Then & Now: Mike Thompson helps people to ‘come alive’

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 896 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Mike Thompson has spent almost the past two decades in talent development after selling his interest in the advertising agency Thompson Murray. Thompson, 51, is the founder and CEO of Fayetteville-based SVI and Learner Mobile.

Thompson left the advertising industry after his infant son, Blake, died of leukemia.

“You realize life is short, you have no control, you want to make it count and it’s precious,” Thompson said. “As much as I’d loved advertising, through that experience, it developed a deep burning in my heart to move into something that had a meaningful purpose. For me, it was coming alongside people and helping them come alive.”

He cited a Howard Thurman quote that’s meant a lot to him: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

In 2003, Thompson founded SVI to focus on the development of people in their careers and personal lives.

Learning management system Learner Mobile is SVI’s flagship product. The app was launched in 2013. Since then, it’s grown 100% annually, and more than 5 million learning activities have been completed over the period.

“We’re not backed by any capital. This is self-funded from the beginning, and we have no long-term debt,” Thompson said. “What’s valuable about that is we don’t have to answer to anybody else. We’re able to move fast. Our clients serve as our board members.”

Before Learner Mobile was developed, the company’s old business model was to augment clients’ staff and charge by the hour. This created growth barriers as it looked to become a global company. To grow and scale, it needed products.

“We got to get into the products business because we need to build affordable and engaging systems that get the right information to the right person at the perfect time so that they can perform their best,” he said.

As one of SVI’s first products, Learner Mobile has provided original and curated content for those who want “bite-sized, on-demand, just-in-time content — not the long-form, updated once a year, high cost in production kind of content,” he said.

Thompson moved to Dallas the same year SVI launched Learner Mobile. He said he relocated because the company was already working with large Arkansas-based employers, including Dillard’s, J.B. Hunt, Tyson Foods and Walmart.

“My venture to Dallas was for growth,” he added. “We wanted to have a different marketplace with different market opportunities that were going to continue to elevate our growth.”

Overall, SVI has about 200 clients, including Conifer Health, Dentsply Sirona, Rutgers University and Varsity Brands. Recently, Learner Mobile was named the preferred vendor for the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas, supporting 42 independent nonprofit colleges and universities in the state.

SVI has 13 employees in Dallas and Fayetteville. They primarily work virtually, but the company has a Fayetteville office.

Thompson noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has positively impacted Learner Mobile as more people started working remotely, and the need for digital training rose. Learner Mobile allowed companies to hire and train employees amid the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, the company had reduced in-person training while offering live virtual training sessions.

Recently, SVI released the third generation of the Learner Mobile app. The newest generation improves search capabilities, analytics and the user experience. Users can input their training certificates and complete paths to receive certifications.

Thompson was founder, owner and president of advertising agency Thompson Earnhart & Associates Inc. in Fayetteville when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 1997. His company merged with BrandWorks Consulting of Fayetteville in 1999 and rebranded to Thompson Murray. After he sold his interest in the company in 2002, it was later acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi X.

Thompson and his wife, Mel, have three children. He resides in Flower Mound, Texas, and leads a community group at RockPointe Church.