For many businesses here in Maine and across the country, the recession of 2008 brought certain disaster. And it could have easily been the end for Tilson. Before 2008, much of Tilson’s portfolio included commercial clients. Joshua Broder, current CEO, describes the uncertainty of that time recalling the “zombie apocalypse” feeling of one particular week when five major clients called to cancel their contracts.
For Tilson’s team of ten employees and Broder, however, the necessary adjustments to survive the economic downturn provided an opportunity to prove themselves as a major player in the technology and communications sector.
Broder and Tilson kept moving forward seeing an opportunity arise when stimulus funds began to move into the states. The turning point for the company came when they were given the chance to incubate Maine Fiber Company by taking an engineering and construction management role in the development of Maine’s fiber network. This Maine project was the largest fiber network ever built at that time.
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After their successful work with Maine Fiber Company, Tilson bid on Massachusetts’ fiber network project and won. During the period that stimulus money was available for such projects, Tilson successfully undertook eight projects establishing the company as a solid resource in the industry. These high profile projects gave Tilson the opportunity to prove itself and to gain the experience to compete with Fortune 500 companies.
As a college student Broder, a native Mainer, had his eye on a career in military intelligence. He was set to graduate from Middlebury College in February 2002, where he took part in the ROTC program. But on 9/11, his career trajectory took a sharp turn when his personnel file was destroyed in the attack on the Pentagon. His military career then followed a path determined by the needs of the War on Terror.
By the time his service ended, Broder had worked in twenty-two countries leading a team in the implementation of communications networks ensuring troops and supplies were getting where they needed to be.
Broder explains that his time overseas was both “wonderful and terrible,” as he was dealing with the horrors of war. But he was also able to meet people from all over the world and develop both his technological and leadership skills. Both skillsets have played a large role in Broder’s success at Tilson.
Upon his return to Maine, Broder initially interviewed for a position at Jackson Labs but determined that living in Bar Harbor wasn’t the right fit for him. While looking for other technology opportunities in Maine, he was directed to Mike Dow who was one of the two people running Tilson at that time.
Dow and Broder hit it off, and Broder was hired to do IT consulting work for the company. Shortly after that, Broder was approached by someone he had worked with in the Army about a job opportunity overseas. Broder wasn’t interested, but Dow was. As Dow headed overseas, Broder stepped up to take the lead at Tilson. After leading the company through the recession, he formally bought Tilson in 2010.
Under Broder’s leadership, the company has grown to 200 employees spread across 33 states. The team gets involved in projects at every level providing what Broder refers to as “vertically integrated service.” From construction workers in bucket trucks to software developers and engineers, Tilson handles the full scope of the project work.
And it’s this varied group of employees that Broder ultimately credits for the company’s success.
“We get to choose who we work with. No one here is just trying to get through the day. We select team members based on people’s interest in performing highly, so everyone is excited to come to work, including me. I’m a ‘thank God it’s Monday’ kind of guy,” says Broder.
Many of Tilson’s employees also have a similar background to Broder, with international experience and leadership roles. Though the company is based in Maine, it has broad appeal and a long reach. However, that doesn’t mean Broder has any interest in moving the company’s headquarters of the state. In fact, quite the opposite, as Tilson is currently building a new headquarters on Middle Street in Portland with plans to move in Summer 2017.
“We were able to climb over walls in an industry that has very high walls, thanks to our start in a place that was a nurturing business environment, where investors want to see small businesses succeed, and everyone takes a meeting,” Broder says of Portland. “The seeds of our company were planted in Maine, so our roots and the trunk remain here.”
Joshua Broder could have moved Tilson out of Maine years ago. But recognizing the value of the community, he has instead chosen to build on the company’s roots here. He transformed a small two-person IT consultancy into a multi-state company, bringing jobs and contracts into Maine and helping to establish the state as a good place to do business. He didn’t let recession or uncertainty stop him and he approaches each day with optimistic enthusiasm.
That’s why Joshua Broder is a Maine Icon.