One comes away from a conversation with Larry Bodie of Claris Networks realizing how passionate this soft spoken individual is about work, the company that he leads and its values, and the community that he has always called home.
Bodie, who serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Claris, describes his unofficial role as being the company’s “culture enforcement officer,” an assignment that he clearly relishes.
“We want people to love to come to work,” he unabashedly says in explaining that Claris seeks “like-minded overachievers” for its team that now numbers 80 employees at its office just west of downtown Knoxville and in downtown Chattanooga.
Bodie has only been a part of Claris for a little more than four years, but the firm’s current market positioning and its strong growth in recent years are reflections of his passion about the industry and his vision for the future of information technology.
In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, Bodie reflected on the professional journey that he has followed since his high school days “bagging groceries” at the old White Store, now Food City, in Bearden Shopping Center. By the time he joined what was then Rodefer Moss Technologies (RM) in January 2008, Bodie had spent nearly 18 years working for companies that were affiliated with Tim Keller and the IJ Company.
He was hired by IJ during the early part of his college career and assigned to the MIS department. “He (Keller) saw something that I did not see in myself,” Bodie said, acknowledging that he subsequently realized that “I had a knack” for information technology.
One of his assignments while still in college was working for a Keller-owned company called Direct Long Distance (DLD) that sold its service at a discount. Bodie said starting a company like DLD was typical of Keller who “always wanted to be innovative and on the cutting edge.”
While Bodie was not a direct report to Keller, he nevertheless found himself “in front of him frequently.”
Bodie briefly left DLD and the Keller family for about eight months immediately after graduation from the University of Tennessee. During that short period, he was affiliated with Concord Technologies.
Back in the Keller family, Bodie was soon responsible for installing a PC network at Kelsan and converting the company from mainframe computing.
“I pretty much ran IT for all of the Keller-owned companies, minus IJ” at that stage, Bodie said. “I got a good education in business from being in and around the Keller Group companies.”
By 2006, Bodie was part of the upper management at Kelsan and the Keller companies, but he kept wondering, “What’s next?” He knew that he had an ability to apply technology in business, so he decided to start his own one-person consulting company named Pro Direct on January 1, 2007.
Four months into his new venture, Bodie says that he realized that clients of RM Technologies accounted for about 70 percent of his business, so he decided he needed to join the IT firm. RM Technologies had been founded in 1998 by Jimmy Rodefer and Paul Sponcia. At the end of 2007, Bodie, along with a few other employees, bought Rodefer’s interest in the company, and renamed it Claris Networks. When Sponcia exited the business in early 2009, Bodie stepped into the CEO role.
Bodie describes 2008 as a year when he focused on long-term strategies for Claris and client service. Describing Claris as a “service business,” he says that the product offering that the company rolled-out in late 2008 “looked a lot different” from the past.
“I wanted us to be viewed as the cloud guys,” he says. A quick review of the company’s main web page lists its offerings as cloud solutions, managed services, offsite backup, and hosting and EMR solutions.
In January 2009, Claris had 24 employees. Today, the number has more than tripled to 82 with a customer base that is global in nature and strong market penetration in the region between Chattanooga and Knoxville.
Claris renovated space off Lonas Drive and relocated less than a year ago, but Bodie already says that the company is about to outgrow the new facility.
Bodie is involved in entrepreneurial initiatives in both cities where Claris has offices. He is part of the Entrepreneurs Organization chapter in Knoxville, and the company is providing cloud services for the teams involved in this summer’s “Gig Tank” activity in Chattanooga.
“I’m trying to get into as many entrepreneurial activities as possible,” he says. “Entrepreneurs hold the future of our business community.”
As far as the lessons that he has learned, Bodie offers four.
“Always do the right thing, even when it hurts,” he says. “Treat people with respect,” adding a third point that you should “treat people how they want to be treated.”
His fourth lesson learned is the all too familiar but forgotten axiom that “cash is king.” Bodie reminds any entrepreneur that “it’s not margin but cash that will keep the business thriving.”
It is clear that his passion for Claris and his focus on being an effective “culture enforcement officer” are paying-off. Many technology companies face challenges finding qualified talent. In Claris’ case most recently, Bodie says that is not the case. “People have found us,” he notes.