Teamwork in the workplace
By Caroline Cataldo
After an athlete performs on the field or court, they check their stats. They spend hours poring over their numbers and reviewing videotape to figure out how they can improve for the next game or match. When they don’t reach their goals, they work that much harder.
At Flagship Merchant Services, which sells credit card processing equipment to businesses across the country, co-founder Michael Gerstein ’96 developed a business model that relies heavily on the work ethic of student-athletes, particularly former Brandeisians, who make up 10 percent of the company’s sales force.
Gerstein, who played soccer for Coach Mike Coven, began his company in 2002 with longtime friend Frank Csongor. As they expanded Flagship’s workforce, Gerstein reached out to his former coach for a pool of potential hires. He knew that the life skills Coven taught his players would make them ideal Flagship employees.
“Coach Coven is a mentor for all the student-athletes who come through his program,” Gerstein says. “Marrying the philosophy and goals of a sports team with this environment, we found these were the people who have the kind of qualities we were looking for in employees.”
New Flagship hires, like former volleyball player Elsie Bernaiche ’15, begin in a sales role as account executives. The job is considered to be Flagship’s most demanding position.
The goals of account executives are straightforward: Build relationships with merchants, sell Flagship’s products, meet the company’s goals –- and repeat.
As Bernaiche explains, meeting these targets requires the kind of mental toughness she developed as an NCAA Division III athlete at Brandeis.
“I think we lost 75 percent of our matches at Brandeis,” she says. “I learned how to lose and come back stronger. Here at Flagship, it’s the same mentality. We don’t look at failure and say, ‘I should go somewhere else.’ It only drives you more. You have to be internally motivated.”
“This job is an ego buster,” Gerstein says. “The drive and competitiveness of athletics prepares you for being able to deal with these kinds of situations. It’s about getting knocked down and being able to get back up – that’s what defines character.”
Though making sales may seem like an individual endeavor, former Brandeis soccer player Kevin Murphy ’09, Flagship’s director of sales, says that is not the case at the company. The entire organization remains collectively focused on one goal, which keeps productivity high and tensions between employees low.
“Everything is tied into one pool,” Murphy says. “We tell our employees, ‘Here is your piece, meet this and we will reach our goal.’ It’s good for us. It’s good for them. It’s a symbiotic relationship where everyone does their job.”
Gerstein and Murphy attribute Flagship’s success to a work environment that centers on the kind of teamwork found at the Division III level. They agree that Division III athletes are motivated to perform by their passion for the sport, and are less focused on individual accomplishments and fame than their peers in Division I or II.
This kind of dynamic is familiar to Brandeisians Chris Ferro ’13 and Matt Peabody ’13.
“We are constantly able to check where we are in meeting our goals and, with the help of co-workers and supervisors, figure out what we need to do to get better as a team,” says Ferro, a former member of the Brandeis baseball team.
Peabody, an ex-soccer player who still returns to campus for soccer games, says the relationship among account managers is similar to the connection between veteran and newer players on a team.
“There is an overall sense of pride for the team’s accomplishments at Flagship,” Peabody says. “Everyone is willing to take a minute of their day to help someone else, and that makes everyone stronger.”