For 20 years at the helm of Mindex Technologies Inc., Marc Fiore has grown his company by staying rooted in reality.
With the exit of founding partners, changes in product offerings and implementation of new teamwork styles, change is a clear and welcome indicator of the firm’s health, he says.
“(What) we’ve never been afraid of is to look at ourselves, look at our processes and change,” he says.
The information technology professional services company employs more than 200 people and has focused on software development since its founding in 1994. The company expects 8 percent growth in revenues and employees this year.
A native of Utica, Oneida County, Fiore showed technical interests at age 10 when he made a trip to General Electric Co. with his aunt.
“I just walked into what must have been one of their computer rooms, and there’s all these big machines around, and I thought that’s kind of cool,” he says. “In general, (it) was very exciting.”
Fiore attended SUNY College at Morrisville, roughly 30 miles southwest of Utica, for two years before transferring to the SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome. He graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and left school with a passion for computer programming.
He began working as a consultant at Par Technology Corp. in the Utica area. Two years later Fiore realized that making progress in his career would mean a move to Rochester.
“Then (in) Utica, unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to do from a technical standpoint,” he says. “It’s even worse now; a lot of the companies have closed. It was a great area, but I had to move.”
Fiore moved to Rochester in 1991 just as the infamous ice storm hit the city.
“I moved into an apartment down on Park Ave, and I kept hearing these trees cracking, and I thought, ‘Maybe I’m just nervous; it’s a new city.’ And I woke up and tried to drive to work, and nobody is on 490,” Fiore says. “My first week in Rochester was spent not working because the whole town was shut down.”
He worked for Eastman Kodak Co. as a consultant before joining with two business partners to start a consulting firm in 1994. Mindex Technologies was created to develop a culture locally that treated employees as people, not numbers.
“A lot of the companies around here were hiring a lot of consultants, and the field was just on fire,” he says. “A lot of these firms that hired these consultants were very large, national firms, and at the time myself and a couple of other people got together because we just felt that it was almost treating these people as cattle, not really taking care of these employees that are doing so much for you.”
The other partners exited the company to pursue other endeavors in the mid- to late 1990s, leaving Fiore to take the company forward.
Many of his business decisions were made by instinct, Fiore says.
“The one thing if I was to go back to college or what I would wish I had more of was just general business knowledge,” he says. “It was a lot of instinct and then it was just relying on other people.”
In the early days the company offered services such as dial-up Internet and website design, but it quickly learned those services did not fit the company’s expertise.
“Once we saw where high-speed access was just going (when comparing us and) these huge companies like Time Warner and Frontier, we realized we couldn’t compete,” he says.
The company sold both of businesses.
“I knew that we could no longer take care of (customers) to the best of our ability and that we were doing a disservice to them,” he says. “We’ve always succeeded by doing what we are really good at, and today that’s still what we’re founded on.”
As the focus of the company shifted, clients became more defined, Fiore says.
“Before all those changes, our clients were kind of all over the board,” he says. “We said, ‘OK, what is our core? What are we good at?’ Everybody says the word ‘partnership,’ but it is a true partnership (with clients), that we are learning and truly understanding.”
A realistic viewpoint is Fiore’s forte, friends say.
“He’s extremely honest—not just in his interactions with other people, but he’s very honest and introspective with himself and his company,” says Shye Gilad, long-time friend and business mentor to Fiore, and CEO and co-founder of ProJet Aviation LLC in Virginia. “A lot of companies struggle when they can’t confront the reality of a situation, and because he has that innate ability to look inward, he never lets the company get comfortable or stagnant because he’s always looking a few steps ahead.”
Roughly 95 percent of its business is in New York. An IT company focused on local customers is a rarity these days, Fiore says.
“There’s not many of us left that are localized,” he says. “There’s a lot of national companies that offer these high-tech solutions, (but) I like being reliant on the health of the local community. We’re going to do above and beyond what we need to do to make sure we’re taking care of these people.
“The health of us depends on the health of Rochester.”
The company works with enterprise customers and focuses on two main areas: IT professional services and the education market with its product schooltool, software for K-12 schools that manages all student data such as tracking attendance, scheduling and discipline.
“There’s a lot of word-of-mouth,” Fiore says. “That’s been a huge reason for our success, and I think the biggest reason for our success in this field is you could sell a product tomorrow but we never walk away; (we do) support and maintenance.”
Its software is used in 250 school districts in New York and has been the biggest student management system in the state for the past 12 years, he says.
“On this product we’re still giving them tons of new features. We hold huge usergroups around the state all year to say, ‘What is it that our product does and does not do?’” he says. “We take feedback, and we actually put it back into the product.”
The education market was an opportunity Fiore seized after talking with David Rovitelli, director of technology and communications for the East Rochester school district.
“It was just a casual conversation. (He asked,) ‘Do you think you guys could do it?’” Fiore said. “After some investigation we got into it, and we didn’t have a big customer base,(so) we could do things right.”
The company plans to expand schooltool to be implemented in the other 500 districts in the state. Mindex has three- to five-year commitments to convert more districts to the management system.
Branching into carrying a product helped to inform the company about its service division, Fiore says.
“It was the first time we offered a product versus a service, and those are really different things,” he says. “By doing so, it really helped us to improve our processes in the service side, because now we really understood what it takes to develop a product from scratch and then deliver it and support it and train it. That was a really defining moment for us; it was something that led us to a lot of success.”
Fiore recognizes not only opportunities but also the ethical dimensions of each situation, his wife says.
“Whenever there was a chance to do something, he always took the high road,” said Andrea Fiore, who is controller and treasurer at Mindex. “He definitely didn’t want to let anybody down, but a lot of it is knowing an opportunity, too, when it presents itself.”
Gilad and Fiore have been friends for some 25 years. Gilad credits the evolution of Fiore’s career to an innate desire to improve and to include and connect others.
“He’s just one of the most generous people I’ve ever met,” he said. “He has a generosity of spirit, he’s just very inclusive and he really likes to bring people together.”
Out of the office, Fiore spends time with his two sons, Coz and Matthew, and enjoys a range of activities, including playing drums and riding motorcycles. He lives in Webster and is an avid football fan, often putting together trips with friends to stadiums across the country.
“How he is with his family, how he is with his friends, how he is with his work, he’s that same guy,” Gilad said.
For Fiore, it has never been about having all of the answers. Seeking out help was never viewed as a weakness by him, even as his company became successful.
“I would never be afraid to admit I didn’t know how to do something,” he says. “(I’d) seek somebody who knows how to do it. I think that’s still one of the most important things—for someone to say, ‘You know what? I’m not sure how to do that, and I’m going to go find out,’ versus giving you an answer that’s incorrect.”
A major turning point in Fiore’s career was taking leadership training with John Engels and his company Leadership Coaching Inc. He did training sessions for a full day per month to find patterns in his leadership. The introspection helped him to see his company from the perspective of his employees.
The training “not only helped me in the professional world but areas at home, dealing with siblings and all sorts of things,” Fiore says. “That really helped me a lot as a person, I think, to grow up, mature, lead better. What I found was it was a way to connect with people. When you’re connected to somebody, they’re going to work hard for you.”
His brother, Paul Fiore, says, “That leadership style where you sort of gather information and everybody is heard and treated fairly, it’s important in the line of work that he does.
“He’s able to take in all kinds of opinions and ideas and sort of mold that into what needs to be done. He (will) take charge, but in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being bulldozed (but) like you’re being included.”
Fiore’s father worked at Sears Holdings Corp., and his mother was a hairdresser. Both parents helped to foster independence in their children and a desire to work on their own terms. Fiore and his brothers all own businesses.
People like Fiore are genuine entrepreneurs, Gilad says.
“You don’t have to be the guy who created Facebook or Amazon,” Gilad says. “Marc and I were just a couple of regular guys, and he did all of this through his own will and perseverance. And he’s created this incredible thing, created wealth for other people, 20-year careers for some of his employees. It’s crazy.”
Despite a hectic professional life, Fiore always has understood how to prioritize. Raised by a family who valued time together, family is paramount to him.
“Even with all of that, he is an incredibly devoted father and husband, and with all the time that getting to where he is has taken from him, he’s never lost sight of what’s most important,” Paul Fiore says.
“He’s just a really well-rounded and grounded person,” says Andrea Fiore. “It’s not like he has an amazing ability to create technology; it’s not like he has an amazing ability to run a business. It’s just every day being good, being the best you could be—just doing what is right every day.”
Fiore has never fit the typical techie mold. Connecting and communicating with others comes naturally to a leader who has implemented “scrum methodology” at his firm to create more collaboration. The method gives employees room to discuss and figure out solutions together instead of working separately in cubicles. It is a deliberate move by Fiore to keep his company inclusive.
“What sets him apart might be his ability to communicate with all kinds of people,” Paul Fiore says. “He’s just a very fair and concise communicator.”
The future for Mindex, which marked its 20th anniversary on April 19, is now the focus.
“Our IT professional services (are) going extremely strong, and we’re going to continue to have the best consultants in this area,” Fiore says. “If it wasn’t for all of our customers, we would go nowhere, and we truly appreciate the support and partnerships they have given us.”
Knowing the company’s capabilities as well as his own has helped both owner and firm mature.
“A lot of those things were learned, fortunately or unfortunately, … the hard way,” he says. “There was failure, and then you figure out, ‘OK, why did we fail?’
“At this moment it’s just the sense of accomplishment. I feel we’re offering really good things. I think we’re doing a lot for New York State school districts, and just that satisfaction of knowing that you’re meeting their needs and they’re happy with you.”
Title: President and owner of Mindex Technologies Inc.
Education: B.S., computer science, SUNY Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome, 1989
Family: wife Andrea; sons Coz, 18, and Matthew, 16
Activities: CrossFit, boating, skiing, motorcycle riding and golfing; watching football; playing the drums
Quote: “I would never be afraid to admit I didn’t know how to do something. (I’d) seek somebody who knows how to do it. I think that’s still one of the most important things—for someone to say, ‘You know what? I’m not sure how to do that, and I’m going to go find out,’ versus giving you an answer that’s incorrect.”
6/6/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reality checks guide IT firm's leader
For 20 years at the helm of Mindex Technologies Inc., Marc Fiore has grown his company by staying rooted in reality.