It’s rare that Atomic Object adds a new leader to the team. Recently, we’ve welcomed two.
Jordan Schaenzle and Rebecca Canterbury lead Atomic’s Chicago office as Managing Partners. From the new office, the pair will shape the future of the firm’s presence in its first out-of-Michigan market.
Though they find themselves in the same role, Rebecca and Jordan took different paths to become Atomic Object MPs.
Jordan is one of Atomic’s most tenured employees. He spent a decade developing software in Grand Rapids before moving to the city for this promotion. Rebecca joins Atomic as one of the newest team members. She earned her stripes outside Atomic, managing product development at Chicagoland tech companies before accepting her new role this summer.
I sat down with both of them to ask about how they got here, their views on opening a third office, and what they envision for the future of Atomic Object Chicago.
Why has Atomic expanded into Chicago?
JS: Atomic’s purpose is to be a source of — and a force for — good. The latter half of that is being a force for good for our Atoms and our clients. By expanding our impact, we get to reach more communities — and in this case, Chicago, specifically.
When we announced the goal to open the Chicago office, we gave anyone in the company a chance to apply to join the seed team. The seed team would help establish the culture and deliver work to our clients in Chicago as we got started.
Dan, Gage and Sarah from the Grand Rapids office responded with excitement about being a part of that team. They have worked closely with me through the last year and a half. Even though there was a lot of uncertainty, by the fall we’ll all be here in Chicago
Sounds like, as with a lot of 2020 plans, Covid made things more complicated.
JS: We kicked off work toward opening the Chicago office in January of 202o. I began making regular trips to the city to start building a network here. By March, we stopped all travel and continued working on our mission from Michigan. However, our team continued throughout that time meeting as a team and establishing our own office-based routines.
The team rose to the challenge. Covid’s put a lot of stress and strain on people’s lives. It’s been a challenge working through the uncertainty it’s thrown us. What is it actually going to be like living in Chicago coming out of the pandemic? How easy is it to get out there and attend networking events? The team has been great at dealing with that uncertainty and pushing forward with open and flexible minds.
Rebecca, what drew you to Atomic Object?
RC: I have been following the company since I first met Mike Marsiglia about eight years ago at an industry conference.
I always felt like Atomic Object did things in a very intentional, thoughtful way. There are a lot of agencies out there. It can be hard to differentiate yourself. Atomic has done that from the inside out. They’ve found differentiation through their people — by creating a positive environment for Atoms to grow and develop within the organization.
That benefits the customer by having a well-supported, connected, and engaged team. They show up feeling like they can be their whole selves and do their best work. That’s what attracted me to Atomic.
When I saw the position on LinkedIn, I read the description. I was taken aback by how thoughtful it was and how much the company was going out of their way to explain what they were looking for. They acknowledged that they’d meet the candidates where they were. I didn’t see a long list of requirements about which Ivy school applicants should have attended. Instead, it was about the type of person that would complement the team and the skills needed for the job. They said some of those skills could be developed. It was a more holistic and realistic approach to a job description.
You’ve come up in both product firms as well as agencies. How do you see the differences between these types of companies?
RC: Agencies — in my view — give you the best of everything. You get to explore industries, different types of organizations large and small, nonprofits to Fortune 50 companies, different types of tech, and different approaches to design. You get everything in one place.
In the past, I have sought out opportunities to become an expert in one industry or one solution type. While that was valuable and I appreciated that experience, over time I got bored. I started to feel a sense that there was more that’s going on.
I like to have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening across various industries. Understanding the dynamics between industries lets you more quickly find the right solution, even if you learned about it in a totally different context. You can see the bigger play.
Jordan, how does your background as a developer influence your approach?
JS: As Managing Partner, you have a lot of responsibilities. You lead across not only sales and client account management, but also working with the team. MPs need to understand what’s important to them and make sure we live up to our purpose of being a source of fulfillment for Atoms. Having done the job of being a developer and knowing what pressures and challenges folks face — it allows me to be a better, empathetic manager.
It’s also useful when we’re talking with clients about developing a strategy. My technical background allows me to see a wide range of options and highlight the pros and cons of different technical options.
What most excites each of you about this position with Atomic Object Chicago?
JS: The thing that excited me the most is this idea of building an Atomic Chicago culture that is rooted in what Atomic gets right but is also influenced by our own special thing. I look forward to creating a place where people care about and support one another, share one another’s pain, and put forth their best effort towards our clients’ successes.
RC: I am very excited about the opportunity to partner with someone else, and Jordan, specifically.
The co-lead model is unique and, within an agency where teams are often smaller, I think they don’t often take that approach. But it’s so important. You allow someone to excel where their natural skills are. You can share responsibilities that may not be your strength.
JS: Rebecca has a broader set of business experience than I do. That allows her to bring in a diverse perspective and insight on a lot of the situations we’re addressing at Atomic. Plus, I think she’s a very collaborative person. We’re both energized by working as a team with a common goal of finding success.
RC: Leaders sometimes mistakenly say, “I have to do everything” and think if they delegate something, it must be a weakness. No. Let’s let people do what they do best and have a colleague to share the challenges and successes with. From a mental health standpoint, that’s valuable. And it’s less isolating. In this type of role leading a team, having someone else you can talk through the challenges with is really important.
Frankly, we’re still in a pandemic. We’ve not really dealt with so many social injustice issues. A lot is going on. And it is interesting to see someone at the top of their game saying, “I’m not okay.” In some ways, it gives other people license to open up about how they feel.
The company culture, the approach to the humans that show up for work every day — that’s more important to me than anything else.
How do you think a new presence in Chicago might impact Atomic Object? What does the city have to teach us?
RC: Chicago is an incredible city in that it’s got its humble midwestern roots. But it’s still a fast-paced, hard-working hub that is always competing to be the destination for top talent and for companies to come here. The expectations are high, and people work hard to stand up for and support the Chicago market.
I think that Chicago’s energy and pace and its deep creative roots will provide a good burst of energy into Atomic.
JS: Our office is located on the western side of the downtown loop. It’s a perfect place because it offers a great community for our people. Atomic likes to be in urban centers because that lets us communicate with the community rather than being out in the suburbs. It’s good access. Easy for our clients and employees to get there.
Already, through the networking I’ve been doing, I’ve been so impressed with how kind and helpful everyone is. People have been so willing to introduce me to their networking groups. I feel embraced by the community already, and people seem to be excited that Atomic Object is here.
What’s your vision for your team as you celebrate five successful years in Chicago in 2026?
RC: I think this office is going to grow in a pretty remarkable way. I think it’s going to be an intentional, sustainable growth, but I think it’s going to be rapid as well. There are so many great organizations to work with and an amazing talent pool here, and putting those together is where the magic lies. On our five-year anniversary, I see us celebrating our team’s growth, our clients’ successes, and the impact we’ve had within the Chicago community.
JS: My vision is to grow a solid team of makers that can deliver success to our clients. We’re starting out with a core, seed team that will grow into a larger, successful office. Five years from now, I want to see that seed blossoming and have an established team of developers, designers, and delivery leads committed to Atomic’s culture and committed to client success.
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Source: Atomic Object