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Music grad strikes a chord

UW-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.”

From campus Mac expert to business owner

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 Software produces "the only management solution built exclusively for Mac, iPad, and iPhone devices,” and the core product, the Casper Suite, “helps IT admins maintain, update, and ensure their fleet of Apple devices are running at optimal performance.”

JAMF Software is 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 Software serves includes 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.”

JAMF Software’s primary offices are located in Eau Claire and Minneapolis, with other established offices in New York City; Cupertino, Calif.; Amsterdam; Sydney, Australia; and Hong Kong.

A local commitment

Halmstad said maintaining a strong presence in Eau Claire is very important to him. Of the 399 people working for JAMF Software in the U.S. and around the globe, more than 159 of them are employed at the Eau Claire location, and approximately 30 percent of those employees are UW-Eau Claire graduates.

In addition to hiring many area college graduates, Halmstad and his colleagues at JAMF Software support a UW-Eau Claire internship program in fields ranging from computer science to English. Halmstad also frequently speaks at UW-Eau Claire events, encouraging students aspiring to be entrepreneurs and emphasizing the ways their liberal arts education is preparing them to wear the many hats they will need to don as leaders of their own businesses.

“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 has been a priority for Halmstad and his employees. After occupying smaller downtown spaces earlier on, in late 2014 the company's Eau Claire employees moved into the new 72,000-square-foot JAMF Software Riverfront Building — built by Pablo Properties, another company Halmstad co-founded. The new JAMF Software home is a key part of the success of the North Barstow Redevelopment District 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 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.”

In March 2013, JAMF Software made clear its commitment to a vibrant downtown when it pledge $500,000 to support the construction of a new community arts center there. 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 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student housing at the downtown site.

Mike Schatz, economic development director for the city of Eau Claire, said JAMF Software 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.”

Appreciation for the liberal arts

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.

“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.”

Halmstad’s connection to the UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts department goes beyond being an alumnus. 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.”