At a time when Massachusetts tech companies are decamping from the suburbs for Cambridge and Boston, Kronos Inc. has doubled down on Chelmsford. In October, the 35-year-old company that sells workforce management systems and software opened a $7 million, 110,000-square-foot innovation center at its headquarters there. Globe reporter Michael Farrell spoke with Kronos chief executive Aron Ain about the center.
Why did you build an innovation center?
We need to create an environment that’s compelling and interesting to recruit and retain really great talent. We don’t sit in Cambridge. We’re not in Boston. We’re in Chelmsford. We have to do things that are a little better to recruit and retain people. Microsoft and Google decided to make big investments in Kendall Square. The mayor [of Boston] has created an Innovation District down by Fan Pier. So Boston and Cambridge aren’t what they were 10 years ago. And technology people just don’t go to work for technology companies anymore. Pharmaceutical companies need technology people. Financial services companies need technology people. So, who we compete with has expanded as well.
Why not just move into the city? Lots of suburban tech companies have made the move.
You make an investment where you are. We have roughly 1,100 people who call Chelmsford home. To think that we could just move into the city and all the people with their deep knowledge of what they have here would move with us isn’t reasonable. It just doesn’t work that way. People live in these areas. We need to look out for the people who have invested in us.
Who is the hardest type of person to hire right now?
I don’t think there’s anyone harder than another. We have really high standards for what we’re trying to recruit for. We want people who are hard-working, innovative, and creative. Those people aren’t everywhere.
Are you throwing out lots of perks to attract software engineers?
I don’t think we have to do that. We are paying people a little bit above average, but we’re not being heroic with the compensation. Perks come in different forms. If you go ask employees what’s the most important thing, it’s the quality of the work they do, the environment they’re working in, and whether they are doing things that are meaningful. Those are the things we’re focusing on most aggressively.
How many people are you going to hire this year?
We have 119 openings right now. Since February 2012, we’ve hired 492 people, and 136 of them right here in Chelmsford. So, not insignificant.
What’s driving the growth?
In the quarter we just finished, our product bookings’ growth grew 15 percent. The whole world is going to the cloud, and we are neck deep in being a cloud provider. Our business has also gone global. Today, we are growing fast in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.
What’s the explosion of mobile technology doing to Kronos?
We help companies effectively manage their workforce. Today, people are communicating with their workers through mobile devices. If you have an open shift, the best way to ask people if they want to work that shift is to send a text message. It used to be that you pick up the phone and start dialing.
Kronos was a public company that became a private company. With all of this growth, will Kronos go public again?
We’ve been a private company for five and a half years. We were public from 1992 to 2007. We basically are running the company to continue to grow and expand. We are doing so well right now that there’s no active discussion to change our current ownership model. At some point in the future, we will. We aren’t running the company to go public in the next six months or the next year.
Are you able to innovate faster as a private company?
Yes. We focus on long-term objectives; we don’t run the business quarter to quarter. We make meaningful investments even if that means it will impact our profitability in the short term, because we recognize that will help us in the long term. As a public company, that was difficult. You were always having to explain why you did that — why it had an impact on a particular part of your financials. As a private company, we’re able to take a long-term view.