Network to keep the right people top of mind for opportunities that might arise in the future.
Tracey Grace is president and CEO of IBEX IT Business Experts based in Sandy Springs, Georgia; she’s a sought-after public speaker on diversity initiatives and government contracting. After a successful career in corporate America working for IT and consulting companies, Tracey started her own IT services firm. Under her leadership, IBEX has grown into a multimillion-dollar IT service and was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America. The company works with organizations including the U.S. Army, NASA, the CDC, and Cox Communications. She regularly speaks to corporations large and small about utilizing minority suppliers and vendors in the procurement and purchasing process.
Where did the idea for IBEX IT Business Experts come from?
While working as a VP at a Dutch consulting firm, there were a lot of consultants on the bench, and we were working to find new lines of business. I decided we would attend HIMSS, the largest IT healthcare event in the country. There, I found a few hospital systems needing help with electronic healthcare records system integration and support services. I made some really great connections and ended up sealing a few opportunities for consultants to assist.
I’d developed a new healthcare staff augmentation practice, and it continued to grow. The Dutch consulting firm couldn’t quite understand the model I had developed, how it was growing, or how we were making so much money — the leaders called me into the corporate office to tell me I needed to get rid of the business. They didn’t understand how I was making so much money, and if anything happened in the hospitals, it would be a black spot on my career. I was very dismayed on the flight back home, but then I had an idea.
I called a major customer and asked if I were to start my own firm, would the company go direct with me? They said, “We don’t care as long as our services levels don’t drop.” So the next week, I went online and incorporated, got my business license, transferred the business, and started IBEX. It started on day 1 as a profitable business and has been expanding ever since.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day is in the office by 8:30 a.m. I’ve typically already caught up on email on my iPhone before getting there and always cherish the time of having morning coffee with my husband as we review our days and contemplate our activities and his progress with his art gallery and newest creations and discuss if there’s an opportunity to meet for lunch.
I get to the office and get ready for any meetings I have and engage with my executive admin to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. I have a phenomenal team and an open-door policy, so in between scheduled meetings, I help to solve the problems that linger as I empower my team to act independently. I typically try to leave the office between 5 and 6 p.m. to get home to have dinner with my husband and, if I’m lucky, my son, Garyn. He’s a full-time student at Kennesaw State University studying business administration and home about 20% of the time. He works part-time for IBEX providing IT services and acts as the office manager. He actually wired all of the IT and security for our new office — proud mama! On good days, I’m able to get to tennis practice with my team or just hit around with my husband.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My ideas are typically born through working through business strategy. I am always trying to figure out solutions to problems and, as a part of that process, I do basic research so I can jump ahead based on knowledge that’s already available to anyone. I try to have a strong knowledge base of the status quo before I think through what factors can be difference makers.
I went through the Capital One Catapult program, and one of the most important concepts I learned was design-centered thinking. I use the smart and talented people around me as sounding boards and ask for ideas. That includes people from my team, my business partners and mentors, and my husband. I then try to get away from it and sleep on it, and then the story begins to build itself. I am very intuitive and curious, so I tend to see context clues that others don’t, then use my “spidey” sense to help me to creative solutions.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I hate to call it a trend, but diversity. Until a problem has forced focus, it doesn’t get addressed. The fact that organizations are being forced to pay attention to supplier diversity and internal staff diversity issues means they will get better. The trend will eventually turn into the mundane, and one day, we won’t need to measure and monitor diversity goals. That really excites me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am forward-thinking, I spend a lot of time meeting people and networking, and I try to spot the ones who have skill sets that we don’t have internally. I then set up follow-up meetings so I can vet them and see who might be good partners for us in the future. Getting potential partners in a coffee or lunch setting will tell you a lot. I keep track of them typically in LinkedIn; social media gives you a clue of their way of doing business and, oftentimes, their values. When the need arises to pull in an SME or a supplier partner to team up or collaborate, I know who to contact, and we have already courted and dated in some form or fashion. I have been able to close many deals by just thinking ahead and continuing to be open and build my partner network.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Keep track of all of the great people and friends in life who impact you. If you only send them a LinkedIn note, text, or comment once a year, remember you have a limited number of people you will ever meet in your lifetime. I once heard Tyler Perry speak here in Atlanta, and he characterized it perfectly: Your life is like a tree. In your life, you will have leaves, branches, and roots. Sometimes, people are only in your life for a short season, and those are your leaves; they fall to the ground when the wind blows.
Then, you have your branches; they are extensions, and they are there for a longer season. They produce leaves and eventually, they, too, may fall off. But the roots: They last for a lifetime; these are the people who truly impact your life, the ones who change things and are a part of your foundation. These are the people I strive to not lose contact with, the ones who make me remember my path to where I am today.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I knew very early on that Donald Trump would be elected due to his sales and marketing skills, and I believe he could very easily be re-elected.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I tell my employees to always have a side hustle, even though I know, at times, it may impact them at IBEX. I truly believe that an entrepreneurial-minded person is going to be my best asset. I truly believe that I have been put in place to help others understand the value of an independent entrepreneur. I was on the hamster wheel for a long time in corporate America and thought that meant security. What I realized after starting my own business is that it’s a matrix of sorts. I get it, and I needed to go through that to get to where I am today.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being agile, not afraid to shift. I look at my team members and their talent, and I try to develop them based on their core competencies; however, I also try to incorporate their strengths and their interests into IBEX. It helps to shape the company by taking the best of what you see in individuals.
Most business owners are super protective, wanting to ensure that their company in the end looks like them. I am different; I’m OK with recruiting and hiring the best talent, the ones I see with huge potential that’s been unrealized, people I know are top-notch, and then allowing their best traits to help shape the company.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I am a pretty good writer and enjoy writing articles about what we do and publishing them. A fellow business owner saw some of my posts and approached me about writing articles for him and his company. I thought it would be easy and also add a new revenue stream and potential new line of business. It was an entirely different industry, and I quickly realized that I was in over my head. I ended up outsourcing the work to complete the three-month engagement; gracefully, we agreed that my time would be spent elsewhere. We parted on great terms, and I learned a really good lesson.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think that stoplights should be wired with emergency vehicles. There should be a module that makes the lights flicker — no matter whether they’re red, yellow, or green — to alert you that there’s an emergency vehicle approaching. The sensor would be tied to fire trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles and activated when approaching a stoplight. Many people play loud music or are hard of hearing — sometimes from the loud music! This visual will allow everyone to anticipate and work harder to clear the way faster.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Paying my church tithes. I enjoy attending services and also tithing. I believe our church, Eagles Nest Church, not only services the congregation, but also gives back to those in need. I believe in its vision, and the leaders provide guidance and a realistic worship and social environment that helps to keep me grounded and focused.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
MileIQ: It tracks my miles when I am in the car, and at the end of the year, I can review everywhere I have traveled, personally and professionally, and reflect. It not only helps from my CPA’s perspective, but it is also a time that I look forward to reviewing my calendar and my year’s journey.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Who Stole My Cheese?” is about change. The manager who first introduced me to this book had purchased it for all of the managers just before our franchise would be bought back by corporate. He knew that major changes were coming and wanted to help us open our minds for the coming tsunami. This experience changed me forever; I realized security in corporate America was very fragile. I met so many people during my eight-year tenure at that company who impacted me, and it gave me the foundation that I lean on today.
What is your favorite quote?
My father was a lifelong entrepreneur. He owned the largest minority-owned carpet company in New Jersey. He loved to make people laugh and tell jokes and was very well-known in the community. The best quote that he ever told me — and that takes me through life changes and that I share with others — is “Everybody’s different.” It is a short, but impactful, statement. Your lens is determined by your life experiences and circumstances, and everyone’s experience is different, so be understanding that no one else has lived your life and will not understand things exactly as you do.
- Don’t look away from good opportunities just because others question their sustainability.
- Network to keep the right people top of mind for opportunities that might arise in the future.
- Everyone should adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, including your employees.
- Be willing to grow your company beyond its beginnings to include a variety of perspectives.