Scaling at the Speed of Culture

Berkadia’s Fernando Rodriguez and Kyle Hunt on how company culture influences IT, recruiting, and retention

To increase efficiency and provide actionable insights for customers through its programs, Berkadia needed the best minds in the industry to do so. The challenge of building out the company’s Innovation Technology team quickly was up to Fernando Rodriguez and Kyle Hunt. And they had their doubters.

“In discussing with friends, colleagues, and industry professionals, I was repeatedly told that scaling at the speed and level we are targeting is simply not possible,” says Hunt, vice president of platform architecture at Berkadia. The three operating sites in Ambler, Pennsylvania; Midvale, Utah; and Hyderabad, India, couldn’t have had less in common—at least from the outside.

But, Hunt says, Berkadia has been able to not only scale people and talent concurrently but also prove that the organization can produce sustainable and desirable outcomes. Rodriguez and Hunt, who first met in 2009 while working at eBay, have helped shape Berkadia’s Innovation Technology team while underlining the positive working culture that Rodriguez says empowers and cultivates leaders across the organization.

Rodriguez, senior vice president of software and services, says the process of building the team had the potential to take a toll on the plan’s architects. “If spinning up nearly forty Scrum and Kanban teams across three sites in under three years without the help of external consultants isn’t crazy, then I don’t know what is,” he says.

“The most challenging piece is learning to ‘scale’ yourself, a term Ferdie [Rodriguez] uses frequently,” Hunt adds.

Berkadia Fernando Rodriguez
Fernando Rodriguez, BerkadiaPhoto: Brown Elephant Creative

Upon coming to Berkadia, Rodriguez says he spent the first three months just having one-on-one conversations and realizing that people are passionate about Berkadia and they loved their jobs. This gave the SVP the go-ahead to work to expand that culture that he himself found so inviting. “I wanted to quickly recruit more of the best and the brightest professionals from the industry,” Rodriquez says. “We want them to be the next generation of leaders of the company.”

The process was not without its own challenge. “We did initially succumb to the obvious growing challenge of hiring due to delivery pressure,” Rodriguez admits. “We had customers and stakeholders eager to see outputs so, for certain initiatives, we hired people who did not play well with others or just could not handle the high expectations we had.” The resulting capacity setback was short-term, but a larger lesson took precedent: put team harmony above all else.

Hunt says that one concept leadership has perfected is the notion of building a team around the right individual. And, Rodriguez says, teammates are empowered to make the final hiring decision on every engineer brought into the company.

“Early on, we would have a senior team panel interview each candidate, regardless of role and position,” Rodriguez says. “It was light, and we always asked this final question: ‘What is the best use of Internet Explorer?’ The answer: ‘To download Chrome.’ Culture fit is as important as their technical skills.”

Once hired, Berkadia has an unwavering commitment to its people, Hunt says. Developing its engineers is of the utmost importance. In the short time that Berkadia formed more than twenty Scrum teams in India, they identified ten engineers who will form the future core of architects and managers running Berkadia India. These leaders have the responsibility to “pay it forward,” Rodriguez says, by offering mentorship opportunities to the junior developers in the ranks.

The internal company culture, popularly referred to as “Berkadia Way,” provokes an outward mind-set, encouraging each individual to remember that the main focus is people—not products. “People in our office often hear me say, ‘We’re an organization of people; therefore, we need to focus all our efforts on them,’” Rodriguez says. This, in turn, helps the team focus on the solution instead of the problem.

Berkadia Kyle Hunt
Kyle Hunt, BerkadiaPhoto: Courtesy of Berkadia

A key success factor for healthy culture, Hunt says, is that people have a passion and a drive to contribute to what they’re building. “This passion has been a beacon throughout my career,” Hunt says. “With a focus on culture as strong as the one Berkadia has, we try to ensure people enjoy coming into work every day and that they will want to encourage their most talented friends and colleagues to work with us and our vision for the future as well.”

Rodriguez details the way he sees positive culture prevailing via the three key Innovation sites. “Our biggest success is the ‘solitary uniqueness’ of our culture,” Rodriguez says, acknowledging the seeming oxymoron of his sentiment. “When you visit each of our three operating sites, you will feel a different vibe in the way people communicate and relate to each other, but when we come together, we’re one united team.”

Cultivating healthy culture, Hunt believes, can at least be observed in a few different ways: spirited and constructive debate, the alignment of goals, and a culture of trust. “It is because of these components, and many others, that we are hiring and developing talent that is eager to work with us on some of the industry’s most exciting challenges and opportunities,” Hunt says.

“At Berkadia, we give back to the Hyderabad community,” Rodriguez says. Over the past two years, their team of architects volunteers at top technology colleges teaching machine learning, Javascript, and cloud technologies. To date, thirty graduating students have found employment with the company. Rodriguez and Hunt both believe the future is bright at Berkadia, as culture continues to not only inform but also shape the vision of the company.

“Our goal is to have our people prepared and ready to take the helm at any moment,” Rodriguez says. “Leadership is about leaving the company better than when you found it. I truly believe in that.”