||Brenda Stallings, president and CEO of Matrix Integration of Jasper, listened attentively to ideas brought up by an employee in her office June 6. Brenda has been recognized as one of the top 100 successful and influential women in the information technology industry. She was a recipient of the 2011 Women Excel Bloomington Award and named the 2011 Enterprising Women of the Year Award in the category for businesses with more than $25 million in annual revenue.
Brenda Stallings donned a monogrammed apron to serve employees during a routine appreciation breakfast last year at the annex behind her 417 Main St. business off Jasper’s Square, Matrix Integration.
Matrix Integration’s president and CEO makes a habit of serving up sunshine and expecting the best, especially at work. It’s an attitude that’s resulted in more than 40 years of business success that started with the former Sound of Music store in Jasper and skyrocketed once she entered the technology industry.
Brenda’s company today — its name meaning an environment in which something develops and becomes a solution was picked from employee submissions in a contest — has been named by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as the top woman-owned business in Indiana several times in a row, as well as the state’s top small business of the year and a Best Place to Work in Indiana ﬁve consecutive years.
Now that the pace of growing a family and a business is more manageable, Matrix Integration’s 61-year-old boss has time for memberships in multiple national women’s business owner associations. She sits on the Indiana chamber’s board of directors, serves as chairwoman of Memorial Hospital’s ﬁnance committee and is on the Dubois Strong and Junior Achievement boards. She also has been a repeat choice on a national business magazine’s “power” list of the most inﬂuential, powerful and successful executives inthe technology industry.
Not bad for a girl without a college degree who grew up on a St. Meinrad farm with nine siblings.
Meeting her gives an average Joe a brush with success. Working for her supplies more than that. She says she truly wants to help everyone in her orbit succeed and she is a big adherent to the Law of Attraction, which basically asserts that positive thoughts and belief in a speciﬁc outcome can attract that outcome. When she discovered that “The Secret,” a 2006 self-help ﬁlm, championed the Law of Attraction, she started what has become a continuing practice of handing out copies of the DVD.
“I’m a believer that really our minds are big magnets and what we think we will be attracted to,” she says.
Dave Allen of Jasper consulted with Brenda about the progress on an upgrade and expansion for Matrix Integration in the basement of the Jasper-based company June 6. The purpose of the remodeling was to offer employees a more unified and warm work environment.
For five consecutive years, Matrix Integration has been recognized as a Best Place to Work in Indiana.
She says she does things like putting on her apron for employee appreciation breakfasts because actions speak louder than words.
“You can tell people what a great job they do, but we try to do fun things like the appreciation breakfast” and catered appreciation luncheons, she says. “Hopefully that shows our people we are not afraid to take proﬁts and reinvest in ways to have fun with them. We’re trying to do a lot more of that.”
Brenda and her ﬁancé, Curt Trainer, CEO of the trike conversion portion of AJ Cycle & Trike Conversions, live in Jasper. She has four adult children — Abby Stallings, Jonathan Stallings and Amy Williams, all of Jasper, and Nathan Stallings of Noblesville — who all work for Matrix Integration. The company provides technology and communications sales and service that involves computer networks, telephone systems, cabling and computer network security. People at Matrix will help a small local company one day and then design and engineer computing platforms on a grander scale, such as those at Indiana University and Purdue University that are tackling mammoth research computing. The company headquarters remains in Jasper but Matrix also has two branches in Kentucky and one in Carmel.
Stallings makes sure her company coaches communication, enthusiasm, talent development and integrity. She came about her core values honestly.
Brenda was born in the St. Meinrad home of her parents, Othmar and Pearline Schaefer, in 1951. As a girl, she worked in the ﬁeld, canned and cleaned — whatever could assist her parents. The family ate the beef, pork and vegetables raised on the farm. “One year we put up 1,000 quarts of canned goods,” she says. “We worked really hard but we didn’t know any different, right?”
The family also sold its produce after posting signs by the highway. “So I guess I learned some of what entrepreneurship was at an early age and didn’t even know it was sinking in.”
Her father worked in a factory in addition to farming their 120 acres. And, every Saturday night, she watched as her father took her mother out on the town.
“Us older kids babysat for the younger ones” when her parents went on dates, she says. “There was hardly ever a Saturday night that they didn’t go out, which I thought was really great. It gave them something to look forward to. I’m sure raising 10 kids wasn’t easy.”
After graduating from Dale High School in 1969 she took a job as a typesetter and proofreader for Psychology Today, a magazine published in St. Meinrad.
||Brenda stopped to chat with an employee before leaving the office
for the day Jan. 18.
During a quarterly business review meeting with Hewlett-Packard
in Jasper on June 18, Brenda discussed business strategies, goals
and training opportunities with Mike Warbiany of Naperville, Ill.
Brenda married Steve Stallings in 1970 and, a year later, they became co-owners of an established Stallings family business: the Sound of Music. That store initially featured recorded music but quickly expanded in later years to include hi-ﬁdelity equipment, car stereos and musical instruments. In 1973 the store became a Radio Shack dealer and a few years later the ﬁrst home and office computers were introduced.
Two business units grew out of the Sound of Music: The Computer Center, founded in 1979, which initially sold only computers and later turned to computer consulting and integration for businesses locally and nationwide; and Commsound Telecommunications, in 1980, which provided telephones and cabling for businesses. In 1984 Stallings sold her interest in the Commsound division to Dan Fritch, a former neighbor of hers who had been managing the Commsound division. She personally incorporated The Computer Center.
Brenda, now on her own, spent years subcontracting Fritch’s business to supply phones and run cables on sales she made to businesses and schools. From the beginning, she saw the ﬂedgling personal computer and the 5 1⁄4-inch ﬂoppy disks in vogue then as a way to do mailing lists and data processing — things she had always outsourced — in-house on her own. Soon she was selling computers by day and installing them herself at night.
In 1997, after Brenda and Fritch individually had grown their respective businesses for 13 years, The Computer Center and Commsound merged. It made sense because lines were being blurred and Brenda and Fritch were about to start competing with each other. They formed Matrix Integration with Brenda as president and CEO and Fritch as executive vice president. Today, Matrix Integration employs 85 people and has more than $44 million in sales.
Maybe a reason Matrix Integration has hit so many right notes is owed to the music store roots and so many musically inclined individuals being on the payroll. Those folks are creative, Brenda says, and came to the show with a lot of experience with hooking up public-address systems and the like.
As her business grew more complex, Brenda worked to acquire new skills to manage it.
“You can’t stay focused on just the cool stuff” in business, says Brenda, who still misses a simpler time when she was able to call on clients. “You’ve got to do all of the hard stuff you know nothing about. You’ve got to go out and learn it and surround yourself with people who will teach you what you need to learn.”
Her ﬁrst child was born when she was 21 so, she says, she was learning how to be a parent while she was learning to run a business. One mentor for the latter was the chief ﬁnancial officer of St. Louis Music, a company that sold guitars and amps to the Sound of Music. St. Louis Music’s CFO taught Brenda and many other small-town music store owners many secrets about business acumen, she says.
“My successes have been the great people who have helped me along the way,” Brenda says.
Thanks to technology progression and the ability to access ﬁles from anywhere, more than a third of Matrix’s employees are able to work from home, Fritch says. A veteran employee found love in Canada and moved there a couple of years back. He continued his work for Matrix there and it was about six months before all of the staff in the corporate office realized he was no longer physically coming into the building.
“It worked well for us,” Fritch says. The man had skills Matrix would have been hard-pressed to replace after his life change, but technology meant the company didn’t have to.
||Brenda laughed with her daughter Abby during an employee appreciation breakfast June 18.
All of Brenda's children — Amy Williams and Abby, Jonathan and Nathan Stallings — work at Matrix.
The Matrix family enjoys healthy snacks in its break rooms, a wellness program that includes gym membership reimbursement and an employee purchase program. Everyone goes through a three- day communications class and then gets a steady dose of company emails recognizing little things people or departments have done to impact Matrix in a positive way. On Fridays, there is an opportunity for qualifying employees to dress casual and wear jeans.
“In order to wear denim, we either have to submit a ‘Thumbs Up’ or make a contribution to the Denim Day Donation Can,” says marketing specialist Sara Morris, 30, of Jasper.
A Thumbs Up is when an employee submits an anonymous note about someone in the company recognizing that person for leadership, collaboration or excellence in working with clients or other associates. Donations in the can go to Relay for Life, the ﬁght against Lou Gehrig’s disease, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Christmas Giving Tree.
“When I started working at Matrix in 2005,” Morris says, “I was welcomed in as part of the ‘family’ and have felt like part of the family ever since.”
Morris says employees learn to remember Brenda’s core values when making decisions, and the carryover effect spills into life outside of the office. For her, Morris says, she’s acquired more organization in her life, she has better relationships with peers and she’s become more outgoing and outspoken. “I deﬁnitely look up to some of the leaders here at Matrix — including Brenda — and try to mimic them in my thinking and everyday life,” she says.
In addition to helping her executive team keep up with the pulse of where the tech industry is going, Brenda ﬁnds herself putting a focus on making more time for family and for giving back to the community now. She took the ﬁrst two-week vacation of her life last year.
||During a Fourth of July party at Brenda's lake house in Loogootee on July 7,Brenda tried on 3D hologram glasses with the daughter of a family friend, Abby Buschkoetter of Jasper, 8, left, along with grandchildren Aubrey Williams of Jasper, 12, Parker Stallings of Noblesville, 5, and Nolan Trainer of Kokomo, 7, before the firework display began.
||Brenda held the door for friends and family members as they arrived for the Fourth of July party at her lake house. Brenda and her family put in long hours of work while in Jasper and use the lake house as their private time to relax and get away.
“My oldest grandchild is 15,” she says. “I’d like to be the grandparent who would go visit the grandkids at college. Staying close to my grandkids is very important to me.”
Not a month goes by without a letter from a larger corporate entity suggesting that Matrix become the subject of a lucrative merger or acquisition. To Brenda, the reward of having a business is keeping it growing and passing it on.
Her children taking the company into the future is a legacy she hopes can become reality.
“My kids are willing to take the risks and work hard,” Brenda says. “I hope it serves them well.”
Contact Bill Powell at