After software firm Bullhorn headed across the Fort Point Channel last year, executives at General Electric filed into its old Farnsworth Street digs. Bullhorn isn’t anywhere as well-known as GE, of course, but it’s also having a big effect locally. Chief executive Art Papas employs about 240 people in the city, out of an approximately 600-person workforce, and Bullhorn is one of the newest anchors in a growing cluster of startups and software firms in and around Downtown Crossing, alongside the likes of Rapid7 and Carbonite. Papas also has gained attention for providing paid parental leave and unlimited vacation for employees. Although he sold a majority share to Vista Equity Partners in 2012, he still holds a stake in the company he cofounded in 1999. The 42-year-old software executive recently spoke to the Globe’s Jon Chesto about the changes in his business, his most important personal cause, and how he got the band back together.
1. Bullhorn sells software for staffing agencies to help them keep track of information about their clients and recruits. The mission was quite different when it began, until an angel investor in 2001 suggested changing paths.
“We started as a freelance marketplace for creative talent. Our original push was [essentially as] a digital ad agency. You could go online and say, ‘I need a copy writer,’ or ‘I need some creative for an ad.’ [But] we were asking them to hire people sight unseen over the Internet. Now you don’t think anything of getting into the back of somebody else’s car. But then it was different. We struggled to get employers and companies engaged.”
2. A year ago, Papas and his team replaced the company’s vacation policy, switching from a standard take-it-or-leave-it approach to an open-ended one that doesn’t track time off. The reasons? Many hard workers were not taking all their vacation days, the traditional end-of-year-rush was causing complications, and accounting for various vacations became an administrative headache. But rolling out unlimited vacation hasn’t always been as fun as it sounds.
“I lead by example. I take, like, five weeks a year. I take vacation pretty seriously. At least for one or two weeks a year, I shut off my e-mail entirely. When we rolled it out, though, it was not smooth sailing. We had to do some education around, ‘It’s planned vacation time, not just you don’t feel so good this morning so you’re not going to come in.’ ”
3. Papas initially wanted to stay in Fort Point, known for its brick-and-beam architecture. But a broker suggested he check out 100 Summer St. to accommodate his growth. He ended up leasing 77,000 square feet in the tower and securing a monument promoting the company on a walkway next door.
“I liked the openness of the space [at 100 Summer]. I felt, with brick-and-beam, you had to chop up the spaces, you couldn’t have these big expanses like this. An architect said, ‘Brown and brick don’t really fit your brand. What about glass and steel?’ And I said, ‘That totally fits.’ ”
4. Papas has made it a priority to help lower-income workers get important career advice through a nonprofit based across the street called Career Collaborative. He joined the charity’s board in 2013 and became its chairman in 2015.
“We’re sort of like Big Brother Big Sister for adults who are way below the poverty line but want to get a real career. The way you volunteer, you sit with somebody and pretend to be an employer interviewing them and you give them tips. It’s not just about building a business and making money. You’ve got to give back and make the community a better place.”
5. Papas played guitar in college and decided to pick it up again three years ago when he learned that a colleague played piano. The end result? A soundproof studio open to all employees, stocked with instruments, and a company band called Stampede that’s led by Papas and practices once a week after work. The band’s few gigs have been memorable: Stampede most recently played in February at the Staffing Industry Analysts’ Executive Forum in San Diego.
“Whenever we bring a customer or guest to the office, we show them the jam room. Invariably, there’s someone who plays music and wants to get behind the drums. I asked IT what percentage of the employees go in there — you have to swipe your card to get in — and I’d say it’s a sixth of the employees.”