As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rob Reid, the Chairman of Mid-Market Solutions at Sage. Rob has over 35 years of experience in the software industry and has a proven track record of driving explosive growth at innovative companies, and has demonstrated a deep expertise in bringing cloud computing to the world of business applications.
Rob serves as the Chairman of the Sage Mid-Market solutions group. Sage acquired Intacct, which was the industry leading Cloud provider of mid-market Financial Management Software where Rob was CEO and President. Rob had served as president and CEO of LucidEra, a market leader for on-demand business intelligence. Prior to that, he was group vice president of industry-leading Siebel CRM On Demand for Oracle Corporation, managing the SMB sector. As president and CEO of on-demand CRM innovator UpShot, Rob grew the company tenfold before it was acquired by Siebel.
Rob served as president of Concur Commerce Network, an e-marketplace for small to mid-sized businesses, and also as president and CEO of Seeker Software. Rob was a vice president at Documentum, where he helped establish the company as a world leader of document management software. Rob has also held executive management positions at Octel Communications, NBI, and Zenith Data Systems.
Thank you so much for joining us Rob! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas involved in consumer electronics back in the 1970s, marketing televisions and other electronics. The company where I worked, Rockwell International, was a pioneer in the development of microprocessors and computer chips at the time. They created a special skunk works project to create a personal computer in the mid 70s, before the RadioShack or Apple computers. I joined a small team as the marketing manager, and helped develop the business plan, and go to market plans. Rockwell ultimately cancelled the project, but I saw from my experience that the world would become digital. I went on to develop an OEM arrangement at my next firm with Apple in their first year in business, and then became the second employee of Zenith Data Systems, which was a PC innovator during the PC revolution. I then saw that the real business value was in software, (because hardware would ultimately become commoditized) and moved to that part of the industry where I have remained for the last 35 years.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading Intacct? What lessons did you learn from that?
When I first joined Intacct, the company had about 100 employees, and was an emerging player in Cloud Financial Management software. When I did the initial review of our solution, I found we had a lot of bugs, and our customer satisfaction was low. Our development team said we needed to get functionality out faster to become the leader. We were using an agile development approach that allowed us to pump out new capabilities on a daily or weekly basis, but not always with the needed quality. I had to make a call on the long term priority for the company, customer satisfaction or innovation. We decided that delivering software with high quality was more important than rapidly delivering new capabilities. That decision ultimately caused us to be known as a company that is focused on customer satisfaction, which has helped us differentiate against all of our competitors and become the recognized leader. So, I learned that staying focused on customer satisfaction should help propel any company to business success.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
My father died when I was nine years old — we were doing really well, life was good and all of a sudden, life totally changed. There wasn’t going to be an income coming in, I was going to have to put myself through college and my world turned totally upside down. I started working — I had a paper route at nine years old, I started delivering flowers when I was 12, I was cutting lawns from 13–15, and from 16–18, I was working full time. After school, I would work from 4–10pm Monday through Friday and on Saturdays and Sundays to be able to put myself through school.
When I got older, I didn’t want my family to go through what I had to, so I was driven towards success and do it fast because no one can be certain how long they will be on this planet. I wanted to know that my kids could go to the best colleges and wouldn’t have to be financially impacted.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- Finding Strength in Humility — I have led teams through good and bad times and I always thought I had to be stoic in every situation. You don’t always have to show strength every time. Humility is letting your peers know that sometimes it’s absolutely okay to not have all the answers. People who see that a leader can display humility will have the courage to come in and inject their thoughts and ideas, not just at that one point, but at any point in time. When I was at Zenith Data Systems, we found out that IBM was going to introduce their PC on a different chip, and that all the software vendors would develop for them, and we would be left behind. I was heading up marketing and sales at the time, and I let people know that I was very concerned about the situation and I needed their help. One of my staff members suggested that we use our chip and the same IBM chip, and then say we could run customers’ current applications or the ones coming out for IBM. It increased our costs but was far better than going out of business. A year later, our sales were accelerating, and our profit margins actually went up because of the increased volume. So even when the darkest of times are before you, let the team reimagine what could be to take you to success.
- You’re Not Always Right — I found out that I needed people to question my beliefs to make me a better leader. Even if your values and beliefs are on a very sound footing, don’t think that you are always right and the culture you’ve injected at any particular point in time is exactly right. It’s important to find out from people and colleagues whether the culture you bring it is the right one and if not, work to make it better. My normal disposition is to be optimistic with a focus on growth. I pushed our board for more funding so we could grow faster, but our CFO gave a different view, and said with more growth we are also injecting more risk. His recommendation was to stay the course and try to maximize with our current funds, by ruthlessly prioritizing our major initiatives to do them better than the competition. We were able to maintain a 40% year over year growth rate for years, utilizing that business philosophy.
- Prioritize Above Everything — I’ve had a lot of responsibilities ever since I was a young executive and thought that I had to be on top of everything at all times. So I worked extra long hours trying to outthink everybody. I found over time that maximizing your time on the most important issues and ruthlessly prioritize the most important items is critical, as opposed to trying to do everything across the board — so really focus on prioritizing. An example related to this is most engineers, when you tell them the competition is ahead, their first instinct is to want to fix everything. After all, engineers are taught to build the best in school, learn from others and then improve on the past. However, it’s more important to do a better job across the board, which is one of the key parts of beating the competition. Every firm has fixed resources, and if you prioritize on the most compelling capabilities that deliver value to customers, you can then tell the developers, that the non-differentiators within the product can be just good enough, everything does not have to be the best. But you still do have to have a value proposition on at least one compelling element of your business service or product that drives a customer to buy from you.
- The Platinum Rule — My mother injected in me the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I would say, the platinum rule, “Do unto others as they would have done unto them” is the most important rule as a leader. Don’t inject your thoughts and ideas on the situation, find out from your customers and colleagues what they would have liked to experience and go do them.
- People First — I was classically taught in school that an entrepreneur can have great ideas but if those ideas never come to fruition, they are not worth anything. I was additionally taught that investors are the most important people because without funding to start the business, you can never achieve success. That sentiment is totally wrong. You have to hire a core set of people who are passionate about what you are trying to do as a business, and have them help you achieve it. That core set of people will then go and talk with customers to validate the approach and figure out how we are going to change the world. You can then go to the investors with the confidence that you have an extremely knowledgeable workforce because investors like to invest in teams, not one individual. And if they see that the team is passionate and knowledgeable, they will automatically be confident that these people will knock it out of the park with customer delight and make the organization successful. So the order is colleagues, customers, and investors.
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?
My mother instilled great interpersonal skills in me. Even though she was a single parent, she spent the time emphasizing what was really important in life. When I was around 13–14, she told me that for however many years I’d be on this planet, I needed to figure out how I was going to make the world a better place. She appealed to me to not skate through my life without doing something to really change the world for the better. If I did that, in her eyes, I would have wasted my life. This forced me to really think and figure out how I wanted to impact the world. While I was still young, she provided me with these challenges and gave me the foundation to figure out how I’m really going to be making a difference.
She went even further in that she instilled in me that we had to make a difference with every single person that you engage with on a daily basis. She theorized that no one is better than anyone else — the only way a person can have an impact on others is to help them be better. Whether you put a smile on their face, pass on knowledge, do the hard work with them, or help them to achieve something they wouldn’t have been able to themselves, you need to make an impact. You need to do it based on achieving success for them, the team, colleagues, investors, and do the best you possibly can in the world.
Her philosophies really helped me shape how I lead — people can see that I’m passionate, I care about others and put them before myself. Before I got married, my mother told me that a marriage was a 50/50 relationship — both need to contribute to make the relationship successful. In my years of marriage, what I have found is that in any relationship, if you give 90% and expect 10%, it’s gonna be a great 50/50 relationship. So giving more of yourself and expecting close to nothing back allows you to look at the world a lot differently, and you become pretty positive since you are not expecting others to do what you do, but you get the satisfaction that you helped others and made an impact on them.
Another mentor for me on the business side was Geoffrey Moore, who wrote Crossing The Chasm, which has become the bible for technology strategy and marketing. I was one of the first guys Geoff worked with in implementing the Crossing the Chasm process. He’s written dozens of New York Times bestsellers and has consulted with over 2,000 firms in technology, and is higher valued than McKinsey on his consulting. I was lucky enough to work with him earlier in his career, and I learned more from him on business than anyone else I’ve ever interacted with.
The number one thing I’ve learned from Geoff was focus. Before I met Geoff, I was a sales and marketing guy — back then it was always good, better, best in terms of solutions. A lot of organizations would offer multiple solutions to cover the maximum amount of the market. Geoff always said to not be good at a bunch of things but to focus on one thing and be the best in the world. Once you nailed that, you can focus on the next thing, but you need to be sure that it is compelling. What you do need to change the way the company works for the better and it satisfies one of the companys’ biggest problems or opportunities. You have to do bold things that make a difference.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I try to create a very positive environment, because a culture cannot prevail and thrive under negative circumstances, like dishonesty, put downs, or demanding tasks that are not achievable. What ends up happening is a fear mentality ends up developing with those types of behaviors, which ultimately creates customer dissatisfaction, high employee turnover and lack of productivity and motivation.
As a leader, you have to create a positive, can do type of approach, even when things aren’t going well. You have to be balanced — it’s good to point out the things that your organization has issues with, what you aren’t achieving, so you are able to focus and take steps to make a difference. In this journey, a leader needs to show empathy, inspire, understand, and help to convey knowledge and work with the team members to develop the business to be successful.
Most importantly, you have to be empathetic — if you have a team member who has a sick grandmother, you need to support them. You don’t have to go to their grandmother’s house and support in that way, but you should give them the time to visit. When people feel that empathy, it really opens doors, removes confusion and inspires people to go the extra mile.
By winning over both minds and hearts of the people in your organization, it allows you to get a lot more done. By being a compassionate leader, people are more open, they get creative, they talk more about the issue and how we can overcome the issues, as well as what can we do better than what we are doing — which ultimately improves productivity and long term success.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
One of my goals is to change the world for the better. That is a goal in both my professional and personal life. How can we positively impact our customers so they can be successful and thrive. How can I help my family, my friends, and my community so they can achieve their goals, and what can I do to help them. Positively changing the world for others, and leaving a clear impact, is a privilege and a priority for me.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I trust that I will be able to demonstrate to all, that they can reach for the stars…. and touch them. You can achieve incredible accomplishments, even with setbacks along the way. You learn from those setbacks and charge on, to make the world better. If people say I made a difference in their life to pursue their goals and not give up, then I will have left a lasting legacy.
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!
Almost a billion people in the world do not have fresh water easily available to them. I would like to start a movement that would have people donating funds so we could drill wells in under developed countries so those people could have a critical necessity to life. After that, I would focus on having clean water available for all, not just access, but to maintain the physical and biological integrity of our planet’s water for drinking, and conservation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Twitter @SageIntacctRob.