CXO of the Year: Champions of the C-Suite
The individuals who make it to the C-suite are unique in the business world: They are both experts in a specific profession and motivational leaders who are able to inspire and support their teams to achieve remarkable results. From technology to finance, and from marketing to operations, this year’s CXO of the Year honorees exemplify the teamwork, leadership and expertise that are propelling their organizations forward.
Gregory Ayers’ love of his profession is long-lived. He came to accounting and finance through a bookkeeping class that he took in high school. “It was particularly logical and methodical. It was easy to understand,” he says. “I just naturally gravitated to accounting from there.”
Now Ayers has nearly 30 years of experience in corporate finance, investor relations, strategic business operations and compliance in both private and publicly held companies. Ayers joined inContact in 2009 and has since led the company to record revenue results. He was instrumental in raising more than $100 million for inContact, and just a few short weeks ago, he was also instrumental in the company’s acquisition by global insight firm NICE Systems. In the transaction, the company was given a valuation of $940 million.
Ayers remains motivated by keeping a healthy perspective in his career, knowing that the success of today can lead to even greater success tomorrow. “I think, as I reflect on my career, that it’s more about the journey than the destination. When you start out early in public accounting … it’s a very regimented progression up the ladder,” he says. “Sometimes, however, you’re only focusing on the next rung up the ladder and not taking into account appreciation that it is a journey, not just a destination.”
“I’ve recognized that I need to become more patient. I have a lot of experience as compared to some of the folks that report to me. I feel an obligation to develop them, and therefore I need to keep in mind what is very easy and nothing new to me might be new to them. Obviously, when you learn something new, it takes a little while to digest it.”
The past year has brought a tremendous amount of growth for Pluralsight, which expanded its offerings by acquiring three companies. But in addition to that, says CTO Jody Bailey, the company moved its entire platform to the cloud, built a video player for the desktop and web, built new iPhone and Android apps, and completely reworked Pluralsight’s entire web platform.
“The sheer output of the technology teams over the past year is astonishing,” he says. “I’m very proud of what the teams have accomplished.”
Pluralsight’s professional development platform encompasses more than 4,700 unique courses and boasts three million users—and growing.
“The work involved with maintaining a platform with that much content and demand to meet it keeps us busy, but it doesn’t stop there,” says Bailey. “Our customer and content base is still growing. While that creates a lot of challenges when it comes to developing our product to stay ahead of the game, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the team succeed in meeting those challenges.
Bailey says he got a “late start” in the tech industry, after graduating with a degree in physics. He returned to school to obtain a graduate degree in computer programming and then launched into his career in IT. He similarly wants to help his employees “grow and develop in whatever form that may take including experience, education and life satisfaction.”
“I love seeing the team development and the individual growth of our employees as they rise to the challenge. It’s exciting to see what can be accomplished when everyone works together, and it’s truly a phenomenon when you have the opportunity to work with a team that really hits its stride and becomes a high-performing team.”
COO, Vivint Smart Home
After more than two decades of management and consulting roles in some of the most dynamic companies in the world, David Bywater found himself at Vivint Smart Home, where his role as COO means the bulk of the 3,000 employees report to him. But Bywater relishes the challenge—and the opportunities it brings to support the company’s growth and create a better customer experience.
Throughout his career, Bywater has learned that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all skill; one situation might call for a more hands-on approach, while working with another person might require taking a step back. With some experience under his belt, too, Bywater has realized the value of risk-taking, particularly when the opportunity might make a person take a leap.
And while he’s enjoying his time at Vivint, Bywater says he wants to someday get back in the classroom—as a college professor teaching business classes to inspire a new generation of leaders.
“There are always going to be safer paths to follow, but following your passion is the most rewarding one.”
COO, Peak Capital Partners
When Jason Danley was offered a role at Peak Capital Partners, it put him at a crossroads: Stay with a large and more established company or venture off with a young business that offered more opportunities for professional growth and development. He picked the latter, and in the last three years has been part of the force leading Peak Capital Partners to become one of the top 10 fastest-growing companies in Utah.
One of the toughest challenges that came with that growth is getting the rapidly increasing personnel—Peak has gone from seven employees to more than 190 since Danley joined—to go in the same direction, and figuring out how to let them know he’s willing to do everything he asks of them now that they’re involved in too much for him to lead every project by example.
With growth and uncharted territory, Danley says he’s found it’s important to try new things, but assess their success as quickly as possible. If something works, great, he says, but if it doesn’t? Scrap it and move on to the next idea.
“No matter what business you are in, if you will approach your work with a consistent focus and effort, you will find success. It seems failure or the inability to reach greatness only comes when we lose focus, are inconsistent in our effort, or give up.”
Thomas C. Davis Jr.
CTO and Executive Vice President, LANDESK
Thomas Davis Jr. is responsible for directing engineering teams in the creation of new IT and mobility management solutions for LANDESK Software. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the company recently acquired seven other companies across the globe, and Davis was tasked with integrating those engineering teams into the LANDESK culture.
Davis must navigate both language and cultural barriers among teams spread out from Australia to Israel to China, and more. But the most difficult barrier, he says, is the fact that by being acquired, “their entire leadership structure, at least at the top, changed and you have people who are anxious, worried and concerned about how they fit in. It’s easy to have a slowdown, lose value or even have mass exodus with the team being acquired.”
But over the past four years, Davis has successfully navigated those seven acquisitions, growing his international R&D team from 150 engineers to more than 370. “I’m pleased to say that we have not only maintained the value and contribution of each of these [companies] but we have grown each business significantly,” he says.
“Realizing the effect executive decision has on the business and the impact on individuals—this has been a motivation for me work hard and to take very seriously the need to help make sound business decisions, to ensure success and continued employment for as many on my teams as possible.”
Brandon Dewitt is a technical wizard, an inspirational leader and an analytical executive. As CTO for the finance-technology company MX, Dewitt seamlessly moves from the board room to the coding floor, and from setting strategy to spearheading complex engineering projects.
Although he leads a team of engineers, Dewitt continues to write large portions of MX’s mobile app and backend code. Despite that, he has created a culture of accountability within the engineering department wherein the engineering team has no managers—individuals manage themselves and are held accountable for moving projects forward.
Dewitt has also implemented “continuous momentum” with code production and deploys. With this strategy, the team produces tiny, incremental edits on code daily to keep up a consistent pace. The team deploys 14-15 times daily and last year, they deployed more than 3,000 times.
MX engineers are proud to say their software measures up with tech giants like Amazon in standards for security, uptime and reliability. The MX platform has doubled its user base while maintaining the same level of uptime.
“[Brandon] is one of the most generous, giving and thoughtful people we have the pleasure of working with at MX. He is consistently available and willing to listen to co-workers in need and to help solve problems, even if they don’t involve code,” says Amanda Elam, director of marketing at MX. “Brandon Dewitt is more than a CTO—he is a beloved brother and friend.”
CTO & Co-Founder, Lucid Software
In his role with Lucid Software, says Ben Dilts, “It’s my job to make sure that we make wise technological decisions and continue to create the bleeding edge of web technology.”
Dilts co-founded the company when he was in his 20s, growing it to more than 100 employees, two robust software offerings and more than 5 million users. “In the last year, Lucid Software doubled in size by nearly every meaningful metric. As an executive, one of the most challenging was doubling our number of employees,” says Dilts.
The rapid growth required the company’s executive team to take action to preserve “the personality and culture that made Lucid so special at the very beginning,” he says. “Early on, our culture before was simply who we were. We realized that we now have to vocalize internally who we are and what we stand for, and work to make sure that we hire people that will fit that mold.”
From the start, Dilts was eager to provide Lucid’s software to universities for free. He gave educational licenses to Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, then helped develop a strategy to offer free educational licenses to all accredited institutions. The company now donates million of licenses each year.
“Leadership can never be effective if it’s implemented by pushing others forward (or worse, pushing them out of the way). Instead, leaders need to run faster, work harder and win more than anyone else, and drag the entire organization along behind them. Leaders like that inspire their people in turn to invest more, to work harder, to learn more and contribute more.”
COO, Big Leap
Tim Eyre started his career as a cell phone salesman when he was in college. While that job paid the bills, it wasn’t long before Eyre started to wonder what else was out there. Soon he saw a job posting for a position at a growing internet marketing company—and he went for it. At first, being thrust into new responsibilities was uncomfortable for Eyre, but he soon learned not only to cope, but to thrive.
“This may sound strange, but I used to fear a lot of situations where I felt unprepared or inexperienced. Fortunately, I was constantly pushed by someone that I consider to be a great mentor, which forced me to never get too comfortable with my role,” says Eyre. “I grew to crave those opportunities that would force me to be stretched beyond what I would have done otherwise.”
Now Eyre is the COO for Big Leap. He joined the company as its first C-level executive hire in 2014. He uses his expertise to guide many facets of the company, including operations, training, hiring, culture and innovation. With Eyre’s help, Big Leap has expanded, acquiring another digital marketing agency, landing high-profile clients and seeing 266 percent year-over-year growth in 2015.
“Don’t let titles and the politics of the corporate environment change you. Stay true to your convictions, be comfortable with what you have to offer, and if you doubt your abilities, take the time to polish off those feelings of inadequacy by learning.”
When Lyle Haycock first took the job at Ziplocal 12 years ago, it was something of a risk. He accepted the job although it offered less than half of the salary he was used to earning, feeling it came with something more: the ability to influence and affect change within the organization. Haycock’s risk paid off, and now he is currently responsible for all the financial, administrative and operation functions at Ziplocal.
In 2011, Haycock’s original gamble became even more beneficial to Ziplocal. The search information company, then primarily based in print, was in turmoil—so much so that many executives left and investors walked away. Haycock and a few others stayed and created a strategic plan to save the business. “It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without many challenges,” says Haycock, “but the end result is a much stronger, leaner company positioned for success with a great portfolio of new digital products and services.”
The experience taught Haycock to not be afraid of failure. “I wished I had realized earlier on to take a few more risks and not be afraid to fail,” he says. “… I accomplish more when not being intimidated by failure, but rather jump in and try some things and not worry so much about mistakes, doubts or failure.”
“The question is, do people willingly follow because they believe in the cause and are inspired by the leader? Great leaders serve the people with whom they associate and they lead by example and hard work.”
Ethan Heugly was one of Struck’s first employees when he joined the company in 2009. Since that time, Heugly helped the company expand into three states with over 50 employees, and served an irreplaceable role in two mergers and acquisitions. Over the past year, Struck became an employee-owned organization, and Heugly played a major role in negotiating buyouts of former shareholders and creating new opportunities for current employees to become shareholders.
Now, Heugly is responsible for all things financial and human resources-related for the company, as well as serving as treasurer on Struck’s board. He works hard to ensure the happiness of Struck’s employees while embracing and implementing new technologies that help him and Struck’s employees in their roles.
“I find that in the work that I do, no day is exactly the same. This, along with the continued change to learn and grow, are the two most satisfying things about my job. Change and challenge are constant and each day brings something new,” says Heugly. “I have seen many things in my 10 years at Struck. … It’s been exhilarating to make decisions on fringe benefits and see the positive effect they have on employees.”
“You are your own business. The more you are used and relied upon in your business, the more valuable you become to that business. Don’t be afraid to do more and learn more.”
CFO, The Buckner Company, Inc.
There’s more to a position than its responsibilities and compensation. A good company culture, work-life balance, integrity and ethics—excellence in those qualities was what Frank Lancaster was looking for when he decided to take a position at The Buckner Company, Inc.
“There are a large number of great organizations in this world, but there are an equal number of poorly run organizations. So many of us spend more time at work than we do in our own homes, which makes the culture, ethics and atmosphere of an organization so important,” says Lancaster. “The Buckner Company is a great place to work, and I happy to report that my focus on the ‘soft’ features of an organization have allowed me to have a good work-life balance and has brought me personal happiness in my life.”
As the CFO of The Buckner Company, Inc., Lancaster analyzes, monitors and directs the finances of the company, as well as handling several aspects of operations and administration of corporate affairs. Being able to wear so many hats, he says, is an enjoyable challenge. Under Lancaster’s watch, the company has grown by 20 percent in total revenue and by 17 percent in employee count in the past year.
“One activity I have learned over my career is to create annual goals which are well defined, and accomplishment can be easily assessed with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, no gray areas. This practice is an easy way to set clear objectives and to know whether I am moving forward in their realization.”
COO & Chief Broker, CBC Advisors
Kevin Long is quick to say he is surrounded by great people, and that his role in the midst of that greatness is to make sure business operations run as smoothly as possible to allow those people to do their job.
Long must be doing something right, because in its first full year after changing hands in 2013, CBC Advisors set a new brand record for gross revenue. Since then, industry accolades have piled up, and the company has grown from four offices in three states to 28 offices in 10 states, and operations span the country from New York City to Los Angeles, and from Miami to Anchorage.
The seeds of Long’s leadership philosophy were planted while growing up on a small farm, including working until the job is done, meeting deadlines, serving in the community and try to repair—not discard—broken things. He uses the leadership practices grown from those philosophies to create and maintain a positive, productive work environment for the 450 commercial real estate brokers and employees in the company. He says the responsibility of helping create personal happiness and professional satisfaction for employees—and company success—is one he takes very seriously.
“As I have matured I have come to more fully understand the causal relationship between doing what is right and personal and professional success. … Over my career I have learned the principal of doing what is right first, and then figuring out how to make money later.”
COO, Zurixx, LLC
When Greg Martin started his career, the idea of “servant leadership” was nonexistent. Thankfully, he says, that has changed, and he has found immense satisfaction in mentoring others and celebrating their accomplishments. Martin says he also feels part of success is working with a team to do work every member can be proud of to build a company that will stand the test of time.
As a young entrepreneur, Martin started a company with little experience and even less of a nest egg to fall back on should the venture fail. Almost everything that could go wrong did, he recalls, but that very real threat of failure only spurred him and his colleagues to work harder, even when it seemed like it would be easier to call it quits.
Now, as COO for Zurixx, Martin helps set the company’s direction and makes sure the day-to-day operations align with that goal. He says he strives to continue to hone his professional skills and stay curious, as well as provide continued opportunities for all of Zurixx’s stakeholders.
“Perseverance and commitment, along with healthy doses of luck and fortuitous timing, can combine to make incredible things happen.”
As CFO of Lendio, Mark Santiago feels he is helping fuel the American Dream. It’s the feeling of helping small businesses that Santiago says he enjoys most about his position—and the reason he took the job at Lendio after six months of being its outsourced CFO.
Since Santiago joined the company in 2013, Lendio has seen impressive growth. In the past year, Santiago has helped Lendio nearly double its revenue, raise $22 million in Series C funding, acquire a company in New York, and improve the company’s unit economics by 65 percent.
Santiago says experience has taught him there is no substitute for a great underlying foundational knowledge of economics—and that, over time, he’s realized being a CFO is much more than just reporting on numbers.
“Early in my career, I fell into the trap that so many financial professionals do, which is believing that finance is just reporting on or analyzing what has happened in the past and preparing forecasts and budgets. I have learned that finance professionals have so much more to offer than just these things, and can help drive a company rather than be along for the ride,” he says.
“I believe that customers > company > team > individual. I look at success that way. If our customers are happy, we are achieving our company vision and strategy, and the people in my organization are developing and successful, then I am successful.”
CRO, Alliance Health
Through working in companies like Proctor & Gamble, Wyeth Consumer Healthcare (Pfizer) and Beiersdorf, USA, Blaine Smith learned to understand market trends and consumer buying habits. When he came to Alliance Health in 2008, he turned those lessons into a means of creating a satisfied, loyal customer base by identifying what they need and finding ways to deliver that cost effectively.
One of the biggest things Smith has learned from working at Alliance is to consider the “why” behind each project or decision in order to understand the change in company trajectory it could make—something unnecessary when he worked at larger companies, but something that now gives him more purpose and passion in his work.
Over the last two years, Alliance Health has more than doubled in size and continues to rapidly grow, an outcome Smith says is only possible through proper management of resources and accountability from employees. And because of the strength and potential of the company, Smith says his goal is to help it grow to become a billion-dollar business.
“I believe every company needs to set well-defined and measurable metrics. Without goals and benchmarks, it is very easy to get caught up in the whirlwinds of daily tasks and lose focus on what the company is trying to achieve.”
Dave R. Taylor
Dave Taylor joined Impartner as CMO a year ago, at the same time as CEO Joe Wang, whom he had previously worked with at LANDESK Software. Since the two arrived at Impartner, they have “rebranded, refactored and re-priced the entire product line, [and] re-launched a new website with an updated look and feel consistent with new the brand,” says Taylor. “Marketing is the tip of the spear on this effort.”
The results of the effort have been immediate. Leads are up by a factor of 10, and deals the company has secured are up by a factor of four.
A thought leader in the industry, Taylor has championed the partner relationship management (PRM) category in trade magazines, webinars and other platforms. In February, he led Impartner’s first customer and industry conference. ImpartnerCON was held at Snowbird’s new 11,000-foot conference center and featured case studies from some the company’s top customers.
“This is a very cool time to be in marketing,” says Taylor. “The stack of tools available to marketing professionals has never been stronger. And there has never been better analytics available to help guide direction. The ability to take thoughtful risks, quickly measure the result and make a quick but informed decision on whether to move ahead or change direction is very cool.”
“Never underestimate the power of communication. Practice and hone your personal communication skills to the point where you can communicate complex and powerful ideas in effective ways.”