Trust your gut-feeling: There have been many times when I had a gut feeling, but I took longer to think about it and let the decision drag on. They were typically hard decisions. We tend to delay such decisions, but they don’t get better with time. They worsen. Now, when I look back, I usually regret those delays. So, it’s better to quickly make those difficult decisions, move past them, and get onto more constructive things.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Britt.
With over 30 years of management consulting experience, Tim Britt began building Synoptek — now a full-service consulting and IT outsourcing business — in 2001. Synoptek is Tim’s direct response to the need for high-value consulting, and IT outsourcing services, driven by results. By attracting and retaining top talent — project managers, consultants, developers, and engineers — with a focus on excellent customer service, Synoptek has grown multi-fold and realized Tim’s vision in the communities it serves.
At Synoptek, Tim focuses on global strategy, corporate development, and execution. Tim works with businesses and state/local governments to plan their IT strategies while delivering Synoptek trademark results and dedicated customer service. Tim leverages his experience from consulting, executive leadership, creativity, and business acumen to aid Synoptek in achieving customer objectives.
In his entire career, Tim has provided strategic management consulting, including IT strategy and implementation leadership, to large companies. Previously, Tim served as the CTO of Ourhouse.com — Ace Hardware’s e-commerce business. At Ourhouse.com, Tim’s job was to oversee the implementation of the entire e-commerce business and ERP infrastructure. He managed a team of more than 100 analysts, programmers, and engineers to complete the task.
Before Ourhouse.com, Tim was a consultant at Kurt Salmon Associates. There, Tim developed and implemented operational strategies to achieve outstanding results for clients across the globe, including distribution consolidation for the largest retailer in Japan, implementation of a new merchandise planning process for one of the largest big-box retailers in Japan, and streamlining the product development process for a large, branded international apparel manufacturer.
Tim holds an Industrial Engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA degree from J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University.
Tim lives in Irvine, Calif., is married, and has four children. He is an avid outdoor person; he enjoys skiing, hiking, biking, running, and fishing in his free time. He also has several philanthropic interests, especially in the areas of conservation and education.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s a culmination of a lot of different things in my life. I studied to become an engineer, but I knew I wasn’t going to become the best engineer. I liked technology, but I was fascinated with people and processes — and how these three elements came together to accomplish bigger goals. Therefore, I felt my skills and my competencies would be best suited for a business leadership role, and I aspired to achieve this goal at some point in my career.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
People become CEOs in a variety of different ways. You run into a lot of younger CEOs in a family-owned business. In some organizations, people work their way up in the hierarchy to become CEOs. Then, some people are entrepreneurial and start a business — and become CEOs. I was the latter. I was involved in setting up Synoptek, and was the CEO, from day one. The challenges when I started were very different from the challenges today. At that point, our key challenges were: ‘How do we get the next project?’ ‘How do we get enough money to pay the next payroll?’ ‘How do we differentiate ourselves from the competition?’ These were all grassroots challenges. So, when I first became a CEO, the challenges I faced were related to setting up a startup business than unique to being a CEO.
In the process of setting up a company, I learned many lessons. We failed a lot, and we constantly learned. As a company, we try new things, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We learn from our failures and try to always improve our game. I believe we learn more from our failures than our successes.
The other meaningful learning was to become resourceful and creative. When we started, we had four or five widely different projects. At that point, we didn’t care what skill sets were required to deliver on those projects. We only focused on thoroughly solving the client’s problems. If needed, we devised brand new ways of solving their problems from scratch. For example, one of our first clients, a large financial services company, was trying to scale-up its IT organization. The client asked us to run an organizational assessment for its IT organization. None of us on team Synoptek had done this before. So, we met for a few hours to define our benchmark and model to identify our goals and measure our successes. We benchmarked specific roles against specific competencies, and we bought the latest Gartner research on ‘best practices for IT organizational structure’ and created a work plan around it. During the assessment, we interviewed approximately 200 out of 250 people in their organization within two weeks. The assessment was followed by a 100-page presentation on how the client can improve its operations. I think it was a creative and resourceful way to resolve the problem.
The good thing is, we still follow this approach. We think about the customer’s problem and try to solve it creatively rather than leverage some pre-concocted ideas. It’s one of the things that make us unique.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
When we started growing as a company, the economy was recovering after the dot-com crash. Many companies hadn’t invested in IT for a while. A lot of consulting firms had significantly downsized, so there wasn’t much capacity out there to do good consulting work. We were focused on the Southern California mid-market — a market that was already underserved. Quite frankly, there was not a ton of high-quality competition. Our team was made up of people who came from outstanding firms. We brought a certain quality to our assignments that our customers loved. So we were able to get in, solve problems quickly and retain customers.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Trust your gut-feeling: There have been many times when I had a gut feeling, but I took longer to think about it and let the decision drag on. They were typically hard decisions. We tend to delay such decisions, but they don’t get better with time. They worsen. Now, when I look back, I usually regret those delays. So, it’s better to quickly make those difficult decisions, move past them, and get onto more constructive things.
- Set a long-term game plan: I grew up in a time when the popular culture was that you shouldn’t plan out beyond one year as things changed too fast. The strategy then was to focus on the next 12 months. However, I do think now that it’s essential to have a long-term strategy and be disciplined around it. You should have a longer-term game plan, even if you feel that you will not be able to plan that far out and stick to it.
- Hire high-quality people: I worked for this consulting firm, where they were very picky about the people they hired. They interviewed many people and spent a ton of time recruiting. They made every hire count. They would sacrifice growth over getting the right person. I worked there for ten years. Each employee in the company was a high performer. Back then, I didn’t realize how rare that was. I thought that’s how every company worked. After I left the firm and particularly after I became a CEO, I realized that it is so hard as you grow to maintain high-quality hiring standards and create a firm where everyone is excellent. I feel for a company that if the only differentiating factor is that they hired great people, they can be better than probably 90% of their competitors.
- Keep it simple: If you look at the DNA of Synoptek, we’re all analytical people. In the early phases of a career as business systems, analysts, programmers, QA tech, an employee’s success is dependent on how detailed they plan out everything, how specific they are about their goals and how they know the nuance of their design or plan the execution. However, as people move up within the organizational hierarchy, success is about keeping things simple. When we give too much detail, it becomes harder for people to understand. Instead, the focus as a leader should be on catching people’s attention and engaging them with the key concepts that are compelling and different.
- Make it more than a job: Whatever your company does, it must create something more than a job and paycheck to retain good employees. Of course, you also must create a job and adequately compensate employees for their contributions. The focus, however, should be on creating something more significant. People spend a large part of their lives at work, so it needs to be gratifying in more than one way.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You spend 80% of your time at work. The first thing is that you must love what you do. If you don’t like, or worse hate, what you do, life will be tough. If you’re one of those people who love every minute of your job, you’re one of the world’s rare, unbelievably fortunate people. For most people, there’s always some element of their work they dislike. In such cases, people must find the elements they are passionate about and focus on those. That’s the only way to avoid burnout.
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?
I have a perfect partner in life, which is my wife, who is particularly supportive and great. So that always helped. Many of my family members were of great support. However, if I keep the family aside, I’ll say that I have been fortunate along the way to land in places where I had good mentors. But if I must mention only one person, it was the CEO of the second company where I worked. Whenever he was in the town, he would always take us out to dinner and talk to us about the projects, strategy or whatever we were working on. He was charming, calm and his demeanor always influenced me. He would listen for a long time in a meeting and then say something very insightful — sharing the most transformative idea.
If you asked him what made him successful and why his firm was successful, he would say one simple thing: ‘people like working with people they like.’ Every ever since then, everyone I come across, I put them on my 1 to 10 likeability scale. Over a period, I realized there was usually a direct correlation between how well someone performed and how easy it was to work with them.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
My professional goals have shifted a little bit in the last three or four years. Today, many of my professional goals are around the development of people in my organization. When I am undertaking a project, I want one or two experienced people, but I also definitely want the young, hungry, fearless new people on the project. We often underestimate how it is to create opportunities for the newer lot to become experienced. So, many of my professional goals are now around building a culture of people development and creating something that lasts even after we all retire.
Even in the long-term, I want to be involved with people and organizations to leverage my knowledge and experience. Maybe be on the board of directors of a startup or some other business to share my knowledge and provide advice that helps the organization succeed.
Personally, all my kids are getting older, so I am no longer the parent, but the advisor. Over the next few years, I want to have a little more time to spend with them as they start their careers.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Our legacy lies in our everyday actions and how positively it influences someone else’s life. People whose lives we touch go on to do something more positive and productive and, in the process, influence more people, and the legacy goes on. If I think of legacy in this sense, I see a purpose in every moment of my life. Therefore, rather than doing something to get my name on a building, I believe in creating opportunities with every interaction. And I hope the opportunities I create today will keep amplifying over time.
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!
We are living in a very emotionally charged time. Many things are changing globally, and we don’t know what the long-term impact of those changes is going to be. It’s impossible to have productive conversations, and things have almost come to a standstill because of polarization. Right now, it seems like every conversation, every news article, every single piece you read starts with a judgment of someone else’s point of view. It’s time to go back to the fundamentals, what we believe in: life, liberty, happiness, or whatever it is, and find common goals. We can then start talking about how to achieve these goals. I feel we need a movement to put more emphasis on the need to create organizations that aim to bring people together.
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