A Chat with the Chiefs of Innovate

On Friday, April 2nd, 2021, Innovate hosted a “Chat with the Chiefs” event with Phill Thomas, Chief Executive Officer; Matt Brumberger, Chief Operating Officer; and Denise Economy, Chief of Staff. They discussed their careers, their roles, what they love about Innovate, and the future of the company. Here are the top 3 things we learned from our chief executives.  

Our Core Values Are Key 

Innovate’s values are at the core of our work. Our values are to 1) love and value human beings, 2) take initiative and maintain a “Let me at it!” spirit, and 3) own our work because “It’s personal.” During the panel, Phill said, “If you get a group of 100 to 200 human beings who are consistently operating within a set of values, they win. That’s why our core values are so important, not just in our work with our clients but also to enable each employee to be effective and feel fulfilled.” To further illustrate, he used the metaphor of an incandescent lightbulb versus a laser. The difference between the two is focus. When everyone is operating from those core values, we are able to deliver elite services.” 

Denise agreed, adding that, due to her role as Chief of Staff, her job encompasses all parts of Innovate, from employees to financials to marketing. “I focus on our core values in every decision. If we, at Innovate, live out those values, we can move mountains.”  

These values have permeated Innovate, from the way we interact with our clients to how we recruit and hire new team members. Matt is particularly proud of how we’ve structured our recruiting efforts. “We connected recruiting to our core values, so the process ensures that the people we bring in not only serve the clients but also maintain the elite delivery of the existing team. We’ve seen this make a tremendous difference over the past few years.” 

Key to Innovate’s future as the company grows is to make sure that we amplify, exemplify, and expand those core values.  

Trust Is Everything 

Innovate recently celebrated our 19th anniversary as a company. Phill and Innovate President Lily Thomas started the company in 2002. Many small businesses struggle to land their first contract. However, Phill had a past client who wanted him to contribute strategic planning as part of a larger contract at EPA with the Central Data Exchange. Phill focused on not just completing the work but building relationships at EPA. “Trust is a big deal,” Phill said. “We have been at EPA ever since 2002 because we were able to cultivate those relationships.” How exactly has Phill built that trust? “If there’s ever an issue with a client, I learned to drop everything and deal with it. No deliverable matters more than the relationship.”  

Denise returned to the theme of core values. “We didn’t pick and choose our core values. We selected the values that Lily and Phill exemplified and what we wanted to see throughout the company.” The combination of love, respect, initiative, and proud ownership allows our team to build trusting relationships with our clients, ones that last decades.  

Innovate – It’s in Our Name 

Because Innovate is a small business, Matt is excited by the opportunity for more creative license. This creative license opens the door for employees to find ways to innovate within their teams or even companywide. “It’s easier for employees to suggest new services and make a difference here than at a larger company,” he said. Innovate is more than a flashy name; it’s how we solve problems, both for clients and within the company. 

Additionally, Matt sees the potential for further innovation within the company. “An individual can make a tremendous difference by dealing with the systems that people operate in. Innovate is a system that we all work inside of, and we want to make sure those systems are delivering elite services and serving clients. If there are barriers that prevent people from fully delivering and feeling fulfilled, we try to figure out how to identify and break down those barriers, so our staff has more time, energy, and passion.”  

Phill concluded, “There is no limit to a human being’s potential. In our 19 years as a company, we’ve tapped into a tiny percentage of it so far. It’s exciting to create an environment where we together expand what is possible for our lives, clients, and one another.” 

A special thanks to our chief officers, Phill, Matt, and Denise, for their participation and Michelle Jaeger for organizing and moderating the event. We enjoyed the opportunity to hear from our leadership and their perspectives.