THE CEO WHO KEEPS IT SIMPLE
Andrew Kurtz ’87 takes on the “how” and “why” of business as he helps shape the area’s tech sector.
BY WILL ROTHSCHILD
At any given time, the books Andrew Kurtz ’87 has stacked on his bedside table could cover history, politics or spirituality. He might have his head in a general business selection or a biography.
What you probably won’t find is a book about technology.
Perhaps that seems odd when you consider Kurtz is CEO of one of the region’s leading tech companies. But it’s not so odd when you learn a little about Kurtz’s approach to leadership and learning, an approach created at the intersection of a problem solver’s mind and Kurtz’s liberal arts and sciences education at Furman.
“This goes back to Furman, but first of all, I haven’t stopped learning,” says Kurtz, who was an accounting major, from his office in the NEXT Innovation Center in Greenville, South Carolina.
“I still to this day on a daily basis focus my reading not on technical topics. … It goes back to discovering early on that learning is not about this linear path. It’s holistic.”
That mindset has allowed Kurtz to build his companies, Kopis and Vigilix, into bona fide giants in Greenville’s burgeoning tech sector. Combined, the two companies employ about 50 people and count some of the region’s most dynamic and prominent companies as clients. Kopis builds custom software solutions, mobile applications, Microsoft Dynamics ERP solutions and cloud services, while Vigilix is a remote monitoring and management platform used in point-of-sale. Greenville has come a long way as an incubator for tech startups. But when Kurtz founded Kopis in the late ’90s, the local support system was a far cry from what is available today. The NEXT Innovation Center had yet to be conceptualized, and venture capital for South Carolina tech companies was virtually nonexistent.
So, Kurtz built a team that solves problems and sees possibilities in the face of challenges. He looks for people to join his company who first seek to understand the business rationale for a new piece of software or application, and who then pursue the simplest, most elegant solution to a problem.
One of Kurtz’s favorite quotes is believed to be from Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Simplification, in fact, is one of Kopis’ core values.
“I’m always trying to understand on the technology side what’s emerging. Not at a low level how it works, but at a high level, ‘Why will this make things easier and better?’” he says. “And then my brain just naturally goes to, ‘What is this trying to solve, and what could it solve?’”
To that end – and in keeping with the value he places on lifelong learning – Kurtz is working on an internal concept called Kopis University.
He describes it as onboarding on steroids, a three-month immersive training for new employees that will help them learn the company’s approach, process and values. Once it is finalized and ready to roll out, Kopis University will allow Kurtz to hire more people straight out of college.
For now, the level of sophistication required by its clients has meant hiring developers with at least a few years of professional experience.
Meanwhile, Kurtz is helping to foster Furman student talent through the Leadership Council of Furman’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“You have some developers who will always just love writing the code, and they have a technical path to become very impactful, senior architects and senior developers. But the absolute best developers to me are the ones who get the business purpose, and they can wrap their head around, ‘Why am I building this?’” says Kurtz.
“Those people can have a major impact. So, I would tell college students that learning the code is important, but wrap your head around the business side. Why and how do businesses function?”