Growing up in Putnam County, N.Y., James Kennedy lived in a house built in 1719 that seemed to be in a constant state of falling apart.
“My dad worked at IBM, but he was always a do-it-yourselfer,” he says. “Every weekend was a project. We would work on the bathroom, for example, to change the linoleum and discover it’s wet under there, that there’s a leaking pipe. So now we’re fixing pipes and replacing rotten floorboards and then there’s electrical work.”
For Kennedy, who’s now 54 and CEO of The Network Support Co. in Danbury, those experiences fostered a sense of self-reliance, persistence and entrepreneurship.
Years later, after graduating from Amherst College with a degree in economics, he spent several months at IBM himself before striking out on his own in 1983 — to help run Connecticut’s first computer-rental company.
“I was always fascinated by technology,” he says he’d discovered. “I just wasn’t good at it.”
What he has a good head for, he soon discovered, is managing teams of engineers. In 1996, Kennedy started The Network Support Co. (TNSC) with a stable of about 10 clients. Today, he’s got over 200 corporate clients under contract, deals with another 200 on a regular basis, and is involved with the web hosting of something like 2,000 firms. His company is growing faster than ever, he says, and he can envision it expanding in terms of contracted clients by another factor of 10.
Generally, TNSC deals with firms of about 10 to 1,000 employees, mostly located in the Northeast. Kennedy and his staff design, build and maintain those companies’ ever more complicated computer networks — on which their clients communicate by email and manage in-house systems like accounting.
“We build the roads,” Kennedy says. “Someone told me we do high-tech plumbing.”
That involves lots of consulting work on the front end and the occasional hair-raising “firefighter” work of resolving problems when a company’s network experiences a failure.
For now, TNSC has about 55 employees — mostly located in Danbury, but also in new offices in Norwalk, as well as in the states of Pennsylvania and Florida. The Danbury headquarters is on the second floor of a large office building that has sweeping views of the picturesque Lake Kenosia.
Kennedy cites “integrity” as the biggest value he tries to foster in his office culture. He wants his staff to work hard and play hard — and to be creative in solving problems within a highly structured framework that allows easy repetition.
Kennedy credits his mother for infusing in him with a deep religious faith that he says underpins his office culture.
In fact, the company received so many positive marks in response to our survey statement: “This company operates by strong values and ethics,” that TNSC was the recipient of a special award for ethics.
Beth Shuster, manager of marketing and communications, agrees.
“The people here really care about you. I don’t think anyone here is just a number,” says Shuster, a single mother of three. “All the management people really care about people’s personal lives. They’re there to support you in good times and bad times. You have a great work-life balance.”
She adds: “You don’t punch a clock, but you have to get your job done at the end of the day. People really appreciate that, but want to give back.”
One perk: Since the world of technology gets more complex by the month, there is a high premium placed on training. The company holds “well over 100 technical certifications,” Kennedy says, referring to labor-intensive degrees that often involve multiple tests, “and two-thirds of those were gained while people were working here.”
The Danbury office itself looks like you might imagine: mostly men, dressed in button-down shirts and khakis, arranged in cubicles laden with electronics. Spare desks have boxes of old computer parts and cords that are stacked high.
Like towels in a locker room, the equipment is a testament to earlier efforts — dating back to a time when Kennedy sometimes felt like he was shouldering the company’s future on his back. These days, the steady growth has afforded him a new perspective.
“We’ve got 15 rocks rolling uphill right now,” he says. “But I’m maybe pushing only one of them.”