Your core values should be integrity and trust.
Create a winning environment. Not an environment to win at any cost, but a general attitude that we are winners.
Be known for one thing and do that thing extremely well. It’s better than being a jack-of-all-trades. Start with a core skill set and it will lead to other revenue-generating opportunities.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reggie Gresham. He has nearly two decades of operational, business development and technology experience. He has earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from Eastern Kentucky University and an Associate Computer Science Degree from ITT Technical Institute. For over 20 years, Reggie has shown extraordinary organizational and communications skills that have proven priceless to the sustainability and success of several IT organizations. Reggie currently serves as vice president sales & marketing for Matrix Integration and the president of the 100 Black Men of Louisville (BMOL), an organization that focuses on mentoring young males through education, economic empowerment and health and wellness. In his free time, Reggie enjoys traveling, golfing and fitness training.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My biggest influence was my grandfather. He was a Black man who was a business owner, and right from the start I knew it was possible to be a minority business owner.
After college, my first job was for another minority business owner — Tommie Burns. I started as a gofer in a local convenience store chain.
I ran errands. I checked inventory on the shelf. Tommie had an advanced inventory system at the time, with a scanner and barcodes. I was interested in how all of this worked, and soon I became the technology liaison with the inventory company, and I learned even more from them. That got me started on the technology path, which is where I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
We had some in-depth conversations before I took the job I have now at Matrix Integration. They had experienced some turnover before I arrived, so I challenged the company to tell me what they were going to do differently, and how I could grow within this company. It all goes back to my upbringing. I knew it was possible to make this into a position where I could learn and grow into a strong leadership role.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was in the technology business during the Y2K turnover — when everyone was freaking out because they didn’t know what would happen when the computer dates turned from 1999 to 2000. On the outside, we were confident and joking about it with our clients — that the world would end, that everything would shut down. But truly, we didn’t know what would happen! That’s what was so crazy about the whole thing.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It all goes back to my upbringing and self-confidence. Racism does come up. One time, I was told directly by my boss that a client didn’t want me on a project because of my skin tone. That was just another hurdle to overcome.
I have a 24-hour rule. I give myself 24 hours to think something over and decide what to do about it. If I don’t need to do anything, I get over it and move on. In this case, I decided I wouldn’t lower to their standards and let it affect me.
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?
I had a lot of mentors. My father is definitely a person that helped me in my career. He was a commercial and residential realtor. He taught me about customer service — how to establish trust, how to understand people’s needs, and most importantly how to meet expectations.
Tommie Burns was a model for being a Black entrepreneur, and he had an incredible work ethic.
Jim Jacobson was also a mentor. While I was working for Tommie in Lexington, Kentucky, Jim owned an IT company. I worked with him weekly on training and mastering my craft for sales. Jim has retired and still mentors me to date.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a couple of mantras I that are central to my work and life. The first is “helping people succeed.” This is from Jim Jacobson, one of my mentors. When you help others succeed, everyone rises.
The second mantra is “You don’t know, OR you don’t care.” It can’t be both. If you know about a problem, you need to do something about it. If you don’t do anything about it, it means you don’t care.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
One reason things evolved is because of technology. Events are being captured on cell phones and being disseminated within minutes. George Floyd was the boiling point in my view. Almost immediately after that happened it was on every screen in America. I look at it from that angle and my role in helping people with technology solutions. I’m helping to bring that kind of truth to the surface.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Regardless of what kind of business you’re in, you have a diverse customer base, and people like working with all different kinds of people. Why wouldn’t you have a diverse executive staff as well, with shared life experiences? It just makes sense.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech in Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Companies are already intentional about the skill sets they want in their employees. They need to be just as intentional about diversity and race. They also need to share what they do in underprivileged areas in their communities and schools. What Black men see is what they become.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Every company needs technology today, but it can be difficult to decide what to purchase and how to manage it. We help companies do more with less, improve their bottom line, and integrate the right technology into their business so they can be more successful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Being a woman-owned company helps us stand out. Brenda Stallings, who founded Matrix integration, started this company and had a tremendous career, all while raising a family and giving back to the community. There are stories about her kids running around the office during the workday, and everyone was fine with it. Now some of her kids work here.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’ve helped several school districts create a “Classroom of the Future” during the pandemic. We designed a setup and the technology behind it to make remote learning as engaging as possible. And the best part is they can continue to use this technology when students come back to the classroom, for project or for anything else they dream up. The classroom also works for businesses and remote working. It’s about creating human connections even when you can’t be together in person.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
They would need to ask themselves some hard questions, but mainly, why aren’t they relevant in today’s market? This business is constantly changing. And, if they’re tired of what they’re doing, there’s always a chance to pivot to something else. Keeping yourself interested is a great way to get out of a rut.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Go over core sales functions weekly. Even with experienced sales professionals. Even if a football team is going to the Superbowl they still need to train. It’s the same with sales teams.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
The number-one, most important method is understanding the client before you create the solution. You need to know what their problem and objectives are.
Then, leverage your good work at other companies. Keep up those relationships, so you can ask for a referral when you need one.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Ask the question, “What questions should I ask you that I didn’t ask?”
- Show the customers where you have done similar work in the past, and compare and contrast that work their current situation.
- Put customers in touch with your past clients to talk through the work you did.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Matrix Integration takes a “Lifecycle” approach. We have continuous follow-ups on results, and specifically at 30, 60 and 90 days. We talk with clients about results and track out conversation.
That helps us stay engaged with the clients, and often leads to new projects. It also helps to talk to leaders outside the department about what the business needs as a whole, not just in the IT department.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Your core values should be integrity and trust.
- Create a winning environment. Not an environment to win at any cost, but a general attitude that we are winners.
- Accountability. Every single employee must have goals and accountability to meet those goals.
- Have fun! Celebrate wins, celebrate loudly.
- Be known for one thing and do that thing extremely well. It’s better than being a jack-of-all-trades. Start with a core skill set and it will lead to other revenue-generating opportunities.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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 would encourage people to get out of their comfort zones. I challenge myself to talk to five new people every day. It takes courage to lift your lens and make an intentional effort to see something beyond yourself.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
David L. Steward, the co-founder and chairman of Maryland Heights, Missouri-based World Wide Technology Inc. (WWT).
David Steward is one of five black billionaires in America. He is the chairman and founder of World Wide Technology, one of the largest African-American-owned businesses in America. He has grown his business over the last decade substantially. He went from being a salesperson to owning multiple technology companies that have exceeded their growth plans and partnerships. One of the questions I want to ask David is what was his driving force as an African American male to become so successful.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!