Lehigh Valley Business Business of the Year 2013 7 After a successful 22-year career with IBM, Tony Salvaggio longed for something more.
“I reached a point where I didn’t want to work for a big corporation anymore. I wanted my family to be able to live in one place, and I wanted to build my own company,” Salvaggio said.
So in 1981, he founded Computer Aid, with the goal of making it the premier computer software development and support organization in the world. Salvaggio credits Ben Franklin Technology Partners for giving his Allentown-based company a good start.
“From the first day we entered the incubator, we knew it was where we needed to be,” Salvaggio said. “Ben Franklin provided us with affordable working space, shared office equipment, accounting support and connections in the business community—the basic infrastructure a startup needs.”
By the time Computer Aid outgrew the Ben Franklin incubator in 1986, the company employed 100 people. Today, it has nearly 4,000 associates managing active engagements with more than 100 Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies around the world. The company has offices in Europe, Asia and Canada.
Specializing in information technology services, including application development, maintenance and support, the company has consistently been able to improve client productivity by 10 percent a year and reduce total costs by up to 50 percent, even more for some companies.
“My biggest piece of advice to startup companies is to find a way to differentiate your company from competitors,” Salvaggio said. “For us, it was operating on the principle that IT solutions should be delivered at a fixed price, on time and within budget. As a result, we were able to build relationships with companies who appreciated our clear commitment to their projects.”
Salvaggio said his role hasn’t changed much over the past 30 years. “Every day I still come to work and worry about the survival of our business and my job to protect it,” he said. “I’m also always searching for great ideas and innovations.” Among the most rewarding parts of the job, Salvaggio said, is working with “the greatest people in the world, who are smart, fun and energetic.”
Indeed, he takes pride in having created a culture where associates enjoy building relationships with one another beyond the daily grind. To wind down after long days, employees enjoy opportunities to play on company sports teams, come together for picnics and social gatherings, and meet as members of special interest groups. Equally important to Salvaggio is charitable giving and volunteer work in the community.
Under his guidance, Computer Aid developed CAI Cares, which gives employees the opportunity to direct their money, time, talent and leadership in the service of education. The initiative has led the company to partner with inner-city schools and develop a program where employees spend one lunch hour per week teaching students about a subject they love. Sessions have covered everything from robotics to origami to public speaking.
“I believe CAI and its associates have an obligation to serve their communities so that they are stronger, healthier places in which to work and live,” Salvaggio said. Outside of work, Salvaggio enjoys golfing with his wife, spending time with his children and grandchildren and reading about history.
While he is a high-tech pioneer, Salvaggio looks up to a role model from a decidedly lower- tech world. His father ran a one-man barbershop. “My father talked to me all the time about life, work and challenges,” Salvaggio recalled. “He was always thinking about how to get better, how to best treat his customers and how to take care of our family. He was a great hero of my life.”