Kansas City Star

September 2008, by Ruth Baum Bigus

Company: Acendas Inc. primarily works with corporations on business travel, including negotiating pricing on airfares, hotels and ground transportation. Clients include HOK Sports, American Century Investments and Russell Stover Candies.

Ownership/management: Brent Blake and Gary Davis are co-owners and co-presidents. Blake oversees corporate , meeting and incentive travel, while Davis is responsible for the leisure travel, accounting and information technology departments.

Challenge: Recruiting and retaining employees as the company grows.

Background: Acendas has worked out of its 15,000-square-foot office in Mission since 1998. Several years ago, the owners realized the business was running out of physical space to house its growing work force.
Bringing in quality employees also was becoming more difficult.

“We found Kansas City provided a finite pool of travel professionals,” Blake said. “We kept asking ourselves where else could we look to sustain our growth.”

Action steps: In mid-2004, Blake and Davis realized that good employees did not have to physically be in Kansas City to work for them.

“We identified technologies to go virtual ‘ that was phone systems, computer systems and back-office accounting systems,” Blake said.

Blake and Davis took bids from four vendors before choosing a phone system from Overland Park-based Integrated Systems Inc. The system allows monitoring of the number of transactions a virtual employee makes as well as listening into conversations.

“Although we can’t visibly see them, we can make sure our phones are staffed,” Blake said.

Acendas in 2005 started spreading the word to its employees, vendors and friends who would tell others about the virtual work effort. The option was offered to employees with appropriate circumstances ‘ for example, moving because of marriage or a spouse job change.

The company also decided it was important to bring virtual employees to Mission quarterly for training sessions, meetings, recognition events and social gatherings. And Web tools would be used to conduct regular meetings.

“We wanted to keep them plugged in to our culture,” Blake said.

Results: About 45 percent of Acendas’ staff work off-site ‘ some as far away as Connecticut and Florida.

“We’ve been able to improve our company with agents that we never would have been able to get to move here,” Blake said.

Annual employee retention has improved from 75 percent to 95 percent.

Bringing on virtual employees cost Acendas “over six figures,” Blake said, “(but) it’s allowed us to sustain the growth rate (of 10 percent to 15 percent). We’re getting tenfold on the investment.”

The company projects $100 million in revenue this year.