At Chariot Solutions, employees steer the future

From the left are Aaron Mulder (seated), CEO Mike Rappaport (standing), Ken Rimple (at the computer) and Rod Biresch (standing) at Chariot Solutions. (Bob McGovern / Staff)

Michael Rappaport's strategy for keeping employees happy isn't complicated.

The chief executive officer of Chariot Solutions, a software development firm in Fort Washington, simply listens.

"We actually set the direction of the company based on input from employees," Rappaport said. "The employees determine where we go."

That's why Chariot in the past three years has shifted from developing reusable software platforms to emerging technologies like mobile apps, which now account for about a third of its business.

The company reinvests the majority of its profits in professional advancement and allows employees to attend conferences, to review code and to hack.

"That's a common thing here," Rappaport said. "[Employees] say, "I'd like a week to hack at this technology because I'm very interested in it and it may be part of our future but I'm not sure.' This is time we invest in all different ways on our employees so they stay ahead of the game, regardless what they're doing."

That kind of flexibility for workers spurred Chariot's recognition as this year's top workplace among Philadelphia-area small businesses, based on surveys conducted by Workplace Dynamics, an Exton firm that polls workers about their companies for Philly.com's fifth annual Top Workplaces awards.

"People enjoy working for a company that thrills its customers and has a reputation for quality," Rappaport said, noting the caliber of Chariot's work is inseparable from the satisfaction of its workers. "The fact we succeed is one of the main reasons, if not the most important reason, people enjoy working for us."

Reputation is what buoyed the Montgomery County firm during the economic recession, according to Rappaport.

"Businesses have no appetite for risk when things are financially tough," he said. "If they're bringing someone in, they have to succeed."

Rappaport said it's difficult to predict exactly where Chariot will move in the future, given the rapidly-changing nature of the industry. He hopes to continue to grow the company "at a controlled pace," adjusting its focus as technology evolves.

But he doesn't plan on any big expansions.

"It's not about getting as big as we can as fast as we can or anything like that," he said. "It's about quality versus quantity. That's something I learned from the people here."

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