Tag Archives: Growth Blog

Let’s Talk Ketchup

1 Jun


I was in a conversation yesterday about a forecasting tool we use to manage our sales pipeline in Application Development. I’m frustrated about some of the tool’s limitations, and I was ranting to one of my peers, Rob, that I wanted to throw it out and build something new.

Rob tilted his head to me and gave me a narrow gaze. “Or…”, he offered. “You could just find a way to make it better.”

And that’s something, I am embarrassed to say, that hadn’t occurred to me. As a self-proclaimed smart guy who sometimes wears the mantle of leader, I all too often feel like it’s my job to generate new ideas, to create new solutions, to invent my way out of any issue, dilemma or challenge. Because what’s more American than creating things, am I right?

Which makes me think about ketchup.

What’s more American than ketchup? We put it on our burgers, we put it on our fries, on our eggs, our hash browns, and in our macaroni and cheese. We serve it with our breakfast, our lunch, and our dinner. No less than 45 American companies manufacture and distribute their own variations of ketchup to every corner of the globe. The red on the American flag might as well be painted with it – it’s that American. When was the last time you went to a casual restaurant or “American Bistro” and they didn’t have a bottle at the ready, or pre-set at your table?

It’s as American as apple pie. More! As American as freedom! Ketchup is the liquid equivalent of a bald eagle clutching a McDonalds bag as he soars over the Rocky Mountains and into the setting sun. It’s that American! But where did this stuff come from, this American red gold?

Does it matter?

Let’s dig a bit and see. Ketchup came to the Western world in the late 17th century, given to European traders in their travels to the Far East. There are stories dating back to 1690 which describe a vinegary, pickled condiment found in the Fujian region of coastal China reportedly called “ke-chaip”, and similar stories from 1710 and ’11 describing an Indonesian “brined” sauce referred to sometimes as “kecap” and sometimes as “ketjap”.

Nobody knows what it was about this exotic condiment that westerners found so intoxicating, but we sure did love it. We were making catchup in Great Britain as early as 1727 – nearly 50 years before the American Revolution! The condiment was so important and pervasive that it had already found its way into a “new world” cookbook as early as 1801. In America, catsup (apparently it was Americanization that changed catchup to catsup) was made regionally and sold by farmers across much of the 1800’s.

In 1876, the H.J. Heinz company started mass-producing their own unique blend of catsup, and – in the hopes that it would make their product stand out from the farmer’s alternatives – they decided to call their sauce ketchup. Over the next 10 years, every other manufacturer followed Heinz’ lead, and as the manufactured food industry exploded in the new world so did ketchup.

Fast forward a hundred and twenty-five years, your local grocer probably stocks between ten and twenty brands of ketchup (some even spelling it catsup again) – all manufactured in the U.S. and distributed to every country in the world. There are 196 nations on the face of our planet, and the one thing they have in common – all hyperbole aside – is the presence of ketchup.

Weird, right?

Americans didn’t discover or invent ketchup. We weren’t the first to create it, the first to document it, the first to fine-tune it, the first to trade it, or the first to sell it. We just took something good and made it better. We looked at what we had, and – through trial and error, through experimentation and discovery – we turned it into something better.

Which brings me back to my conversation with Rob.

We’re often in the situation that we need to determine whether to make something or to take something that already exists and make it better. In Application Development, we’re probably in this situation more than most; but I think everyone can relate: Fix the deck or build a new one? Steam-clean the couch or buy a new one? Sand and re-stain the table or buy a new one? When we’re in those situations, it almost always seems like the “best” choice is to make something new instead of taking something that already exists and making it better.

The next time you’re in that situation – and the next time I’m in that situation – consider this:


Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s better. Just because you want to doesn’t mean you should. Just because you thought of it, that doesn’t make it the right choice. Maybe take a moment, the next time you find yourself facing a make it better moment, to dip your decisions in ketchup, that uniquely American condiment.

Americans didn’t make ketchup, We just made it better.


Andrew J. Powell Principal- Application Development

Andrew J. Powell
Principal- Application Development

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


West Michigan Woman Magazine features OST’s Meredith Bronk

3 Jun
Meredith Bronk in West Michigan Woman Magazine

Meredith Bronk, President of OST, featured on the front page of West Michigan Woman Magazine

AUTHENTICITY. You hear the word frequently from Meredith Bronk. Some say she’s often the only woman in the room. Meredith says there are plenty of women in technology; that leadership isn’t about gender; that collaboration at Open Systems Technologies, where she was promoted to president April 1, is so strong no one notices when she is the only woman.

OST is big on authenticity, on being the best at what you do. But employees and families come first. Maybe that’s why OST feels like family—another Meredith word. One of three daughters, she has three daughters: Tori, Talia, and Ainsley; fourteen, twelve, and ten. She and her husband, Kipp, worked together at OST for nine years; since 2007, he’s run the household as a stay-at home dad. It’s about making the choices that work best as a family. “There’s no playbook.”

Meredith and Kipp have a partnership. “I’m modeling to my daughters that we’re equals.” That’s huge. She tells them, “Your dad does things differently than I do.” That’s hard. “I want to be the über everything—wife, mom, employee. Am I giving enough of what it means to be ‘Mom,’ not just a strong woman? Will it ever be enough? Still, she connects. “We have a dinner table game. You talk about your day’s high and low points. We all do it. When I’m gone, I call and say, High/Low.”

Authenticity colors Meredith’s world: “Demonstrating authenticity—deliberately, in a humbling manner.” She thinks about it with her daughters, telling them we don’t always have the answers. She seizes opportunities. She wants to be an influence for young women. “I have the opportunity to teach them every day.” She’s had an opportunity to tell her daughters she didn’t do her best on an exam, because she wasn’t well-prepared. “Sometimes, you won’t do great—but it’s what you do about it.”

Meredith began playing softball as a nine-year-old, and continued through her Alma College years. She’s coached since Tori began playing; she’ll cease when Ainsley stops. It’s a chance to be influential; a message for her daughters. “I love teaching. I love the life lessons we learn from team sports.” At a parents’ meeting each season, Meredith talks about her goals for their daughters—teaching them love and respect for softball, helping them learn and understand. She learned to love the game when her dad coached, and carries the lessons learned: Authority matters. Show respect. Seek to understand. “I apply that in so many areas of life. Figure out what you need to do to be successful.”

The lessons go back to an All-Star game when Meredith, twelve, lost her cool at bat. The umpire ejected her from the game; her dad ejected her from the field. She couldn’t fulfill her pitching role, and her team lost. She let failure affect what she needed to do. “We can’t afford to not be a team.” Teaching that in business is part of leading. OST employees aren’t big on titles and reporting structures; they do what’s needed. Meredith recalls co-founder Dan Behm (former president, now CEO) pulling weeds. “It sets an example. No one is better or worse than anyone else. We all have a role to play.” She’s proud to work with Dan. “He’s authentic. He puts himself out there.” He’s a mentor who was instrumental in her recent graduation.

Meredith grew up in South Bend, Indiana, enjoying Notre Dame and its surroundings. Her father is an alumnus. (She applied there as an undergraduate.) In May, she graduated from the university’s Mendoza College of Business Executive MBA Program. For nearly two years, she spent a weekend monthly on the beloved campus. “So many people sacrificed for me to be able to do this.” Her family was supportive: parents, sisters, husband and daughters, Dan and his wife, Barb. The OST team shared pride in Meredith’s pursuit. “I think part of it was aspirational—inspirational—people wondering, ‘Could I do that?’” Success at Notre Dame was a dream come true. She learned confidence comes in embracing yourself as a leader; knowing you don’t have to have all of the answers, because capable others could help; exploring strengths and gaining from others’ strengths.

She’s authentic. “I’m humbled by the fact I’ve been given certain gifts and talents.” Meredith wonders whether she does them justice. During a conference, she thought a conversation was missing the boat and said so. “As a woman, you have to challenge the absurdity of what you see around you, in a respectful way.” There’s a desire to see everyone do better. Meredith strives to maximize her talents, and help others improve. She welcomes those who help her, calling on folks who tell her if she’s getting it wrong. She advises, “Be who you are, all of the time.” OST has grown substantially, but remains “who we are.” There’s trust here. Dan, Jim VanderMey (chief innovation officer and cofounder), and Meredith have run OST for sixteen years. Jim is the visionary—“chief geek.” Dan knows sales. Meredith “gets it done.” Everyone has weaknesses, but they leverage each other’s strengths. Shortly after Meredith’s promotion was announced, an application development team leader asked if she was nervous. “Of course! I have a responsibility every day to one hundred fifty families. Am I ready? Yes. Am I confident? Yes. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. All of these are true.”

Meredith enjoys talking about being a leader first and woman second. Drawing girls into technology is big. Other strong women in technology usually represent more typical leaders; Meredith encourages girls to explore their passions, to pursue them wildly. She talks of problem-solving, working with people, empathy, analysis. She wants to lose stereotypes and see more innovation—getting that female Steve Jobs. “It takes a societal change that’s only just begun.”

She wants to empower girls. “I have a responsibility to further movement, to encourage their passion.” The unwitting, not unwilling face of a movement. “As a female technology leader, you have an opportunity to spur a movement—to be a face that represents possibility. You can’t be what you can’t see. Create the idea.” She asks, “Where are you getting your influences?” and “Do we use influences for good?” With power comes great responsibility. And for that, she’s grateful.

“Gratitude is one of the biggest gifts you give.” Meredith thanks Kipp for his role in their home, and when he does things. He does the same with her. “Satisfaction from gratitude is powerful.” She’s grateful for what she has, and never stops teaching and modeling gratitude. “I have been blessed beyond belief.”

Which leads to a favorite phrase: “I’m spoiled, but I’m gratefully spoiled.” Spoiled—but not rotten! When her girls “throw it back,” saying, “We’re spoiled— but not rotten,” Meredith doesn’t mind. “They’re modeling behavior.”

With authenticity.


By Amy L. Charles, West Michigan Woman Magazine

Bitcamp GR

30 May


You know what sounds fun?  Getting pulled out of class the Friday before Memorial Day to make a webpage about whatever you want.

On Friday, May 23, twenty 6th-8th grade girls from Harrison Park School got to do just that as part of Bitcamp 2014.  They came over to the App Dev space at OST to learn basic HTML and CSS from some of our female developers.  Harrison Park is just a few blocks from OST’s Grand Rapids campus, so it was great to be able to partner with one of our neighbors.  These particular girls were Challenge Scholars, which means they’ve shown academic potential and will receive special learning opportunities and, upon successful graduation from high school, money to attend college.  The goal is to enable them to succeed at the university level when they may be the first ones in their families to do so.

I’m not a teacher, and there’s a reason for that.  Sitting behind a computer screen writing code comes much more naturally to me than interacting with junior highers.  My fellow Bitcamp teachers may have been slightly more qualified but obviously OST believes in me and wants to provide me with opportunities to grow and use my expertise in unexpected ways.  I was thrilled to be a part of this, since I truly believe coding (especially making your first web page, with customized colors and links that pop up right after you hit save and refresh!) is a blast, and wish that more girls were exposed to it at a young age.

It was a challenge to convey some of the abstract concepts inherent in programming in a way that pre-teens who had never heard of HTML could understand and relate to.  Most of them left understanding a lot and being confused about a lot (which is approximately how I feel after attending any tech lecture).  But by the end, we could tell many of them were having fun getting creative with custom colors, links to their favorite sites, and pictures (boy bands were a theme) embedded in their own unique web pages.  The goal wasn’t to teach them everything about web development, or to make them HTML and CSS experts.  My hope was that at least one of the students would leave thinking (1) that she is capable of doing this and (2) that she might enjoy doing something like this.  A little inspiration is all it takes, and I think that happened on Friday.



Andrea Houg joined the OST team as an Application Developer in March 2014. Andrea is a recent Hope College grad who majored in Computer Science and Chemistry, and minored in Spanish. Andrea graciously volunteered her expertise to assist with instructing the girls at Bitcamp GR 2014. 

OST’s Magic Recipe for Chicken (Dancing)

28 Aug

Whitecaps 2013192. That’s how many tickets I handed out for this year’s OST Night at the Ballpark – our annual summer celebration for our Grand Rapids employees and their families. 192! That’s one hundred more guests than last year!

Growth. That’s what we’ve been experiencing – but not just this year, every year. As a matter in fact, just last week we found out that OST landed on the Inc 500 | 5000 list for the seventh year in a row as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US. We recognize this level of exponential growth is unprecedented and are grateful every day for the opportunities it provides, but how does that happen? What’s the secret?

Well, I’ll say it here, but it’s been said hundreds of times before me– we believe that one of the main contributions to our success has been this magical little recipe that our entire organization follows when making all major business decisions:

  1. Employees First
  2. Clients Second
  3. Profits To Follow

Back in 1997 when Hanson was Hmmbop-ing on the radio and overalls were über chic, OST was formed. And right from the beginning, the team decided to always make sure that employees needs were the company’s top priority, followed by the clients. They didn’t let the neon of the 90’s cloud their decision and to this day we are led by a team that understands if you take care of your employees first and your clients immediately following, the profits will fall into place.

So when the seventh inning stretch rolls around and the chicken dance starts to play, we at OST feel confident that we are part of a family that supports us and respects us as individuals, and we shake our little tail feathers with no hesitation.  When you know the company you work for has your back, it’s much easier to stand tall and put in your best effort, every day. And that, we believe, is one major reason we have been able to continue to grow and succeed.

Photos from the Whitecaps game: http://www.flickr.com/photos/open-systems-technologies/sets/72157635137308197/


Lizzie Williams, Marketing Specialist at OST

Lizzie Williams
OST Marketing Specialist

Lizzie Williams is the Marketing Specialist at OST and focuses on creating, executing and measuring marketing programs and events to support the growth and expansion of the OST brand, products and services through traditional and creative digital marketing activities.
Prior to OST Lizzie was the marketing coordinator for the Center for Community Leadership, a program of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The combination of her experience in community leadership and technology has led to her involvement with a variety of organizations that work creatively to solve community issues such as Habitat for HumanityFriends of Grand Rapids Parks, Opening Village Doors, WGVU and the Saint Mary’s FoundationFeel free to connect with her via twitter or linkedin.