Life of the Ascend Chair

August 14, 2015 Appirio

By Doug Surfleet


Has it already been 3 weeks since the 2015 Appirio Ascend class arrived? It feels like just the other day I was interviewing them and pitching Appirio — why it’s a great place to start their career, what we do, etc. And what is the Ascend Program? It’s a 3-month program designed to take top talent from the college ranks and put them on a path to become future leaders here at Appirio. Here’s a small sampling of what the Ascend team has and will be going through:

  • 3 of the co-founders take time to talk to them about Appirio.
  • Every Regional General Manager walks them through the specifics of their particular region.
  • They have a 3-week training dedicated to the applications we work with, in addition to learning soft skills.
  • They spend 4 weeks shadowing projects to get hands-on experience.

I’ve heard from many people at Appirio that they wish they could have the experience of going through Ascend just to experience it. If you want to see why Appirio puts so much into a program like this, just look at some of the success we’ve had with it.

Organizing the Ascend program has been part of my role since July of 2014. That’s when I was first asked if I would like to help organize our college hire program for the following year. Little did I know that “help” meant chairing a committee of 8, spending a lot of time with the recruiting team (a fun group!), and figuring out what kind of training to give these college hires.

Over the past year, our committee has spent roughly 1,500 hours figuring out the program and getting everything in order. And even that doesn’t include the time put in by our recruiting team to find the great group of hires, the time since the hires began, or the time others spent on Ascend. I’ve seen these 4 phases over the past year:

Find the hires

Somehow our amazing recruiting team managed to attend a dozen campus events and push over 170 candidates through our process in just 2 months. They generated over 250 interviews (at least 6 interviews every day!). After our onsite days with the finalists, my first words to our recruiters were, “Wow, this crew is pretty amazing!”

Design the program

The vast majority of the time over the past year was spent working on the program. It’s exciting to be given a blank slate and told just to get the hires ramped in 3 months. At the same time, it’s also daunting. The committee spent a good deal of time brainstorming and thinking about what we’d like to have and what key items should be included. In the end, we ended up breaking the Ascend program into 3 parts:

  1. Leaders and new hires discuss Appirio and what drives Appirio’s business.
  2. They learn soft skills, consulting, and technology training.
  3. Lastly, new hires shadow project assignments.

Organize the speakers

It’s good that we mapped out the program and even laid out when the talks would be about. But then imagine trying to coordinate that with all of the different speakers and their schedules; that’s a puzzle. Luckily, the committee had very strong support from the senior executives, which really helped in getting speakers to volunteer. Amazingly, almost all of the sessions took place during their planned times! That’s actually been one of the biggest surprises for me in the entire program.

Make sure everything is ready

The final phase was during the last month or 2, which included getting contracts signed for external vendors, finalizing who was going to do what, and handling any last-minute questions.

After all of that, I can say the program kicked off very successfully. I couldn’t be prouder of the Ascend Class of 2015! I can’t wait to hear all the great stories of their successes.

Though I might be the most visible person on the Ascend committee, the program wouldn’t have been successful without the help of the entire committee — everyone who volunteered their time. Thank you especially to Susan Arford, Luke Slevin, Jon Barnhouse, Joe Norman, Chrissy Cole, Julie Barker, and Kristin Wittenborn for all the hard work you put in this past year!

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