Kay Lukas is a business owner who believes in the concept of paying it forward. Knowing that she has been given breaks along the way, she makes it a point to give others opportunities for success.
"She's been a real mentor to me," said Jessica Giradin, senior technical recruiter and resource manager at iTech Solutions, the IT staffing firm Lukas heads. "She took a chance on me when I first graduated from college. She trained me and gave me a chance to be a success, and she's done the same thing for a lot of other people. She's someone who's always willing to help you grow."
Lukas, iTech's president, has also grown the company itself from the ground up. Her husband, Chris, incorporated the business in 1995, but he was its only employee, working as an independent consultant for The Hartford. As the mother of two young daughters, Lukas was finding that her job at another consulting agency was demanding more and more hours, including early mornings and late evenings, so in 2000 she decided to step away and develop iTech instead.
"I felt like there must be other people out there like me who wanted to have a life," she said.
Within three months, she had landed her first major client, UnitedHealth Group. She remains grateful to the health insurance giant — still a client — because "they knew I was small but they gave me a chance and were really supportive."
A dozen years later, iTech has grown to include 17 employees and almost 150 consultants — IT specialists who are employed by iTech but actually work for its client companies, including large national firms such as Aetna, MassMutual and Cigna. Lukas is proud that the company has never lost a client and thinks iTech provides value to both her clients and the consultants she finds for them.
"With budgets being so tight, companies don't want to make a mistake when they finally have an opportunity to hire someone, so they like the idea of a 'consult-to-hire' situation," she said. This way, the company gets to try out the consultant and vice versa, so both parties know if it's a good fit. While some relationships are just temporary, about 44 percent of iTech's consultants are ultimately hired by the companies to which Lukas sends them. "It's a great way to get a job in today's market," she said.
Her initial desire to have more time for her children also prompted Lukas to establish an entirely virtual workplace for iTech, which she runs from her Farmington home. "I had a small office for the first few months, but that was before the days of cell phones, so I had to have multiple phone numbers and I was always carrying things back and forth between home and the office," she said. "When I started working from home, I had two extra hours in my day because I wasn't commuting anymore, so I was here when my daughters got off the bus and available any time they needed me."
As the company has grown, Lukas has tended to hire other women who are in similar situations, although working independently hasn't proven to be a successful model for everyone. "Some people just aren't self disciplined enough, and some don't do well when they're by themselves all the time," she said.
For those who do thrive in a virtual workplace, Lukas provides the infrastructure they need to succeed, including a multi-functional phone system, cloud-based computing, and periodic opportunities to meet with Lukas and their other colleagues face-to-face. When new hires are brought in for training, other employees who live in the area come by to meet their new co-workers, and periodic conference calls and training sessions bring staff members together, while birthday celebrations and parties at Lukas' home provide opportunities for employees to get to know each other on a personal basis. "We're trying to get better at team building," Lukas said.
Creating a nurturing environment makes employees "really want to do a good job because they treat the company like they own it. I have one employee who calls me every day with a list of what she wants me to do that day," she said with a laugh.
While most of iTech's recruiters are based in Connecticut, the company has begun hiring people in other parts of the country where major clients are based.
"I want my people to be physically close to the clients they service, so that's meant bringing in people in places like Minnesota and Denver," Lukas said.
In her free time, the Connecticut native enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and biking, often with family members. "Connecticut is so beautiful and it has so many great trails," she said. Favorite spots include Crescent Lake, Lake Compounce, and the area around Kensington and her native Meriden.
Lukas' commitment to paying it forward extends to her family as well. "My dad owned a construction company and he gave me opportunities to work and learn there, and now my daughter who's in college works for me during the summer," she said.