Relias Learning Cary building

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Alex Osadzinski is a Sun Microsystems vet, a serial entrepreneur and Silicon Valley venture capitalist who moved to Cary in 2011 to invest in some companies and then “slowly fade away.” 
He didn’t expect to be recruited to join another high-growth technology company. And he certainly didn’t expect it to be one he’d never heard of or noticed despite its headquarters just four miles from his house. 
But Osadzinski is a self-professed “startup junkie.” And he’s now six months into a leading role as managing director of global operations at Relias Learning, the company that, alongside Governor Pat McCrory Tuesday, announced plans to hire at least 450 people over the next five years at its Corning Road offices in southeast Cary. 

Alex Osadzinski and Jim Triandiflou
Jim Triandiflou, right, is CEO of Relias Learning. Alex Osadzinski, a Cary angel investor, recently joined the company as managing director of global operations. Credit: Relias Learning
It's one of the fastest growing technology companies in North Carolina, and at least according to Osadzinski, still very much a startup despite its 400 employees and ownership by one of the world’s oldest and largest media companies. 
“The growth rate of employees, markets, products, acquisitions—all of that looks and feels like a startup and that is what attracted me,” he told me on the phone Wednesday before jetting off to Germany, where Relias opened an office earlier this year. 
Osadzinksi’s role at the e-learning company is to turn the 1 percent of the company’s business outside of the United States today into 50 percent in the long term. 
Some of that growth will come through acquisition—the company has done seven deals since 2012 though none yet in international markets—and the rest will happen organically, in part through connections made by parent company Bertelsmann, based in Germany. 
It’s certainly satisfying his startup addiction so far. 
“What is addictive is the type of growth, the entrepreneurism, rapid change and never really being sure how things are going to develop but trying to execute a strategy anyway,” he says. 

Relias Learning training class
Relias Learning employees sit for a training session at the EdTech startup's Cary campus. Credit: Relias Learning
Besides all that, what drew Osadzinski to the company was its focus on mission and culture. 
Relias was founded in 2012 when a private equity firm acquired two companies that provided online training courses to health care providers. One was in San Diego and focused on behavioral and community health, and the other, targeting senior care providers, in Charlottesville, with an office in Cary. 
Vista Equity Partners chose Cary as the headquarters and helped build the company to 300 employees with 4,000 clients and make it an acquisition target. 
When Bertelsmann bought it for $540 million in October 2014, Relias became the cornerstone of a new business unit focused on education. It was Bertelsmann’s largest U.S. acquisition since it bought book publisher Random House in 1998. 
According to Osadzinski, it meant a commitment to providing the capital to make a big difference fast.

Advancing e-learning and health care training

It was easy to get behind the company's mission of helping to train and prepare healthcare workers to comply with regulations, do their jobs better and improve outcomes for patients, Osadzinski says. Like many of the senior leadership and employees, he'd walked with his dad through his final days in 2015 and witnessed the "fantastic people who took care of him."

"Those are the folks who work for our customers," he says. "That resonates with a lot of the people here."

The mission extends to the people who work at Relias too. Osadzinski says the emphasis on a strong company culture is unlike anything he experienced during his 25 years in Silicon Valley. 

It comes from the top—CEO Jim Triandiflou is building a culture-driven company that's focused on developing, training and mentoring employees. It starts with a two week bootcamp for every new employee and then specialty bootcamps for another six weeks based on the job title. The content creation team, for example, is trained and each works toward certification in learning and performance from the Association for Talent Development.

There's a high potential leadership program, free online training on a variety of topics, from Photoshop to cooking, and a growing menu of employee benefits. Based on peer nominations, awards are given out quarterly in five unique categories: using data, thirst for learning, passion for mission, getting things done and engaging in healthy debate.

Relias Learning Cary office
Relias Learning is a four-year-old company based in Cary. It was acquired in 2014 for $540 million, making it one of the state's largest tech exits in the last decade.
One emphasis for every employee is to understand and know the year's four main objectives, Osadzinski says. 

In 2016, they're to continue to build a best place to work; to go global; to make bold acquisitions, from people to customers to product to revenue; and to grow beyond the core compliance training that is the company's bread and butter.

The company has a 3.4 overall rating on Glassdoor—Triandiflou's approval rating on the workplace review site is 84 percent.

Still learning, 25 years later

Osadzinski never thought he'd work for another CEO, but his admiration for Triandiflou grows weekly—he's especially learning from the man how to build a vibrant culture.

"In Silicon Valley, culture tends to be in the mix along with creating new technology, raising money and so on," Osadzinski says. "Culture is front and center here and critical for recruiting. If we don't think someone will thrive in our culture or gain from it, we won't hire them."

A lot of Osadzinski's time is spent recruiting, particularly in the U.K. and Germany, both new offices in 2016. That's similar to his time at Sun, where employee counts and revenues were doubling year-over-year. He joined that company when it had around 200 employees and saw it reach $5 billion in revenues.

He's also meeting with customers in Europe and China thanks to relationships forged by Bertelsmann.

Despite a much tighter schedule, Osadzinski hasn't given up his local investments. He remains a limited partner at Cofounders Capital and Idea Fund Partners and makes follow-on investments in portfolio companies like WedPics, FilterEasy, Adzerk or Nicotrax if they raise additional rounds.

He also still mentors entrepreneurs in the community—he reserves two 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. blocks of time for entrepreneurs on the weeks he's not traveling.

But Relias is giving him the real startup rush these days.

"I loved what I was doing in the Triangle—a dozen different things—but I missed building a business with a team. It's in my blood," he says.