Albuquerque tech company Lavu Inc. has tapped a new, homegrown human resources professional as its general manager and HR director, amid controversy over its employment levels.
Albuquerque resident Jacquelyn Turcich, who joined Lavu in 2018, was promoted in December from senior manager of HR to GM and HR director, where she will focus on improving the company’s workforce development and management as Lavu seeks to further build its local employment base, the company said Tuesday.
Turcich’s promotion comes during a dust up with Bernalillo County about the company’s employment levels. The county sent a letter of noncompliance to Lavu in December for falling below workforce numbers it must maintain under requirements connected to $270,000 in Local Economic Development Act funding it received to open a new headquarters Downtown.
The county is fiscal agent for the LEDA funding.
Lavu had to have at least 94 full-time employees here as of last June and grow to 114 by next June. It did have 136 local employees as of June 2019, but that fell to 84 by fall, according to the county.
Albuquerque Business First broke the news in December about the county’s noncompliance letter, which it obtained through an Inspection of Public Records Act request. At that time, Lavu executives did not publicly address the issue.
But in an interview with the Journal on Tuesday, Lavu CEO Saleem Khatri said the county letter “surprised” him, because Lavu was in compliance with its employment commitments as of last June, and the company expects to be in compliance when its next annual review occurs in June 2020.
“We have a great relationship with the county,” Khatri told the Journal. “Whether we’re meeting the numbers now is not critically important. We’re flexible and they’re flexible and we will work through it. I’m not worried about it at all.”
Khatri didn’t say why Lavu’s employee count may have fallen. But he said the company’s total workforce, including offices in Florida and India, is now about 150, with more than 50% of employees here.
In fact, the state Economic Development Department apologized to Lavu in a Dec. 23 email the company shared with the Journal. The email said the noncompliance notification “should not have gone out at this time,” since Lavu’s annual performance assessment isn’t until next June.
“We do quarterly reporting so we can see trends as they are happening so we can have conversations to address what may be concerns and potential claw backs that may occur at the annual review,” the email says. “… Lavu was in compliance … as of June 30, 2019 as you had reported 136 jobs and the compliance number was 94 and remains in compliance at this point. That being said, your most recent quarterly report of 84 employees does put you below the 114 total employee compliance number you need to be at by June 30, 2020.”
Bernalillo County spokesman Tom Thorpe said the noncompliance letter was just a “courtesy” to remind Lavu of its commitments and to offer county assistance to meet its goals. The company has until June to be in compliance on employment levels, and no action is being taken now, Thorpe told the Journal.
“It’s strictly notification to them that they’re falling below compliance levels,” Thorpe said. “It sounds awfully official, but it’s really only a friendly reminder … We’re here to help them succeed, not crack a whip.”
As Lavu’s new GM and HR director, Turcich will work to integrate effective HR processes, programs and practices into Lavu’s daily operations, performing internal reviews and audits of current systems and policies, providing advice on all disciplinary review conferences and participating in the design, development and implementation of workforce retention programs, the company said Tuesday.
Going forward, Lavu intends to hire more local, specialized talent, said Turcich, who earned undergraduate degrees from the University of New Mexico and an MBA in human resources from Highlands University.
“We’re focusing more on specialized roles in hiring and moving current staff into areas they’re interested in,” Turcich told the Journal. “We may move some people, for example, from customer support roles to more technical areas.”
The Albuquerque-based HR training Turcich will lead isn’t just for local employees, but for the companywide workforce, and will include training on all aspects of Lavu’s point-of-sale software for restaurants, Khatri said. It will also include training on the online accounting and ordering platforms Lavu has provided customers since its acquisition of companies Sourcery and MenuDrive last year.
Lavu launched in 2010 with proprietary point-of-sale software for restaurants to manage all services on mobile devices in real time on a single, integrated platform. Table servers, for example, can take orders directly on smartphones, allowing cooks to instantly read them on screens in the kitchen. The meals are automatically logged and processed for payment at a tablet-based register.
The company, which won a $15 million venture investment in 2015 from Washington, D.C.-based Aldrich Capital Partners, has grown its customer base to 100 countries, Khatri said.
“We grew our revenue base by about 60% last year,” Khatri said. “We’re being more efficient and focusing on profit. We’re doing very well.”