A Gem Among the Hills

Mountain Leverage
Written by Claire Suttles

As the industry leader in voice-enabled workflow solutions, Mountain Leverage helps its partners maximize their performance in distribution centers of every size. The company’s story began in West Virginia, where the founder drew his inspiration.

“I grew up in a small town in West Virginia and always had the idea of starting a company and growing the economy in my local, small, railroad town,” says Founder and President Alex Reneman. “These towns are super small. We have three stoplights.” Reneman moved away from his hometown, living for a time in Washington, DC and Pittsburgh and was deployed to Iraq, but was eventually drawn back to his roots.

“September 11th, 2001 happened, and that really had me questioning myself. What am I? What value am I bringing to the community, my family, the world—that kind of thing, and it was a defining moment for me to move back home and start my business there.”

The Grafton, West Virginia location is core to the business’ identity—although people sometimes question why a technology company is based in a rural, mountain area, rather than in one of the nation’s technology hubs. At first, Reneman found himself making excuses to explain the unexpected location. “I’d say, ‘Well it’s a great place to raise a family, and it’s a slower pace of life and so my blood pressure is lower,’—and that’s all true, and it’s beautiful and all that but at the same time it’s almost apologetic. A few years ago, I really assessed being here, [and realized it] has really allowed me to connect with the roots of who I am and ultimately the character ethics that really power Mountain Leverage.”

In addition to boasting the slow-paced, friendly culture of a small town, Grafton has a place on the map as the home of the founder of Mother’s Day and the site of the longest-running Memorial Day parade. “Those kinds of things stick with you as a kid, and you look at that and honor the neighborly nature of people here, the hard work ethic, all those kinds of character ethics that permeate you when you live here. You just can’t avoid it. I realized that’s what we built our company on, and so I turned it from being apologetic to a strength. So being located in West Virginia isn’t just an accident or an aside or something like that; it’s actually where we draw our strength.”

As a remote company, the team hails from all over, but those West Virginia values still run deep within the company culture, no matter where employees are based. “People have joined Mountain Leverage who share those same ideals and the same character ethic that we want here at the company,” Reneman says. When building the business, he believed it was crucial to have “people around you that are like-minded in terms of creating great outcomes and treating each other well.”

Mountain Leverage is best known for the voice-enabled workflow solutions that rocketed the company to success. Nearly twenty years ago, “I stumbled into this voice technology, which was fantastic.” Reneman immediately saw the potential, realizing “We can build a business around that, and all of a sudden, we became really good. We became the best in the world at it.”

As well as its multilingual voice technology—available in almost forty languages—the team uses a range of solutions to maximize distribution center performance, from consulting to independent software to robotics—whatever the customer needs. “We are all about outcomes for our customers,” Reneman explains. “Truly, that is that is what we’re about.”

The team finds a lot of opportunities to create better outcomes for customers when focusing on improving workflow. If, for instance, “you’ve got an individual running around picking products, putting them on a cart, and maybe they’re shipping them to your house, boxing them up, or shipping them to a store,” Reneman says. “There’s lots of opportunity for errors.” This also means that “There’s lots of opportunity for optimization.”

When optimizing workflow, Mountain Leverage goes the extra mile to ensure distribution center employees are getting the best support possible. “The part I like the best, [even though] it’s not always the best-selling tool, [is to create] worker satisfaction. That’s a tough job, running around a warehouse.” The team recognizes this and has, in turn, been recognized for their commitment to easing that burden.

“Knowing that we are able to do that while we’re also improving the bottom line for our customers at the business side—that’s magic for us,” Reneman says. “We’ve really enjoyed it.”

Reneman achieved success by listening to traditional advice and disregarding what did not feel right. “We have done a lot of things that are counter-cultural in business and things that most experts in business would tell you is absolutely the wrong thing to do because ‘you can’t make money on that;’ ‘you can’t sustain the business on that;’ ‘you can’t hold onto employees on that,’” he remembers. Instead of taking the standard advice, the team wanted to just do the “right human thing,” which, it turned out, did happen to apply to business success.

“The beauty of entrepreneurship is to be able to test the establishment,” Reneman adds. “Some people test it by trying new business models. Some people test it in ways that maybe are nefarious, but if you’re testing it in a way that you think is bettering your fellow humans, whether they be the humans in your company or within your partner and customer set, I think the market will reward you. They are certainly rewarding us, and I would hope that’s been everybody’s experience if they’re out there testing things for the improvement of their fellow humans.”

From the start, however, more seasoned businesspeople warned that this approach would not work. “I don’t know how many people said ‘you can’t treat your employees that way’ when we share our financials [internally]’. We treat our people like owners,” Reneman says. One of the company’s core concepts is ‘founder’s mindset,’ which encourages employees “to know what’s going on in the business, so we share openly and we’ve done that for years.”

Today, the trend is catching on throughout the business world. “Now lots of people are doing that,” Reneman points out, and that is not the only area where Mountain Leverage was ahead of the curve. “We’ve been remote forever.” In fact, the business was founded as a remote company from the very beginning—nearly three decades ago—long before most businesses embraced working virtually.

Looking ahead, Mountain Leverage is well placed for continued growth and success. In November 2021, the company acquired its closest competitor, Speech Interface Design, nearly doubling the number of employees and cementing its position as the preeminent voice supplier to the distribution industry, and this is only the beginning. “We would like to continue to grow,” Reneman says. “That may be through acquisition but it may also be organic by taking the technology that we use and leveraging it in [other] markets where it can also be applicable.”

Regardless of where the team takes their solutions next, the goal will remain the same: “being able to optimize work in today’s world with the labor challenges that everybody’s experiencing, making sure worker satisfaction is a key part of that.”

Reneman believes that good people, both within and outside of the company, will enable Mountain Leverage to achieve this goal. “I am really grateful for all of the folks I’ve worked with through the years,” he says. “I know there’s all this bad news now… you’ve got guys invading countries and fuel prices [rising] and everybody hates each other on every side of the political spectrum, but there are a lot of great people, and if you look for them, they’re there.”

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