Tammy Cohen | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tammy Cohen

Background:  

InfoMart, founded 28 years ago, provides background screening to thousands of businesses around the world, ranging from small enterprises to Fortune 500 companies. The Marietta, Ga.-based company has won many awards for diversity and empowerment, and Georgia Trend magazine named InfoMart a "Best Place to Work in Georgia" in 2012. 

The Mistake:

My error was holding back because others were afraid of risk. My mistake was allowing innovation to stop due to the innate human fear of change.

We opened our doors 28 years ago with a groundbreaking idea. The novelty of background screening meant we were the leading innovator in an industry in its infancy. Being a maverick entrepreneur earned me the nickname “Queen of Screen,” and the excitement of success and recognition infected everyone with an entrepreneurial spirit. It was an exciting time.

Everyone we hired knew they were working for a startup. Driving innovation, taking risks, and working the long hours were all accepted. I didn’t have to keep my staff focused on disrupting the industry because it was an inherent part of our business; I just had to make sure all of my ideas didn’t blur our objective or derail our direction.

Our success grew the company. My team had built a fantastic company culture, and we continued to lead our field in key performance indicators like turnaround time, accuracy and customer service. But our production of new technology and services slowed—mostly because improvement means change, and change breeds fear.

We were still successful, but new services, first-to-market ideas, and out-of-the-box thinking were no longer the driving forces, risking our position as an industry leader.  

You can never let the fears of others dictate your movements forward.

The Lesson:

You can never stop innovating. You can never let the fears of others dictate your movements forward. Too many companies end up in the graveyard because they couldn’t keep up with the modernizations occurring in their industries. I wasn’t going to allow InfoMart to join them, so I re-focused on innovation as it relates to new products and technologies, all the way to selecting and onboarding new employees.

I gave the directive to join us in our vision or part ways, to hire the best personnel and outsource the rest. After directing and equipping the team to innovate and pursue new ventures, I promoted those who accepted the challenge and terminated others. Following that, I hired a new CEO—a renowned expert in data and global screening—to lead the organization and drive innovation, and I sought the best talent in the industry.

Quickly, the company as a whole ignited with the excitement we’d felt in the early days of InfoMart’s inception. In short order, we had first-to-market solutions that stepped ahead of the rapidly changing pace of technology. InfoMart released an innovative solution for employee screening by deploying a mobile application that utilizes document authentication and biometric facial recognition for seamless global onboarding. Our efforts set us apart from the pack again as an innovative leader of screening. Our customers appreciate our leading global industry insights in terms of how we can drive productivity improvements and efficiencies to their businesses.

Our engaged and inclusionary culture never changed, but you can feel the energy in our workplace again. My lesson was personal, but the organization’s lesson was monumental. Those who made the cut and joined the team enjoy the thrill of success and undoubtedly will continue to drive innovation.

Follow Tammy Cohen on Twitter at @ByTammyCohen.

Photo courtesy of InfoMart.

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