Innovate October 2017

Info Tech Consulting: Discovering Absolute Value


Written By: Travis Atria

     Dr. Jamie Baldwin didn’t always intend to join the family business. She was just a child when her father, Dr. Jim McClave, started Info Tech with fellow University of Florida professor, Dr. Thomas Rothrock, in 1977. Info Tech originally focused on statistical and economic consulting services for the Florida Attorney General, developing the first computer models to detect price fixing in sealed bid markets.

It began as a small operation running out of McClave’s home, and from an early age, Baldwin watched the way her father did business and absorbed his example, but she did not necessarily believe she would follow in his footsteps. In college, she dabbled with psychology and philosophy. It was in those classes, she said, that she learned how elusive and difficult the truth often is.

“We’re in a world where each side says the other side isn’t telling the truth,” Baldwin said. “How do you determine what really is the truth?”

It was also in those classes that she realized her brain is naturally wired for math and statistics. Call it a family legacy. She began working at Info Tech as a part-time summer job in college. After college, that summer job turned into an ongoing internship while she pursued her doctorate in Statistics at the University of Florida. After completing her Ph.D., that internship turned into a full-time job, which turned into a passion that has led to her current position at the company: President of Info Tech Consulting.

As she became a member of the team, Info Tech began taking on bigger and more complex cases, hiring more staff, and earning a national reputation. The company established two distinct businesses with diverse business models; the Systems business, originally led by Dr. Rothrock, where Baldwin’s brother, Will McClave, now serves as President, develops software to aid highway construction – 44 of the 50 state transportation agencies in America use Info Tech-developed software. The Consulting business provides statistical analysis and expert testimony in antitrust lawsuits. Baldwin’s arm of Info Tech Consulting, handles the analysis and expert testimony, along with labor discrimination cases, health care fraud and biostatistics, which, among other benefits, helps the EPA establish pollution standards.

It is a complex job, but Baldwin approaches it from a simple standpoint, incorporating her interest in philosophy – numbers tell the truth. Of course, numbers can be manipulated, which Baldwin freely admitted, sharing one of her favorite quotations, attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” However, she also believes that numbers, in the right hands, are the ultimate truth-tellers. “If you allow it, the data doesn’t lie.”

Baldwin attributes much of Info Tech Consulting’s success to the fact that the company does allow the data to speak the truth, regardless of which side it is hired to represent.

“We are hired typically by attorneys to analyze data and see if it supports the case they’re trying to make,” she said. “Typically, we work in federal court on antitrust lawsuits—basically big businesses who are being accused of cheating in one way or another, either fixing prices or rigging bids. Consumers have very little power in those situations. In this fuzzy world we’re living in, I think it can be reassuring that there are people out there that are simply trying to let the data talk. We take that seriously, no matter what side of the case we’re on.”

She also attributes the success to her father’s guiding principles.

“His ethical standards are so high,” Baldwin said. “Of course, they’re what should be normal,” she added with a laugh. “The words I remember from my childhood very vividly are ‘personal accountability’ and ‘personal responsibility.’ It was instilled in my brother (Will McClave) and me from a very young age. I think when you apply that in a business setting, really good things can happen. I think that’s a major reason for our success.”

McClave said he never put pressure on Baldwin to join Info Tech. His father owned a business but didn’t pressure him to join it, and he wanted to do the same for his children. However, he was “thrilled” when she decided to join what he calls “the family business.”

“I think what pleased me most was that it was entirely her decision,” he said. “I wanted her to pursue her dreams.”

Since then, McClave has proudly watched his daughter rise through the ranks and become the “go-to person” for Info Tech Consulting.

“She has moved very gracefully into a leadership position,” McClave said. “She started at the bottom, helping out in any way possible. As she became more knowledgeable, I recognized that our clients, which are the key to our business, really took to her. It was wonderful for me, because I was getting older, and we needed someone to transition into that. Now I’ve made her President of Consulting. Our staff, many of whom have been with me for decades, have taken to her. It has been a very smooth and natural transition.”

Baldwin admitted that she feels she has taken on an “awesome legacy.” But she doesn’t feel pressure to live up to it—on the contrary, she sees it as an opportunity. “I want to carry it on,” she said. “It means so much to me that my dad created this culture of loyalty, teamwork, collaboration and authenticity. It’s an honor to even have an opportunity to carry that forward.”

For Baldwin, carrying that forward means establishing new growth strategies and expanding their team of experts. “My dad has put together an incredibly talented, loyal and experienced team. He would be the first to tell you, the team is essential to success. I’m excited to see how we can take this core team and expand our opportunities and attract more like-minded individuals who have the tenacity, genius and integrity that our team demonstrates every day.”

One member of that team is Barbara Simons, Director of Operations. Simons assists Baldwin in keeping the office running – communicating with clients, supporting big projects and organizing meetings. “I keep all the plates spinning,” she said. “It’s never boring.”

Simons has worked at Info Tech for nearly 36 years and has watched the company grow while keeping its sense of mission and morality intact. “Loyalty to our customers and to each other is what matters,” she said. “We have that sense of being a team. What we are doing matters, and it’s important to do it right.”

That emphasis on doing it right, Simons said, was instilled “from the get go.” She said that McClave and Rothrock have always encouraged “every employee, companywide” to offer ideas on how to make Info Tech better. “That blew me away from the beginning,” Simons said. “I don’t know of another company that does that and truly stands behind it.”

As a result, Info Tech’s reputation among clients has also grown. Simons said that many clients are so appreciative it can get to be embarrassing.

Paul Manning, Director of Data Management who has been with the company 27 years, said, “Our clients come first. We do whatever it takes to make them happy.” He also said that the culture at Info Tech is passed on by example. “No one tells you to do it. We all have it ingrained in us. When the new people come in, they see what the older people are doing and it effects how they do their jobs.”

If all this talk of statistics and databases seems dry, keep in mind that there are very real stakes involved for the average consumer. “I feel like when I describe what we do, people’s eyes glaze over until I describe a case we worked on,” said Jodie Newman, Director of Case Development for Info Tech. Once she describes that the cases involve things that we all purchase every day, from candy bars to computers, the light bulb turns on.

Take, for example, a case against Dow Chemical in 2013. Using expert statistical models, Info Tech Consulting found that the industrial giant had engaged in price fixing of polyurethane chemicals – chemicals used, for example, to make the foam in the chair you’re probably sitting in right now. McClave testified as an expert witness during the trial in Kansas City, and after a ruling and an appeal that went to the Supreme Court of the United States, the damages were set at $835 million. Info Tech was a vital part of the entire process—from determining that anticompetitive behavior had taken place to calculating the damages.

“Capitalism doesn’t work unless you have watchdogs,” Baldwin said. “Capitalism can be a great thing, but only if there are rules. So who makes sure people follow the rules?”

The answers to that question have always been complex, even when President Teddy Roosevelt was earning his reputation as a trustbuster in the early 1900s. They are no less complex today.

Baldwin says her business, consisting of 20 extraordinarily talented employees—from statisticians, to economists, to lawyers—will often analyze “billions of data points” to determine if a organizations practices are anticompetitive. If they do find evidence of malfeasance, they use complex statistical and economic models to figure out what the prices should have been, and then they recommend the difference as the damages.

“We all should care a lot about antitrust violations,” Newman said. “People may not know the term antitrust, but most people understand the term price fixing. Some people don’t realize that it’s against the law for companies to get together and agree to raise prices at the same time.”

Baldwin added, “You may not know it, but when you go and buy a candy bar, or a new computer or TV, that price may or may not be a competitive price. Somebody has to make sure that everything you’re buying is bought at a competitive price. Whose job is that? It has to be someone’s job. Otherwise companies can charge whatever they want for anything, and that’s when capitalism breaks down.”

Newman came to the job from a different angle, but an equally important one. Being an attorney allows her to translate Baldwin’s statistical data into a legal setting.

“I am an attorney who doesn’t practice law in the traditional sense,” she said. “I do work that has sort of a crossover, since most of our clients are attorneys who hire us for our expertise. I have a good understanding of what we do and how we do it, so I attempt at least to facilitate getting done what our clients need us to do. I speak the language.”

Sometimes, speaking the language involves telling the attorneys something they don’t want to hear. As Baldwin explained, “There are bad class-action lawsuits, and just bad suits in general, where people are just trying to make a buck. There must be checks and balances on that too. We take our job very seriously, no matter what side of the case we’re on. The people being accused deserve to have the truth told, too. If it comes down to it, we’re willing to tell our clients, ‘The data is not in your favor.’”

That kind of honesty, plus a fiercely guarded reputation for fairness and good work, has kept Info Tech Consulting growing for four decades and counting.

“One of the reasons we’ve been doing this 40 years as a company is because we hold ourselves to such a high standard of excellence, and reliability and honor,” Baldwin says.

“Our clients come back to us because they know they’re going to get the truth.”

 

Photography Courtesy of Info Tech Consulting

TRAVIS ATRIA is the co- author of “Traveling Soul: the Life of Curtis May eld,” and has written extensively on music and culture for Rolling Stone, Wax Poetics, Paste, The Believer and other publications. His music has earned praise from MTV, GQ.com, and Crawdaddy, among other outlets. He currently lives in Gainesville.

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