The foundation for a family of thousands
Everybody wanted the company to be great. That makes a big difference.
Hyland began in 1991 with Packy Hyland Jr.’s vision to start a “wildly successful company.”
I wanted to get the real deal about how Packy (the founder), Chris Hyland (executive vice president and CFO), A.J. Hyland (former president and CEO) and Miguel Zubizaretta (former CTO) made it happen. They met me in Building 1 on the Westlake campus to reminisce about how they got Hyland off the ground.
Hint: equal parts competitiveness, enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations.
When Hyland began, could you envision a company of 2,000-plus people?
Packy: I daydreamed about it all the time. Long before I started Hyland, I wrote down all my goals, and the words I explicitly remember using were ‘wildly successful company.’ So, I expected it to be big. I would not have been happy if it was anything less.
In my vision, I had no basis or reasoning for believing that would be possible. But I just did.
Miguel: I always thought it was going to be very successful, economically. I knew that we could build great software, I just didn’t think it was going to take that many people to send some disks around the country.
Chris: I don’t think I ever looked that far into the future. I was always thinking about what we were going to be doing next month or next year.
You are the president of You, Inc.
— Packy Hyland Jr.
A.J.: It didn’t hit me until I was out in the field, trying to sell it, that it was going to be huge. Because I got to see the reaction to what these guys built up close.
Why do you think Hyland has thrived for 25 years?
A.J.: Obviously, you can’t grow without good people, and whatever mix we’ve had at every phase – from two people, to four to five to 100 to 1,000 – I think we’ve had the right people in place. I also think that Miguel and Packy in particular, and the rest of their development team, were brilliant at building marketing in to the product. We still had to do marketing, but once we showed people what they had developed and how unique it was and how revolutionary it was, it took off that way.
Chris: I think not only the people, but the common goal. Everybody wanted the company to be great. That makes a big difference.
Miguel: The architecture that can be applied to any industry. The fact that we were able to take it from market to market and meet whatever the challenge was for whatever organization, I think that was a key part of being able to do it successfully. I think a huge part of that comes from Packy Jr. and his completely unrealistic view of the world and thinking that anything can be done, and even things that can’t be done should be done. He always challenged us.
A.J.: Packy’s energy and enthusiasm early on set the entire foundation for the company that I think still exists today. And we would be following him right through that brick wall, trying to match that energy and enthusiasm and meet those goals that he had, and that became part of our fabric.
Packy: I like that they call it energy and enthusiasm. I would call it desperation, since I had nothing to fall back on and these guys all did. I didn’t have a degree. In the first couple years of Hyland – ‘93 maybe – we were so poor, I applied for jobs at other places to work part-time and I got refused because I had no high school diploma.
So luckily for all of us, I had no choice but to pretend we could do it. Until we did. Fake it ‘til you make it, basically.
We would be following him right through that brick wall, trying to match that energy and enthusiasm … and that became part of our fabric.
— A.J. Hyland
How did you get the right people on board?
Chris (to Packy): What did you tell Priemer?
Packy: I was just thinking that. I was like, ‘I can’t believe Priemer is here.’ I don’t understand why he would have left such a good job to come here. And Miguel. He was doing very well until he met me. Then it was kind of a downcycle for a decade.
A.J.: It was just a valley.
Packy (to Miguel): Why did you [come here]? What’s wrong with you?
Miguel: It’s funny because that’s a question Packy would ask me all the time. We’d be sitting there working, it’s four in the morning and he’d say, ‘What I don’t understand is why you don’t go and form your own company.’
Packy (To Miguel): Thanks for not doing that. Yet.
Chris: At that point, there wasn’t a lot to lose.
A.J.: It got more risky when it became successful, when things really started clipping and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to keep this up.’
Packy: The pressure not to make a mistake.
Chris: Even today when there’s 2,200 people involved, it’s more risky than when there’s 10 people involved.
A.J.: I do think there was a healthy dose of competitiveness in us. We loved taking down the bigger guys. All these big companies, and we were this young start-up. There was serious juice and energy when we would beat them for a deal or outdo them at a trade show, when it was a lot of fun being that little engine that could. And once we started getting bigger, it was fun shooting in both directions, at smaller companies and bigger companies. I don’t think we ever lost that fun of the competition either.
Everybody wanted the company to be great. That makes a big difference.
— Chris Hyland
How did you maintain the culture through the years?
Packy: I wanted the culture to be what it is because we spent so much time here. The things we didn’t have in the very early years, I dreamt about having and wished that we’d had. A lot of those came to fruition when we got here into this building.
A.J. (to Packy): But you had a good enough vision to institutionalize some of that too, so it could actually grow as the company grew. You put people in positions doing good things to make sure that, no matter as we grew, the corporation was paying attention to those things instead of just being spontaneous ideas coming from Packy. We kind of made our spontaneity more planned. But it still worked.
Chris: And then it’s important to bring people in who are like-minded. The hiring is a key component obviously – getting people who appreciate the same morals and culture.
A.J.: There were early stories about bringing in some big free agent draft picks.
Packy: Corporate types.
A.J.: And they just didn’t gel with our culture. It wasn’t worth the ‘value’ they were bringing to chip away at the culture that we cared about and wanted to build.
What advice would you give to Hylanders about being successful?
Packy: I would say the same thing I would tell employees when I was here. The only way this company gets better is if every person who works here is so good at what they do that they get job offers from other companies and should go somewhere else, but they choose to come here every day because they want to.
Chris: I would say knowing the product is key for new people starting. The people who have known the product have always moved to the top of the company the quickest because everything is about the product – how the customers use it, what we’re trying to build, what we need to build, those kinds of things. If you understand the product, you get the context for all of that.
Miguel: Along both of those lines – continuous education. It doesn’t matter what role you’re in, the more you learn, the more you can contribute and the more value you are to the company and the more you can advance. Make a plan for yourself and say, ‘Hey, I am in charge of my own learning. I am in charge of my own development.’
Packy: Amen. You are the president of You, Inc.
A.J.: I think one of the things that I would want people to know and take with them is that you don’t need to be a manager to be a leader. You can always be a leader in everything that you do here in terms of a subject area, ethically, whatever it might be. Be a leader. It doesn’t mean you have to have people working for you, it just means you have to have a great attitude, be a great employee, willing to learn, willing to grow and willing to do things the right way.