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July 12, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Phillips came for a degree, stayed to lead rebranded Pyxl

The President of fast growing digital marketing firm Pyxl never thought he would remain in the area after graduating from Maryville College. After all, he was a Michigan native who had lived in Germany and was starting college about five years after his contemporaries.

Yet, eight years after enrolling at Maryville, Josh Phillips is clearly ingrained in the firm that he helped rebrand and relaunch. He gained a taste from running the business side of an enterprise while helping his father start the latter’s company in Germany and helping with the tasks that were “less interesting to dad.”

After the family returned to Michigan, Phillips decided that he wanted to enroll in a college “somewhere other than the Midwest.” He wanted a smaller school with small class sizes, and he found Maryville to be “a good fit” when he visited.

Phillips majored in both international business and political science, worked abroad one summer, did research in China, and helped two start-ups as part of his Maryville College experience.

“I enjoyed the problem solving,” he said. “Just about everything is solvable, you just need effort and resources.”

On the verge of graduating in 2008, Phillips met Brian Winter, Pyxl’s primary owner who was in the midst of purchasing a local company called Image Communications, renaming it and refocusing the business.

“I thought I would graduate and move away to a larger city, maybe to a consulting job,” Phillips said. Instead, he found a great professional opportunity to help reposition a company that had focused on buying and placing advertising at a time when the market was starting to dry-up due to the economy.

Phillips credits Winter with giving him an opportunity to help “take a concept (digital marketing) and make a real valuable contribution. We’ve stayed true to that focus.” The company focuses on digital services in design, custom development and marketing campaigns.

Ironically, Phillips noted that the adverse economy “helped us commit to what we were trying to achieve – a new business model with a different customer base.”

The renamed company’s earliest successes came in the Washington, DC area, focusing on technology companies, a trend that has continued with many of its clients being in larger metropolitan areas. Phillips adds that the company’s growth has been fueled by referrals from existing clients.

The firm finds Knoxville to be a great base for operations, although it recently opened a new office in Tempe, AZ to serve clients in later time zones.

Phillips talks about Knoxville’s advantages for Pyxl as lower cost of living, something that benefits the firm’s clients as well as its employees, and the region’s quality of life. He also says that Pyxl has “brought an East Tennessee flavor to its work,” listing friendliness with customers and extra effort to make sure customers are satisfied as descriptors.

It is clear that recruitment, selection and job satisfaction for employees are important to Phillips. During the interview, he quoted Jim Collins’ book Good to Great and the emphasis that was placed on getting the right people on the bus.

“We want to establish this as a place people will stay,” Phillips says in noting that six of Pyxl’s 15 Knoxville-based employees have been able to purchase their first home here. He is also proud that Pyxl has grown from four people to 18 – three in Tempe – since its rebranding without taking on additional debt and that it has not laid-off a single employee due to lack of work.

To help find good talent, Pyxl hosts four interns at a time, and five employees were hired after their internships with the company.

Phillips even tries approaches at employee engagement that some would consider unusual. To give the Pyxl team a feel for the work of one of its largest clients, he closed the office for a few days and took the entire staff to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2010 and 2011.

All of these strategies have resulted in Pyxl “being a little bit ahead of where we thought we would be,” Phillips says.

As one of the region’s successful entrepreneurs, asked about lessons that he has learned.

“Being an entrepreneur is twice as much work as you think it is going to be, particularly when you are getting the ball rolling,” Phillips says. “For me, it was worth the trade-off.”

His second point was the often heard “cash is king” admonition.

As far as what the future holds, Phillips believes that Pyxl could double in size or grow even more. While he has enjoyed the growth that has occurred in the past three years, he doesn’t want to see Pyxl “get too big and become corporate” and lose the uniqueness which has helped it be a great place to work for and do business with.

Phillips continues to believe the Knoxville headquarters will lead the company’s growth as the company continues to expand. Pyxl is looking forward to adding five to six more people in the company’s very open offices on the third floor of a building adjacent to the new Northshore Town Center.

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