Spreading out from the base of Emerald Ridge in Northern Alabama all the way to the Tennessee River, Huntsville is the third largest city in the state. Long associated with the U.S. space program – both the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the Marshall Space Flight Center are located here – Huntsville is also home to a unique company called Torch Technologies. Sixteen years ago when co-founder Bill Roark started Torch Tech, he vowed to create a company that celebrated the smart, mission-focused people in his town. The results would catapult the startup to massive success.
The Journey to Greater Management Freedom
For Bill the journey to Torch Technologies began with an entry level job at a completely different company in Huntsville. Bill worked his way up to managing one of their business segments. He was given a lot of freedom to incentivize the work that the people he managed did, generally with bonuses or stock options that were tied to specific results. It was a method that kept the employees motivated and engaged. Business ran smoothly. Then, the company was acquired, and everything changed.
“The minute that acquisition closed, the ability to [..] follow through with those commitments became very difficult,” Bill describes. “I was in a new environment where I had very little influence to make [the promised rewards] happen.”
Bill’s ability to make good on commitments to his team that he already had in place before the acquisition was immediately scuppered. This was deeply disturbing to him, and in the end proved too much. Bill parted ways with the company that he had spent years working for, and pursued other opportunities.
After trying a few ventures and exploring other opportunities with established companies, Bill thought the time was right to return to his defense contractor roots. He convinced his former business associate, Don Holder, to co-found with him a new venture. Both gentlemen had gone through the unpleasant experience of having the teeth removed from their incentive-based growth strategy. Though Don was already looking ahead to his retirement, he agreed to this new venture. With control firmly in their capable hands, Bill and Don founded Torch Technologies, and resurrected the ability to create employee incentives for stellar performance. And they didn’t stop there. Don’s decision to retire within six years of starting the company provided an opportunity to enact a plan that they had been discussing since the company’s inception.
Creating an Employee Owned Enterprise
From the company’s beginning Bill and Don knew that they “wanted to do things differently.” They implemented their incentive strategy, promoting employee ownership via stock options on a smaller scale and embracing ethical business practices as their guiding stars. Six years in, the need to buy back Don’s shares preparatory to his retirement allowed Bill and Don to launch the next rocket for their company: a 100% employee owned company.