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Valuing the individual

Marathon Consulting has attracted consultants with ‘great soft skills’

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President Harris Pezzella is one of four founders
of Marathon Consulting. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Marathon Consulting’s four owners were seasoned information technology professionals when they started the company in April 2006.

“All four of us worked together for a large consulting company in Virginia Beach,” says company President Harris Pezzella. “We had talked about taking advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself, and it did present itself. That allowed us to start Marathon.”

The opportunity came when one of the larger information technology providers in Hampton Roads left the area, creating a void for IT services.

The startup period had its challenges. “We were subject to a one-year non-compete as stated in our employee agreement,” Pezzella says, referring to an agreement with their previous employer. “Consequently, many of the business relationships we had forged over the previous decades were initially unavailable to us when we started.”

The four owners – Pezzella, Tony Cortinas, Ben Ricks and Al Moore – self-funded the business and received a line of credit from the bank. “That being said, Marathon was profitable from almost the very beginning,” Pezzella says.

They also served as the company’s only staff in the beginning. “Now we have about 70 employees,” Cortinas says. “We started with only four clients, and now we have served over 200 clients.”

The Virginia Beach-based company provides IT consulting and digital marketing services to mid-tier businesses, nonprofit organizations and local governments in the mid-Atlantic region. “We supplement our clients’ technical needs,” says Pezzella.

The company is expanding to Richmond. “We have one employee in Richmond now, and we are recruiting for a couple of spots,” Cortinas says. The office is the company’s first outside of Virginia Beach.

Marathon was ranked No. 466 on the 2010 Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. This year it was No. 4,916 on the 2015 Inc. 5000. The company has been on the Inc. list every year since it reached eligibility.

Now it is the top-ranking small business in the Best Places to Work in Virginia.

Pezzella says the company has thrived because of its employment practices. “Marathon is a consulting company founded by consultants that value the individual,” Pezzella says. “We have built the company around top-notch consultants who have great soft skills for building rapport with our clients. Their values reflect the values of Marathon.”

The company’s benefits package also is a draw for employees. Marathon pays the entire health-care premium for each employee. It also pays 15 percent of dependent coverage. A wellness benefit allows employees to expense up to $250 a year for anything related to personal health such as a gym membership or exercise equipment.

Employees additionally receive overtime plus 10 percent when their hours exceed the normal workweek. “They also have the ability to carry over vacation or cash out some vacation if they need to,” Pezzella says.

The company’s turnover rate hovers around 10 percent. “That is extremely low for our industry,” says Cortinas. “In our industry, it can be as high as 50 percent or above.”

After a year of service, employees are eligible for one week of training that can include a conference. It also provides internal technical sessions presented by the company’s own consultants. “Our staff is made up of experts, and this gives them the opportunity [to present papers at conferences],” Pezzella says.

To further its focus on training, Marathon promoted one of its senior staff members to professional development coordinator. “We did that as much as anything to help us make good on our promise and our wish to help folks develop technically and professionally along the way,” Pezzella says.

Each year the company offers family events outside of the office that include tickets to a Norfolk Tides baseball game. It additionally holds barbecues on Friday afternoons and sponsors an annual bus trip for employees to either Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore or Nationals Park in Washington to see major league baseball games.

“We also hold quarterly all-hands meetings where we share our goals financially and operationally,” says Cortinas. “We report on those goals. We share that type of information from day one.”

The company’s founders have two important tenets: respect employees as individuals and help them evolve professionally. “Don’t underestimate the value of the people who make up your company,” Pezzella advises. “Leadership starts with example. Everyone is worthy of respect.”

Best Places to Work 2016 list of small employers

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