Music grad strikes a chord

Zach Halmstad in office settingCustomer focus the cornerstone of Zach Halmstad’s business success

Zach Halmstad at pianoUW-Eau Claire alumnus Zach Halmstad was a master on the piano keyboard when he graduated as a music major in 2004, but he ultimately found his future career path on a much different type of keyboard.

As a sophomore, Halmstad was hired to work in UW-Eau Claire’s Learning and Technology Services by Chip Eckardt, LTS chief information officer, and learned the basics of supporting Macintosh computer operating systems.

“I first hired Zach as a student to provide Mac support,” Eckardt said. “At that time there weren’t many students who were interested in Macs, much less knew anything about them. Zach did such an exceptional job that within a year, faculty and staff were asking for him by name when they called and preferred working with him over our full-time staff. I know this for a fact because I was the full-time staff member who supported Macs.”

Supporting downtown development

JAMF Software has pledged $500,000 to support the construction of a new community arts center at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in downtown Eau Claire. The community arts center is the centerpiece of the public-private partnership known as the Confluence Project, a project that also includes plans to construct a commercial/retail complex and UW-Eau Claire student housing at the downtown site. The $500,000 pledge would help fund the construction of, and give JAMF Software naming rights associated with, the community arts center’s 250-seat black box theater.

JAMF also has plans to build a new office building in Eau Claire’s Phoenix Park near the proposed site of the Confluence Project.

Eckardt said he knew he had a great employee in Halmstad, so as soon as an opening came up, he hired him as a full-time employee supporting the university’s Mac users.

“When I went full time I noticed that there were a lot of tools to manage Windows computers, but really nothing to support Macs,” Halmstad said. “Some of the software was transferable, but not much. You really need to understand the intricacies of a platform in order to manage it efficiently and effectively. I began working independently on developing software exclusively to support Macs and co-founded JAMF Software in 2002.”

According to the company’s website, JAMF produces the “only Mac and iOS management software developed exclusively for the Apple platform,” and the core product, the Casper Suite, “provides extensive functionality for IT managers including inventory, package building, image management, remote imaging, remote updates, iOS mobile device management and a powerful framework for automated support.”

JAMF recently became an Apple-authorized training center, which allows the company to offer customers education opportunities on a wide array of Apple products to coincide with the long-offered basic certification courses in Casper Suite. The clientele JAMF serves is evenly divided between educational institutions and commercial businesses, including Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies.

“What I remember most about Zach is that he was the shiest, most humble, intelligent and creative person I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Eckardt said. “Zach always put his customers ahead of everything else. I am in awe of what Zach has accomplished and how he accomplished it. It’s a rare privilege to get to work with such a talented individual who ends up making a difference in hundreds of people’s lives.”

When we first started out everyone had to wear different hats, and they weren’t all for something we were experts in. You had to learn enough not only to come across as an expert but to perform like one. A liberal arts education taught me how to learn about topics I’m not an expert in. — Zach Halmstad

JAMF’s primary offices are located in Eau Claire and Minneapolis, with other established offices in New York and Cupertino, Calif., and recently opened offices in Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

“We would like to improve our international presence,” Halmstad said. “We’ve been partnering with businesses in Europe and Australia for about five years and really want to have a physical presence internationally so we can give round-the-clock service to those clients. The offices in the United States only offer support during our normal working hours. Our international clients deserve to have continuous support during their working hours as well.”

UW-Eau Claire alums working at JAMF

More than 35 percent of the employees at JAMF’s Eau Claire location are UW-Eau Claire alumni.

Halmstad said maintaining a strong presence in Eau Claire is very important to him. Of the 170 people working for the company, more than 90 of them are employed at the Eau Claire location, and more than 35 percent of those employees are UW-Eau Claire graduates.

JAMF has supported a UW-Eau Claire internship program for the past three years and has hired at least 15 people from the program in fields ranging from computer science to English.

“We look for people who are interested in learning new things,” Halmstad said. “We look at personality and personal goals and ambitions to see if they are a good fit for JAMF and if JAMF is a good fit for them and what they want to accomplish.”

Keeping the Eau Claire office in the downtown area is a priority for Halmstad and his employees, and he said he doesn’t want to be located anywhere else. JAMF Software currently occupies about 16,000 square feet in the former J.C. Penney building in downtown Eau Claire.

“We are in a great location for our employees who don’t drive, as well as for our university students who come from the campus area,” Halmstad said. “We bring 90 people into downtown five days a week who also shop and eat in the area. We take part in supporting small businesses and want to be a part of the revitalization.

“We are rapidly expanding and aim to add 60 staff members in our Eau Claire location during this year,” Halmstad said. “Because of this growth, we’re currently exploring our options for a new building within the downtown area. Ideally this project would start this summer and be completed by summer 2014. The downtown area has come a long way in the last 10 years, and we’re excited to see everything that happens in the next 10.”

Mike Schatz, economic development director for the city of Eau Claire, said JAMF has been a fan of the culture the city is building downtown including its many options for things to do as well as new developments, such as the loft apartments and other buildings facing the riverfront near Phoenix Park, facilitated by the Redevelopment Authority.

“We are proud that an Eau Claire native has the confidence in his hometown to keep growing his company here,” Schatz said. “UW-Eau Claire has done an excellent job of turning out talent that JAMF can take advantage of, and it plays into the city’s economic development goals of attracting high-paying tech jobs. JAMF and Zach have been very clear that there is a direct relationship between the creative class initiatives we are implementing and the growth of companies like them.”

JAMF employed only a few people during its infancy, and Halmstad said he utilized the liberal arts education he received at UW-Eau Claire to keep up with the growing business.

We have a 60 to 80 percent growth rate annually and are continuing to add jobs monthly and weekly. — Zach Halmstad

“I see so much value in a liberal arts education,” Halmstad said. “When we first started out everyone had to wear different hats, and they weren’t all for something we were experts in. You had to learn enough not only to come across as an expert but to perform like one. A liberal arts education taught me how to learn about topics I’m not an expert in. I still find that beneficial on a daily basis.”

Ed Smith, a music theory professor who retired from UW-Eau Claire in 2001, also provided business inspiration with his unique teaching style, which has influenced the training strategies JAMF uses in educating customers, Halmstad said.

“It was so interesting to watch Smith teach very complicated material until every student in the class understood it,” Halmstad said. “He was a master in his field and could teach the same material in a multitude of ways to appeal to everyone’s learning style. I bring that approach to our customer training courses. We have to take a step back and reteach topics in multiple ways until everyone understands 100 percent.”

Zach Halmstad with co-workers Julia Johnson and

JAMF Software project coordinator Julia Johnson ’05 and chief cultural officer Jason Wudi ’01 huddle with Zach Halmstad at JAMF’s Eau Claire office.

Halmstad said he is constantly surprised by the growth of the company and attributes the success to having a sincere focus on the customer.

“We have a 60 to 80 percent growth rate annually and are continuing to add jobs monthly and weekly,” Halmstad said. “We have a 98 percent customer retention rate over the past 10 years. According to industry standards, 80 percent is considered to be phenomenal. We always make sure we keep the customer in mind at all times when making decisions.”

Halmstad’s connection to the UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts department and the community as a whole goes beyond being a student and local business owner. He also contributed to the acquisition of one of the nation’s largest jazz collections housed in McIntyre Library’s special collections and archives department. The collection is named the John L. Buchholz Jazz Library after the UW-Eau Claire professor emeritus of English and longtime jazz musician and supporter of jazz studies. Halmstad said he also has a personal connection to the professor and was honored to be involved in the acquisition.

“I played in a band with John,” Halmstad said. “He played bass and I played piano, so we spent a lot of time together rehearsing and hanging out backstage. I was honored to be able to help the university acquire the collection as a way to thank John for what he has done for our community.”

Contributions and support from UW-Eau Claire alumni like Halmstad make an incredible difference to the university, said Ron Keezer, associate professor emeritus of music.

“UW-Eau Claire has wonderful students,” Keezer said. “As an educator, it’s so rewarding to see that they remember the university and what they accomplished here as they’re succeeding in their careers.”

Photos by Bill Hoepner