For culture of quality, OtterBox makes the case

FORT COLLINS – You can’t miss OtterBox.

Headquartered in Old Town Fort Collins, the company known for its playful and innovative culture and its indestructible protective cases for smartphones, tablets and eReaders is a wunderkind in the technology sector – and it has a swirly slide in its building.

Mobile technology has become ubiquitous across daily life. Who doesn’t rely on phones and tablets for just about everything – directions, contacts, email, photos, video, Facebook.

Some people even use their phone as a phone. Imagine that.

The quality of OtterBox products must be attributed to the quality of the people behind them. Culture is so important that the human-resources team actually hires to it. A candidate may be a 100-percent skill fit for an open position, but if there isn’t a culture fit, the company keeps looking until the right person is found.

“In a nutshell, it’s great employees who are committed and dedicated to making the company successful, having a good strategy and an undying passion for serving the customer,” said chief executive Brian Thomas. OtterBox strives to maintain a culture where employees – called Otters – feel empowered to innovate every day, either in their specific role or in a system or process that could improve the company.

When it came to the recession, OtterBox chose not to participate. It just wasn’t an option.

“We always believed we could grow, and should,” Thomas said. “We didn’t buy into the thought that the economy would impact our business, and it didn’t. We had to be creative to find new ways to get sales, but when others see obstacles and pull back, we saw opportunities to hire the best people, make capital investments and share our value proposition with customers.”

That’s a strategy that is working. OtterBox has seen revenues jump from $350 million in 2011 to more than $920 million in 2013. It added more than 500 Otters to its roster in slightly more than three years. It’s building and buying all over Old Town; one of the company’s recent acquisitions is the Sunset Events Center building on Linden Street and Riverside Avenue.

It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback and re-evaluate business decisions. Not so at OtterBox. This company celebrates the learning curve. Thomas put it this way:

“Our mistakes, failures, bumps and bruises have made us the company we are as much as any of our successes or wins have. Each of the failures we have made has allowed us to learn and grow stronger because they happened.

“We have two rules from making mistakes: 1. Make them fast and make them early. 2. Learn from them so they don’t happen again.”