Conversation with Ken Lally, Owner & Director, SimuTech Group
Can you share a little about your background, education, where you grew up, what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Growing up, I was always interested in hands-on activities creating things – woodworking, construction, design, and so on. By the time I was in high school, I knew that I enjoyed math and science, and as I learned about the engineering profession, I quickly zeroed in on engineering as my college course of education.
I grew up in western New York—the Buffalo area—and went to school in northern New York. I graduated as a chemical engineer at Clarkson University, followed up by an MBA at University of Rochester. Because engineering is a way of thinking and looking at problems, I found that this allowed for me to also perform mechanical engineering work. This combination of skills was the technical component of my first job role in applications engineering for ten years.
Ultimately, I found that my biggest contributions resulted from evaluating the impact of work that others produced, or finding opportunities in the marketplace or even internally within an organization…trying to find out what would work, what can we make happen? Where should we invest our time, effort, and resources? This awareness and ability to realistically evaluate business potential eventually lead me to purchase and develop the business of the precursor to SimuTech Group.
Tell us about your vision for SimuTech.
Numerical simulation, and ANSYS software specifically, are the core of our business. The simulation is supported by physical testing where needed to quantify loads and boundary conditions. Every day we give customers our unbiased expertise and opinions to help them design their products most effectively. We partner with clients as trusted advisors, not trying to force one solution—bringing the best of simulation, or physical testing when appropriate, or a combination of both.
We offer customers real-world expertise in the exact area they need, ensuring our customers work with someone who’s sat in their seat doing exactly the same things. Most of our engineers have worked in the same industries/markets as our customers doing the same design/analysis function as our customers. We always encourage direct contact with our engineers to provide a collaborative environment. In my mind, I don’t know what’s better than that.
In 2007, Jim Radochia and I merged two precursor companies to draw upon our collective strengths while still maintaining local contacts with customers. For a client who wants help analyzing pump cavitation, he is pleased to find an expert on staff, whether that person in Atlanta or all the way out in Seattle. We can put you in touch with one of our industry experts for detailed consultation, or a close-by engineering resource for more general questions.
We do cool stuff that impacts society in a very, very positive way. Our engineers are thrilled to be doing this kind of work, and we’re proud of the business we’re in. We all share the internal desire to be as good as we can be and to be a premier channel partner for ANSYS simulation software. Our continuing goal is to be best-in-class worldwide, and we’ve made huge strides in the past 10 years to get to this point.
New employees have told me that the SimuTech culture is even better than what they were promised during the hiring process. Why do you think people love working here and stay with the company for years?
First, as part of our hiring criteria, we want every employee to envision retiring with us. We don’t recruit for stepping-stone positions. We’re proud of our extremely low turnover rate.
Our culture is hard to describe, but we try to create a family-like environment and show caring towards employees. We recognize effort, and we treat people like we want to be treated. We’re not a public company, so we’re free of rigid earnings requirements that might limit how we make decisions.
Finally, we believe in providing an exceptional benefits package. For example, many employers are pushing more healthcare expenses onto employees, but we want to minimize the non-productive time that our people spend dealing with health insurance issues and costs. Worrying about that stuff is a distraction. So, we offer an excellent insurance plan with no premium, no deductible, and no co-pays for US employees. We strive to make our Canadian benefit plans equally outstanding.
How would you describe SimuTech’s management philosophy?
I tell new employees if they’re in a difficult or contentious situation, just do the right thing. 90% of the time, you know what that means. You might get in trouble for doing nothing—but you won’t get in trouble for doing the wrong thing if you’ve done it from an ethical standpoint. When in doubt, listen respectfully and make an informed decision. Be customer-responsive and don’t unnecessarily delay a decision while waiting for a manager’s approval.
And we’ve stepped up our soft-skills training to allow us to work even better with one another. We’re developing a 3-4 year program that invests in our managers, and we train employees in leadership, communication, conflict resolution, and DISC workstyle assessment. Currently, the ideas in Radical Candor are being deployed throughout the company—we’re striving for honest but considerate feedback to improve performance overall. We invest in people.
Tell us some current SimuTech activities you’re especially excited about and proud of.
I’m enthusiastic about our big initiative for 2018: ANSYS has identified a group of customers that are best served by value-added channel partners such as us, so they’re shifting responsibility for many of these clients to SimuTech. We’ve grown substantially to meet this new opportunity, adding 20 people this year.
And, we’re poised to continue this expansion next year as well. We want to continue to build our stature and expertise within the ANSYS ecosystem.
And by the time you read this, I’ll be enjoying my first grandchild. Does that count?