Alex Castro: Culture is the Key to Building a Winning Team

Alex Castro has a special vision for M Corp, one of the fastest-growing firms in California.

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It’s not about big-name clients or big-time contracts, or even hefty paydays. Instead, he concentrates on building the corporate culture.

A company’s culture is definitely an easy-to-overlook, hard-to-define ingredient, but it’s often the recipe for success, says Alex, a one-time rowing coach for the University of California, Davis.

“We really try to bring on people who match our culture. People here are part of something. They are part of the decision-making and the direction of the company.”

Alex says building culture is critical, whether it’s a group of freshmen learning to compete and working together as a team or several-dozen professionals tackling a multimillion-dollar legacy migration project.

“When you buy into M Corp, you buy a culture of behavior, a culture of people,” says Alex, who started the company with Chuck Czajkowski and Hung Lee in 2003. “We really try to bring on people who match our culture. People here are part of something. They are part of the decision-making and the direction of the company.”

That buy-in makes the difference between M Corp and its rivals.

“This is a tough industry that takes a toll on people,” says Alex, a former vice president of operations and information technology for Transamerica Intellitech. “The things we deal with are always a challenge. Otherwise, if it was simple, our clients wouldn’t need our help.”

M Corp has gained much attention in recent years, especially after successfully completing high-profile projects for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the Employment Development Department.

“All that does is get you considered for other projects,” Alex says. “We are in an industry of what have you done for me lately? You have to earn every inch, every day. Our culture is about quality, mutual respect and it’s about delivery.”

And the company delivers. M Corp has successfully completed more than 20 legacy modernization projects for the state during the past few years.

M Corp has been listed among the nation’s fastest-growing 1,250 privately owned firms for the past two years, according to Inc. magazine.

“That’s the only measure that matters,” he says. “We have one option – deliver.”

It’s a business model that is comparable to his days as coach of the freshman rowing team at nearby UC Davis.

“Basically, I’m teaching 40 to 50 kids the basics of rowing in six weeks,” says Alex, a Northeastern University graduate and rowing team member. “Then, it becomes a weeding out process.”

The early morning practices six days a week for eight months takes its toll. But it’s also a fast-maturing and learning process for the students – and Alex.

“It’s so positive, so energizing,” says Alex, who still keeps in contact with about half of the student-athletes that he coached for several seasons. “You’re not just coaching them to be athletes, but to be young men, young women …”

He stopped coaching in 2008, just about when M Corp’s fast-paced growth started and his two daughters became more active in sports.

“It was just time,” says Alex, whose daughters Isabella, 15, and Raquel, 12, play soccer and volleyball, respectively. “I can always go back to coaching, but I can’t go back to them being 15 and 12. All of that other stuff can wait.”

M Corp has enjoyed much success. The company has been listed among the nation’s fastest-growing 1,250 privately owned firms for the past two years, according to Inc. magazine.

“Our hallmark moment was when we first retained earnings in the bank,” says Alex during a late-afternoon break at the company’s downtown headquarters. “I am pleased we’ve been able to grow year over year. Every point is a milestone, it’s not an end marker.”

And the company continues to evolve, grabbing multimillion-dollar projects.

“It took us a good seven years to identify ourselves as a company,” says Alex, a fan of entrepreneur Richard Branson. “We never had a doubt that we could do it. Our turning point is how we were perceived in the marketplace.”

But that marketplace continues to change and evolve, and so does M Corp. The company has expanded into a couple more states – and has a large project for a major firm in Australia.

 “We never had a doubt that we could do it. Our turning point is how we were perceived in the marketplace.”

“Within five years, we will be a national and international company,” says Alex, who focuses on where to take M Corp next. “I see us as a national provider with deep roots in government … but also successful in the private sector. M Corp is an emerging midsize company. The hallmark for us will be when we land a $100 million project.”

That could be soon, especially as state government’s needs are more critical and greater than just a few years ago. In fact, California agencies have approved several $100 million-plus projects in recent years.

M Corp has come a long way from operating in partner Czajkowski’s garage in East Sacramento. Now, the company has moved from a loft in the Arden Arcade area to a top-floor, 5,000-square-foot office in the century-old Regis Building in downtown Sacramento, a block from the Capitol and close to many of its state agency clients.

“We’re still the same people … we’re just better at articulating and we’ve had some success,” says Alex, who keeps things in perspective. “I cherish (the startup days in the garage), but I don’t miss it. This is just a different garage.”

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