Never Let Your Margins Define Who You Are

Sheldon_Pro3Never let it be said that Sheldon Winston, the Founder and Owner of Phoenixx Systems, is afraid of change. Prior to 1997, he had no experience in technical staffing solutions. Up until then, he was the manager of a restaurant in Greensboro. When a chance encounter with an IT professional at his restaurant opened the door to the world of IT services, Winston seized the opportunity. When interviewing for this new position in 1997 with a staffing firm, Sheldon says he liked the hustle and bustle and excitement of the activity around him.

“There were people that were loud, and they were excited,” recalls Winston. “You could just feel the energy, and I was like, ‘Man! Is that what this looks like?’ I was that excited!”

Even though the compensation for the new position at the staffing firm was considerably less than what he was earning at the restaurant, Winston saw the potential in IT staffing and decided to take the job. After a year and a half of hard work and learning the industry, he found himself in sales, earning much more than he had at the restaurant.

After several years and a move to Greenville within his new position, Winston was ready for another change. He saw the potential for IT staffing in Raleigh and knew that was where he wanted to be. Building on his prior success in the industry, he secured a position in Raleigh with another IT staffing firm.  He stayed in this new position for about a year, but when given the chance to start his own business, he was ready for the challenge.

Winston started Phoenixx Systems in 2001 to provide superior strategic IT consulting and staffing services. The primary focus of the company is to listen to the needs of its clients and match those needs with the correct skill set.

“Phoenixx Systems is an IT services company,” explains Winston. “Our core competencies rest in the area of human capital, which primarily involves contracts to hire resources and people within the Information Technology and Information Systems arena.”

When the company was just starting, Phoenixx Systems targeted smaller start-up companies as clients. They found a niche market that was rapidly expanding and which competitors were not actively pursuing. When the start-up market quieted down, Phoenixx Systems expanded to include larger companies.

Winston explains, “Once the start-up market kind of died down, we played a lot in the small to mid-size companies.  The typical company we work with is one that is experiencing some type of hyper-growth, and those that are constantly moving to different technologies in their software development.”

The ability to adapt has fueled success at Phoenixx Systems. However, Winston also feels very strongly that consistency and working within your limits and core values have helped shape the company.

“Who are we and what are we really trying to do?” he says. “There’s a lot of ‘what’s’ and then there comes the ‘why.’ Why do we do these things and why are we going after that business?  If we can’t answer that and stay true to our core values, then that’s not a company that we’re going to work with.”

Phoenixx Systems is also aggressive in communicating with their existing customers and contractors. They understand that maintaining and servicing existing contracts is just as important as getting new business.  As part of this communication strategy, each customer and contractor is contacted at least once a month. They also have events such as catered lunches at their clients’ sites.

Winston sees raising capital as one of the major challenges facing small businesses. He understands that there are some difficult decisions to address when trying to acquire capital.

He explains, “If you’re going out trying to raise capital a lot of times they want you to leverage everything. You have to decide if you are willing to put everything that you own out there if this venture fails?”

One way around the obstacle of not being able to raise enough capital is to develop partners. However, partnering has its own complications.

“Who are you going to partner with? Are you going to have people that you can trust to help grow and sustain your business?” asks Winston.

Looking to the future, Winston sees great things in store for Phoenixx Systems. They are in a three year plan where the primary focus is to increase the presence of their business.

“I believe if you’re in more places telling your story and letting people know that we want to be a safety net in the event that something goes wrong or changes, then they’re going to give you a shot.  If we politely, persistently ask for their business, in three years we will more than double what we’ve been doing,” says Winston.

Another key to Phoenixx Systems’ success is their continued development of the people who work for them. Winston does not categorize a good hire in relation to the revenue they can generate, but more so by loyalty.

He states, “I’ve learned the hard way that revenues don’t necessarily mean that you have a good hire. A good hire is someone who will stay with you when it’s good and when it’s bad.”

Winston says that he aims to live his life and operate his business by a simple piece of advice he once received from a co-worker.

“Never let your margins define who you are.  Stay true to who you are.  Be who you are and say who you are, at all times.”

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