Family First: Matt Tinney on fatherhood, belonging and building an ethical business
By Julie A. Palm | Photos by Your Favorite Shots LLC
In the past couple of years, Matt Tinney has experienced two dramatic, life-altering events that cemented his view about what it means to belong to a community and what it means to belong at work.
The first was in August 2019, when he and his husband, Christopher Tinney, welcomed their twin sons, Nicholas and Topher, into the world. The second event was much less welcome but still transformational. In September 2020, Matt, who has recovered, became very ill.
Using his life and business as examples, Tinney wants to encourage other employers to be understanding, inclusive and supportive of families, whether biological or chosen, nuclear or extended. It’s a mission centered on removing obstacles in the workplace that prevent people from living their most authentic, successful lives.
“I am passionate about empowering others so they can be their best and having a culture that is empowering and supportive of each individual’s goals,” says Tinney, founder and owner of Windows Management Experts (WME), a national system integrator for IT infrastructure, security, identity and cloud solutions. WME is both an LGBT Business Enterprise and Microsoft Gold Certified.
The arrival of the twins
Matt met Christopher in 2007, while living in Seattle. They created a domestic partnership in 2010, later married in Connecticut and then settled in Philadelphia, Matt’s hometown, where they live not far from Matt’s parents. In addition to being married, the two work together: Christopher is WME’s director of human resources and compliance.
Early in their relationship, “having children wasn’t on my radar,” Matt says. “It wasn’t until I hit my 40s did I realize I wanted children. I knew I wanted my own [biological] children, too, and the process itself is out of reach financially for most.” For the Tinneys, baby making started by focusing on the company. After enjoying a record year businesswise, the Tinneys could start the costly process of finding both an egg donor and a surrogate.
Like many new parents, the Tinneys’ lives have changed dramatically, trading dinners out for diaper changes and late-night parties for toddler playtime. “I love teaching and showing them things,” Matt says of his sons. “I do a lot of self-talk with them in the mirror on having their little spirits be a light in the world. These babies are actually the ones teaching us and leading the way.”
As parents, the Tinneys are striving for work-life balance — and helping their employees to achieve it, too. At the Tinney household, 4 p.m. on weekdays is the start of family time for the dads, who work from home with the help of a member of their extended family, who provides in-home care to the boys during the workday. Matt’s parents William and Marita, who live a block away, also pitch in.
“Having clear boundaries and being present when I am with the twins is my priority,” Matt says. “I don’t look at my phone, etc. when I am with them.”
WME’s entire staff of about two dozen (and growing) enjoys a flex schedule program that accommodates not only staff with young children, but also employees caring for aging parents or other family members. “Giving them the flexibility and time away to handle commitments is always important,” Matt says.
The importance of a healthy, well-balanced life was reinforced in September 2020 when Matt became severely ill. A coronavirus test was negative but he thinks he
may, in fact, have had COVID-19 and while sick had what he says he can only describe as an “out of body” experience. “It forced me to take a real look at my life,” he says. “My energy is not unlimited and I have to focus on my priorities.”
“Work-life balance is extremely important for everyone,” he adds. “We all have lives to live, and we shouldn’t have to sacrifice family to succeed professionally. We ask our employees, ‘What do you need from us to take your career to the next level?’”
Ethically based and growth-focused
Make no mistake: Matt remains focused on growing the business, including supporting larger customers who need IT staff augmentation and project-based solutions in the Microsoft and Adaxes arenas.
Matt aspires to turn his company into a billion-dollar business and, for him, that starts by working with clients who share the Tinneys’ values — integrity, open communication, authenticity, diversity and inclusion. “Our clients work with us because we treat everyone with the same level of respect, with a focus on building a partnership in our client relationship,” he says.
A while back, WME added an ethics clause to its client agreements. “This was an idea I had gotten from one of the Philly tech startup leaders groups I am in. I was sharing some of the experiences we had working with some of our customers/partners, where our employees were not treated with respect. Apparently, I wasn’t alone,” he says. “Over the years, we tolerated it, worked through it, pushed through it. But then I got this idea that we can do more and enforce our values with an ethics clause that allows us to provide a two-week notice that we are discontinuing work if (a client) violates our ethical obligations and the values of WME.”
“We are not burning bridges here,” he adds. “We are simply making a statement that while we appreciate the opportunity to provide value to our customers/partners, we will not be working in toxic environments that don’t respect, value and honor our employees.”
“People over profits”
The ethics clause is part of the company’s overall philosophy: “For us, it’s employees over customers and people over profits,” Matt says, and that means “empowering our staff to be and do their best.”
“This can look like a lot of different things,” he says. “For instance, when I sense someone is struggling, I set up an empowerment meeting to support them in whatever it is they are dealing with. People will remember how you supported them through things, and our commitment is to have our team retire with us.”
The company also offers attractive benefits like a 401(k) with matching, an online store for rewards and employee coaching programs.
As founder and owner of the company, Matt can make policy shifts at WME that reflect his priorities. Shifting the culture of a community can be more challenging.
The multiracial couple (Christopher is a naturalized United States citizen originally from the Philippines) lives in a mostly white, mostly straight neighborhood. “We treat everyone in our neighborhood the way we want to be treated, and people have been very nice,” Christopher says. But the Tinneys know they are breaking barriers just by living there.
“One day, I saw the kids at the Catholic school (where we’ll probably send our kids) outside singing — with all mothers in the audience,” Matt says. “There was not a single dad. So, what’s that going to look like for us? Chris and I are the boys’ moms and their dads. We are the modern family.”
“But I don’t say, ‘I’m different. I don’t belong,’ ” Matt says. “I acknowledge the situation and move forward. You have to feel comfortable in your own skin to feel part of a community. Maybe that’s why I felt called back to Philadelphia in 2016. I feel like we’re setting a trend for others who will follow us.”
Julie A. Palm (she/her) is chief wordsmith at Palm Ink LLC in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She specializes in writing, editing, publications management and communications consulting for a variety of clients, including trade magazines, business journals, colleges and universities, ad agencies and small businesses. Follow her on Twitter @julieapalm.