Long Live the DieHards

John Holt diehard reunion“There are so many stories in this room,” said CEO John Holt to a small audience in his home. “We are alive to create stories, and tonight we’re here to honor the story we’ve written together and share our anticipation about the stories we have yet to write.”

It was the night of July 30th, and the Cobalt DieHards were assembled at Holt’s Seattle home with their husbands, wives, partners and friends. Holt’s wife, Susan, and his daughter Gemma were also there, mingling with the crowd and chatting. Some of the people in attendance have known the Holt family for many years, and there was a feeling of camaraderie, fellowship and friendship in the air.

The DieHards are Cobalt’s fifty longest-serving employees. For the past three years, Holt has recognized this group and celebrated their determination and loyalty, with a gathering in his home where they are all made welcome. Collectively, they represent well over 600 years of service, and each of them has been with Cobalt for at least ten years.cobalt diehard steps

In the room that night were some of Cobalt’s most dedicated employees, like Lisa Koutek and Scott Sabo, who’ve been with the company since its early days in a tiny office in downtown Seattle. Also in attendance was Mike Villanueva, the “rookie” DieHard, who’s only been with Cobalt for ten years and was attending his first DieHard celebration.

Those at the party were treated to delicious pulled pork or vegetarian sandwiches from the pig-shaped lunch truck Maximus Minimus and delightful ice cream from the Molly Moon’s ice cream truck. The combination of Theo Chocolate and Salted Caramel ice cream soon became a sought-after favorite as the evening progressed.

As the sun set and the night came on, John invited everyone to come into the living room where gifts awaited. Some received what has become the ten-year gift for Cobalt employees, an elegant Tiffany’s glass bowl (cobalt blue, of course). Those who had served the longest, the top ten DieHards, had already received their bowl in previous years, and they got a gift certificate to Seattle’s Tilth Restaurant. John recognized each person individually and pointed out how many things have changed, everything from hairstyles to relationships. For each person, there was a different story.

cobalt diehard trioThe food and the gifts were very much appreciated, but we all knew that wasn’t the point of the evening. It was what John said, the stories we’ve created and the stories yet to be told. Over the course of the evening you could see small groups of people chatting like the old friends they are, recounting shared stories and plotting new ones. That’s why we were there.

With the ADP merger in place, this was most likely the last official gathering for the DieHards. The merger provides an opportunity to build new communities and customs; but because it takes a community to have a company, it’s likely the DieHards will keep celebrating on the side. They’ve got more chapters to write.

Photos by Melissa Satterwhite

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Five Days at Cobalt

You may have noticed a guest writer on several recent Digital Mileage articles. Margaret Kahn, daughter of Cobalt’s Peter Kahn, spent one day a week for five weeks with Cobalt as an intern. When her time with us came to an end, we asked her to share a few thoughts about her experience here. Here’s what she said:

Margaret KahnHi, this is your resident blogger coming out from underneath the shroud of anonymity provided by online writing. During my month-long employment here at Cobalt, I researched, conducted interviews, and inscribed five articles for Digital Mileage, while also helping put together a marketing piece on the Emotional Intelligence class now being offered. While this isn’t unexplored territory for me, as I write for the SPL Teen Blog and am a news editor at my school paper, the experience of working at a place like Cobalt was totally unfamiliar.

I was super jazzed to start work at Cobalt and felt lucky to have such an amazing opportunity. While I wasn’t exactly sure of my job when I got hired, I still didn’t miss a chance to casually slip my windfall into conversations with unemployed friends and update my employment on Facebook. When I arrived for my first day, I was not disappointed. You wouldn’t think anyone would get so happy from sitting at a cubicle and having a laptop, but boy, was I thrilled. When I went home after my first day, which was a whirlwind of meeting what thousands of Cobaltians and remembering none of those names, I was the only smiling commuter on that packed Metro bus – I was a commuter!

Being at Cobalt, I found extreme joy in the little things that jaded office workers simply don’t take the time to appreciate. For example, I had my own work email! I mean, how cool is that? At least twice, I typed ‘Kahn’ into the contact search just to admire the little box that popped up, shouting to the world, “HR Marketing Intern.” When I discovered the storeroom, I realized how Charlie must have felt stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It was every office supply nerd’s dream all at my fingertips, and I readily admit that I took a glue stick for myself.

Of course, work isn’t all fun and games. As a product of the public schools, I found it hard to regulate my own work for so long without a teacher passing out rubrics and collecting assignments. I had to set my own deadlines and motivate myself to focus; and for a sixteen-year-old put in a box with Internet for eight hours, that’s insanely difficult. I also went through a self-inflicted absent-minded week where both my USB and notebook went missing, and I locked myself on the first floor one evening.

From just five days in an office setting, I learned invaluable lessons about professionalism that you can only get on the job. Shaking hands is important. Dress nicely. Always back up your work. Be on time, but understand when others can’t be. Befriend the receptionists so they will buzz you in. Don’t eat the Marketing pizza. And above all, do beyond what is required of you. I will come away from this five-week lesson much better at handling stress, more responsible, much more qualified for my future, and with a better understanding of the important things that go on in an office building. I met so many kind people with stories unique to each of them; I only wish I could have spent more time with everyone.

It is a great feeling to know I have accomplished something this summer; something useful for expanding my opportunities in life and helping the company as well. I have come to feel somewhat part of the family here. Thank you for sharing Cobalt with me.

Thanks for sharing your experience and your time with Cobalt, Margaret! It was a blast, and we know you’ll go far!

Margaret Kahn
Contributing Writer
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Celebrating the Journey

ADP red carpet balloon“I really do believe that all of you are at the beginning of a wonderful journey,” said a famous green-skinned amphibian. “As you start traveling down that road of life, remember this, ‘There are never enough comfort stops. The places you’re going to are never on the map. And once you get that map out, you won’t be able to refold it no matter how smart you are.’”

On hearing these words of wisdom, senior ADP HR Business Partner Dale Gordon said, “Throw away the map, let’s use GPS!” Now why didn’t Kermit think of that?

On August 16th and 17th, Cobalt celebrated its own vision. All Cobalt employees were officially welcomed to the ADP family by Steve Anenen, president of ADP Dealer Services and John Holt, the newly-minted senior division vice president of ADP’s Digital Marketing Group, with other Cobalt and ADP leaders. Welcome gatherings were held in Seattle at the Bell Harbor Conference Center on the Seattle Bell Harbor GroupWaterfront, the Sofitel San Francisco Bay in Redwood City, and the Four Seasons Columbus in Hilliard, Ohio. In each case, Cobalt employees, now ADP associates, gathered for presentations and celebration now that the deal was done. Be sure to stop by the Cobalt Talent Facebook page to see more pictures of the celebration events.

It was a big day for Cobalt Senior Operations Analyst Melissa Satterwhite, a Cobalt Diehard with more than ten years at the company.

“I remembered the first time I met John, when he interviewed me wearing flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt,” she recalled. “John was an early pioneer in automotive Internet marketing – some might argue he was the early pioneer – passionately believing that car sales would be radically changed through the Internet. The fact that each of us were sitting in the room yesterday, being greeted as ADP associates, is testament to his vision.

“This is a moment for celebration and reflection,” continued Satterwhite. “We celebrate that our hard work and determination has brought us to this point and reflect on our new opportunities with ADP.”

John Holt and Steve AnenenAnd John Holt? He’s glad that the deal is done, and he can get back to work. “Congrats to all of us and my thanks as well. This has been a team effort – one thousand plus strong, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have led Cobalt and have the opportunity to continue in that role,” he said in a message to the company.

“There is a great big home for a kick-ass digital marketing group inside of ADP. I want to run the division that always gets more done than folks think is possible, with vision begetting new vision like a rising tide coming higher and higher on the beach. This is how we’ve done things for 15 years, and I see no reason to stop. The higher you climb the better the view.”

Maybe Kermit did see the solution after all – it was just years before GPS. His advice was simpler. Forget the map, roll down the windows, and enjoy the ride.

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Moving on Up

Cobalt's new officeOver ten years ago, as 1999 came to a close, Cobalt’s downtown Seattle office headquarters in Belltown was packed to the rafters with people. In the unobtrusive building on First and Lenora, there were desks set up in hallways and, in some cases, two people to a desk. Cobalt had grown and grown some more, and the company needed a bigger space.

The building was in the SoDo district of Seattle – a big, four-story, brick building fondly called the “Icehouse,” which Cobalt has called headquarters for the past ten years.

In 2007, when Cobalt expanded its service model to meet the needs of a rapidly growing customer base, a new office was opened north of Seattle in Lynnwood. Three hundred employees tasked with helping Cobalt customers daily have called the Lynnwood office their home away from home for three years.

On the morning of August 12, CEO John Holt announced that Cobalt would soon move again. All Seattle and Lynnwood office employees will work under the same roof once again. The new building has been chosen and work has already begun to turn the space into Cobalt’s new headquarters, just in time for us to move at the end of 2010.

Many possibilities were considered, but the final choice became 605 Union Square, right on the edge of the International District in downtown Seattle. Historic Pioneer Square is only a few blocks to the west, and the building sits right next to one of the city’s key transportation hubs. Standing in Union Square, you can almost feel the beat of Seattle all around. Take a look at a few pictures, taken days ago, in and around the new building.

Holt described it as one of the biggest financial decisions he had to make in his career, but his excitement was palpable as he spoke to the company. The deciding factors were convenience, cost, safety, space, and how it felt. 605 Union St

“We wanted something that had the energy of the old First and Lenora office,” Holt said, describing an active and vibrant community that felt alive the moment you stepped into it. Among the alternatives, the 605 Union Square location felt “just a little grittier. Cobalt’s not a white-shoe kind of place, and neither is this new building.”

IFS Operations Manager Janaya Fix is already preparing for the move and planning her commuting route to the new office. She currently drives to the SoDo office every day, but the location of the new building gives her the opportunity to try something different. The Sounder Commuter rail train will be the fastest route, so she’ll be taking a test run in late August, leaving her car at home and trying the train for the first time.

In only a few months hundreds of Cobalt employees will be finding new ways to get to work. Some will have shorter commutes and some will have to travel farther. Whether they’re coming from Kent or Lynnwood or Bremerton, they’ll soon be walking into a new headquarters, a new space to create, collaborate and work together.

Stay tuned for more as we transform 605 Union Square into Cobalt’s new home!
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Where in the World Is Tyler Poe?

Tyler Poe's deskWorking long hours sitting at a desk in an office is inevitable. There aren’t many opportunities for the typical nine-to-fiver to pull their eyes away from their computer and go into the field, whatever that field may be. But for Cobalt Technical Recruiter Tyler Poe, it’s hard to stay in one place for long.

As a technical recruiter, he looks for employees to fill specific openings. Some positions he hires for are a senior Perl programmer, Java developer, and data analysts. To do this, he sets up phone interviews with applicants and candidates that he finds on Monster and Dice.

“They [have to] get through me,” he said. “I decide if they go to the next level.” If the applicant gets through the phone stage, he sends the top five performers an online assessment. After that, he schedules an on-site interview.

If you can’t find Poe at his desk, you might have to look all over the building. Part of his job includes touring potential employees around the company. Four to five times a week, a candidate comes to Cobalt for an intensive, four-hour interview.

“I meet with them first, tour, answer high-level questions, and check in,” he said. Poe works to make the process less intimidating and more comfortable for the understandably nervous interviewee. He often arrives an hour early to make sure they don’t have to wait around and shows them Cobalt life. After the candidate get settled, Poe is on the run again, going to the nearby Jimmy John’s to fuel him or her with a sandwich and water for their long interview, after which, he asks the candidate’s first impressions are and walks the person out.

Tyler PoeAbove all, Poe is a friendly face to new people. He’s the first impression they get of Cobalt, and he wants it to be a good one. “I’m like the first line of defense,” he explained. I try “to be as personable as possible so they feel comfortable.”

Poe tries to get to know the new hires, because “the biggest key is building relationships.” He spent the day chatting with someone who had just been hired and was moving from Indiana. “I’m trying to ease his fears; he’s alone, and I did it,” he said, referring to the move he also made from Indiana six and a half years ago.

“I’ll make sure he gets time and try to make him feel welcome. [We] keep in touch a couple times a week,” he shared. “Any question I don’t know, I will find out the answer.”

If all else fails, and you are still looking for Poe, he often spends time in a conference room. Every day, he and the other hiring managers meet at 4:30 to discuss resumes and possible new employees.

“I work closely with hiring managers and find what they must have,” he said. Sometimes he is consulted in the final hiring.

Although Tyler Poe is always on the move, he is one employee that stands out, and he keeps Cobalt looking toward the future.

Margaret Kahn
Contributing Writer
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Revved Up for Cobalt Sports League

Cobalt employees have developed a motto: “Work hard, play hard.” Steve Hensyel, web builder, has truly taken these words to heart. He is the manager, coach, captain, and self-described softball pitcher in the Cobalt Sports League. Cobalt has many different affiliated sports to choose from, and Hensyel makes it a point to be directly involved in all of them, from soccer to softball.

“It’s something I look forward to every week,” he said. “I like opening a trunk full of softballs and cleats, not car parts.”

Softball

The Cobalt Brewligans is one of two company softball teams and just completed its summer season. Starting in June, with practices every Wednesday evening at Delridge Field and games each Sunday at Green Lake, the Brewligans played against other recreational teams, such as the Inglorious Batters. Lynnwood has a team as well, the Webgems, which Hensyel sees as a good way to “reconnect” with Cobalt employees in Lynnwood.

Kickball

Cobalt’s rookie kickball team, in which Hensyel also participates, played in the Underdog Sports Recreational League last spring and participated in fifty-team shootouts this summer.

“We play against teams from other companies,” Hensyel explained. There are “five Microsoft teams…some healthy competition.”

“Healthy competition” may be understating the level of rivalry that comes with kickball. Our “biggest foe was A Kick in the Grass,” he said. This opponent went undefeated until the championship playoffs, where the team defeated their once-great enemy.

Soccer

In light of the recent World Cup, Cobalt’s soccer team could see a boost in participants. Cobalt FC had their first-ever game against Getty Images and hasn’t looked back since. Over the summer, the team and ten new players have been practicing at the nearby Arena Sports on Monday evenings.

While Hensyel modestly describes the team as “a group of friends,” they’ve become workplace celebrities. With their royal blue and white uniforms, the team causes quite a stir among coveting colleagues.

“On Fridays people wear jerseys, even people who aren’t on the team want them,” Hensyel said. The team might even upgrade to soccer scarves.

And More!

Hensyel has only good things to say about his involvement. “It’s been really rewarding, good meeting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” he said. There is no one department the players come from, and their good vibes translate outside the company. Non-Cobalt opponents often compliment them on their camaraderie. According to Hensyel, they say, “I’d love to work at a place like that!”

What’s next for Cobalt sports? The list is a long one. Hensyel is currently recruiting for flag football, volleyball, and bowling; and his eyes light up at the mention of dodgeball, which many Cobaltians want to play. If you’re interested in joining these sports, Hensyel supports everyone, saying “the more people, the better.”

Margaret Kahn
Contributing Writer
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Masters Level

Mike RowingHere at Cobalt we have cyclists and runners – but that’s not all. Some Cobalt employees take to the water for their recreation.

Imagine waking up at 4:30am every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday to work out and row across the chilly, grey waters of Green Lake for two hours. You might think you would start the workday sweaty, exhausted, and complaining of sore muscles. Well, think again.

From February to November, Senior Development Manager Mike McKelvey jumps at the opportunity to do just this.

“It’s a good time of day to clear your mind, and a great stress reliever and an excuse to be outdoors,” he said. “It’s great exercise… [I achieve] a sort of Zen and come in feeling energized and refreshed.”

McKelvey rows in a masters crew at the Seattle Parks Department Green Lake Small Craft Center. Masters crew is aimed at post-collegiate adults and spans a vast age range.

“You have to be twenty-three to join, [but at events] there are people in their sixties sculling,” McKelvey said, referring to two-oar rowing. While his team is “definitely competitive”, the city club is “all inclusive” with no cuts. “Everyone gets a chance to row in an event,” he said, unlike private clubs.

His tireless commitment paid off this past June. For three days, starting on Friday the 25th, the Northwest Masters Regionals at nearby Lake Stevens attracted rowers from twenty-five clubs. Seattle teams such as the public Mt. Baker and Green Lake, and private Pocock, Lake Union, and Washington Rowing Club attended. Among the many others were representatives from Portland, Victoria, Boulder, Vashon, and Vancouver.

Mike's rowing medalFor eleven hours each day, a race was held every ten minutes for a total of 150, including five in which McKelvey participated. Green Lake “took home a lot of medals,” and he personally medaled twice, receiving gold in the mixed four-person and silver in the men’s pair.

“I’m especially proud” of the silver medal, he said, because he’s new to men’s pair. “It’s very challenging.” As opposed to the more commonly seen practice of sculling, each person using two oars, McKelvey frequently practices “sweeping,” where he races with a sole oar.

McKelvey is no stranger to these high profile events. He annually partakes in some of rowing’s most prestigious occasions, such as the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston and the San Diego Crew Classic.

Aside from the gleaming medals to display for all his coworkers to covet, why does McKelvey do crew? It’s the team spirit and community rowing offers that attracts him.

There is a “really active community up here” and it’s “great to work with such a variety of people.” Crew brings together people of all backgrounds, combining those of little experience with those who row easier than they walk. During events like this June’s, he was able to “compete against former Olympic athletes of a high caliber.”

If you want to join McKelvey on his rowing escapades, he welcomes any able newbies. Crew is “easy to pick up as an adult,” he said. “I never rowed in high school or college, [and I] can pick it up.”

However, he warns against the seemingly inevitable fate that could befall the greenest rower to the most seasoned oarsman. “It’s very easy to flip over… just pure luck I haven’t!”

Keep rowing, Mike – and stay dry!

Margaret Kahn
Contributing Writer
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