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Dave Johnson of Comstar Technologies: “Not just who has the best tools”

We think this new way of looking at software solutions will change the competitive landscape of the business world by giving the same advantages to small businesses that large businesses have in regard to business communication. In the past, large enterprises benefitted from having more effective tools by integrating communications, but now we’re making it […]

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We think this new way of looking at software solutions will change the competitive landscape of the business world by giving the same advantages to small businesses that large businesses have in regard to business communication. In the past, large enterprises benefitted from having more effective tools by integrating communications, but now we’re making it approachable for a business of almost any size. So, tools like this can open the marketplace so that a mom-and-pop shop can compete at the level of a Fortune 500 corporation because they will have access to many of the same efficiencies. When you communicate with a company, the look and feel will be the same. An even playing field can change the world by putting the focus on who has the best people and the best ideas, not just who has the best tools.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Johnson, the president of Comstar Technologies.

Starting as a technician over 17 years ago at Comstar Technologies, Johnson’s work ethic led him through the ranks of the company all the way to president. His love of technology and aptitude for teamwork have catapulted Comstar to where it is today — a national leader in business technology solutions.

For Johnson, personal and professional achievement come from a constant sequence of planning and adjusting — deciding on worthwhile objectives, creating a path to get there, and course-correcting whenever required. He attributes his success to simply loving what he does, doing those things well, and letting results speak for themselves. In his personal life, Johnson enjoys spending time with his supportive wife and three wonderful children.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?

I started in technology as a technician at Comstar, where I am the president of the company today. I was always interested in the technology industry, but as I grew in my role, I was drawn to the idea that technology service companies have to work in all different industries. Since I must understand the needs and considerations of every client, it’s like I’ve worked at a thousand different places over the years.

As part of the technology community for almost two decades now, I’ve watched the industry transform. As the sector grew and changed, I grew and changed alongside it. I worked my way from technician to project manager, then eventually I joined the executive team. All along the way, I’ve maintained the same attitude: that success comes from creating great client relationships and forming great teams. That philosophy is what got me to where I am today, and it’s what continues to carry me forward.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The global pandemic has been the most interesting challenge of my career so far. When lockdowns began, I had only been serving as president of Comstar for a little over a year, and key members of the executive leadership team had recently joined the team just weeks before the onset of the pandemic. I was attempting to tackle all the challenges of building a new executive team while in the midst of a crisis that was swirling around all aspects of our business and our lives. We were in the pressure cooker of crisis management for business survival without having previously established strong trust or communication within the team. It was a hectic scenario where I had to make a lot of very difficult decisions very quickly. At the same time as building new processes and organizational structure for day-to-day operations, we’re also making major strategic decisions about the long-term direction of the company. It may sound counterintuitive, but ultimately, I think the chaos actually made the organization stronger. Being forced to gel quickly transformed us into a united leadership team. It’s like we were forged in fire. In addition, being forced to make all those important decisions catapulted us into a fresh strategic direction for the business that we may have taken a long time to reach otherwise.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The storyteller makes no choice, soon you will not hear his voice. His job is to shed light, not to master.”

This line is from an old song by The Grateful Dead, and it has stuck with me over the years. I think about it often when I’m wrestling with the idea that the role of a leader is to advise and delegate instead of always trying to do things. If I’m trying to master everything, I’m holding the group back. Instead, I need to be shedding light: motivating, guiding, facilitating, empowering, protecting. What this quote means to me is that, in my role as president, I play my part by setting strategic objectives and designating points on the map we need to reach. However, it’s often not my role to decide the best path to get there. It’s the teams around me that will build the way to reach those goals, to master.

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 about that?

The most important influence on me and my career has been my wife, Megan. I couldn’t be more grateful for her constant encouragement. She holds me accountable and is endlessly supportive. Last week, I came home from a hard day, and she challenged me to stay balanced by not allowing things to get me too high or too low. She reminded me that work was just one aspect of my life I can be successful in. Support like that is priceless.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I can serve the community as an individual, but as the leader of an organization, I can make an even bigger difference. That’s why we started the Comstar Cares program, where we can make sure we’re serving the community as well as our customers. One great example is our national sales kickoff we held recently. Instead of handing out awards that would gather dust on a shelf, our sales team earned donations in their name to key charities in our community. By building philanthropy into the culture of our organization, I can bring more goodness to the world than I ever could as an individual.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

What we’re working on is not necessarily the development of a new communication technology but the combining of different business communication technologies. In fact, it’s the combining of all business communication channels, so they exist as one.

It used to be that businesses would set up communication tools to talk to their clients — email, phone calls, that kind of thing. There was you in your space, your client in their space, and a chosen communication method that you’re using to connect the two spaces. Now what’s happening is the creation of an environment in the middle of the two spaces, where all interactions between the company and their client take place. We’ve seen the rise of multifaceted tools like Teams, for instance. With Teams, you can do things like share files and online video calling, but we’re talking about a step much further than that. The tool you use for live chat will be the same tool you use to accept payments and the tool you use to track customer relationship management. The silos and boundaries between the different software you use are starting to come down, and what we’re working towards is the total integration of the application layer. It’s not just that the different programs you use will talk to each other, it’s that they will literally exist as one from your perspective as a user.

When you sit down at your desk, you won’t need to open a whole bunch of programs to make all the different aspects of your business work. You’ll only open one, and it will do everything. Not only will there be no difference between internal and external communication, but there won’t be a line between any of your internal business process tools. Inventory management, accounting, engineering and design, shipping and receiving, sales and marketing — all the different software you use will be melded into one business tool that your clients can also access and can communicate with you there. We’re taking a whole box of business communication tools and turning them into a big army knife that can do it all just by activating the functions you want.

How do you think this might change the world?

We think this new way of looking at software solutions will change the competitive landscape of the business world by giving the same advantages to small businesses that large businesses have in regard to business communication. In the past, large enterprises benefitted from having more effective tools by integrating communications, but now we’re making it approachable for a business of almost any size. So, tools like this can open the marketplace so that a mom-and-pop shop can compete at the level of a Fortune 500 corporation because they will have access to many of the same efficiencies. When you communicate with a company, the look and feel will be the same. An even playing field can change the world by putting the focus on who has the best people and the best ideas, not just who has the best tools.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Some of the most impressive aspects of the integrated communication software of the future that will make it so effective are based on analytical AI features. The tool will constantly observe tendencies and patterns for ways to make itself more efficient. The best programs will be able to do things like read the tone of voice of a client calling for help to prepare the documents they may be looking for ahead of time, or pull the demographics of a client’s employees to find the most appropriate way to appeal to them on a sales call. While incredibly helpful, it’s important to also recognize that AI learning can be problematic, as it will also be possible to taint your business communication tools with unfair biases and stereotyping.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In terms of communication and collaboration business tools, there will never be another tipping point event like the safety protocols brought on by the COVID-19 virus. Unified communication tools were available before 2020, but they weren’t globally widespread. Suddenly having advanced communication software became a pure necessity for a lot of businesses. In other words, pandemic procedures forced a lot of companies to discover the usefulness of a lot of new tools. Now that organizations see the value of unified software tools, the door has opened to seriously consider conjoining other business tools onto an overarching platform.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

I think the biggest need right now for developing the integration of these tools is input from different industries. We want to offer a mega-tool where companies can pick and choose the functionality they want, and we’ll deliver it in the package that works best for them. In order to do that, we need to fully explore the considerations required for a multitude of different verticals to make sure that developers include all the elements needed across the board.

When we try to put a skin around all existing business applications, every business category — from healthcare to manufacturing to finance — will have needs that are only appropriate for them. In order to make sure the new generation of business communication tools can be customized for every single business; developers need to make sure the master tool can be applied to all different situations. That will take time, but the ball is already rolling, and once it gets there, we’ll be ready to integrate it into any organization that wants to level up its business.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Fully integrating business software not only means that all functions are available through one tool, but it also means that tool is available on all your devices. All the things you can accomplish on the office computer will be able to be accomplished on your laptop at home as well as the phone in your pocket. It’s a major game-changer for business communication in the age of digital work.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Find Your Balance

A huge part of managing a company is finding a middle ground that works for you, and I think that principle applies to all kinds of things. Finding the balance between your work life and your personal life, acting strategically and acting tactically, thinking pragmatically and thinking theoretically — anytime I’m letting a pendulum swing too far in one direction or the other is when I start to get into trouble. One of the most prominent areas in which to seek balance is deciding to take on tasks myself versus enabling other team members to accomplish them. I can’t choose to handle all actions myself, just as I can’t choose to delegate everything. Keeping equilibrium is essential.

2. Building the Right Team Often Involves Looking at Roles as Much as People

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins uses this great analogy about getting the right people on the bus before you start driving it. I love this analogy, and one important thing I’ve learned is that it’s about having people on the bus and in the right seat. They are equally important. I think everyone understands the importance of building a competent team with great chemistry, but the significance of defining roles within that team is often overlooked. With our senior leadership team, it’s never just about whether someone belongs on the team. It’s about whether everyone is serving in the best role for their skills and the company’s needs.

3. Don’t Wait to Take Action on Things You Are Sure About

There are many difficult decisions and conversations as a president. I’m constantly assessing all sorts of things, and there are a lot of things I’m unsure about. However, I’ve learned that once I am sure, there’s no sense in waiting to act. As soon as you know the right decision, take action as soon as you know. Returning to my previous point about building a great team, if you’ve made your mind up about a person or a role, those conversations should happen right away. Delaying action you’re confident about will only make the problem you’re trying to solve worse.

4. Teams Need Room to Experiment

I’ve learned that part of my role as a leader is to create an environment where others feel comfortable finding their own way to accomplish a goal. Ultimately, Comstar’s teams should be architects of their own solutions and be able to succeed or fail with their own decisions, even if it’s not necessarily the way I would approach the task. For instance, when the sales team chooses their tools and processes, it’s not a linear thing. It’s trial and error, and mistakes are part of learning. If I am too involved or opinionated regarding their plans, then that department will lose the ability to evolve into something greater. Leading often means leaving space for others to try new things.

5. Conserve Energy Whenever Possible

Sometimes it seems like there is a pride in working extra hard or extra-long on something. I’ve learned that getting caught up in this type of thinking doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. You can’t improve productivity unless you’re looking for efficiencies. I’m always trying to ask myself how I can combine tasks, streamline a process, or save on labor and costs. When I put myself in the mindset of avoiding overexertion on any one thing, it’s amazing how often I can discover a way to work smarter (instead of harder).

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m a big proponent of social equality, particularly in the education system. I think a movement that would bring the most possible good is restructuring how we think about national school systems to ensure that there is equality in educational funding across the country. Every child should have the same opportunity to succeed, and that starts by providing every student and teacher with the same resources. There’s no reason a student in this country should go without something as essential as textbooks, and I believe addressing that issue would improve so many problems in a significant way.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check out The Telescope, our company blog, for lots of industry insights and technology trends. Or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or YouTube.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


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