George Mulhern is CEO and chairman of the board at Cradlepoint, a Boise company that provides a platform for wireless WAN networking.
Originally posted on the Idaho Business Review, 07-27-15, Written By Anne Wallace Allen
Mulhern spent 20 years at Hewlett Packard, ending as a senior vice president in charge of the company’s laserjet global business unit. He was also a partner with Highway 12 Ventures, a Boise-based venture capital fund.
When Mulhern arrived at Cradlepoint in 2011, the company had about 95 employees. Now it has around 330, 85 percent of them in Boise, and recently consolidated most of its workers from six different buildings into larger quarters in the Boise Cascade building in downtown Boise. Mulhern expects to hire another 150 people in the next 12 to 18 months.
Cradlepoint has an office outside London and is in the process of opening one in Sydney. The company entered Europe, the Middle East and Africa a year ago. Idaho Business Review sat down with Mulhern to learn about Cradlepoint and the company’s role in Boise. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You were talking at one point about putting up a building in downtown Boise. Is that still in the plans?
To build was a last resort for us. We had grown so much we were in six different buildings, and we wanted to get into one. Then the Boise Plaza opened up and it has turned out to be perfect for us.
And then you’ll be all set?
We will probably hire another 150 people in the next 12 to 18 months. The plan is to build the team here in Boise, and so far we haven’t hit a wall in terms of hiring. If we keep growing like that, then we’ll have to look at a second site. There’s such an advantage to having everyone together.
Why did you decide to accept the job of running Cradlepoint?
After I retired from HP in 2006, I wanted to do nothing for a while. I spent about 18 months doing some angel investing in town and got involved in the startup community. I hooked up with Highway 12, and was general partner there for three years. They had invested in Cradlepoint, so in 2011 when Cradlepoint was going through a CEO change, some of the board members asked if I was interested. I said, “absolutely.”
The product side is one of the reasons I agreed to come on board. They were good, high quality products, and there was a great engineering team.
What does the company do?
What we do is fairly unique, because we’ve built a cloud platform that is purpose-built for wireless networking – big companies that have lots of locations across a state or the country, that use a cloud platform to manage the network. If you’re the largest DVD rental company in the country, with 20,000 kiosks, you need a way to manage them from a central point.
Our cloud platform is architected to use as little data bandwidth as possible. It’s a real advantage for us over other vendors. And the other piece is we have a lot of intellectual property and know-how.
Our customer list is the largest coffee chain in the United States, Jackson Hewitt, American Apparel – it’s the biggest and most recognized brands in the world.
A lot of local CEOs say they have trouble finding workers. Has Cradlepoint struggled with that?
It depends on the position. For things like software engineers we recruit nationally, and for a lot of other positions, like our inside sales team, we’ve been able to recruit almost entirely from the Boise area.
We do surveys every year to see the market rate for the job, and we pay at market. Otherwise you’re not going to get the talent you need.
I wouldn’t say we don’t have our challenges; it’s hard to find great software developers right now, because they’re in such high demand. Part of our success has been we’ve got really good people who recruit them. The engineers themselves have a network they recruit from.
We’ve tried to raise our profile in Boise, so people know this is a growing and successful company. We’re trying to participate more in some of the community events, some of the things that BSU is doing, to get more involved in the broader tech community here.
We don’t have a climbing wall, we don’t have a private masseuse, we do have all the cup ‘o noodles you can eat, but other than that it’s really about the team. You can feel like you’re doing something special and making a contribution here.
Is there anything about the local environment that is holding Cradlepoint back?
The No. 1 thing I hear from recruits is, if this doesn’t work out, where else could I go? Boise still has kind of a reputation that there are only a few companies in the area. It’s not true; there are a lot of tech companies now.
But most of them are still small. That said, we’ve had great luck attracting some real high-powered talent. Our chief marketing officer ran Cisco’s router business for 17 years. Our chief technology officer was a senior VP at Intel. People want to be part of a growing company.
There is also certainly the geography. There are young folks who think if you want to be where it’s happening you need to be in the Bay Area or New York, some of these hotter startup communities. There’s certainly a lot more going on in those places; Boise is not known as a technology hub in the country. But for us if we can get them here, and they see the town and the lifestyle, they get to meet the folks in the company and see the culture, we do well.
If we had more direct flights, it’d be easier for us to get customers to come in for a visit, and it would be certainly easier for us to get out to other areas.
What is your goal for Cradlepoint?
We want to build a global leader in wireless WAN. But it goes beyond that. I’d like to build a company in Boise that grows to a point where even if it got sold, it would last. A lot of the Boise startups have gotten to a certain stage and been bought by a bigger company, and the Boise presence has dwindled away.
We’d like to employ thousands and be here for the long haul, and I think we can do that.