INFO TECH’S FOUNDING FATHERS: Co-CEO’s Dr. Tom Rothrock and Dr. Jim McClave
Of the many decisions made in Info Tech’s 40-year history, the decision by founder Dr. Jim McClave and business partner Dr. Tom Rothrock to keep a focus on family has arguably made the biggest impact.
From the beginning, Gainesville-based Info Tech has had what McClave calls the family culture. “I remember sitting in our first rented office space and saying ‘We’re all pointed in the same direction and we’ll succeed or fail together,’” he said.
“In terms of our early philosophy, it was instinct,” Rothrock said. “Treat your employees great, treat your customers as if they were family as well, and you’ll be okay. I think that was our instinct and the way we sort of looked at life.”
The two former professors have had a compatible company vision throughout their 35-year partnership, something McClave said is pretty unusual. “But each one of us brings something to the table that the other one doesn’t have,” he said.
As the company has expanded from humble beginnings to a nationally recognized innovator, its focus on the values that made it great have remained the same. “We’ve always felt the way we treat people is important to us,” McClave said. The approach has paid off, as Info Tech’s consulting services and software for infrastructure e-Construction have grown to be used by 44 of the 50 state transportation agencies.
Info Tech employees JB Peters and Bob DeHoff discuss computer security at the company’s new headquarters in Celebration Pointe.
A Synergized Foundation
Starting with a suggestion from a colleague and close friend, the company name, Info Tech, Inc., is where it all began in 1977. McClave created a company out of necessity to keep track of his consulting work while employed as a professor at the University of Florida. McClave, who graduated with a PhD in statistics from UF six years earlier, tapped into his raw talent as an expert witness by applying his statistical knowledge on various cases. “My wife called it right from the beginning — my ‘middle-aged football,’” he said. “It’s competitive. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of (testifying in court) and explaining complex analyses to folks – judges and juries – who are likely to have less knowledge and experience with statistical analyses.”
After earning a mathematics degree from the University of Missouri, Dr. Rothrock began writing computer programs in the ‘60s while working as an engineering assistant for McDonnell Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri. He soon went back to the University of Missouri to earn a PhD in economics. Pairing his mathematics background to the understanding of computer code, Rothrock excelled in economics. “Within that arena I specialized in econometrics and mathematical economics — which allowed me to take data and analyze it (electronically) using my knowledge of writing computer programs,” he explained.
Rothrock officially joined the Info Tech team March 1981, creating a two-person consulting company working its first court case. The progressive ‘70s era was plagued with collusion, often in the form of bid-rigging. Analyzing data to identify trends was on the rise, which was the landscape where a highly sought-out synergy was formed.
As consultants to the Florida Attorney General, Rothrock and McClave investigated possible bid-rigging by highway contractors, which resulted in a series of highway bid-rigging cases brought by federal and state authorities. Most of the data involved in their first case was recorded on paper by hand. The only electronic data was recorded on eight-track tapes, and the tapes were wiped and re-used every three months because of the tapes’ high cost (all of $20 per tape!). Recording each piece of data from the Departments of Transportation (DOT), McClave and Rothrock created a database and manually entered the data necessary for their analyses.
It was during this time period that building information databases and applying computerized techniques to analyze them really started, according to Rothrock. Many of the DOTs had never seen graphical displays of construction data, such as a map showing where contractors and their facilities were located. McClave and Rothrock were able to showcase data in a way that made it easy to see trends in business activity. “We’d show patterns and market share activity sort of like the stock market,” Rothrock said. Like the stock market, market shares are expected to fluctuate over time – so an unusually stable pattern is a red flag. While stability is good for those businesses, Rothrock explained, “if they achieved that stability through means that are illegal — such as price-fixing or bid-rigging — that’s not right.”
Billions of dollars are spent each year on highway construction, so there’s a lot at stake, Rothrock said, increasing the industry need for Info Tech’s software. “All of the sudden we were in an area where we had created a product that was in great demand — software for analyzing bidding behavior in highway construction,” he said.
In the first highway case, over $30 million was eventually recovered after Info Tech used statistical analysis to illustrate possible collusion. “We had this philosophy that we’re doing a good thing; we’re doing the right thing with these money recoveries,” McClave said.
For Rothrock, the desire to recoup these funds also comes from studying economic history and the dangers of monopolistic behavior. “Part of it is altruistic I think on our part, because we don’t think (monopolistic behavior) is right,” Rothrock said. The goal is to create a level playing field where everyone has an opportunity to be successful, he said.
In 1982, McClave and Rothrock were faced with an opportunity that would forever shape the company: create software for state-level DOTs to use in-house, instead of acting as a go-between for data analysis. “Up until this point we’d written all of these programs,” Rothrock explained. “People would give us the data, and we would analyze it and give them back the results. Now they wanted to use the programs themselves so they could run them on a monthly basis to evaluate bidding activity.”
Ultimately, the pair decided to explore the opportunity, contracting with the Kansas DOT in 1982, and the two sides of the business — consulting and software — were solidified, and remain the same nearly four decades later. With a solid plan in place, the team’s natural football game-winning demeanor synergized, transforming Info Tech into the 250-person workforce it is today. As the company has expanded, McClave and Rothrock have surrounded themselves with people who utilize their personal experience and expertise to continue finding new solutions to old problems.
“We continue to capitalize on Dr. Rothrock’s computer software development background, where our development teams create software solutions to support e-construction,” said Daina Woodman, Info Tech’s marketing manager. Agencies, consultants and vendors use these tools to manage digital information in the ever-changing construction industry. Clients and customers go beyond DOTs, she added. “The opportunities are truly endless,” Woodman said.
The Info Tech Family
Info Tech’s first office was the McClave’s kitchen, “with a four-year-old and one-year-old running around,” remembered Mary Jay McClave, Jim’s wife. In those early days, Mary Jay handled the clerical and bookkeeping duties for the company. She withdrew from the business to spend more time with the children as Jim’s traveling schedule grew, but has always remained involved as his sounding board.
While office accommodations thankfully changed over the years, the accommodations for employees’ family life have stayed constant. Both the McClaves and the Rothrocks enjoy having family members close. The McClaves’ two children (the aforementioned kids in the kitchen) are now key members of the Info Tech team — son Will McClave and daughter Jamie Baldwin are presidents of the systems (software) division and consulting division, respectively. Will McClave’s wife, Amber McClave, serves as the general counsel for the company. Likewise, Dr. Rothrock’s son-in-law, Jeff Hoover, is the director of information technology. “Jim and Tom really put family values first in our personal lives, and (both of them) really live those values as a company,” Mary Jay said.
JB Peters experienced this commitment to family firsthand in his first few weeks as a customer support specialist at Info Tech. He had only completed his second week on the job when his wife gave birth to their first child. Peters remembered sitting at his desk when he got a call from human resources. “They said, ‘We know you’ve just had your baby. We want you to take a week off. Take a week off and spend it with your wife and baby,’” he recalled. “I think it built some loyalty, to be given that paid time off so early.”
Seven years later, Peters is now the director of construction products. “I’ve found very few companies can really grasp and understand the importance of viewing your people as people, not just numbers,” he said. “I’ve never worked for a company that truly cares about people the way this company does.”
Peters experience was not atypical, Mary Jay said. “I cannot remember a time when people didn’t rally around one another and support one another through difficult times,” she added.
The desire to maintain a close-knit, supportive culture runs deep in both families. “(Jim, Mary Jay, Tom and I) have been totally committed to Info Tech being a family-oriented company,” Joan Rothrock, Tom’s wife, said. “We support people taking time off if they need to for illness, babies, that kind of thing — and we just really feel like our employees are also a family.” Employees are allowed flexible hours so they can reschedule for a child’s ballgame or other important moments, she said.
For Info Tech’s Project Manager and Economist Allison Zhou, the emphasis on family is what ultimately attracted her to work there over other companies. After relocating her family to Gainesville from Washington, D.C., when her husband received a job offer from UF, Zhou sought a position locally that would allow her to stay involved in the lives of their three children. “Given our workload, it would not be possible if I didn’t have the flexibility to be involved in my kid’s activities,” she said. “It’s a privilege to work here.”
The company also hosts several family friendly events every year. Every summer, there is a big picnic for employees and their families. On October 31, departments collaborate and invite kids to dress up in costumes, enjoy games, and exchange candy with Info Tech staff. There is an annual company-wide “Take Your Child to Work Day,” as well as many other holiday and appreciation parties. To celebrate the winter holiday season, the company’s children are invited to come visit Santa Claus who comes every year and personalizes each child’s experience. “The personnel department asks the parents to send information about their children, so Santa can call them by name and asks questions that relate to their lives,” Joan explained. “Those children really think they know Santa Claus!”
Info Tech not only fosters a family environment; it provides a sense of community — the team is a proud supporter of more than 20 charities and their events.
Info Tech leaders hold a meeting in one of the conference rooms at the company’s new headquarters.
Culture, Before Culture Became a Buzzword
Much like a real family or relationship, the company culture at Info Tech is based around trust.
“I learned from Jim and Tom — start with trust and respect. Trust that the people you hired are going to be able to do the job. You don’t make them prove it to you, you wait until they prove that they can’t do it,” said Eric Erskine, vice president of AASHTOWare Project™ software. “People feel so much more empowered with their work, and you can see it.”
Erskine said starting to work at the company was “kind of like a homecoming,” as he had worked with Info Tech since 1992 in his previous 32-year-long career with the Maine Department of Transportation. After he retired in 2011, Erskine realized he wasn’t ready to stop working and found his extensive knowledge and relationships were a great fit for Info Tech.
Now in his current position, a large part of his job is working with people who occupy similar positions to his previous role at the Maine DOT. His former DOT status gives him a shared camaraderie with current DOT employees, as he has intimate knowledge of their goals and limitations. “There’s a level of trust that when I’m saying something, I’m not just working for Info Tech, but also for people that work in the departments of transportation around the country,” he explained.
Organic authenticity is at the core of the company, said Bob DeHoff. DeHoff started at Info Tech as a programmer in December 1983. “The interesting thing to watch with (Jim and Tom) is their business sense is very much built on the notion of creating long-term relationships with the customers,” DeHoff said, who is now the company’s director of research and development. “Sometimes we bend over backwards because the intention is that we want our customers with us for decades.”
The long-term relationship with customers is enhanced through an understanding of their needs and providing them with the right tools. It’s the employees that hold that knowledge of customers. The similar long-term relationship with employees is also what makes Info Tech successful. “If we see somebody that’s good (at what they do), often we’ll hire them and then find a good place for them,” said DeHoff. “When we see talented people, we want them to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Erskine recalled a company-wide meeting where Jim asked the crowd of employees to stand if they’d been at Info Tech for more than 20 years. “It seemed like there were more people standing up with Jim than there were left sitting in the audience,” he said. “I think that just speaks volumes to the company.”
There are many employees that have been with the company for 30 or even 35 years, Rothrock said. “We’ve seen them grow and develop as people, as individuals, and figure out how they want to operate, and I think that’s a touchstone of who Info Tech is,” he said. “It’s a company that values its employees and encourages them to develop and make their own decisions.”
Part of employees’ development is giving them room to make decisions, including those that may lead to failure. Being unafraid of failure has a unique advantage. “I think that’s a big part of our success and why this company has been cohesive all these many years later,” Rothrock said. (Jim and I) trust each other and we trust the employees. We want people to be motivated to find the right solutions. We set the values, the goals and the aspirations, but we allow people to develop their way of achieving that.”
The back of Info Tech’s new headquarters in Celebration Pointe features stunning three-story windows, native landscaping and sleek, modern paving stones.
Growing in Gainesville
Gainesville has played an important role in the company’s longevity and success. Looking back now, the McClaves and Rothrocks agree: they couldn’t have found a better environment than Gainesville to build their company and their lives. “It’s just a great place to live,” Rothrock said. “We didn’t feel we needed any more than what Gainesville had to offer.”
There was a moment when things could have turned out differently, McClave said, but thankfully family input cemented the decision to stay rooted in Gainesville. After a lot of overnight stays in Atlanta while traveling in the company’s early days, McClave and Rothrock thought about relocating to a more central transportation hub. “As we started discussing this, our wives told us, ‘We hope you’ll visit often once you make that move!’ They weren’t going anywhere,” McClave remembered with a laugh. “So I don’t think it was ever very seriously considered.”
Over the years, both the McClave and Rothrock families have greatly valued Gainesville’s welcoming culture and sense of community. “One of the things I love about this community is its openness and inclusion. It’s hugely important that we maintain that kind of feeling,” Mary Jay McClave said.
The controlled growth employed by the community is another positive, Rothrock said, that allows for a special quality of life. “There’s a tension and balance here that allows Gainesville to grow well, but not too fast,” he said. Info Tech’s growth has mirrored the community’s growth in many ways, he said, in that they’ve both been structured and focused.
Info Tech’s focused growth and commitment to the community and their employees is further illustrated through the construction of their new office building in Celebration Pointe. The 65,000-square-foot Southwest Gainesville facility was carefully designed with employees in mind. The space offers them creative and collaborative spaces, a rooftop garden and patio, as well as an open-office layout, recreational and break rooms, access to nature trails and conservation areas, proximity to dining and retail, and a “green-space tech park.” The company relocated to the facility in May 2017.
With this facility, Info Tech hopes to remain rooted in the community for a long time. As Joan Rothrock noted, living in Gainesville has only gotten better over time. “It’s a small enough community that you get to know people. You see people that you know on a regular basis. You are in a community where you see other people’s children grow up alongside your children,” she said. “Gainesville has been a true blessing for our family.”
After 40 years, Info Tech continues to lay the foundations of innovation and imagination with a focus on family — right here in Gainesville.
“All of the sudden we were in an area where we had created a product that was in great demand — software for analyzing bidding behavior in highway construction.” —Dr. Tom Rothrock
With a solid plan in place, the team’s natural football game-winning demeanor synergized, transforming Info Tech into the 250-person workforce it is today. Info Tech’s focused growth and commitment to the community and their employees is further illustrated through the construction of their new office building in Celebration Pointe.
Photography by John Sloan