Ally Financial opens larger TM Studio space for innovation at Camp North End

By   –  Staff Writer, Charlotte Business Journal

It’s a place for innovation, for the free flow of ideas, for getting back to basics. Ally Financial Inc.’s TM Studio is the only setup of its kind across the company. The intent is to bring employees closer to consumers and build ideas based on their needs.

The nearly 9,000-square-foot TM Studio opened for its first full day last week at Camp North End, just around the corner from Free Range Brewing and Leah & Louise. Upfits on the space are about 80% complete. Ally moved its studio from a 2,200-square-foot space it launched in early 2018 on a different side of the sprawling north Charlotte development.

Detroit-based Ally (NYSE: ALLY) did not provide an investment cost for the studio. It has capacity to hold up to 40 employees.

Kyle Kouchinsky, senior director at TM Studio, is managing the new space.

At the front, visitors and employees are greeted by a kitchen to one side to encourage congregation. To the other side is a brainstorming space with multiple tables and whiteboards ready to go. A nearby storage shelf is stocked full of sticky notes, markers and other supplies. The rest of the studio is open with huddle rooms and work areas. A mezzanine overlooks the office.

The studio team had run out of space at its old location, said Emily Shallal, senior director of customer strategy and innovation at Ally.

“It’s about creating this zone where our really creative employees that have been with Ally can come and really just focus on one strategic initiative at a time and showcase the power of, if you just recognize that you have talent within your employee base, unleashing that and seeing what they can do,” Shallal said.

Employees at TM Studio are pulled from elsewhere in the company, such as the user experience, technology and products teams. They work on six-month rotations before returning to their original positions, taking their innovative ideas back to corporate offices, Shallal said.

She said team volunteers have returned to the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with plans to ramp up to five days a week after Labor Day.

The team’s main job is to talk with people, Shallal said. Employees have been involved in Ally’s recent savings tools and making those accounts less about the interest rates, for example. It also talked with consumers last year about Covid-19 and how it could help. Ally’s recent elimination of overdraft fees stemmed from those conversations, she said.

The Camp North End warehouses were once home to Ford Motor Co. manufacturers — a connection to Ally’s own roots in the auto industry, Shallal noted. Designers kept much of the original industrial feel. They also recycled some furniture from Ally’s old office spaces. This spring, construction wrapped on the 26-story, 750,000-square-foot Ally Charlotte Center in uptown. Shallal said she wants the TM Studio to feel tied to the corporate center, with a markedly different atmosphere.

“If we just take (top talent) and surround them with people and put them at the center of … consumers in general, we think that we can unlock a lot of power,” Shallal said. “We don’t think you should ever throw away the old. We think you can make small modifications to make the old very new and relevant again, and that’s kind of the core of who we are at the studio.”

Ally would monitor the studio’s progress and how successful it is before considering another expansion, she said.

Choate Construction is the general contractor for TM Studio. Alliance Architecture is the project architect.