Acknowledge and communicate the impact of crisis. When COVID hit, we realized the potential organizational threat on March 1st. We had an executive who visited Milan, Italy, Vienna, Raleigh, and Seattle within a week’s time. Simultaneously, outbreaks were occurring in each of those cities. While that individual was not impacted at all, it became obvious how quickly the virus could spread throughout our entire organization.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Bureau.
As Chief Executive Officer, Jim Bureau is responsible for JAGGAER’s overall vision to transcend customer experience by providing intuitive and intelligent spend management solutions that allow JAGGAER clients to transform their supply chain. He brings more than 25 years of leadership experience, with his most recent role as Executive Vice President, leading JAGGAER’s Global Sales & Marketing initiatives. Jim came to JAGGAER from Verint Systems/ KANA Software where he was in the role of Senior Vice President. As an executive with KANA software Jim played a key role in successfully growing the company as it was acquired by Verint Systems for $514 million.
Prior to Verint/ KANA, Jim held leadership roles at Pegasystems, Shared Health, and Oracle Corporation.
He also holds a B.S. degree from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Looking back, the common thread between the various roles I’ve held is that they’ve all centered around transformational initiatives.
My first job out of college was with 3M selling an Enterprise Computerized Patient Record to the healthcare market. The platform gave providers one true representation of a patient, which was noteworthy in an industry comprised of numerous heterogenous systems and facilities where multiple practitioners ‘own’ patient records. Implementing these systems on a large, state-wide scale gave me invaluable perspective and experience that kickstarted my career in technology.
I went on to work across a variety of industries and was eventually introduced to Accel-KKR, one of JAGGAER’s investors, which propelled me into the procurement space. JAGGAER had just made several acquisitions that established its global footprint and rounded out its comprehensive technology offering. There was an opportunity to build on that momentum and transform how people think about their supply chain. My earlier healthcare technology experience was transferable in many ways. Just like healthcare providers need one view of a patient, a supplier needs to be represented on a network with a ‘profile’ that gives buyers visibility into what that supplier can and can’t do, and vice versa. Everything I’ve taken away from my prior roles has been instrumental in helping JAGGAER create that network effect.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Early in my career when I was working in healthcare sales, I tended to take on big projects and tackle them full steam ahead, even if I didn’t have the resources. I was very motivated to change the healthcare delivery process, but didn’t have a ton of experience yet since I had just graduated.
One day, I had a presentation at Duke Medical Center where I walked about thirty physicians through the computerized patient record system. One of the physicians asked me to show them how to do a PRN order for a certain medication. I paused awkwardly. The physician noticed and said, “You don’t know what a PRN order is, do you?” Admittedly, I did not. I now know — and won’t forget — it refers to a medication given on an “as needed” basis. The lesson I learned that day carried me through my career: If you’re going to make a pitch, you’d better know the domain of the subject of which you’re speaking before you walk through that door. This story had such a profound effect, it’s actually part of where JAGGAER’s value of “passion” came from. Being passionate about something requires you to know everything there is to know about that one thing. It’s a principle I take to heart and remind my team of every day.
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?
Two gentlemen come to mind: George Sears, a colleague at 3M, who offered me a pretty material role early on as an Account Executive. It was unusual for someone my age — I was around 23 at the time — to sell multi-million-dollar deals. When I was 27-year-old, Joe Duffy, an executive at Oracle needed a regional manager to lead the east coast team of Account Executives. He took a chance on me — every single person on the team was twice my age. Both were huge opportunities that gave me the opportunity to try something different and were instrumental in setting the trajectory of my career.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Our company’s founder Scott Andrews set out to transform the way life sciences companies sourced their laboratory supplies, which was a very lengthy, tedious, and unsystematic process back in 1995. Rather than purchasing equipment from several different companies, Scott sought to create a user-friendly marketing place, and aggregate the process onto one platform, allowing for a simpler, more efficient experience for customers searching for highly specific products.
JAGGAER has certainly expanded its technology and reach over the past 25 years. We’ve grown from a humble startup to a truly global company and serve the needs of all industry sectors, public service and academia. Our core purpose remains: To deliver solutions that provide our customers and partners the most intelligent, transparent, frictionless commerce in the market. We don’t rest unless customers are thrilled with the capabilities, experience, and outcomes we deliver. The mindset on which our company was founded is very much embodied by our team today.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
When COVID hit, the general team disposition was that people and organizations are struggling right now, we shouldn’t push our own agenda. I encouraged our company to take a step back and posed the question, “What’s the biggest issue our customers are facing right now, and how can we help?”
Healthcare is one of JAGGAER’s biggest industries. Our customers in this sector needed to get PPE, tests, and other critical medical supplies through the door, and out to hospitals and facilities all over the country — and fast. These organizations needed to see the suppliers they hadn’t tapped yet that could get them the equipment they desperately needed. Other companies’ revenues hit a brick wall at the start of the outbreak, and they needed to control expenses quickly. Both sets of problems are exactly what JAGGAER solves. The team needed to understand conveying that message wasn’t invasive and instead solved a very real and urgent in the market.
In any environment, but especially when facing uncertainty, leading with a set of core values that resonates with the customer base is key — it gives the team a guidebook for how to handle various situations that arise. For JAGGAER, those values are passion, humility, transparency, accountability, and empathy. In putting ourselves in our customers shoes and being empathetic to their challenges, we were able to deliver solutions that helped them navigate the very difficult time.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Absolutely not. Accountability is one of our core company values. JAGGAER plays a critical role in the supply chain network and our entire team feels this responsibility in what we do. When COVID hit, most companies started working remotely March 12th or 16th following the shutdown of sports and other public events. We stopped going into the office March 6th. We knew our customers would rely on us for help as the pandemic unfolded and we had an obligation to stay up and running. That understanding motivated us and drove the decision to go remote. Giving up was never an option.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Managing through a crisis is about helping people see the path to the other side and gain a sense of stability. Early in the pandemic, I tried to get as much face time with people over video as possible. The conversations weren’t focused on whether we were hitting our numbers or tracking toward specific goals. The intention was to find out how the team was handling the pandemic on a human level.
Some folks were working with kids or pets at home, which added a new layer of stress and distraction at an already difficult time. We needed to offer them support and let them know it’s okay if your son or daughter is yanking on your leg during a conference call because it’s time for lunch.
Leaders are also human and deal with similar stressors. Letting employees really see that and being vulnerable creates camaraderie and can help boost morale when the team needs it most.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
Reinforce the tangible impact of the work you do by showing the positivity of recent wins. We shared with our employee the notes we received from customers who thanked us for our support during the early stages of the pandemic. It’s motivating for people to see the fruits of their labor and reminds the team why we do what we do. Even a seemingly small gesture like sharing customer testimonials helps employees feel valued and appreciated, which directly inspires, motivates, and engages the team.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I’m sure most leaders would agree there is never a good or easy way to share difficult news. The framework I’ve come to rely on: Be transparent, humble, empathize with the team’s feelings, and take accountability for what you’re about to share.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I see an unpredictable future as an opportunity to redefine. The world is changing every day. Are the things you’re doing today going to be relevant for the world you’re working in tomorrow?
The pandemic, while a very grave situation, exposed what we need to be thinking about and focusing on for the future. We no longer go on-site to do sales presentations. We don’t go to our customer facilities to do technology rollouts or other transformational initiatives. These changes give every company an avenue to try something different and generate new value. It’s a silver lining that should excite business leaders. When faced with uncertainty, own it — and use it as a force for greater good.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Rely on your core set of values — it’s the rudder of your ship and keeps you aligned through rough waters, at which point prioritization becomes important. In every crisis, some considerations or actions are critical, while others are just noise and won’t disturb the trajectory of the ship.
JAGGAER checks its values before making any and every decision. These principles keep us sailing in the right direction. Are we being humble, not focusing on one individual, but on the organization as a whole? Do we have empathy for the various people involved in this situation — whether they are employees, customers, or partners? Are we being transparent around the challenges and obstacles in front of us, so people understand the thought process around how a decision was made? Are we being accountable and owning our responsibilities as an employer, provider, and partner? Are we being passionate and “all in” as we navigate a particular situation or issue, meaning we have 110% exhausted all our capabilities to achieve our goal? There is no partial effort — it’s all, or nothing.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen is when companies make decisions focused on the short term, and that are reactive vs. being proactive. Waiting too long to make a decision is another common mistake. Decisions don’t have to be perfect — they need to be directionally correct. Expect to adjust along the way vs. sitting idle too long in order to have the “perfect” model.
I’ve also seen companies poorly frame the market conditions. Anyone or any company can navigate through calm waters. What makes great companies great — just like what makes great athletes or performers great — is how they handle the unpredictable. Great companies use tough market conditions to make their organizations stronger. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow — and that should be embraced, not shunned.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Every organization should have a framework in place that prescribes how they speed up and slow down in various market conditions so that financial stability is maintained. That framework allows us to reduce variable costs on a prescriptive basis so that we have minimal impact on customers and employees.
I am very proud of the fact that JAGGAER will end 2020 with a 15% higher headcount than we had at the beginning of the year. We have been able to achieve this by having a predefined model for things that we could ramp down, such as travel and other non-essential expenses, without materially hurting our customers and employees. As the market turns, we will re-incorporate these things into our business to continue our long-term growth. Likewise, as we see an upturn in the market we will proactively add resources that increase our customer success.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Acknowledge and communicate the impact of crisis. When COVID hit, we realized the potential organizational threat on March 1st. We had an executive who visited Milan, Italy, Vienna, Raleigh, and Seattle within a week’s time. Simultaneously, outbreaks were occurring in each of those cities. While that individual was not impacted at all, it became obvious how quickly the virus could spread throughout our entire organization. Meanwhile, it was apparent that without our network operational, there could be a material impact on the global supply chain as the JAGGAER network allows healthcare organizations to procure goods and services that are used to treat and fight this pandemic. On March 6th we held an all hands company call where I explained this scenario and the potential impact. Acknowledging a crisis immediately and communicating the company’s role in the solution helps reduce ambiguity when uncertainty is high and unites the team with a common purpose.
Provide a sense of empathy for what the team is going through. I am a strong believer that to get people to be “all in” and passionate about what they are doing, you need to have empathy in what they are going through. Ignoring the challenges they face, and just telling them to get through it, or work harder, creates resentment. In our case, we facilitated a video call from our Italian sales leader who was in the midst of one of the world’s hardest hit regions at that time and had him explain life in Italy on lockdown, including how they were navigating the basics such as groceries, doctor appointments, childcare, elderly care, etc. It provided a real sense of empathy for others in the organization to help pick up the pieces while their Italian counterparts were struggling.
Be humble — and show you’re human. In many large organizations there is this fictitious view that “executive leadership” is insulated from the pains of current market conditions. We are all human and equally susceptible, and to help our team realize this, I initiated a series of video calls into my home where I walked people through some of the mundane, but important challenges that the executive leadership team has that are the exact same as everyone else. It was important the team see their leaders rolling up their sleeves and navigating through children, pets, isolation, and fatigue just as they are, and willing to take a stand on the front line, too.
Offer a sense of hope, and more importantly, strength. Use market conditions to your advantage to build the business back up. When you think about how the human builds strength, in a literal sense it is the result of tearing down muscle fibers so that when the muscle recovers it is stronger than when you started exercising it. JAGGAER is no different. Market conditions in a pandemic are the great equalizer. All else being equal, the organizations with the will power and strength to navigate through as a single unit will prevail. For JAGGAER, I walked through the equalizing factors that every organization like ours was going through. I provided specific examples of how we adjust and take advantage of what is the new norm, whether that new norm lasts for a month, a year, or forever. Expecting the unexpected and staying strong and positive prepares you to deal with variables as they arise.
Be transparent in decision making. Transparency builds trust. Something I like to do in making important decisions is to challenge our employees to ask questions they don’t think I will want to answer. When they do this, and I provide an answer they may not want to hear, they can appreciate the challenges along the way and don’t necessarily question the details of every decision. They have an appreciation that not every decision is an easy one and they all come with tradeoffs. Being transparent with our team and reminding them that those difficult decisions are based upon a core set of values provides them comfort and confidence that we have the organization’s best interest at heart.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In my opinion the best “life lesson quote” comes from Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
As I remind the kids I coach, even one of the greatest basketball players of all time failed. We can’t be afraid of failure — it’s often in these moments we grow the most.
How can our readers further follow your work?