Educe Group Celebrates 15 Years
Educe Group is excited to celebrate its 15th year anniversary helping organizations leverage talent technologies to realize the potential of their people. We recently sat down with Co-Founders Charlie Kauffunger and Nyla Reed to understand the changing Talent Management landscape and hear how Educe Group has grown over the last 15 years.
What were your professional backgrounds prior to forming Educe Group?
NR: My first job out of college was working for the Close Up Foundation, a non-profit civic education organization. I then worked in Office of Education and Training for the U.S. Senate before working as a corporate trainer at Electronic Data Systems. Prior to becoming a Founding Partner of Educe Group, I worked at Saba Software deploying learning management systems.
CK: I got into consulting a few years out of college creating custom software like business applications. My first role was supporting telecommunications company, MCI, and working with their Marketing department. I then worked at Booz Allen Hamilton developing software for the Department of Energy. Before starting The Educe Group, I worked at Saba Software alongside Nyla Reed.
How long have you been working in the Talent Management industry?
NR: Almost 20 years – since 1999.
CK: Since 2000.
What made you decide to start Educe Group?
CK: I love consulting and believe in the potential of this software. To me there was a real opportunity to (1) get closer aligned to the organizations trying to put these systems in place and (2) create a work environment that was centered around professional services (as opposed to working at a software company where PS is not the core business). Starting a company was always an aspiration – here was the chance.
NR: There wouldn’t be an Educe Group if it weren’t for Charlie. He had the desire to be an entrepreneur and the vision to make it happen. I had no plan to start a company but truly believed in the importance of organizations developing their people through ongoing learning and development opportunities; every job I had had prior to Educe involved supporting educational objectives in some way. So, when Charlie approached me about working together and already had a plan in place, how could I say no?
What were some of your first clients?
NR: Schering-Plough and KPMG – Both of them contracted us to work on their LMS deployment.
We also provided validation services for Schering-Plough. I’ll always be thankful to Linda Wegner and Heather Maitre – two great women who gave me a chance when we were just starting out.
CK: McKinsey, Honeywell and Novartis.
What do you believe to be the greatest strengths of Educe Group?
NR: Our employees, our super collaborative culture and our genuine interest in what we do.
What are some of your fondest memories over the past 15 years?
CK: At our annual Year End Meeting, we close the event by announcing promotions for employees. It’s a special moment to see people who have worked really hard take on new responsibilities and develop in their careers. Of course, there’s also those moments of satisfaction when you know you’ve been a meaningful part of a particularly complex project that has reached a successful conclusion. Not every project has that payoff – but it’s special when they do.
What do see as the biggest accomplishments since you started the firm?
CK: In our little corner of the world, we’ve built a firm that has a real and expanding reputation for its great people and expertise. We are viewed as highly capable in our field and at this point we have some of the world’s most impactful organizations seeking us out specifically. Also – people we don’t know want to work here. Educe receives hundreds of resumes each year for our open positions. It’s almost inconceivable when I think back to our modest start.
NR: We’re still here!
What makes you two a great team?
NR: Charlie and I are opposites, and we really bring different perspectives to the table. While Charlie is very precise and methodical, and excels at forecasting and thinking into the future, I’m much more the person that goes by my gut and says, “I have an idea and I think it will work. Let’s just do it.” It has worked well for us over the years–we split our responsibilities yet whenever there is an important decision to be made or a discussion about strategic direction we do it together.
CK: I knew before we came together that NR was the best consultant I’d ever seen in action and one of my favorite people to be around (especially outside of work, perhaps stumbling around dressed like Santa Claus). It was only afterwards that I came to appreciate how over-the-top smart and tough she is, and her insistence that anything she touches must be high quality because it is a reflection of her. From my perspective our success comes from being able to trust and push each other.
What are 3 words to describe Educe Group?
CK: Smart. Integrity. Culture.
NR: Responsible. Kind. Loyal.
Looking back, how has the Talent Management industry changed since 2003?
NR: When we first started The Educe Group, the problems that we were trying to solve for clients were really tactical. For example, organizations were looking to evaluate eLearning statistics and determine what the fill rates were for instructor-level classes. The goals we’re trying to achieve today for our clients are much more strategic, and they are tied in with broader business objectives.
How are you different than other consulting firms?
NR: Unlike other firms, we give our consultants a lot of responsibility early on in their careers. We emphasize making people independent contributors and encouraging them to be client-facing.
CK: I think what really sets us apart is the depth of relationships we have with the vendors. Whether it’s with product management, support or even sales, we understand how these software companies work and what their objectives and goals are. I think that really helps us not only implement the technology, but it allows our clients to be successful leveraging the software products that they bought.
What is your favorite part about your job? What excites you most?
CK: I still love client work, especially transformational technology deployments and innovative microapp solutions. But these days with our firm growing, working with our team is the most rewarding part of my job. We have so many stars at Educe who are capable, ambitious and ready to take on new responsibilities and push themselves (and us) to greater accomplishments. It’s motivating to see so many people seeking to develop careers in the firm, essentially betting on Educe. I’m driven by wanting to make sure their bets pay off.
NR: No two days are ever the same. There’s always something new to do, there’s always something new to learn.
What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received?
CK: Prioritizing employees first.
NR: It doesn’t matter what your role is in an organization, there is never any task that is beneath you. Pitch in whenever and where ever you are needed. That is true leadership.
What are your hopes for the next 15 years?
CK: I hope that Educe Group continues to be a more recognized brand for advice and expertise in our niche and our firm’s partnership thrives.
NR: My vision for 15 years from now is that I’ll be retired and splitting my time between skiing in Vail and hanging out on the beach.
CK: Oh yeah, that too.
What is the most important thing you learned in the last 15 years? What were some significant challenges that you had to overcome?
CK: It’s hard to pick one thing out because I think I’m still learning every day. But overall perhaps the most important lesson is in the area of decision-making, specifically coming to better understand the fine line between being nimble enough to pounce on new opportunities and open to change, while holding fast to principles (when circumstances make it difficult or inconvenient) and recognizing that the “right answer” only works out if you make it so. It seems like over time the stakes for each bet become bigger. You cannot take the bait if you haven’t assumed your decision will not work out and have an escape plan (or two) to go along with your main plan. My takeaway at this point is that you have to stretch to the point of discomfort to achieve your potential while being clear-eyed and prepared for the risks and ramifications. Ultimately, judgment calls are less about smarts than about perseverance, and perseverance is essentially devotion to owning the situation (not the decision) and sticking with it until it you’ve made it work or adjusted to something better. I say that well-aware that I have made plenty of mistakes along the way and surely will continue to make them. I find some comfort in the fact that we had a fun and cool company when we were ten employees and have been resilient enough to get to sixty having that still hold true. At the core, my biggest challenge of the past remains the same today: how do we foster a workplace that offers purpose, challenges and rewards to others, not only the day they join but ongoing. Today’s circumstances and decisions are different, but it’s the same challenge.
For more information about Educe Group, enjoy a look back on our history since we started in 2003.