The GoTo Profiles in Resilience series celebrates businesses navigating uncertainty to unlock innovation and long-term growth. In this episode, we sat down with CGI Interactive founder David Kelleher to learn how his company has evolved and built a resilient culture over the years. For more in the Profiles in Resilience series, check out episode 1 with Durham Travel.
During times of economic uncertainty, small businesses can often face steeper challenges than their larger peers. There is, however, one key area where small businesses can have a distinct advantage: their people. Our guest for the second episode of the Profiles in Resilience series illustrates the long-term value of investing in your team and giving them the tools to do their best work. We sat down with the Founder and President of CGI Interactive, David Kelleher, to discuss how his business has evolved and what he has learned during this journey.
A solid foundation starts with your people
David founded CGI Interactive in 1989, when presentation technology consisted of 35mm slides. It grew into a digital design agency specializing in presentations and explainer videos for the B2B tech sector, supporting dynamic events, corporate and product presentations, and compelling videos for global brands. As you can imagine, adapting to the fast-changing business landscape in this industry can be a wild ride.
So how does CGI Interactive stay relevant and competitive amidst rapid shifts?
David credits his long-standing and close-knit team as a major factor in the company's long-term success. "We continue to deliver exceptional quality and retain our clients by hiring people who are genuinely passionate about what we do, willing to learn, and care about customer success," says David.
This echoes what Bret Bero, Assistant Professor of Practice in the Management Division of Babson College, observed about small businesses: they're like families, and smaller teams can offer significant advantages in times of change thanks to a deeper level of investment in the organization’s success.
"As a small group, everyone knows what they need to do. We're careful about how we spend money and how many people we hire. We have a wonderful freelance network, which allows us to keep our core team lean and efficient. It’s certainly not a unique concept, but it was a conscious decision to our business strategy,” says David.
Navigating challenges with a strong culture
David's best strategy for riding out challenging times is simple: rely on his team. Everyone at CGI understands that they must keep the company culture strong and make every client feel special through every interaction. But keeping team members engaged is often easier said than done, so what's David's secret?
"Our team is very important to me. To be an effective leader, you must listen more than you talk — and I've always done that. I always want to hear others' opinions. And I'm fortunate to have a group confident and willing to speak up. If they see something is off, they'll tell me," says David.
Additionally, financial management plays a critical role in navigating economic uncertainty. "There will be good times and bad times. You have to expect and plan for the unexpected. Being aware of the financial constraints is a critical part of our culture. We strive to ensure the business is sustainable in any situation."
Building resilience is a long game
Resilience isn't something you can turn on only when you need it. "You can't just say, April is resilience month. Resilience starts with your people and culture — it's a long-term project. We treat our people with respect, give them a good place to work, and empower them to do their best," says David.
Preparedness is also a critical piece of the equation. "We keep our team consistent and the turnover low. We have people who have been with us for over 20 years. They help onboard new people and deliver a consistent experience that our clients appreciate."
Using the right tools makes all the difference
Being financially responsible doesn't mean you don't spend money. David invests in the latest tools, so his team can do its best work. Since CGI works with technology clients, it must stay ahead of the curve and deliver a modern customer experience.
"An employee once told me, “If a construction worker doesn't have the right tools, they can't do their job well,” and that comment stuck with me. I ensure our team members have what they need to do their job — that's an essential expenditure. When you give people the right tools, they're happy and confident," says David.
"We're careful to spend our money in the right places to stay current and relevant. And our clients recognize and appreciate that. It's part of our culture to have the best without overdoing it or spending money on things we don't need."
Unlocking long-term success with the right focus
No matter how your small business is faring in today's uncertain economic conditions, you should always invest in your people, build a resilient culture, and empower your team with the right tools.
"Focusing on the right things has made a big difference for us — that's one of the reasons why we have managed to weather many changes in the economy and are still prospering after 34 years. Our culture and resilience keep us fresh — honestly, we're just getting started," says David.