A Founder is responsible for everything, but that doesn’t mean a Founder has to do everything on their own. We must know our limitations. Many Founders will tend to jump into any new challenge themselves out of a frugal nature, or due to a practical necessity. This is a good trait, and I believe a key success factor for new Founders to have. Other Founders will outsource everything they can, but I find that leads to expensive mediocrity too much of the time. Each Founder should recognize what they should do themselves, and where to call in some help. For me, I am relatively adept at technical challenges, so I do my own web development. But I get help from accounting, legal, and insurance professionals to navigate those important areas. Others may be more comfortable with doing their own accounting but will hire technology folks to produce their website.
Aspart of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony J. Algmin. Anthony is not only a pioneer of data leadership, but he also wrote and published the very first book on the subject: Data Leadership: Stop Talking About Data and Start Making an Impact! Additionally, he is the Founder of Algmin Data Leadership, LLC (ADL), a company helping businesses transform their future with data leadership. Offerings include speaking, training, and coaching services. ADL’s Data Value Guidebook provides organizations with the direction to build momentum in their data leadership journey. Anthony has led data transformations in many industries, serving as a project manager, data architect, and Chief Data Officer. Anthony has a bachelor’s degree from Illinois Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. In collaboration with DATAVERSITY, Anthony travels the country as one of their most dynamic and popular speakers. Anthony lives with his wife and three children in suburban Chicago.
Thank you so much for joining us Anthony! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a businessperson, but I also enjoyed working with computers and technical problem-solving. When I first entered the workforce, I hadn’t realized that I could combine these interests into a career; but, as I started gaining experience, I gravitated towards using data and technology systems to help businesses succeed. Everything has grown from there.
I used to think, “It’s amazing that I found this weird career in Data Leadership where I am able to spend my time working on things that I enjoy so much! What were the chances?” It felt so random that the twists and turns my career has had led me to this place. But, over time, I realized that it was always calling to me, and each step in my career journey brought me a little bit closer to it. I especially value the experiences I had along the way, because without them I would not have developed the skills and perspective I rely upon every day.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
As I first got things going, the two clients I was counting on both fell through. It turned out to be a positive because it gave me a little more time to build the foundations of the company — and if I had been busy with clients from the start, it would have been hard to get everything else in place organizationally. I think the most important takeaway is that sometimes things don’t go as we hope, but if we are able to adjust to the new circumstances, we can achieve equally desirable outcomes.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I genuinely love this work, and I feel lucky and honored any time I am invited in to help an organization. When clients see my passion and approach, it gives them hope and confidence that problems that felt impossible can and will be solved. There is no greater professional joy for me than seeing clients go through that journey and achieve data leadership success.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Founder”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Despite having good credit, when you become self-employed, it instantly becomes more difficult to get loans or financing for anything. Even though I had many years of income consistency, the fact I was now working for myself meant I could not get a home equity loan, which was how I’d planned to cover some costs in the early days. Fortunately, I was able to find another option, but it could have easily become a bigger problem. So, if possible, establish financing and buy that car before leaving your current job.
- Everything takes longer than we hope. This is particularly true when dollars are involved. Contracts can seem to take forever to get signed, and invoices are not always paid promptly by clients. Get used to planning for the worst-case scenario and then be happily surprised when things go better. Always try to leave a little buffer for unexpected delays with project timings and cash flows.
- Saying “No” is a superpower. But the more you say it, each “Yes” becomes even more important. As a Founder, it is important to play a lot of roles and keep a lot of plates spinning. But it is easy to take on too much and have plates start crashing down unpredictably. If you push at an unsustainable pace for too long, it will inevitably take a high toll. Learn to prioritize and be willing to stop and restart less important tasks to make use of any available cycles. The ideal is to commit to what is most important today and keep enough flexibility available to take on an unexpected opportunity tomorrow. Prioritizing solely on urgency and not overall importance is a recipe for disaster. Busy is not the same as productive. Founders need to be both, and effectively prioritizing our time may be the most important thing we do.
- A Founder is responsible for everything, but that doesn’t mean a Founder has to do everything on their own. We must know our limitations. Many Founders will tend to jump into any new challenge themselves out of a frugal nature, or due to a practical necessity. This is a good trait, and I believe a key success factor for new Founders to have. Other Founders will outsource everything they can, but I find that leads to expensive mediocrity too much of the time. Each Founder should recognize what they should do themselves, and where to call in some help. For me, I am relatively adept at technical challenges, so I do my own web development. But I get help from accounting, legal, and insurance professionals to navigate those important areas. Others may be more comfortable with doing their own accounting but will hire technology folks to produce their website.
- “Comfortable” is not as desirable as we might naturally think. Starting a business is pretty much always uncomfortable. Though we can take actions to make aspects of it easier, when you put your name and reputation out there for the world to see, it’s going to come with a certain amount of anxiety or doubt. This is what we must overcome to venture out and become successful on our own terms and is a major factor why many people never take that leap. What I find more surprising is how unpleasant I find “comfortable” now that I’ve been a Founder. There was a short time where an opportunity required that I take an employee role and, looking at the data, one would think it was perfect: consistent income, reliable work, great colleagues, and a better healthcare plan. Unfortunately, that “comfort” meant I needed to play a role that evolved into something I did not particularly enjoy, and over time it felt like the air didn’t have enough oxygen. Learning that I don’t do “comfortable” well keeps me pushing forward, knowing that the alternative that works for so many other folks never will for me.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find something just for you outside of work and other responsibilities and force yourself to take some regular time for it. Because Founders are usually uniquely passionate about their work, it is easy to become inseparable from it. This is dangerous, because some days in your business are inevitably going to be tough, and you can’t take it personally. That is a recipe for making panic-based business decisions, which can quickly compound any problems. Hobbies and the like give our brains some passive computing time, which we absolutely need to make the right decisions day-in and day-out.
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?
There have been so many, and at every point along the way. From my coaches and teammates in sports growing up, to my wife and family, to managers and mentors throughout my career, I feel so much gratitude for those folks who took (and take) the time to guide my journey. I suspect many Founders would say the same.
Something a little more unique to me is that I have four close friends from my childhood that I’ve known since as young as 7. We’ve shared our lives with one another, and though we are now scattered throughout the country, they know me at a depth beyond compare and without judgment. Not only can I be my unabridged true self with them, if I were to ever try otherwise, but they would also immediately see through it and (colorfully) let me know! I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this trusted bond with them for so long.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Professionally, I need to make data leadership more common knowledge for business leaders. Because of the unique experiences I’ve had throughout my career, I’ve been able to develop these ideas and prove how they can transform organizations. Leaders realize data is important, but struggle to make the most of it. With data leadership, they can keep their businesses relevant and successful for a long time to come. Without data leadership, they will likely become another victim of data-driven disruption, regardless of industry.
Personally, I’m always trying to put things in better balance. I often joke that I’m not one to “under-do” anything. I’m passionate about whatever I’m interested in or care about, and that can make it difficult to slow down or relax. As I get older, I appreciate that I’ve got a pretty great life, and I’m ever-aware of the importance in finding the joy in today while continuing to push for an even better tomorrow.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
If data leadership saves some organizations that will not turn the competitive corner otherwise, that would be wonderful. Too many of yesterday’s most successful businesses have crumbled because they didn’t adapt, and many more are on that path. Even if I am not personally involved, I would love for data leadership to give new hope and a stronger future to organizations that are worth saving.
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!
Beyond data leadership in general, I especially want to see a rethinking of how our IT groups function in in organizations. In many places, they have become strategically irrelevant, and the relationship between the business and IT has soured to a level of complete dysfunction. Because data and technology systems are so crucial to today’s and tomorrow’s successful businesses, we need to restore these broken relationships and align everybody towards the mutual goal of organizational success. Until this happens, real data leadership will remain out of reach.
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