When everyone’s in tune
The maker of Rock Band keeps an open culture as its head count soars | By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff
THE CHIEF TECHNICAL officer at Harmonix Music Systems, Eran Egozy, said his company has just enjoyed “the most phenomenal summer we’ve ever had.’’ It sounded as if he was talking about the September 9 release of The Beatles: Rock Band, the latest version of the company’s hugely popular music video game. But Egozy was talking about the company singing contest.
He and chief executive Alex Rigopulos challenged the company’s 320 employees to form singing groups and perform any of the 800 songs found in the Rock Band games. They could sing in any style, from Gregorian chant to barbershop. Each group had to include workers from more than one department - to force self-isolated employees out of their shells.
Workers formed 24 groups and performed for their colleagues on Fridays during the companywide free lunch held at a nearby church. The best group was to get a party in its honor, on a boat in Boston Harbor. But Egozy and Rigopulos were so delighted with the results that they rented a bigger boat and threw a party for the entire staff.
No wonder Harmonix ranks third in our Top Places to Work survey, and first among midsize companies. Employees say it’s the ideal place to work, with highly creative colleagues and managers who’ve earned their trust.
“It’s really hard to imagine going from this company to any other company,’’ said senior writer Helen McWilliams. “I would do a lot to stay here.’’
McWilliams joined Harmonix more than five years ago, before the massive success of Rock Band’s precursor, Guitar Hero. But she said that even in the lean times, Harmonix treated its workers well. “All of the things that are different really are cosmetic,’’ McWilliams said. “The corporate culture is really very much the same.’’
Egozy didn’t develop his management style from reading textbooks. “Corporate culture - I didn’t even know that word for a long time,’’ he said. “We sort of did it by instinct and did the things that to us felt like the right things to do.’’
That includes a fervent commitment to openness. Workers at Harmonix know what their leaders are up to. For instance, the company’s plan to build a game around the music of the Beatles was known by the whole staff about a year before it was announced to the world, but not a word leaked out. “We really trust everyone to be good,’’ Egozy said. “They really respect the trust we put in them.’’
Egozy and Rigopulos have strived to preserve the spirit of team loyalty as the employee head count has soared from a few dozen to more than 300. The all-hands weekly lunches and intramural singing contests have helped. But Egozy said it will be easier in the years ahead because the Harmonix workforce is about as large as it needs to be.
“At least for now, the hope is that we’re done growing,’’ he said. That’s too bad for outsiders in search of a welcoming place to work, but good news for a Harmonix crew that wants to keep it that way.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.