…It would be a movement to mobilize capitalism to aligning their interests with their customer’s lives — to genuinely say, “Is my product or business aligned to make my customer’s life better in the long run? Am I aligned to create a more sustainable and even more restorative earth?” I’d love to see the Earth be restored through the power of capitalism. I’d love to see capitalism genuinely aligned with the social good, with the sustainability and even the restoration of the Earth’s natural resources and all of the plants and animals in it. There will come a time in my life when I dedicate myself to this.
I had the pleasure to interview Kurt Long, the CEO of FairWarning. FairWarning’s vision is to protect health, wealth and personal information for every person on Earth. FairWarning has undergone significant growth since Kurt founded the company in 2005. The company’s Patient Privacy Intelligence customers represent over 8,000 healthcare facilities globally. FairWarning’s Cloud Security offering protects financial services customers with over $ 600 Billion in assets. FairWarning has been voted a “Top WorkPlace” for six consecutive years. Prior to FairWarning, Mr. Long founded and served as CEO of OpenNetwork Technologies a leader in single sign on and identity management software solutions. As CEO, Mr. Long led OpenNetwork to over 2,000% growth with customers across the United States, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia. OpenNetwork was acquired by BMC Software of Houston. At the outset of his career, Mr. Long held positions of growing responsibility with Lockheed Space Operations Corporation at Kennedy Space Center serving as Space Shuttle Databank Mission Manager on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Galileo and Ulysses missions as well as additional Space Shuttle flights. Mr. Long received a Bachelor’s degree in Business from the University of Florida graduating with High Honors. Kurt also received a Master’s degree in Mathematics, Theoretical Computer Science from the University of South Florida, graduating with Honors. Kurt holds multiple patents around the world related to information security. Mr. Long is co-Founder of Next Generation Entrepreneurs with the Pinellas Education Foundation, a program designed to develop consciousnesses entrepreneurship in high school students. Additionally under Kurt’s leadership, FairWarning has launched programs and partnerships which benefit Metropolitan Ministries, PetPal, the University of Florida and numerous Red Cross relief efforts. For example, in 2017, FairWarning contributed 4,775 food items to Metropolitan Ministries.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
Well, I am a reluctant entrepreneur. When I was young, I would hear people talking about money and cars, and I found it really boring. I also noticed a disturbing lack of ethics where all these businesspeople talked about is how they got money out of somebody. That’s what I associated business with, and I wasn’t interested. I was interested in exploring the world — and then, quite frankly, exploring the universe. That’s why I went to the Kennedy Space Center and worked on the Hubble Space Telescope and Galileo projects. I loved it, and the only reason I moved on was that the space program was in decline and my mentors there said, “You should leave.”
The reason I started my own business is because I wanted a great place to work. I wondered if I could create a company that I would want to come to work at. That was my first company, Open Network, and for six years I did a good job of making it a great place to work. But then we raised investment money, and I didn’t enforce the culture strongly enough. The company started behaving differently than I ever imagined, in ways that were even embarrassing to me. So I left.
So, when I started FairWarning, I understood that if I’m really going to have a great company that’s going to stand the test of time, I have to stay in control of the true north of the company, our virtues, values and vision. That’s my primary role today: to instill these things in our culture and never lose control of it again — and to recruit people that believe in it, too.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that’s happened to you since you began running your company?
At a previous company I worked with Martin Burrow — he lived in the Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles and managed the band Van Halen. I named my current company, FairWarning, which was Van Halen’s 1981 album. It wasn’t intentional but very ironic.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Transparency, accountability, and then celebration and recognition. These create a common vision of where we want to go and what needs to happen next. It’s very simple. I usually present the framework for the vision, like a skeleton, and everybody participates in filling it in. And then we’re very transparent about who is supposed to do what, including me. I let everyone know, “These are the things I’m responsible for.” And we hold each other accountable socially, so everyone knows if you haven’t completed your part of the bargain. And once we reach our goal, there’s some recognition and usually some kind of celebration to go along with it. We like to be accused of having more fun than people think should be allowed.
What is the top challenge when it comes to managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
It’s totally about culture, because these teams are disconnected. We’re based in U.S., and we have UK teams. Their culture is different, and that’s the biggest challenge. How do we align ourselves around our values and our culture? The first thing is that you have to know what your company culture is. You have to be able to write it down, be really explicit and say, “Listen, no matter where there’s a FairWarning employee in the world, here’s the playbook for the company culture.”
Then, ideally, you can send someone from headquarters to the remote location who understands the culture and can transmit it to the remote team. And anything from visits to video cameras to flying the teams over for fun events helps with culture. For us, it would be what we call a “field day,” bringing them into our culture a couple times a year. These are things that become “musts.”
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
No one ever tells you to architect your life and then decide what business best suits your life vision. For the entrepreneur who’s creating a business and risking everything, you first want to envision what you want the next 10 years of your life look like. Then create a business that fits that vision. And then get others involved who are aligned with the vision. But don’t make the mistake of starting a business and thinking that just because you started that business, that business will serve your life. Without proper design, that business is likely to take you away from the life that you envisioned and create a lot of stress — which then gets passed on to employees. Make sure that you are thriving first, and then your employees will thrive along with you.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
In terms of what you do to retain talent, a lot of it boils down to whom you hire. And if you hire people who believe in your purpose and vales, they’re more likely to stay through thick and thin than people who are mercenaries. In today’s world, popular media and even the business press promote a mercenary mindset — the idea that we’re all free agents in this world with loyalty only to our own agendas.
That makes it hard to build anything of significance. It also makes it hard to be part of something significant. And it also, sadly, takes all of the meaning out of work. We human beings need meaningful work to feel like our lives matter. So, we want to know our purpose, know our values and recruit like-minded people so that we have something in common.
Then, we genuinely want our employees to grow, receive formal and informal training, and be part of a leadership team that values them. They need to mix with the executive team, participate in our culture and be made to feel like they belong. And that’s an important word — belonging. It’s something every one of us can do. It begins with me, but it certainly doesn’t end there, because it takes everybody to make others feel like they belong. Make sure they can see the impact of their work, how they make customers’ lives better, and then make sure that they feel like they belong.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team.” (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
The first thing you need to know is that you need to be a self-aware person. You need to know your own strengths and your own limitations. The second thing you need to know is the vision of the future state that we’re ultimately working toward. You’re going to want to know what the strengths and weaknesses are of each respective teammate so that you can form partnerships. If you’re trying to do anything of significance, you can’t do it alone. Then from there, you need to be able to measure progress and know what success looks like. Finally, you need to have a little bit of skill for knowing how to refine things when you’re not making the progress you had hoped for.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be a movement to mobilize capitalism to aligning their interests with their customer’s lives — to genuinely say, “Is my product or business aligned to make my customer’s life better in the long run? Am I aligned to create a more sustainable and even more restorative earth?” I’d love to see the Earth be restored through the power of capitalism. I’d love to see capitalism genuinely aligned with the social good, with the sustainability and even the restoration of the Earth’s natural resources and all of the plants and animals in it. There will come a time in my life when I dedicate myself to this.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Here’s my favorite life lesson quote: Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. It’s been relevant in my life in that I see so many people looking at the trappings of what a business can bring. They say, “I want to make a lot of money, I want a big business,” and so on. But business comes with responsibility and a lot of hard work, and if you don’t enjoy that work, it’s not aligned with what you actually want in life. So, you got what you thought you wanted — to own a business — but you don’t actually want it.
I wanted a business that still let me have a life, so that is how I designed my life and work. I want what I’ve gotten as a result, and I’m happy.
Originally published at medium.com