Fürstenfeld Event Hall lies 20 miles west of Munich, just off Germany’s longest highway, in the heart of pastoral Bavaria. It’s not really a single “hall,” but a series of long two- and three-story white buildings with cinnabar roofs and uniform arched windows. Short weeds with white flowers peek through small gaps in the natural stone walkways. Children shriek, kicking a soccer ball across the grass. A gardener clips at a healthy hedge in the abbey under the shadow of a handsome baroque chapel. The 750-year-old cloister still serves as a place for meditation and familial gatherings. There is nothing more dramatic for miles.
It’s here that mgm technology partners chose to host its onboarding event for European and American employees, “hello world.”
mgm’s annual onboarding event
I was nervous. I had worked for mgm for less than a month, and I’d suffered a harrowing journey involving an almost-expired passport to get there. My German colleagues assured me that I could wear jeans and flip-flops. I doubted them. I knew that the CEO and members of the board would be present. At most companies in the U.S., arriving to an internal training event in open-toe shoes is the equivalent of attending a formal wedding in a Hawaiian shirt. I played it safe and arrived in a gray business-casual shift dress and a low, conservative bun.
My peers largely wore t-shirts and shorts. Toes wiggled everywhere. International accents ping-ponged off stone walls, a symphony of German-English, French-English, and Czech-English, and all conversations were less focused on appearances and more on the ideas buzzing between them.
The organizers, Katja and Marie, passed on traditional onboarding event fare (you know: corny scavenger hunts, trust falls, and obstacle courses). They instead focused on answering three key questions: What is mgm’s business model? What is mgm’s working philosophy and history? And who are we, the new hires?
hello world took two days to deliver answers.
I joined mgm because of a unique career opportunity—I was hired to “design” their American employee experience for their new office in Washington, D.C. I left the event grateful for far more than the work I get to do individually. hello world taught me that mgm technology partners is an exceptional place to spend my working hours. It’s an unconventionally ethical company with impressive growth and happy employees.
Let me explain what I mean with the five things that stood out to me during their onboarding summit. If you’re an mgmie, let me know if I should add anything to the list in the comments. If you’re not, take this list as a guide for event planning your own onboarding seminar. The impression I got of mgm at hello world will last long into my career.
1. mgm’s onboarding event proved that the company hires impressive people
In preparation of mgm’s hello world, the organizers asked each new hire to prepare a few slides detailing who they are, what they were hired to do at mgm, and what their interests are. Each person took around five minutes to present.
mgm is a seriously international company—so much so that I can’t even venture to guess how many countries were represented at hello world. Hobbies such as “traveling,” “hiking,” and “skiing” frequented my peers’ slides. Selfies taken in South Africa, the Alps, Shanghai, and Boston all emerged from the presentation. My bet is that, between all attendees, we could slap together fluency in more than 30 languages.
While I’m aware of at least one individual at the event without a Bachelor’s degree, the bulk of my class had a master’s or doctorate degree, with research areas as diverse as insemination, neuro-oncology, and cyber threat inflation. At mgm, their projects are just as intellectually challenging, ranging from analyzing industrial insurance software requirements to developing and releasing a groundbreaking low-code system called A12.
That all said… what struck me most about my peers had nothing to do with their on-paper qualifications. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about the attitude and personality that mgm hires for. For example, the first person to raise their hand in the seminar happened to be female. Men and women alike talked about their kids without hesitation. We challenged each other frequently and respectfully. At no point did I worry that my opinions or questions (which often was, “Mind translating that graph key to English for me?”) would damage my career.
Why it matters: Inclusivity is an intangible that’s difficult to hire for, and few people like the idea of a checklist or quota approach to diversity. Given just how global mgm is, with offices in fifteen international cities, finding diversity isn’t a challenge. That said, in order for such a company to work well, acceptance and celebration of heterogeneity is essential. I believe that mgm accomplishes this, in part, by hiring people who are exceptional in their field and who have a demonstrated ability to learn new skills.
Btw: mgm technology partners is hiring in Washington, D.C. and internationally should you want to join us.
2. Turnover isn’t a major concern
According to a LinkedIn analysis conducted in 2018, the technology industry has the highest attrition rate in the world. Employees at Apple, Google, and Amazon have a median duration rate of 2.0, 1.1, and 1.0 years respectively—a 52% to 76% decrease in retention length when compared to the national average.
A few months ago, I asked r/cscareerquestions what would make them stay at a job for five or more years. The responses aggregated nicely for what programmers are looking for from their employers:
- Good pay
- The opportunity to try new things
- Talented coworkers
- Managers with clear expectations and autonomous teams
- Work from home options, along with other “work/life” balance requests
Well those things, and an amorphous “culture” element. One Redditor wrote, “a low ego [sic] team with genuinely kind people who care about having a good work environment with positive relationships.” Another added, “A culture where people own their mistakes and everyone worries more about fixing them and avoiding them in the future than about blame.”
Dr. Steffen Weber stood in front of us newly initiated mgmies. He flicked through a PowerPoint, detailing how he became a board member: he started as a research professor in theoretical nuclear physics and then started his own business, which he sold to mgm in the early 00’s. He initially committed five years to the company. Fifteen years later, he’s still here.
Steffen flicked through each of the remaining board members: Dr. Daniel Brodkorb, Franco Cerreto, Karl-Wilhelm Schick, Marc Philipp Gösswein, and Till Gartner. All of them have been at the company for more than eight years.
“Retention” has been the vibe I’ve gotten at mgm technology partners. While spending a week at their Munich office, I quickly learned that people who had spent fewer than two years at the company were still considered “new.” A few mgm women had even recruited their boyfriends to join on more than one occasion. The leisurely (though not slow) pace at which mgmies work rids employees of the high-stress, meeting-dense environments that often lead to turnover.
Why it matters: Voluntary retention signals the quality of employee experience. As a new employee, it also introduces an element of trust between the employer and me. I can invest in immediate relationships because there’s a low chance of my new colleague/friend ducking out over the next year. Who wouldn’t want to work at a company that invests in retention?
3. mgm is highly selective about its projects
There’s one particular product from mgm that made my jaw dislocate from my face: A12.
A12 takes exceptionally complex data systems—think insurance regulations with hundreds of pages of nuance—and simplifies it to the point where lay-users no longer need a specialized understanding of the inputs. For example: if you think you need seven years of education plus work experience to understand the nuances of copyright regulations in U.S. intellectual property law, forget it. A12, when massaged the right way,* could take care of all that memorization and legal subtlety that often doesn’t make it into enterprise programs.
It’s hard to overstate the power of such a tool, especially since it’s low code. It can be used to create massive good in the world. And it could be used for tremendous harm.
mgm technology partners is new to the States. In Germany, it’s known like Accenture or Deloitte—they have little trouble acquiring new business. In America… well, we’re just getting started. Even so, mgm technology partners is choosy. The company has made it clear that it will only sign on with ethical projects—and management does not hesitate to say “no,” no matter how lucrative the deal may be.
While, of course, the details of those “no, never” deals are proprietary, I am comforted to know that the company would never work with the likes of Martin Shkreli or his ilk. I like being proud of where I work, and I see mgm’s history of and insistence on selecting the right projects as a promise of ethical stability.
Why it matters: Look at the wealth of employer branding materials that say “everyone is welcome” and traditional brands that claim they “do everything.” mgm makes no such claims, and even takes it a step further: it publicly says “no” to potential opportunities, shutting down potential revenue streams. In other words, it’s principled, and not necessarily in a way that appeals to everyone.
I believe you can learn a whole lot more about a company—its culture and values and employee work-life—by what it says “no” to than “yes.” Doing so helps clarify the kind of people who should say “no” to mgm as prospective employees and amplifies a cultural call to those who should say “yes.”
Want to learn more about working at mgm technology partners? Take a gander at our open careers.
* A12’s current applications are built for commercial insurance, tax law, and e-commerce.
4. mgm takes honesty seriously
I recently finished reading the Millennial classic The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. In it, the author details how he spent a few years as a “digital nomad.” As a mid-twenty something, he traveled the world while making money off his blog.
A truism from this section of the book caught my attention. While Munich, where mgm is headquartered, was never under Soviet control, I believe the narrative about cultural honesty may still hold true:
Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty [sic], fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other…
[My Russian teacher had an interesting theory.] Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People’s displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival—you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn’t, and you needed to know quickly.
But, in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity—so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely. This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. …
The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to.
I noticed this exact pattern over the course of the onboarding conference.
Presenters explaining mgm’s product asked for feedback and got it. Mgmies waned philosophical over lunch and dinner, exchanging views on everything from Game of Thrones to Chinese debt-trap diplomacy. These new hires were even flagrantly honest with each other—not something you’d ever see at any U.S. onboarding event, especially when a CEO is present.
Why it matters: It was easy, at first as an American, to mistake the demand for honesty as criticism. With time, I found the value in it. When presenting ideas to my colleagues, I became more confident that their feedback wouldn’t be overfull with pleasantries. In turn, I also learned to take their commendations more seriously.
These moments between my coworkers and me were unplanned. I doubt it’s possible to truly bake “trust” into an annual onboarding event; show me a trust fall that ends in exchanged phone numbers. All any company can do is introduce new employees to current ones. A culture of trust must already be established and visible in order for new employees to take part!
5. mgm’s CEO really knows everyone
When I think “CEO,” I often think of someone inaccessible—someone with earned respect, of course, but who too-often wields that power over others. Hamarz Mehmanesh is not that CEO.
Would Hamarz want to go into acting, he’d immediately get cast as someone wise—he just has that appearance to him. He’s not old—he’s a fifty something—but he peers through his wire frame glasses with pecan-brown eyes that soften in attention to subjects like Kant or Schiller. He has graying hair and a slightly upturned mouth; Hamarz’s default expression is a subtle smile. He’s not a Richard Branson or Jack Welch; he’s a quiet leader, one who’s careful not to interrupt his employees when they speak, modest in his own accomplishments, and infinitely patient.
hello world opened with Hamarz. He detailed his personal history—starting with emigrating from Iran to securing a degree in psychology to founding and growing mgm technology partners—and underscored the importance of relationships in business.
True to his philosophy, Hamarz spoke with each new employee individually over the course of hello world. I saw conversations range from a young Czech developer showing off his IBM Watson-based side project to Westworld speculations to meditations on modern Iran. At no point did Hamarz seem to fatigue—an accomplishment on its own to this ambivert. Of the 800+ employees at mgm, I imagine it would be tough to find anyone who hasn’t spoken to Hamarz at least once.
Why it matters: Meeting Hamarz gave me confidence in the company’s leadership. I could pull numbers about employee retention or revenue growth—both great, for what it’s worth—to learn about mgm technology partners’ past success, but data isn’t ever the whole story. I have no doubts that Hamarz really wants to meet and invest in each of his employees. Who wouldn’t want to work at a company like that?
What else can we learn from mgm’s annual onboarding event?
mgm technology partners is special—if nothing else, its onboarding event proved that to be the case.
I was able to take advantage of it to meet my incredible colleagues, learn about why they stay, appreciate mgm’s working philosophy and culture, and meet the most important people in the company.
As I traveled home, I noted the hustle around me for the first time. The three days at the Cistercian monastery had heightened my standards for my surroundings. I felt an absence. A crowd of irritated passengers replaced hello world’s community of wickedly intelligent and purposeful people.
On the flight home, I relaxed. I remembered that I’d see them soon enough in D.C. after I recovered over the weekend. Grateful and optimistic, my shoulders eased and my neck softened. I dozed off as my flight drifted West towards home across the Atlantic.
If you can see yourself at mgm technology partners, be sure to check out our open positions.