Last week’s Blog talked about the origins of LRS; how three consultants with a vision came together in 1979 to transform the IT industry. As we approach the 40th anniversary of our company, it’s worth looking back on how LRS has changed over the years and what has stayed the same.
In a recent article in a local business publication, founder Dick Levi described the first LRS office — 900 square feet of rented space in downtown Springfield above a bank furnished with three used desks and six used chairs. With no outside source of funding and just a handful of employees, no one could have imagined what the next four decades would bring.
“I was hired in 1980, as employee number 10,” says Cindy England, now an LRS Senior Project Manager based in Florida. “At the time, every new person Dick Levi hired tended to have some specialty that the company needed.” Cindy had a lot of experience in IMS, a database and transaction management system used in the mainframe environment. “I had been working at a state agency, and when I told my boss I was leaving to join LRS, he questioned my choice to go to such a small, unproven firm. He said LRS would likely be gobbled up by a bigger company and I’d soon be looking for another job.” Thirty-nine years later, LRS is more than a hundred times larger and Cindy’s state agency no longer exists. It was “gobbled up” and consolidated into a much bigger one.
During LRS’ first year in business, the company paid off all of its debts and hasn’t borrowed a penny since. Most of the initial employees were consultants working on projects in the Springfield area. As mentioned in last week’s Blog story, one of these projects spawned the idea that Dick Levi later developed into LRS’ first software product: VTAM Printer Support, better known as VPS. This was the advent of Enterprise Output Management (EOM) software, which gave companies a centralized way to manage documents from any application to any printer or output destination, regardless of hardware manufacturer or device location. It was also the spark that launched LRS’ rapid expansion.
Now, in addition to a growing team of consultants, LRS also needed to hire software developers, product support staff, etc. Thus, the company that once fit around a small conference table in 1980 grew ten times larger by the end of the decade… and another ten times by the end of the 90’s.
When I joined LRS in 1994, the company had already constructed five new buildings to accommodate this tremendous surge in personnel. However, they had constructed not a single Web page, and very few employees were able to send and receive email with the world outside the company. But that was about to change.
True to the motto “Technology Leads our Growth,” LRS not only built a state-of-the-art website to promote our software and services but also launched a whole new division of the company to meet the Web and Internet needs of internal and external clients. By 1995, we were up to 200 employees, and over the next five years we would add three hundred more.
As I look back on nearly a quarter century at LRS, I have seen a lot of changes. But what stands out to me is how much has stayed the same. Coming from a Chicago-based global consulting firm with over 25,000 employees to this mid-sized technology company on the prairie, I experienced a major culture shock. In a good way.
Each employee, customer, and business partner was (and is) treated like family. Business decisions were, and are, made in a timely manner based on facts and experience instead of polls and shareholder sentiment. New products and enhancements continue to be driven by the needs of real-world customers rather than the ever-shifting opinions of industry pundits.
This principled, pragmatic approach has helped LRS succeed and grow in an organic manner while making it a great place to work. Though few employees have been with LRS as long as Cindy England, more than 40 of my colleagues have been here over 25 years, and literally have the gold watches to prove it. We’ve seen LRS evolve from being a local consulting firm to a global technology leader with offices on five continents.
Not bad for a company that started with a handful of people sitting around a couple used desks in a rented office. In the next installment in this series, we’ll cover the exciting run-up to Y2K through the present date. Stay tuned.