To get ahead in technology consulting, Secure-24 has invested in data centers, best practices, marketing and more. But it’s the company’s investment in people that Secure-24 CEO Mike Jennings credits for transforming the Southfield, Michigan, company into one of the largest and most capable managed service providers in the nation.

Here’s the story of Secure-24, which is No. 15 on the 2017 MSP 501 list.

Since 2001, Secure-24 has been delivering managed IT services, applications hosting and cloud services to enterprise customers worldwide. It’s specialty is what most MSPs would consider big customers—very big. Some of Secure-24’s clients, which belong to healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and more, have revenue north of $15 billion. More than half are publicly traded.

While these large corporations spend an enormous amount on information and communications technology (ICT), they don’t necessarily spend what is required to get white-glove treatment from vendors including HPE, IBM and others. This is where Secure-24 comes in. Secure-24s value proposition is that it will provide big companies white-glove services for less than vendor-owned service organizations charge or global management consultancies. And it promises to provide superior customer experiences.

As you might imagine, achieving this aim requires Secure-24 to spend heavily on managed cloud services, custom applications hosting, security, compliance capabilities and what it calls “premiere services,” which includes digital transformation consulting.  Secure-24 has also invested heavily in software expertise. Today, the company is an Oracle Platinum Partner and an SAP-certified Hosting and Cloud partner. It’s also a top Cisco, Juniper and Riverbed partner.

Given that the company’s stated mission is to help enterprises turn technology challenges into business opportunities, you realize that everything it aims for hinges on being world-class in a variety of disciplines. This includes everything from technology to business functions to vertical industries and more.

It’s a tall order, in other words.

The only way Secure-24 can compete effectively at this level is to employ highly skilled workers. The company hires some from different industries or competitors. But others it trains itself in its own “Academy.” Jennings and other executives at the company refer to it as “our sixth man off the bench.”

“We are a people business,” Jennings told me earlier this year.

Mike Jennings, Secure-24

It’s a somewhat ironic statement coming from a tech CEO whose company provides the technology that makes machine automation, artificial intelligence and data analytics possible. But it’s true just the same.

Before you roll your eyes, consider all that Secure-24 does to ensure that it employs the most capable workforce possible. Take insurance, which is a significant burden to many MSPs with more than 50 employees. Secure-24 provides insurance to every one of its employees and their families. This includes health, dental and life for all.

Then there’s the Academy, which was developed with the recognition that Secure-24 needs a steady stream of fresh talent to meet its customers’ current and future demands.

Our academy provides 18-24 months of on-the-job training that results in an employee that has garnered multiple professional certifications, as well as customer support experience,” writes Jack Connelly in a Secure-24 blog posted this month.

Who is the academy for? To date, the company has invited recent college grads and former active-duty military personnel to enroll. They are given an opportunity to learn business, people and technical skills in a real-world setting. At the end of their 24-month apprenticeship, eight of every 10 participants is invited to join other teams within Secure-24. All told, the company has run 160 people through its academy. Some grads have gone on to become network specialists, Microsoft administrators and/or SAP consultants.

For Jennings, the “people-first” ethos embraced by Secure-24 serves two purposes. It helps build that deep bench that Secure-24 depends on, and it helps reduce the brain-drain that has stunted Michigan’s revival after the great recession.

“Michigan is a tremendous state for education, but it is not as strong in terms of employment,” says Jennings. As a responsible employer, he has met with local councils, state agencies and organizations focused on reducing the brain-drain problem. “Sixty percent of Michigan grads leave the state 60 days after graduation,” he says. He would rather the best ones stay and work for Secure-24, whose headcount is now approaching 500 worldwide. (The company has a sizable software development office in Hyderabad, India.)

For its efforts to build a 21st Century workforce, Secure-24 has been widely recognized. In June, Computerworld named it a “2017 Best Places to Work in IT,” while IDC recently showcased the company in a Peerscape Talent Management report entitled Talent Management Practices for IT Bench.” 

So is everything perfect at Secure-24? Of course not. The company’s employment policies and work environment have a solid 3.8 out of 5-star rating on Glassdoor. But detractors—one anyway—describe the place as a “meat grinder” that asks a lot of its workers.

Maybe so. But workforce policies that emphasize benefits, training and quality of work have enabled Secure-24 to position itself at the top of the technology stack, where profits are greater than they are at the bottom, where commoditization and automation threaten jobs.

Whether you employ people or work alongside them, which type of organization would you rather work for?