Developing products and people — FNC Inc. readies for first-ever ‘The Forge

by Wally Northway

Published: December 13,2013

Tags: Business, finance, Mississippi, Oxford

At first glance, FNC Inc.’s upcoming first-ever hackathon it has dubbed “The Forge” appears to be all about product development and industry competitiveness. But officials maintain that the all-night blitz scheduled for Dec. 19 is more about its people and team-building.

Bill Rayburn

Bill Rayburn

“We always wanted this to be an employee-driven company,” said Bill Rayburn, co-founder and CEO of the mortgage technology company FNC. “I believe you hire the right people, then get out of their way. ‘The Forge’ is part of that concept.”

“This is an opportunity to work with a new team, to flesh out an idea, to try a new technology. It’s about improving skill while trying something new,” said Bethany Cooper, corporate recruitment and talent management coordinator at Oxford-based FNC. “Plus we’re going to make it super fun.”

All of the employees of FNC have been invited to participate in “The Forge.” Beginning at 3 p.m. on Dec. 19, teams of one to three employees will face off in a battle of the brains as they work through the night to develop, innovate and create anything that will make FNC’s products or processes better.

FNC officials are expecting as many as 100 employees to be involved. If a team’s project is selected for further development, the company has established an “80/20” program modeled after Google. Winning employees will spend 80 percent (four days) working for the company and one day (20 percent) on their project.

“We are fortunate to have a CEO (Bill Rayburn) who is visionary enough to say you can have 20 percent of your time for a pet project and who recognizes that this program supports talent retention and develops new ideas for the company,” Cooper said. “We want to make sure our talent is happy here. Our 80/20 program helps keep employees motivated by giving them a chance to tap their inner creativity and do something exciting and meaningful to them.”

If no project proves worthy of future consideration, Rayburn maintains that is just fine by him.

“No matter what happens, I am confident that the return on investment from ‘The Forge’ will be high,” he said.

“The Forge” is part of FNC’s larger Employee-Driven Innovation (EDI) Program. According to John Marsalis, director of software development at FNC, the company established the EDI program some three years ago, and has been developing it since then, especially over the last six to 12 months.

EDI is FNC’s three-pronged approach to initiatives created and led by employees:

» FNC Innovation — projects of an innovative, technical nature that introduce potential for future revenue or cost savings.

» FNC Living — ideas that speak to employee needs and the company’s culture and work environment such as employee recognition, green efforts and workplace stress relief.

» FNC Giving — the firm’s community outreach initiative, code name “Hero.”

The EDI adds to the company’s efforts to take care of its people. FNC already offers flexible work schedules, generous health benefits (100 percent coverage to employees and their families, 401(k) and other employee-focused efforts.

In that vein, FNC is looking to make “The Forge” an event employees will remember. During the all-night hackathon, employees will be entertained by a band and play games while enjoying food and drink.

“We’re hoping to see results that will either improve our internal efficiency or that will positively impact our customers’ operations,” said Bethany Cooper, corporate recruitment and talent management coordinator. “Ultimately, we hope every project is amazing and something we can run with.”

In preparation for The Forge, employees have been told to think big.

“We want them to think crazy and see what happens,” Cooper said. “We have people who are so brilliant and they have these pent-up ideas that they’ve thought of, but it can be challenging to find the time to work on a new innovation idea when we all are so busy with our daily tasks. Giving employees this defined time to work on their ideas could result in some really cool things.”

FNC executives believe “The Forge” could result in new revenue streams, next-generation products, expanded markets and more competitive advantages.

The event will end with presentations of all projects and prizes at 2 p.m. on Dec. 20. Winners will be awarded based on their project’s usefulness, ability to launch quickly, creativity and all-around awesomeness.

“We always try to put ourselves in our employees position,” Rayburn said. “

Rayburn certainly has the numbers to prove that concept is working at FNC. The mortgage technology company delivered its first solution in early 1999. Under Rayburn’s leadership, the technology company invented and developed a residential real estate Collateral Management System (CMS) that revolutionized the mortgage industry. It now counts customers around the world, and Rayburn was out of state last week looking to grow the firm even further.

“We have smart people who take care of our clients. That’s been the key to our success,” Rayburn said.

 

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