As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Roberts.
David Roberts has served as Verra Mobility’s President and Chief Executive Officer since May 2018. He came to Verra Mobility in August 2014 as Chief Operating Officer bringing extensive management experience to the company. Prior to Verra Mobility, David was the President and Chief Executive Officer of BillingTree, a multi-channel electronic payment platform company. Before his time at BillingTree, David was a Managing Director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, leading the Equity Plan Services business. He joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch via sale of Equity Methods, where he served as Chief Executive Officer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mydad was very inspirational to me and instrumental in shaping my career today. He was a CEO and entrepreneur of a smaller company. Every year at Thanksgiving, we all shared what we were thankful for, but then we also shared our goals for the coming year. His mantra was “without vision, the people perish.” The lesson there from him was that goal setting and a forward-view of life teed you up for success. He never wanted us to be satisfied with the status quo. Somewhere I still have the card I wrote when I was about 20 years old stating that I would be CEO of $100M company by the time I was 30. It happened a little bit later in life, but I’m here and proud that my father coached me to have the forward looking vision I carry today.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Change is always constant. I became the CEO of Verra Mobility when it was sold to a private equity firm, and we had a very accelerated growth strategy with two acquisitions and going public on the NASDAQ in 18 months. The challenges we faced were twofold. How far can you press the accelerator and moderate the pace of growth while keeping the company stable and employees enjoying their quality of life? And the second was cultural. How do you keep employees engaged with the values-driven culture when the change of pace is so high? There is no growth without our amazing, talented employees so both of these challenges were taken to heart while we were evolving and growing very fast.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I was taught early on by my parents that leaders are to serve others, not be served. Humility in leadership is key, and it engenders others who want to follow you. Others I abide by are to soar with your strengths and staff to your weakness, finding people who are better than you are. This is really important, because as a CEO, you have a high-level understanding of everything, but you do not go really deep in just one area. I am self-aware that I need strong talent to fill in these areas. And at the core of it all, I realize that team dynamic is everything, and I’m empathetic to my employees and their desire to grow in their careers while enjoying their job and having a good work life balance.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- Deliver clarity among stakeholders. The pace of business moves fast, and you need to ensure who is “on first” at all times. It’s unbelievable how quickly you can have a meeting with the board or internal staff, and if you lack clarity by a few degrees, your output or deliverable can be 100 degrees off. That’s why it’s important to outline exactly what is needed from the outset.
- Don’t lose connection to customers in a market. It’s important to spend time with customers in each market to craft a vision for the future. Sometimes when you’re ensconced in bureaucracy, you can lose those connections to customers. And when we spend all of our time to nimbly solve problems for our customers, it’s critical to be connected to and invested in them.
- Balance is a key success factor. I leave at 5 p.m. every day to go see my family and help out at home. My wife is a key reason for my success today. When I counsel young men in business, they can be so financially focused, they can forsake the things that matter most. Put your family and personal life first.
- Maintain a high level of focus on culture, leadership and people. As a new CEO coming out grad school, you learn that some CEOs and leaders are numbers and financial focused on the P&L versus listening to people and considering employees and talent. Ironically, the employees are what drive those results to begin with. This is why I spend as much time as I can — probably 25 percent of my time — to recruit and encourage.
- Keep perspective. Early in my career, I was reminded after I made a mistake, that everyone makes mistakes. Keeping a balanced perspective is key. While our mission is critical — keeping the world safer, smarter and more efficient — we’re not curing cancer. That mindset is important to maintain.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Building time for a regular routine helps prevent burnout. When you don’t have that, you’re subject to whatever comes into your path. You have to make time for yourself. As the leader of a company who also has a family, it could be very easy to burn out. I thrive by waking up early every morning to get my work out in, as well as my daily prayer and meditation. All of these things balance me and ground me so I can be the best leader for the company and my family.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Back to the principle of servant leadership, my parents taught me a valuable lesson as a child that really stuck with me. During the course of my tenth birthday party, some of my friends began to play with a beach ball and would not let me into play, so I took the ball and locked it in the bathroom. This allowed me to remain the center of attention. My dad pulled me aside and told me that my act was rude and selfish, “David, I realize it’s your birthday, but it’s not about you. You are the host, and your job is to serve your guests.” He then gave the ball to my friends and sent me to my room and said, “I am letting you be alone for a while, because I want you to know that selfish people end up alone.” He was right. Who would want to follow or work alongside a selfish leader who only cared about themselves?
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I want VRRM to be a success story in public markets over the long term whether I’m at the helm or not. So, making sure the company has a clear vision of the future, as well as people/talent in the right roles to get us there. We are building a culture of engaged employees excited to be a part of Verra Mobility, a global leader in smart transportation. We will be #1 in the industry one day.
Growth never stops — no matter how old I am and no matter where I am in leadership. I’m always striving to be a better version of myself. I do this personally and professionally with goal setting. I am an avid fitness buff, and I’m continually looking for ways to push myself physically, as well as mentally with continuous learning and thought leadership sharing. There is always something new to learn.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I truly believe that real significance is contributing to the welfare of others. I want to leave a legacy of giving back. I’m continually reinforcing with my children that it’s not about how much we received, it’s about how much we gave.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
At Verra Mobility, we’re very passionate about our purpose-driven agenda. We are always looking for ways to help children who are hungry or unsafe. We work with Feed the Starving Children to give back as an organization by contributing financially, as well as provide solutions to help keep children safe to and from school. More than 15 million drivers endanger children by illegally passing a school bus during the school year, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. Our products are proven to positively change driver behavior and enhance road safety by reducing the number of collisions, injuries and fatalities that occur as a result of speeding in school zones or passing school buses with their stop arm extended.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrobertsvrrm/