KEYW mixes a high-tech workload with laid-back philosophy inspired by Key West


(Doug Kapustin / Baltimore…)
December 05, 2013|By Marianne Amoss, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The first indication that KEYW Corp. takes a different approach to business is its name, an adaptation of the airport code for Key West. Then there are the patio furniture in meeting rooms, the parrot mascot and the Jimmy Buffett tune that plays when callers are put on hold.

But it’s not to be construed as goofing off.

“We’re not walking around in sandals and shorts,” CEO Len Moodispaw said. “If you were to look at Silicon Valley, which traditionally has been blue jeans and laid-back, we’re more like that because of the high-tech workforce we have.”

An engineering services firm, KEYW works with software, hardware and systems engineers to develop capabilities and technologies related to cybersecurity, counterterrorism and geospatial intelligence. The publicly traded company has focused primarily on government and enterprise customers but plans to expand its commercial cybersecurity software and services to customers in the financial services, health care, high technology and telecommunications markets.

KEYW was formed in 2008 by the leadership of Essex Corp., which Northrop Grumman acquired in 2006. In the past five years, KEYW has grown to nearly 1,100 total employees and from 2,000 square feet of office space to about 250,000 square feet in five states.

Despite the company’s size, Moodispaw said, employees are in frequent communication with management. At the Hanover headquarters, he said, “anyone can come see any of us at any time. We do a lot of walking around.”

He described KEYW’s internal organizational chart, which shows the employees at the top and leadership at the bottom; it informs such decisions as who gets bonuses first.

“If there’s money to be spent we start with” the employees, Moodispaw said. “I’m the last one to get a bonus.”

Employees say they feel a sense of pride in their work. “It is meaningful, and the results of my actions are highly praised by upper management. We all put the mission of our customers first, and it reflects company-wide,” one said. “All the folks on our team are here because they want to be and [are] passionate about the work.”

Staff members enjoy a number of tangible benefits as well, including up to five weeks of paid time off, a 10 percent 401(k) match and a pre-tax mass transit program to encourage employees to leave the cars at home. Professional development and association memberships are provided at no cost to employees. KEYW also offers a robust reward program for referrals: Employees who bring in new direct-labor, cleared employees receive $5,000 for the first hire, $7,500 for the second. Those who manage to attract four new hires in one year get an all-expenses-paid trip to — you guessed it — Key West.

As part of the company’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program, employees can take advantage of flexible work schedules, a personal time-off bank and fun company events such as summer cookouts and the annual Winter Party at M&T Bank Stadium.

This year employees have received three surprise gift packages in their mailboxes at home. One contained KEYW-opoly, a Key West-themed version of the family board game; another held a $150 Sunglass Hut gift card as part of the “Our Future is So Bright” five-year anniversary package.

“The perks/surprise gifts are awesome,” one employee said. “I’ve never heard of any other company doing the things that KEYW does for its employees.”

The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program was put in place to demonstrate that the company leadership values employees’ work-life balance, said Mark Willard, chief impact officer.

“We look at trying to encourage employees to take care of their health, happiness and family first,” Willard said, “because we know you can always get another job but you can’t always get those things back.”

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