Altair CEO Shares 3 Tactics for Retaining Engineering Talent

When you think about all the companies that are struggling to fill skilled-worker positions today, one company you will not think of is Altair. The thriving $300 million global software and engineering company has a strategy for overcoming the skills gap.

The Troy, Michigan firm, which specializes in “lightweighting” automotive components and systems, employs 2,500 people worldwide, the majority of which are software developers, engineers, programmers and tech specialists, and has a flourishing hiring system in which experience, expertise and talent in all the necessary disciplines feeds a thriving business.

“3D printing, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing—Altair is heavy into all of them.”

It’s not hard for the company to look cool and cutting edge to potential employees. “We’re on the leading edge of high-performance computing, simulation and analytics—all the hot areas,” Chairman and CEO Jim Scapa told the Mid-Market CEO Briefing. “3D printing, the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing—Altair is heavy into all of them.”

But Scapa said that his company is in a global war to keep its people and recruit others at a time of intense competition for their skills and talents, as not only automotive, but many other areas of product design, are expanding and pursuing them.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for instance, recently tweeted that he’s looking for software engineers to boost his company’s entry into autonomous driving and that he’ll be interviewing some of the candidates himself.

“It’s hard to find top-level talent and hang on to them,” Scapa said. “We have our own offices in California, in Irvine and Sunnydale, and obviously salaries are much higher on the West Coast, particularly in the Bay Area. But, funny enough, not everyone wants to go there, partially because of the high cost of living.”

Scapa shared 3 important tactics he uses to try to ensure that his mid-market company remains competitive in the global competition for technical talent:

1. To capitalize on the best talent, be willing to locate offices in lots of places. Altair’s core remains Michigan, but it also has sizeable teams in California, Austin, France, Italy, Germany, India, China and South Africa.

“Some folks are willing to move, and sometimes you need them to, but sometimes you can be flexible as well,” Scapa said. “And there’s great power in the fact that people are coming from a lot of different cultural backgrounds and experiences, and they’re bringing that to the company.”

2. Communicate honestly and broadly. Scapa is a big believer in frequent and open communication within the company by email and other means. He encourages “broad” communication at Altair “about what’s happening at clients, customers and competitors, and in other markets.”

And he doesn’t want to see employees overly filter their impulses to share what they’re thinking. “People know they can communicate anything as long as it’s good content,” Scapa said. “Even if it’s dumb ideas. Because we’re pretty open about that and about experimenting.”

3. Leverage the advantages of (smaller) size. There are lots of bigger companies where Altair employees could go, including many of the company’s customers, and some where they could earn a lot more—but few where they could realize their potential more quickly, Scapa said.

“Here, people are very quickly thrown into very technical situations, fast-paced learning, and lots of responsibility, and it’s just a fun environment because we’re experimenting a lot, and we’re doing a ton of crazy projects as well as the day-to-day,” he said. “It’s just an exciting environment to be a part of.”

Altair may suffer some attrition as the competition for experienced STEM staffers continues to stiffen. But Scapa is committed to keeping that number as low as possible.



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