Eclipse Telecom: A Story of Culture Warriors

 Todd Hext (left) and Dave Dyson (right) at the Eclipse office.

 Todd Hext (left) and Dave Dyson (right) at the Eclipse office.

From the start, the co-founders of Eclipse Telecom, Dave Dyson and Todd Hext, shared an inherent belief in the importance of culture. They believed this even when it was only the two of them, pounding the pavement to get Eclipse Telecom off the ground, before they had any employees. Dave explains, “One of the reasons Todd and I became business partners is we are both culture warriors. Before we had [a team] we were talking about how to make this place awesome for employees.”

In 2013, after four years of operation and with a small committed team behind them, Dave and Todd joined The Junto Institute’s first cohort, Junto I. They had decided that, as Todd shares, “investing in ourselves was investing in the company in terms of long-term success.” Getting plugged into the Junto Tribe, they discovered several others that held their belief in the importance of culture and investing in people. Dave calls people who share this belief “culture warriors”, which he defines as “The kind of people willing to put the culture of the organization and what they stand for above all else.”

For Eclipse, Junto was an experience that created structure and space for growth, both for the co-founders as individuals and for the company as a whole. Dave explains, “It gave me the space to work on myself. We spent years nose down building this business, but when you do that, you neglect yourself and you aren’t doing anything structured to grow.” Todd was especially impacted by the power of growing as a company alongside peers. “One of the [outcomes] that is personal to me is the friendships that have developed out of the experience. I have friendships from the cohort that I’ll work to maintain for the rest of my life.”

The co-founders were hesitant to leave the company for several hours at a time to participate in elements of the Junto curriculum, but they knew they needed to get away from the business, so they could work on Eclipse, not just in it. “We had the fear that we can’t leave the business, it would die without us,” Dave explains, “But the opposite was true.” As they pulled away, Dave and Todd saw that that the company was truly more than just the two of them, and as Dave observed “it was a team and a system.” Todd reflects that “it was valuable for the team to see Dave and I go away for several hours.” It not only communicated trust, but created opportunities for the team to step up and feel empowered to take on more responsibility.

Dave and Todd began to realize that Eclipse functioned better with them delegating more, staying primarily in leadership roles, and letting the team take more of the operational reins. As a result of building a team around cultural fit, Dave and Todd felt confident in the talented people around them. Being “culture warriors”, they held the strong belief that “character trumps skills,” and, as Todd describes, had intentionally hired people that “are eager, bring a lot of energy and are willing to take a risk.”

Nikki Martin, Eclipse Project Manager, also saw a transformation take place within Eclipse as the team began to step up and play a more active role in managing the business. “They are handing things over to us that they were doing on their own in the beginning,” Nikki observes. “Rather than Dave and Todd telling us what to do, we are sitting down and having discussions as a whole team.”

Dave, Nikki, and Todd at the Midmarket CIO Forum in October 2014.

Dave, Nikki, and Todd at the Midmarket CIO Forum in October 2014.

In addition to delegating more responsibility to the team, the co-founders began to create opportunities for the team to develop, both as professionals and as people. The entire team went through a telecom certification program, and Dave and Todd provided a stipend for each individual to use towards a learning activity of their choice. Nikki took this opportunity to attend Junto Classes in 2014, and enjoyed learning alongside the Junto II cohort. “Dave and Todd focus on developing each individual person in the company. They focus on how we can develop ourselves in different aspects of the company,” Nikki explains.

With the strong feeling of empowerment at Eclipse, the team began to bring new ideas to the table for how to reinforce the company culture and keep it strong. “We’re an open company and they really take into consideration our ideas,” Nikki explains. One example is the company’s commitment to volunteering. Nikki felt strongly about giving back to the community, and wanted to bring that into Eclipse’s culture. Now the team spends a half-day every month volunteering somewhere new in the Chicago area. Projects include helping to install a mosaic installation at Mancel Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy and repacking food donations at the Chicago Food Depository. Dave reflects on the culture of empowerment explaining, “As we’re sitting down and carving our values in stone, we realized giving back to our communities is part of who we are. Nikki forced us to act on that, and as a part of this team, has the power to do so.”

The Eclipse Team helping to install a mosaic installation at Mancel Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy.

The Eclipse Team helping to install a mosaic installation at Mancel Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy.

The transition to a more widespread leadership style has made Eclipse a team of culture warriors, and it all started with Dave and Todd. They believed in creating a culture of empowerment and demonstrating care for their team. Dave says that “The original culture was Dave and Todd being kick-ass, and now it’s the team being kick-ass.” The team’s relentless drive to achieve is paired with genuine humility and a desire to improve. Todd admits, “There is always room for growth and we’re humble and honest about that.” Dave similarly shares, “We’re results-driven, but we have fun every day at work and it’s not so much fun we’re not getting results. We never forget that we’re a half dozen people supporting the needs of billion-dollar companies. Everybody honors that every day.”

In the year ahead, Dave notes that Eclipse is working towards “exponential growth of everything: team development, the people count, revenue.” They plan to continue leaning on their friends and fellow culture warriors in the Junto Tribe to help with client leads, job candidates, and general support on the path of growing better. Dave and Todd are grateful for the ways the Tribe has already helped them move the needle, with one of their employees being a recommendation from Tiesta Tea (Junto I), and Junto Instructor, Brian Burkhart and his company, SquarePlanet, working with Eclipse to create promotional signs for an industry trade show.

Nikki notes how excited the company is for the next year. “Through Junto we’ve become very motivated. Keeping the relationships that we developed in the Junto can help us in the future, and already have. It’s important to stay in touch.” The Junto Tribe looks forward to staying in touch and continuing to celebrate culture warriors like Eclipse.