The Roots of Skyward Lauren Gilchrist by Lauren Gilchrist Lauren Gilchrist Skyward Storyteller Read time: The year was 1980. After moving 8 times in 11 years, young Jim King and his wife, Jean, put down roots in their hometown of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Jim started working as a freelance programmer for a couple of local companies, one of which was the Stevens Point Brewery. One day, Jim was at the brewery programming an accounts receivable system for their Burroughs computer. While he was there, the Burroughs sales rep walked into the room and asked Jim about the software he was developing. The two men chatted a bit, and the sales rep told Jim about a salary negotiations system Merrill School District was looking to run on its Burroughs computer. He encouraged Jim to submit a bid. Little did the rep know, this conversation would shape the rest of Jim’s life and impact the Stevens Point community for decades to come. After talking with Merril School district, Jim put in a $4,500 bid—his price to build their system—and won the contract in 1981. “I learned later that the closest bid to mine was $17,000,” Jim said. “I bid it aggressively because I knew there were 50+ other schools in Wisconsin that might be interested if it worked out for Merrill. That turned out to be a good move.” Where It All Began A garage. That’s where Jim and Jean established Jim King & Associates and started creating software for schools. When Merrill’s salary negotiations system was complete, Jim and the Burroughs sales rep invited all the school districts in Wisconsin using Burroughs computers to come watch a demonstration of the system. The bad news? Only three showed up. The great news? After the demonstration, all three purchased Jim’s software. Jim & Jean’s home, where it all began Lucky for Jim and Jean, those first deals got the ball rolling. Word of mouth played an important role in Jim King & Associates selling their software to all the schools in Wisconsin with Burroughs computers, which further opened the door to selling software to any school with an “in house” computer. More and more districts onboarded, and in 1984, Jim and Jean changed their company name to School Administration Software, Inc. (or SASI, which rhymes with “classy”). Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Jim and Jean’s company expanded to include software for municipalities and police departments. But in 1994, they decided to put 100% of their attention into school districts and renamed the business “Skyward.” Jim and Jean King The story of Skyward isn’t just about a company, though. It’s about people. So, let’s talk about the two most instrumental characters in the Skyward story: Jim and Jean King. Here’s how Scott Glinski, a Skyward employee for over 30 years who worked his way from IT intern to CEO, describes them: “Jim and Jean are extremely driven entrepreneurs. Jim is a great leader. He has the innate ability to motivate employees to do their very best. He pushed us hard but never too hard; he knew what our limits were. Jim spent a lot of time out in the field and Jean was behind-the-scenes in the office, keeping everything running smoothly, making sure invoices were getting out and customers were paying. They are both extremely hardworking people.” Skyward founders, Jean and Jim King Growth and Prosperity Though Skyward has outgrown several headquarters through the years, the company has always called Stevens Point home. When asked why he chose Stevens Point for Skyward’s location, Jim gives two reasons: he grew up in the area and he appreciates the work ethic of individuals in Stevens Point. After Jim and Jean’s garage, the couple rented several locations before purchasing a building on Coye Drive. At the time, there was so much open space Jim said, “We could have held a dance in the place.” It served the company well until the growing number of employees pushed the limits on the space, so they added an addition. Then another one. And then a third, expanding the capacity to 190 employees. They also opened a second building in Stevens Point, as well as several small branch offices out of state. But real estate was still tight, with employee desks in hallways and meeting spaces in the basement. SASI’s branch office open house in Minnesota In 2016, 2601 Skyward Drive became the new Skyward world headquarters. With a 900-employee capacity, this building left room to grow. To date, 600 of Skyward’s 660 employees are based out of this office. Major Milestones & Key Partnerships Many partnerships and milestones played an important role in Skyward’s success and the success of Skyward’s customers. Here’s a look at a few of them: School Technology Associates: In the late 1980s, Skyward partnered with Dan Hoerl and his company, School Technology Associates. At the time, schools were using scanners to scan data, attendance, and grades, so Dan decided he would partner with a company and provide peripheral devices for them. He chose Skyward, and his devices have enhanced the Skyward product for almost 30 years. Texas Educational Consultative Services: In the late 1990s, Skyward partnered with Texas Educational Consultative Services (TECS). This company had been providing software to school districts in Texas but was looking for a better solution. When Skyward partnered with them, TECS sold Skyward software and served as the sales and support arm in Texas. In 2000, when the TECS owner retired, Skyward acquired the company and brought them into the Skyward family. ISCorp: In 2000, Skyward partnered with ISCorp, a Mequon, Wisconsin-based cloud computing company. To date, over half of Skyward’s customers host their data in the cloud with ISCorp. WSIPC: In 2001, the Washington School Information Processing Center (WSIPC) selected Skyward as the statewide SIS and ERP for schools in Washington. This partnership springboarded Skyward’s success in the state. Transition to web: In 2009, the Skyward solution became entirely web based. Many districts were very excited about this opportunity, which helped the company grow further. Texas preferred vendor: In 2011, the state of Texas endorsed Skyward as a preferred provider for school districts. The Skyward Family As years turned into decades and garages into world headquarters, a lot changed at Skyward. But not everything. The hardworking, family-centered culture Jim and Jean fashioned nearly 40 years ago has rippled throughout the growing company. It’s just one of the reasons Skyward has 67 employees that have been with the company for more than 20 years. Current Skyward CEO, Scott Glinski In the words of Scott Glinski, “We still have that family culture. Jim and Jean walk around the building and say hi to employees. Employees know each other, and managers know their employees and their families. That’s one of the things Jim and Jean instilled upon us early on. At family picnics, Jim and Jean would walk around, and they knew most of the employees’ kids and their names. We’ve gotten so much bigger now that they can’t know everyone, but that culture still exists within the departments.” The original trio: Jim King, Greg Wykhuis, and Cliff King The roots of what Jim and Jean planted back in 1980 are deep, and it’s these values that keep the company grounded as it grows. Nearly four decades later, Jim and Jean continue to be passionate about Skyward, their community, and the more than 7 million students they serve. They still have offices in Skyward’s headquarters. As the lifeblood of this company, they can’t help but show how proud they are of the Skyward family. What will the future hold? It’s hard to say. But it sure looks like Jim and Jean’s vision will continue to grow into a bright future for school districts close to home and everywhere. Follow-Up Resource: A Can't-Miss Video! See this story come to life in an entertaining retelling here! Lauren Gilchrist Skyward Storyteller Share this story: Want tips, tricks, and feature updates delivered to your inbox once a month? Sign up here!