Chuck Czajkowski keeps life in perspective and takes success in stride.
“When we moved into the garage, we thought it was nice,” says Chuck, one of three founding partners of M Corp. The company had its first “headquarters” in Chuck’s garage in Sacramento.
His wife agreed to the arrangement, but only if the backyard became her own space. “I thought that was fair, it was a pretty big sacrifice,” he laughs.
Despite being limited to the garage and laminate flooring under their feet, Chuck and his two fellow partners – Alex Castro and Hung Lee – have sprouted a rather successful company that continues to thrive.
“There were a lot of hard times and long hours growing the business,” says Chuck during a late-afternoon interview a few blocks from the company’s new headquarters on the K Street mall in downtown Sacramento.
It’s an excellent location for M Corp – and Chuck. Many of the company’s clients are a few blocks away. And numerous restaurants, from bargain-priced eateries to white-linen restaurants, are also within walking distance, a big selling point for Chuck, a foodie. Several musical venues are close, another benefit for Chuck, who plays the guitar and was a self-admitted “punk rocker” as a kid.
The new office is also relatively close to his home in McKinley Park, an older neighborhood in East Sacramento. Chuck was recently honored as a Neighborhood Hero by the McKinley East Sacramento Neighborhood Association (MENA). Chuck, a former board member of MENA, volunteers to oversee the association’s website, EastSacWatch.com, and several other community websites.
It’s a balance between the business world and life away from work that helps Chuck deal with the demands of a fast-growing company, especially during the first few years.
“We invested all our money back in the company” in the early years of M Corp, says Chuck.
The investment has definitely paid off. M Corp is one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies based on annual revenue growth, according to Inc. magazine. In fact, the company’s annual revenue has greatly exceeded the partners’ original goals.
The company has completed almost 20 legacy modernization projects since starting in 2003, including efforts for the Employment Development Department and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).
“It showed that can take something and deliver as promised,” Chuck says of the CalPERS and EDD projects. “They’ve laid the groundwork for moving forward.”
Indeed, both projects – completed on time and within budget – helped the company and partner CherryRoad Technologies recently grab a $26 million contract as part of the Financial Information System for California Project, commonly referred to as FI$Cal.
“We competed against the bigs and won,” he says. “We proved ourselves with the EDD contract. We want to have projects that we are responsible for; we want to own it.”
But Chuck admits that any level of success also requires some level of luck.
“Everything comes with a little bit of luck,” says Chuck, citing a visit to Philadelphia when he ran into an executive with the General Services Administration that helped M Corp in the early days. “Luck happens all of the time, but you need to know how to take advantage of it.”
“We all had a core in common of what we were building,” says Chuck referring to when Alex and Hung started M Corp. “We really want to do good work.”
Of course, dedication, experience and hard work are important, too.
Many employees remember Chuck’s commitment on the EDD project, when more than 4 billion rows of data were successfully transferred to a new system during a round-the-clock effort on Thanksgiving weekend in 2011.
“Those are the best times, when everyone is excited,” Chuck says of his first-rate team that worked on the multimillion-dollar project. “Anyone who had an available pair of hands, we put them to work. That never-say-die attitude was infectious.”
Chuck led the charge. He worked 27 hours straight on the project over the holiday weekend. He slept on the floor when he could find a few hours of down time.
“Implementation weekends, when everything is going crazy, that’s fun for me,” he says. “We had our share of hiccups, but we had built in enough support. We really did something special. We got it done, and made it a success.”
Colleague and employee John O’Reilly agrees.
“Chuck knows the business,” says O’Reilly, a consultant with M Corp. “He understands our needs; he gives us a lot of support. He’s just one of the gang.”
It’s a bit of a balancing act being one of the founding partners – and all of the demands and pressures that come with it – while working with employees and contractors on projects.
Being a good business partner requires keeping a close eye on the bottom line, but Chuck says other efforts are important, too.
“We treat our people well and with respect,” says Chuck, a computer science graduate from Sacramento State. He was a consultant for much of his career before M Corp, except for a brief stint with Ford Aerospace following graduation. “If you keep your employees happy …”
But business partners must also be challenged and happy — and share a vision.
“We all have the same attention to detail,” says Chuck, who adds that each partner has their own special skills. “Hung and I are technologists; Alex is the big thinker. Alex has become more realistic, and Hung and I are dreaming of more big projects.”
It’s a dream that has become a reality for the trio.
The company’s annual revenue has more than quadrupled from the partner’s one-time goal. And the company moved from its loft-like space in the Arden Arcade area to the K Street mall in June.
“When we first went in there, it was an old, bombed-out building,” Chuck says of the company’s first office following his garage. Alex and Chuck wore gloves with fingers cut out because the building didn’t have heat the first few months. “It was just a cement rectangle with racquetball paint on the walls. I thought, ‘This is where we are going to build M Corp? It turned out really well.”
Now, the new office – on the fifth floor of the historic Regis Building at 11th and K Streets – is undergoing its own dramatic changes.
“They wanted everything to be monochromatic,” Chuck says of his business partners. “We want it to look elegant, professional but not high-end. It’s like how we work – you can get what you want at a reasonable price.”
And that’s part of Chuck’s upbringing. His family lived in Chicago and St. Louis, before he moved to Sacramento, where he attended high school and later Sacramento State.
“I’m a Californian now, but I have that Midwest mentality,” says Chuck, who met his wife, Marcia, when he was working on a consulting gig at Vision Service Plan (VSP). The couple have two sons – R.J., 11, and Mack, 8,
The mentality has helped the company and his own success.
“Now, that we’ve become more successful, it’s more about being part of a company that I want to work for,” says Chuck, who shares an office with his partners. “We want to maintain our quality and how we treat people. At the end of the day, we’re all still friends.”