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Why a leader needs to ‘Build Courage’, With Andy Hovancik CEO of Sovos

Build courage: Courage is in low supply and hard to learn. Not everyone is made for the challenges of leadership, and courage is absolutely imperative. Addressing problems head-on and not shrinking from the tough, unpopular decisions takes courage and conviction (and tough skin). Overcoming fear and having the resulting scars are essential to leadership. I […]


Build courage: Courage is in low supply and hard to learn. Not everyone is made for the challenges of leadership, and courage is absolutely imperative. Addressing problems head-on and not shrinking from the tough, unpopular decisions takes courage and conviction (and tough skin). Overcoming fear and having the resulting scars are essential to leadership.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Hovancik. As president and CEO, Andy champions Sovos’ belief in a world of frictionless commerce, where businesses can grow free of regulatory risk and communities can thrive –simply by collecting what they’re owed. Andy has more than 25 years of experience growing technology companies, 15 years of which have been in regulatory and compliance software. Since joining Sovos in 2013, Andy has overseen the acquisition and integration of numerous businesses, creating the most complete, continuous and connected global solution for modern tax. A purpose-driven leader who understands the challenges businesses face as indirect tax goes digital around the world, Andy ensures Sovos is a proactive partner in compliance for the company’s 5,000+ clients, including more than half the Fortune 500. Andy earned his Bachelor of Arts in business management and marketing from Cornell University and his Master of Business Administration from Tulane University.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in a low-income area in a city that had seen better times. Only a few pulled themselves up and out of those circumstances. For me, if you’re one of the few to get out, you are obligated to do something with your life.

I was always fascinated with business. My mother ran a home-based business, and very early on, I aspired to lead a successful, admired company. From there, it was about gathering as many experiences as possible, so I said “yes” to every opportunity to learn about different industries, business functions and people.

I also challenged myself to be accountable for my own success. I did well in school, earned my bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and, years later, my MBA from Tulane University. For more than two decades, I worked my way up the career ladder, albeit with fits and starts (successes and failures), eventually becoming CEO of Sovos.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

We know a leader needs to connect with their audience. Unfortunately, I was not born a confident public speaker. My first experience was a required course in college. My strategy was simple — avoid doing any actual public speaking and finish with a (barely) passing grade. I executed my plan to perfection until one day the professor demanded an extemporaneous speech from each student. Cruel? Obviously. Required? Yes. Then something weird happened. I told the story of me as best man at my parent’s wedding (that’s right) and people laughed — at the story! The experience actually had a big impact on me.

Since that speech, I’ve continued to put myself in situations outside my comfort zone that allowed me to grow professionally. For example, I once had my mind set on performing comedy on stage, in front of a live audience. I knew what I was getting into when I started down this path; wise-cracking wasn’t the same as a well-rehearsed routine. This was going to take some initiative, especially with a full-time job, kids and my MBA studies after work.

I struck up a conversation with a manager at a local comedy club, and he eventually let me fill in for a last-minute cancellation. I performed my act, my friends and family supported me, and I even handled a spectacular heckler sitting in the first row. Glorious experience. Looking back, pursuing and performing comedy taught me a lot about leadership. And those lessons are still applicable for me today as CEO of Sovos.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Not everyone is made for kicking the status quo and taking unpopular stances for the good of the organization. However, overcoming fear and having the resulting scars are essential to leadership. There is a certain confidence and pride that comes with overcoming the bumps and bruises received during the journey.

So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?

To me, grit is about being resilient and adaptable — critical traits for success in life and a rapidly changing market. Sovos’ roots trace back more than 30 years, when our company played in a sleepy, mature market in the U.S. But in the last five years, I’ve led a team hired specifically for their adaptability through eight acquisitions. We’ve grown the business 5x in that period, and we’ve quickly evolved into the leader in a new and critical international market. Those types of non-stop, major changes test your mettle and certainly aren’t for everyone.

To succeed in a hyper-competitive space, you need to encourage innovative approaches to problem-solving, facilitate change, stay effective amid unrelenting shifts, and work within new structures and requirements — and you need to build a team that does the same. We are blessed to have outstanding people on our leadership team and really throughout our entire company. Battle-tested I would say.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For centuries, tax collection on goods and services has been at the root of some of the world’s biggest challenges. Unfortunately, the speed and complexity of compliance is outpacing the technology most businesses use to comply. And for businesses, not complying to regulations can be a drain and a reputation killer. That’s why Sovos is helping companies around the world Solve Tax for Good.

We believe in a world of frictionless commerce, where businesses can grow free of regulatory risk — and communities can thrive simply by collecting what they’re owed. For businesses concerned about keeping up with the ever-increasing pace and complexity of governments’ tax compliance and reporting regulations, Sovos provides solutions that safeguard them from the burden and risk of modern tax.

In addition to serving businesses around the world, at Sovos, our people are core to everything we do — from driving customer success to developing new products and educating businesses on today’s changing global tax landscape. Therefore, we express appreciation to our teams throughout the year with a goal of creating camaraderie and relieving stress. For example, we’ve celebrated our employees with free lunches, chair massages, game rooms, daily brain teasers, etc.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Early in my career, I read “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl’s memoir of life in a Nazi concentration camp. The experience shaped the author’s theory about the primary driver in life — not pleasure, but the pursuit of meaning. The necessity of core purpose stuck with me, and I think it applies to thriving in your career. For example, our core purpose at Sovos is to enable people — namely employees, customers and investors — to improve their way of life. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s the underlying reason for being at Sovos. Finding meaning in your work and a growth path worth pursuing is key to avoiding burn out.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

Let’s go back to performing in front of a crowd of lubricated patrons on a Friday night. Stage fright? Ha! Try leading an organization from the front, meeting business challenges head-on, dealing with conflict and instituting changes fraught with risk and resistance. Now that’s scary. So, let’s go with leadership lessons learned as an erstwhile comedian:

Build courage: Courage is in low supply and hard to learn. Not everyone is made for the challenges of leadership, and courage is absolutely imperative. Addressing problems head-on and not shrinking from the tough, unpopular decisions takes courage and conviction (and tough skin). Overcoming fear and having the resulting scars are essential to leadership.

Learn to adapt: Approaching every situation in the same lockstep manner is a recipe for failure. Consistency is good, but an effective leader adapts to the particulars of their situation. Circumstances change. Continuous adjustments are needed, and an effective leader will know how to adapt.

Be proactive: Life waits on no one — I think that’s the adage. You don’t reach leadership positions by doing only what is asked. Successful people are proactive and action-oriented. They are on offense even if it involves some risk of failure. Ideas, plans and strategies are important, but without execution, nothing happens. Effective leaders make things happen. They push. They follow through. They drive things forward despite the risks.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on LinkedIn here.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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