When Aron Ain Started Working at Kronos, He Was 'Cleaning Bathrooms' and 'Taking Out the Trash.' Now, He's the CEO of Ultimate Kronos Group, a Multinational Technology Company Valued at $22 Billion.
When he graduated from Hamilton College in 1979, Aron Ain wasn’t sure what his next steps would be. A self-described “normal college student” enjoying life and figuring it out along the way, Ain’s decision to join a Boston-based startup didn’t stem from a deep affinity for business, but from the excitement that came with trying something new.
“I hadn’t lived in Boston,” Ain says. “So I said, ‘Why not go give it a try?’”
Ain started working at Kronos, a workforce-management company in its early stages. With approximately 10 people on staff, the new business’s employees had to wear many hats. “I did lots of things when I started, including cleaning bathrooms and taking out the trash,” Ain says. “When it’s a startup, everyone does everything.”
It wasn’t long before Ain realized that he truly enjoyed the work. “I really liked the aspects of problem-solving and bringing order to things that weren't in order, and trying to convince people of your perspective, both internally and externally, to drive an outcome,” he says. “And I just never left. It was just something that interested me.”
Leading a merger in the heat of the pandemic
Forty-two years later, Ain’s propensities for problem-solving and working towards a common goal have never been more crucial — except now he holds much more responsibility as Kronos’s CEO. Last spring, in the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the startup he’d helped transform into a powerhouse workforce-management provider was merging with Ultimate Software Group, another human-capital-management provider. Ain had to contend with mounting safety concerns and the challenge of bringing together two strong company cultures — entirely virtually.
“My biggest concern when this started to get rough in late March of 2020 was what I was going to do as CEO to protect all the people who work at the company and their families,” Ain says. “That was my number one priority. For me, that was defined as no reductions in force. No layoffs, no cutting pay, no cutting benefits, no furloughs.”
And Ain was successful. Not only were there no layoffs or redundancies in either workforce, but, in Q3 2020, there was also a significant increase in total revenue for the combined organization: up nine percent, approaching $3 billion. The merger also created over 100 new positions, no small feat during a period of rising unemployment.
The new company, Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG), is one that prioritizes its people. From the outset, Ain was determined to give UKG employees the best of both worlds when it came to medical, dental and vision benefits.
“As we merged the companies, we took inventory of what the pay practices were, what the benefits were, all the different things,” Ain says. “Ultimate offered some benefits that Kronos didn't offer, and Kronos offered some benefits that Ultimate didn't offer. So we synthesized those into the new benefits we have today. We don’t want employees to share in paying premiums for themselves or their families.”
The expanded benefits were an additional $35 million investment, on top of the company’s approximately $240 million spending on benefits worldwide, but Ain considers it money well spent in the interest of taking care of UKG’s people.
What to expect in a post-pandemic workforce
As we begin to move past the pandemic, employers and employees who began working remotely over a year ago are trying to anticipate, and navigate, this new professional landscape.
On June 30, 2021, UKG will open four large offices, where approximately 4,000 of the company’s 9,000 U.S. workers are employed. Going back to the office will be entirely voluntary at this point; workers are required to be fully vaccinated, but UKG will not ask to see proof of vaccination. After a few months, Ain hopes to be able to reopen the company’s offices in other countries as well.
Regardless of when a comprehensive return is possible, Ain believes that the post-pandemic workforce has been permanently altered. “I believe that people will come back to the office based on their role and their function, but it will be more flexible,” he says. “Maybe you're working three days a week in the office and two days at home, if you want. If you want to come in five days a week, you can come in five days a week.”
It’s clear that Ain’s willingness to take chances hasn’t diminished over his four decades with Kronos, now UKG — if anything, that early impulse to do whatever necessary to better the company, and to grow as a problem-solver and collaborator along the way, helped him pull off the complex merging of two large companies during an extraordinarily difficult time.
But perhaps the leadership quality most responsible for Ain’s recent success is the commitment to looking after his company’s people, doubling down when faced with the unprecedented anxieties and challenges of the past year.
“As leaders of organizations, we have a responsibility now more than ever to not only look after the financial bottom lines of our companies, but also to look after the well-being of the people who work for us,” Ain says. “CEOs and leaders have to lead the way. It goes beyond just making sure people have their jobs and get paychecks, although that's really important. And it goes beyond just taking care of our customers, our patients, our citizens, although that's really important. There are some things about Covid and working remotely and all the craziness we've had over the past year that I want to end ASAP, but there are some lessons learned that we should remember. We should find a way to be a little bit kinder.”