The Innovators

10 Up and Coming Leaders to Watch

The Innovators


Innovators push the boundaries of the known world. They're change agents who are relentless in making things happen and bringing ideas to execution.

The Bridge-builder
Photo (C) Randy Harris

Human Capital Ideas

Charlie Kim, Next Jump

Among the many inspirational mottoes, signs and posters that adorn the walls of Next Jump's New York City headquarters, none is as important or illuminating as the one that reads "Better Me + Better You = Better Us." It isn't rhetoric: It's the cornerstone of the e-commerce company's culture, a call to arms that shapes a multitude of in-house fitness, mentorship and employee-recognition programs designed to foster a healthier, more contented and more committed work force.

"The culture we're building is predicated on the concept of long-term, sustained happiness," says Charlie Kim, Next Jump's founder and CEO. "Our growth is not due to our bright management team or our board of directors. It's because we have an army of individuals who give their all."

He continues to refine and expand his leadership formula, introducing increasingly radical measures like guaranteeing that staffers will never be fired. Unhappy or underperforming employees actively participate in development programs; if that doesn't produce results, their primary objective is to find a new job, and Next Jump continues paying their salary while helping them seek employment.Founded in 1994 in Kim's Tufts University dorm room, Next Jump has quietly emerged as a major force in the digital commerce sector, running web-based rewards and loyalty programs as part of its employee engagement operating system for more than 90,000 corporations, affinity groups and institutions worldwide. The firm has raised $45 million from more than 100 angel investors, who have been won over by Kim's Human Capital Engineering initiatives like NxJ University (a continuous learning platform) and Code for a Cause, which encourages engineers to spend a minimum of two weeks of paid time each year to build web technologies for charities at no cost. "We call it Human Capital Engineering for the purpose of applying aggressive experimentation to iterate and evolve, based on the needs and constraints of our staff," Kim explains.

"Terminating a human being is not good business practice. It's the worst thing you can do to someone's psyche," he says. "As a leader, I want the people who work here to feel safe and feel like they're part of a family. I look at hiring like adopting children: It's a forever thing."

Kim credits the company's culture for slashing Next Jump's employee turnover to essentially nil. And his leadership theories are attracting attention. He was a 2013 winner of the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation, and executives from multiple industries have toured the Next Jump offices in hopes of gaining insight into the company's ethos. "We've turned the entire company and culture into a leadership-development program," Kim says. "People need room to experiment and fail. They aren't born leaders, just like children aren't born incredible athletes. It takes incredible practice and training. Leadership is not innate. It's a skill, and it's a muscle. You have to grow it." --Jason Ankeny

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This article was originally published in the March 2014 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: 10 Up and Coming Leaders.

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