Business can be a force for good. And it should be. With this conviction in mind, Margaret co-founded Apex CoVantage in 1988, to pursue business for the right reasons, in the right way, challenging norms, and channeling the resources generated by the business to create social value. All this while creating an exciting internal environment in which employees could express their creativity to the fullest.
“The idea for the business was sparked by an article in The Economist about an Irish company providing back-office services through data satellites. We became early pioneers in outsourcing to India. In addition to being a good business opportunity, it was an excellent opportunity to achieve a positive social impact. At that time, there were a large number of bright, educated, young people from poor families in India with no job options.
A second but very integral aspect of building Apex that resonated with Margaret involved creating an organization with a dynamic structure. She explains, “I spent eight years in a large company with a typical, layered hierarchy, but I felt there was a better model for doing business. She sought to break the mold when starting Apex — adopting a flat, agile structure which gave people broad responsibilities, flexibility to pursue their passion, and growing to their full potential. That, she felt, was the ideal way of harnessing each person’s talents and allowing individual growth.
Vital to Apex’s culture was having an employee-owned company driven by specific core values: integrity, excellence, human dignity and creativity. These values are central to the company; and they guide its conduct on a daily basis.
Apex currently employs 2,500 people, with employees, clients and operations across the globe. “We’ve been in business for 27 years and have consistently expanded service and product lines. It’s been a great journey. I’ve met lot of like-minded people who feel strongly about the values we have. People come here and they’re happy to be here. It’s a very warm, friendly place with a lot of excitement.”
Since day one, a portion of Apex’s profits have been donated to the Apex Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the company designed to support charitable organizations that intervene on a temporary basis to help the less advantaged to become self-sufficient. “We focus on children with disabilities, underprivileged children, and adults with disabilities, offering temporary intervention to help people to get back on their feet.”
Her years as a graduate student at U-M were foundational in developing Apex. “Several things about my graduate education have made a huge different in what I’ve done in my career. I didn’t want to be in the academic world teaching; rather, I saw myself in the commercial world effecting progressive social change. The political science program prepared me for that. The broad based multi-disciplinary curriculum that focused on domestic, global, social and political issues, was a great platform for launching my career and provided the context for making a difference.”
She credits graduate school for a strong foundation in math, statistics and research methods as well. “I learned all about structured thinking, logic and problem solving, skills that are hugely important in addressing problems that come up in the business world. They have been enormously beneficial in ways I wouldn’t have imagined.”
She reflects fondly on her years in Ann Arbor as well. “I enjoyed my time there. I really enjoyed the other grad students. That was such a nice part of being in school; being surrounded by like-minded people, discussing issues of social engagement, and having fun. I got a lot out of my education, but I was anxious to get in and get out. I was quite focused and wanted to finish and start working.”
Margaret’s advice for students in graduate school today is a reflection of her experience: “What you learn in school will be valuable in ways you can’t imagine. Be relentless in finding the right fit in your career. The opportunities are boundless – far more than you might think. It is important to pick the place that is best for you and where you can make a difference.”
Today, she adds to her busy schedule board leaderships at Cleary University, the Wolf Trap Theatre of Performing Arts, the Reston Historic Trust, and significant engagement in Virginia and national politics. She also volunteers with the Rackham Dean’s Campaign Advisors. On her involvement with her graduate school, she shares, “Universally, I feel education is the single most important way of making improvements in peoples’ lives throughout the world. Personally or through Apex, I am focused on helping provide educational opportunities at all levels. In that context, it is important to support grad students to do their work and pursue their education. I think everybody has a responsibility to give back to the community. Wherever you’ve gone to school, that institution has probably given you a tremendous boost up in the world. It is nice to acknowledge that and support the next generation.”