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Ivan Trevino of the Hochstein School of Music (right) leads band practice. M5 Networks employees are gearing up for a company-wide "battle of the bands" in May. Photo: Zack Seward, Innovation Trail
Ivan Trevino of the Hochstein School of Music (right) leads band practice. M5 Networks employees are gearing up for a company-wide "battle of the bands" in May. Photo: Zack Seward, Innovation Trail

Company uses rock and roll for team building

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Team building is nothing new at corporate offices. But company strategies to get employees working together vary widely. The telecommunications firm M-5 Networks uses music education -- specifically, a "school of rock" culminating with a company-wide battle of the bands at the annual meeting. The Innovation Trail's Zack Seward reports from M-5's Rochester branch.

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It's 4 o’clock on a Thursday. And instead of sitting in front of computer screens, a group of office workers from M5 Networks is gearing up for band practice.

“The great thing about this program is that you’re required to learn something new.” That’s Myriah Marsh, who's filling in on vocals today. For the M5 Rocks program, she’s learning how to play the bass. “I have small hands so they don’t really want to cooperate with me," she said. 

Marsh is one of about two dozen local employees participating in the music program. Bands of about 5 or 6 M5 coworkers get together every week on company time to work through covers of rock songs. The only rule is that you can’t play an instrument you already know. The guy in charge of band practice is Ivan Trevino, an educator from the Hochstein School of Music, who says the folks from M5 are model students. 

“They’re at work all day. So for them to take a break and do something different, they’re usually pretty happy to be there, which is a good thing," he said. 

Trevino says M5 Rocks is the first time Hochstein has partnered with a company for employee music classes. He says it all stems from a meeting with the founder of the Rochester office, who approached the music school about teaming up. “The way he put it was really intriguing. He said, we want our employees to continue to learn new things," Trevino said. 

Phelim White is the founder of M5’s Rochester office and a driving force behind the music program. “Most people don’t want to learn something that they’re really insecure about,” he said. White is a musician himself. He was a drummer in a few bands that toured his native Ireland and then later the U.S.

White says music has always been a part of M5’s corporate culture. But the program is about more than just having time to jam — White says there’s no better way to build a team than to start a band. “That’s the accounting person getting together with an engineer and a sales guy, all these different departments coming together as a band as a unit and learning how to be great together," he explained. 

And White says it’s no passing fancy. As a business, he says M5 is committed to providing business customers with telecom service they will ‘love.” Ultimately M5 Rocks is about enhancing the bottom line. “Happy colleagues, happy customers, right? If you’re going to have a commitment to your customers loving your service, the first commitment has to be to the staff,” White said. 

That company-wide commitment takes the form of music education, but there’s also the chance to learn jiu jitsu. It all leads to one big event this coming May: M5’s 12th birthday bash in New York City. After a jiu jitsu “fight off” during day, White says there will be a “battle of the bands” that pits M5 offices in Rochester, Chicago and New York against each other in friendly competition.

White says last year’s show — the company’s first — was a nerve-wracking success.“There was a lot of cottonmouth and nervous people nearly vomiting in the green room. Smoking lots of cigarettes and doing shots to get their Dutch courage together.”

This year, the company’s expecting and audience of about 2,000 — a pretty big gig for a bunch of fledgling rock stars. Last year a band from the Rochester office came in second to New York City. But this year Myriah Marsh and the rest of the Rochester team say they are going to take home the title. “We’re working really hard toward one goal. In case you didn’t know notice we’re all taking this pretty seriously. Rochester’s going to win this year.”

M5’s Phelim White agrees. He says teaming up with Hochstein is his office’s secret weapon. As a former pro, White can’t perform at the show in May, but he says he’ll be there: playing head cheerleader as Rochester's bands take the stage.

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