It’s been just over a year since Virgin Mobile USA selected Kansas City as the location for its new headquarters, relaunching as a subsidiary of the Overland Park-based wireless giant Sprint.
Since then, the firm has moved into a swanky, downtown office and hired 65 people. A handful of positions are still available.
Although finding the best talent might have been an earlier concern, Virgin Mobile CEO Dow Draper said, hiring qualified people in Kansas City wasn’t a challenge.
“I remember asking before deciding on Kansas City, ‘Is there actually going to be enough people together to pull together the right ecommerce team?’” Draper said Wednesday at the KC Tech Council’s Tech CEO Speaker Series. “That was our biggest concern, how to attract great people. It has actually been a lot easier than we thought it would be. It has not been hard.”
The Virgin Mobile team is full of “doers” who have worked extra hard preparing for the launch, he said.
“It’s all about the people. It really is,” Draper said. “This is a group that I would put up against anybody. When you hire good people, they can step up and they can do it and we had a team that stepped up. I’m extremely blessed that we have the right folks.”
The downtown location was partially responsible for the firm’s ability to attract talent, Draper added. Virgin Mobile signed a lease in January at One Kansas City Place at 1200 Main St. in downtown Kansas City.
“There are so many great things going on in Kansas City right now,” Draper said. “What’s happening downtown and in the Crossroads is so great, and if the city were to let off the gas on that, it would be a travesty.”
Although Draper touts Kansas City as a great place to be, it wasn’t his natural first pick. Marcelo Claure, Sprint CEO, told Draper that he could put the Virgin Mobile headquarters wherever he wanted, he said.
“We had some choices,” Draper said. “My first thought was that we’re going to Seattle. Then my wife and daughter were like, ‘Looks like you’re going on your own.’ They love it here, they’ll be in Kansas City forever.”
The Kansas City Area Development Council led a multi-organizational effort to attract Virgin Mobile to Kansas City. In addition to family life, Kansas City’s low cost of living closed the deal for Draper.
“It’s crazy how inexpensive it is to be here,” Draper said. “I can’t believe what we pay for the downtown building. We can’t beat the cost.”
In 2009, Sprint — then Sprint Nextel — purchased Virgin Mobile in a $483 million deal to focus on pre-paid phone sales. English business mogul Sir Richard Branson founded the Virgin Group, of which Virgin Mobile USA was a part. The conglomerate owns more than 400 companies around the world.
In efforts to establish a brand independent from Sprint, Draper said, it was important for the firm to find a location outside of the Sprint campus. Yet, he is glad the Virgin Mobile headquarters’ proximity to Sprint allows for collaboration, he said.
The firm operates more like a startup than a corporation, said Justin Scott, Virgin Mobile director of communications.
“Virgin is a disrupter brand and very much a startup,” Scott said. “We’re digital focused and digital first. We are a small but focused team, which enables us to have a startup mentality, doing things quicker and with quicker pivots.”
In September, the edgy Virgin Mobile headquarters — designed by Kansas City-based GastingerWalker& — will open its doors officially, complete with bright red paint, a Virgin Wines rack, a Virgin Mobile neon sign and a photograph of Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
Draper hopes to continue to tap into the growth of the Kansas City startup community, he said.
“Despite the great things going on here, there are challenges,” he said. “One thing is the diversity and equality challenge in Kansas City. Then there’s the airport terminal, schools that need to be invested in, crime rates … But Kansas City is on the right path, I think the sky’s the limit in this place.”