we have different solutions, but it’s not our specialty area. We had to look at ourselves and say, “I know that’s hot and where things are going, but is that what we do well? Can we be successful in that area?” We would have to change our whole organization. It’s those types of things where we’re looking at saying, “Is this a good fit?” We’ve said no to a lot of customers that say, “We want to work with you. Can you do this?” It’s just not what we do well or our core competency. We try to help with that by forming a lot of strategic partnerships.
We’re working with other small businesses who may do things well, where I can say, “We don’t do this well but here’s a great company that you can talk to,” and vice versa. We have received plenty of opportunities where people said, “We heard from someone else that this is something that you do well, and we would like to work with you.” It’s knowing who you are and knowing what you do well. That’s a constant process. It never ends. It’s continuous. Every year, we’re looking at, “Where do we want to grow and where do we need to exit?” It’s looking at your whole portfolio and saying, “What makes sense?”
I love the discipline that requires to say no to something that is hot. As the world knows, entrepreneurs have that shiny object thing going on and get excited about a lot of different things. What I have to remind myself of constantly is just because I can doesn’t mean I should. I respect the discipline that you take to that approach.
It’s interesting you’re talking about the fast pace of change and what you do well. To me, there’s this dynamic or this pull between those two worlds. How do you navigate that? I’m thinking about my business as an example and asking this question for myself and the audience. A lot of us, as we were building our businesses, we see we could develop in a particular way. It looks interesting and something that might be a great challenge for us to take on. How do you know that’s the challenge to go for? Obviously, you have to exit something, typically. You have to build a resource over time, but how do you know where to exit and where to grow?
There are a couple of things. Number one is demand. You want to make sure someone is buying what you think you want to move into. You’re trying to measure that where you say, “There’s an interest.” Two, is it something that we can find the resources? We’re a services company. If there are ten in the nation that do this, it may not be the one where I’m going to capture 1 of those 10. We’re looking at the availability of the skillset. Another area that’s important as well is trying to determine does it make sense for our corporate culture and my vision of the company I want to be?
You mentioned retention earlier. We’re trying to create opportunities. I will plainly say there have been some things where I know that I would have to change our whole workforce. It’s a whole different type of skillset. There are some people that may not fit if I go in this direction. I found that I have people who I know can deliver, be dependable and be loyal. I always say loyalty is a two-way street. That’s one of my favorite things that I say to my employees.
Everyone likes to think the employees selected the employer and the employer selected you. You both had to select each other every day because everybody has options. I want to show that commitment that says, “I’m not going to chase the shiny object.” People have families and they’re committed. There’s nothing worse than feeling like, “My company doesn’t want to use me anymore for what they brought me in to do.” You’re trying to do things that make sense that says, “How do I allow people, give them opportunities to grow, keep them challenged, and at the same time, meet any customer demands.” It’s definitely a balancing act.
I love that idea about loyalty being a two-way street because that’s the same way as it is with customers. You’ve said no the customers because it’s not a good fit, or they don’t bring the energy and culture fit for your team that you’re looking for. When you talk about your employees being customers, it is the same thing with traditional thought on what a customer is.
All three of us here on this conversation have fired customers because they are not a good fit. That loyalty thing does have to go both ways. They choose us. That’s a maturity in business thing when you get to the point where you feel like that is the best long-term play to say no to a customer vs. when you start, you want every piece of business you can get. It speaks to the discipline of being a leader.
It’s also being a good steward of finances and resources because things may get tight. You may have to say no to something. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. You want to manage everything well. We’ve been focused on staying out of debt, doing those things that allow us to make those types of decisions. You’re not being forced into a situation out of desperation.
This has been so interesting to me. We have touched on the culture of the company, how you look at growth and exiting. For someone who’s starting a business, it could be in your sector or another sector, what do you think they should focus on? What are the things that would make a difference over the next 3 to 5 years for them to grow their business? We live in a very different world than we did a few years ago. I’m curious about someone who built a business and successfully maintained it over the last few years, especially, what’s that looks like to you?
Especially with the increase in social media and media in general, is valuing the importance of credibility and your reputation. There was a time where you could do something or make a big mistake, and no one would know but you. That’s very unlikely in the environment where we live now. I also think not forgetting the importance of relationships. We tend to think that if I have the best solution or the best proposal, that will carry the day. People buy from people. People want to work with people they trust.
Those factors are so important that sometimes we’re becoming more distant from that customer and end-user. We need to continue to get to know them and build the relationship because I still believe that’s one of the best ways to grow your business. The things that people say when you’re not in the room or after you’ve completed a project. Even the things that they sometimes say if you don’t win the project.
We’ve all been in a position where maybe more successful but someone said, “You’re going to do well. You’re a good company. It wasn’t just a good fit for us. We want to work with you maybe in the future.” Those things are important no matter what type of business you’re trying to build. The last part is to be passionate about it. You have to love what you do and do it for the right reasons. They have to be your reasons, especially if you’re the entrepreneur or the business owner.
You can’t go in there trying to do it for someone else or what someone else says you should do because there are going to be so many late nights and lonely nights where you’re unsure. You’re going, “Is this the right decision? Did I make the right decision?” There has to be something within that says, “This is what I’m supposed to do. This is where I’m supposed to be.” That’s what allows you to press on.
One of the things that we love to do on our show as a way of giving back a little bit is asking our guests, is there a nonprofit or a charity that you’d like to give a shout out to? You can certainly name more than one if you’d like. Just the ones that you want to shine a spotlight on and tell about the good works that they’re doing.
I’m on a lot of boards and volunteer organizations and nonprofits. Don’t get mad at me. I love you all and support you. There is one though that I am not affiliated with. I thought about that. The name of the organization is Choices. What they do is support the aspect where they help children who are aging out of foster care and going into their first independent living situation. They’re helping with furnishing that first apartment with things like linen and towels, and things of that nature. I was a foster parent. I know what it’s like and the challenges that a lot of foster kids face. It’s a great organization to support because they try to help out in so many ways.
This has been such a fascinating conversation. We appreciate you being here. Tony, any last-minute questions?
No, this has been phenomenal. I want to process and go back to this again because you’ve given us so much. I appreciate it. One of the takeaways for me is understanding your vision and holding onto that vision as you move forward. That’s such an important piece of what you shared. You’ve taken what you started with at the kitchen table and built it into an organization that now helps 150 families gather around their table every night. I want to say thank you as a fellow entrepreneur. Knowing that you’ve built this, I have no idea the struggles you’ve been through, and yet you’re here. You’re smiling and willing to share. I absolutely love that. Thank you so much, Jackie. It’s been a pleasure to be with you.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity and the platform to be able to share some of my thoughts. I know you guys have been very successful and you’re authors. I’m working on a book myself with the mission to pay it forward and to share. Hopefully, there’s one nugget in there that can help someone else on their journey. Thank you again. This has been fun. I appreciate it.
Thanks, Jackie. We’ll talk to you soon.
This is such an amazing interview. I absolutely love Jackie. I love the work that she is doing and the way she thinks about things, the way she strategically focuses but understands tactical execution, and the conversation we had around how users are now the focus or have to be the focus in the IT space. The users have to be able to adapt and make sure that the technology has to be easy enough for them to adapt to the ever-changing faster pace of the world.
That was one piece, getting to know your customer, not just at the level of the purchasing agent or the contract officer in the case of the government or the executive. It’s that deeper level of, what is it that the user needs and is doing already? I love the story that she shared there about her experience with the function keys. Not understanding that level of detail means you don’t really know your customer. It was interesting to relay those stories and talk through how she sees things strategically and how they execute tactically against that.
I echo everything you said about that. I love Jackie and this conversation was great, but I have an added benefit of being in Dayton, Ohio, with Jackie. I’ve had the opportunity to go to lunch and have coffee with her. She’s one of those leaders that I know I’m going to learn something valuable every time I talk to her. Even in this conversation, there are so many things that I’m thinking, “How can I apply that as a leader?” I’m so thrilled that she was able to join us. With that, everyone, we will call that a wrap. We’re appreciative of our audience. We’ve gotten great feedback from this show. We’d like to encourage you to subscribe, push the thumbs up button, and all the things that help us grow our show. Thank you again for being here and we will see you next time.