LocateSmarter Selected as “Employer of Choice”

*** This article is from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier on Sunday, September 4, 2016. View the full story here.

Employee Empowerment the Rule at LocateSmarter

CEDAR FALLS — The spirit of intrapreneurship created LocateSmarter from the CBE Companies, a Cedar Valley institution.

Lindsey Newcomb is grateful. Hired in April 2014, she was LocateSmarter’s third employee.

“Even from my first day, I knew it was going to be unlike any other job before,” she recalled. “I had come from a large organization where you didn’t question authority and you blended in with the hundreds of other employees. But at LocateSmarter, … thinking outside the box was an expectation. Differing opinions were encouraged. Failure was viewed as a learning opportunity.”

Initially developed to service the CBE Companies, LocateSmarter was intended to improve and refine account collections data obtained from multiple sources. The goal was to streamline reliable, targeted and inexpensive consumer data while reducing regulatory risk.

In the beginning, LocateSmarter was launched with one employee, said Chad Benson, company co-founder. Early on, he and CBE Companies Chairman Thomas Penaluna believed LocateSmarter could branch out to stand on its own by providing services to other companies.

“One of the things Tom and I realized is something a lot of companies experience around the United States experience: Within established companies, it’s harder for people to see that high rewards require high risk,” said Benson, who is president of both LocateSmarter and CBE Companies. “For an idea like LocateSmarter to grow, it requires that risk — an entrepreneurial spirit.”

In nearly five years, LocateSmarter has grown from one to 15 employees. Hiring criteria mirrors the qualities of CBE Companies, said Benson.

“We look to foster the spirit of the startup mindset,” he explained. “We expect staff to work hard and deliver results.”

Newcomb believes LocateSmarter has challenged her to flourish as an emerging leader.

“(Benson) is enthusiastic, intentionally transparent and approachable,” she said. “LocateSmarter is a workplace that cares about its employees and knows how important each is to the overall growth of the company.”

External customers are banks and credit unions, hospitals, collection agencies, credit issuers, law firms and utility companies. Employees complete highly technical work that requires accuracy and precision.

“We process millions of transactions, and our customers have high expectations,” said Benson. “In that environment, it’s important that each employee feels empowered to solve problems and suggest improvements. They know they have a voice and can be heard.”

LocateSmarter allows staffers to work remotely and keep flexible hours, leaving individual schedule management to employees.

“We haven’t had issues; everyone manages to get their work done, and then some,” said Benson. “There’s a general understanding and respect for the fact that your accountability is to the team.”

Scott Jenkins left another position for LocateSmarter, knowing it would give him a 100-mile round-trip commute. He was that confident the company was right for him. He was particularly intrigued by the notion of working for a startup backed by a larger company.

“(LocateSmarter) cares about the lives of its employees, … strives to create its own culture and empowers employees to decide things that help the company and also recognizes those decisions,” Jenkins explained.

Employees value volunteerism, and 100 percent participate in the company’s United Way campaign. Each month, the third Wednesday is set aside for team-building.

“We leave at 3 p.m. and go have fun,” said Benson. “Getting away from the work environment is fun and relaxing. We get to know each other better and learn to depend on one another.”

Among the activities are things like a scavenger hunt and bags, Frisbee golf, Laser Tag and bowling tournaments, noted Holly Mullesch.

“We’re slightly competitive,” she said. “We’ve found that these activities increase communication and openness around the office.”

Team-building extends to after-hours get-togethers. This includes volunteering and participating in 5K runs and soccer tournaments.

“Overall, there’s the sense that we participate in the things we value,” said Benson. “That’s embedded in the culture.”