When Tom Stergios opened Advanced Technology Group’s Missoula Solution Center, he did so with a handful of employees, banking on the quality of University of Montana School of Business graduates.
Three years later, the IT consulting firm office has expanded to nearly 60 employees, including new hires at an emerging affiliate, Ingenium, which launched this winter, said Stergios, who serves as vice president and Quote-to-Cash GM at the company.
Stergios, a Montana native, left the state after college and returned years later to work as a consultant for Kansas City-based ATG from his basement before starting the local office.
Since opening the Missoula Solution Center, he’s been busy working with the University of Montana to hire recent grads and to recruit alumni who have moved out of state for work.
The Missoula Solution Center has hired more than 30 UM grads, as well as several Montana State University graduates.
By investing in training for employees, workers’ worth increases and enables ATG to secure projects with large global companies, which almost exclusively make up the center’s clients. The young professionals get to take on pivotal roles in solving complicated challenges they likely wouldn’t be part of at a larger company.
Salaries are still lower than in big cities, Stergios said. “But the gap is shrinking very quickly.”
An average salary is $78,200, with entry level well north of $40,000. Employees hired when the Missoula office opened have increased their salary by an average of 28 percent each year, he added.
The trick to attracting motivated employees and maintaining services worthy of Fortune 500 companies is blending Missoula’s low-key quality of life with large-city professionalism, Stergios said.
“When we go out to our clients, we need to look like IBM,” he said.
However, when clients come to Missoula, the environment is more relaxed.
Although finding that balance and absorbing the cost of airfares have been challenges, once people get over the shock of a company like ATG being located in Missoula, the Montana location adds a boutique feel and certain draw, Stergios said.
On Friday, roughly 60 system analysis and design and Montana Information Systems Association students got an inside look at the kinds of projects ATG completes for those global clients.
“I never had that opportunity when I was in college to really understand what happens in the professional world,” Stergios told the students.
Coming to ATG’s office provided networking opportunities, said Samantha Cannon, a junior at UM and president of MISA.I
Having completed an internship at ATG, Cannon said she already had a good sense of what types of job opportunities the business can provide and wanted to share that with fellow students.
“I’m opening their eyes to possible job opportunities here in Missoula,” she said.
You can teach a theory five different ways, but the lessons might not click completely for students until they hear it in a real-world scenario, said David Firth, a UM professor in the management information systems department.
“I’m hoping they see the relevance of what we learn in class,” Firth said, adding it’s exciting for students to have opportunities near and far once they graduate.
Before ATG opened in Missoula, students had to go to larger cities, such as New York and San Francisco, to find work with global clients. If they were finding success in that workforce, there was no reason they couldn’t succeed if such a company were to locate in Missoula, Firth said.
ATG has been an exceptional partner, giving time to students in and out of the classroom, and a success story, he said. “And there are more companies that could do it.”