For 2015, NJ Tech Execs Give Leadership Advice to Startup CEOs

[We asked several New Jersey CEOs and tech leaders to answer three questions about leadership. This article presents their answers to the third question: What advice would you give about leadership to someone who is a CEO of a startup?]

N. Robert Hammer, chairman, president and CEO, CommVault

Photo: N. Robert Hammer, chairman, president and CEO, CommVault  Photo Credit: Courtesy CommVault
N. Robert Hammer, chairman, president and CEO, CommVault | Courtesy CommVault

[CommVault is a publicly traded data and information management software company headquartered in Tinton Falls. The company made its mark with the industry’s leading backup product, Simpana software.]

The biggest piece of leadership advice I would give any CEO is to have a clear, strategic vision.  Startups by definition have a high degree of uncertainty.  It is thus very important to clearly understand the underlying assumptions behind that vision and continually test them, making the necessary quick adjustments based on the validity of the original assumptions or due to rapid changes in the marketplace or in the competition. Do this over and over again, often.

It’s also important for leaders to be able to put a plan together that is executable with the right people, structure and processes. Make sure the feedback mechanisms are in place to continuously monitor progress against key objectives, and then — you guessed it — take quick, decisive corrective actions.

Anthony Curlo, president and CEO of DaVinciTek

Photo: Anthony Curlo, president and CEO of DaVinciTek  Photo Credit: Courtesy DaVinciTek
Anthony Curlo, president and CEO of DaVinciTek | Courtesy DaVinciTek

[An expert in top tier IT recruitment and staff augmentation, DaVinciTek (Morristown) specializes in world-class talent acquisition services that align emerging corporations and fortune 500 companies with IT professionals looking to advance their careers.]

When I pause and reflect on my  own career path and future objectives, I often ask myself what are your strengths and areas for opportunity? Do I recognize the following signs of leadership within myself?

1. Delegate
Do you know exactly what needs to get done and how to accomplish the task through others? Learning to delegate frees up your time and attention to focus on more important issues, while empowering those you manage to make wise decisions and take ownership of their responsibilities.

2. Listen
You can learn a lot about leadership through active listening. This requires you to remain engaged in order to provided necessary feedback and follow up. As a good listener, you are able to set aside your assumptions to open your mind to new thoughts and ideas, which also contributes to your job effectiveness and ability to foster good relationships.

3. Communicate
Can you deliver a message that motivates and mobilizes others to take action? Can you listen to a message being presented, decipher the perspective in which it’s given, identify what questions to ask to resolve an issue and determine the appropriate and clear tone to deliver a resolution? These are all qualities of a great communicator, and are imperative to a leader’s success.

4. Ignite Passion
The ability to instill excitement and energy in others to rally around your collective initiatives is a true sign of a great leader. It demonstrates strength in communication and value for the greater good of the team, which builds community and goodwill.

5. Confidence
Leaders take risks, are not afraid to make the tough decisions, stand behind them and even admit when they are wrong. They exude empowerment, passion, influence and empathy that evoke assurance and confidence in others.

6. Set an Example
What does your behavior say about the standards you’re setting for others to follow? If you want to build credibility as a leader, you must move beyond just telling others what to do and be a living demonstration of the conduct you hope to see. Whether you believe it or not, you are being watched.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. No matter how many good qualities you may possess; there is always room for growth. The question is: are you looking for ways to improve as a leader?

Colin Day, iCIMS founder, president and CEO

Photo: Colin Day, iCIMS founder, president and CEO Photo Credit: Courtesy iCIMS
Colin Day, iCIMS founder, president and CEO | Courtesy iCIMS

[Matawan-based iCIMS  helps businesses win the fight for top talent through the implementation of innovative Software-as-a-Service talent-acquisition solutions that are scalable and easy to use.]

Help get everyone focused. It’s incredible how quickly a great product or idea gets scope creep.  People want to extend capabilities/products/geography, etc.  I’ve continuously found that the best response from a CEO is often just “no.” Not an eternal “no” —  just “no” for now.  I explain that we want to be great at something, and why their suggestion falls outside of the definition of what it is we are trying to be great at right now.

Dean Guida, president and CEO, Infragistics

Photo: Dean Guida, president and CEO, Infragistics Photo Credit: Courtesy Infragistics
Dean Guida, president and CEO, Infragistics | Courtesy Infragistics

[Cranbury-based Infragistics offers rapid prototyping and user interface toolsets that allow developers and enterprise users to create amazing applications for the Web, Windows and mobile devices.]

I would say work hard, and be optimistic. You have to be able to see the future, and drive people to it. Failure is part of life and part of starting a company. Work through it, understand what happened, and then just move on.

And finally: I would say that you have to have fun! Don’t do anything unless you’re going to have fun because it’s really about the journey. It’s not about the end game. As you get older you realize that more and more!

Jerry Passione, General Manager, Juniper Networks OpenLab

Photo: Jerry Passione, General Manager, Juniper Networks OpenLab Photo Credit: Courtesy Juniper Networks OpenLlab
Jerry Passione, General Manager, Juniper Networks OpenLab | Courtesy Juniper Networks OpenLlab

[Juniper Networks OpenLab, based in Bridgewater, represents a unique collaborative and educational approach that enables software innovators to engage with Juniper technology specialists and a suite of hands-on tools to push the boundaries of Software Defined Networking and programmable networking.]

The role requires a delicate balance between focusing on near-term deliverables to gain market traction while being “strategic” in driving toward longer-range objectives.  CEOs should expect to lead by tapping the collective team to set and embrace priorities, while aiming to remove obstacles or distractions that impede progress toward goals.

Chris Miles, CEO, Miles Technologies

Photo: Chris Miles, CEO, Miles Technologies Photo Credit: Courtesy Miles Technologies
Chris Miles, CEO, Miles Technologies | Courtesy Miles Technologies

[Since 1997, Moorestown-based Miles Technologies has been providing information technology, business software and web/marketing consulting services to organizations of all sizes and from all industries.]

Hire great people. Let the great people you hire do what they are best at, and always believe in what your people can achieve.

Eileen Martinson, CEO, Sparta Systems

Photo: Eileen Martinson, CEO, Sparta Systems Photo Credit: Courtesy Sparta Systems
Eileen Martinson, CEO, Sparta Systems | Courtesy Sparta Systems

[Hamilton-based Sparta Systems, an industry pioneer and leading global provider of enterprise quality management software solutions, enables businesses to safely and efficiently deliver their products to market.]

I think developing a framework to get you from where you are today to some point in the future is critical to success, and, as the leader of a company, this is the CEO’s responsibility to figure out. However it is also their responsibility to seek input from others who are experts in their fields.

As a CEO of a startup, I would highly recommend making sure you have a mentor network in place. So often one hears, “A person doesn’t know what they don’t know,” and this saying holds true at every level in an organization. You need to make sure you have people with whom you can bounce  ideas around, or who will tell you that they don’t agree with your direction. This honest input can certainly come from your senior leadership team; however, I have also found great value from mentors outside of my company for getting an objective viewpoint.

Robert DeJean, president and CEO, Systech International

Photo: Robert DeJean, president and CEO, Systech International Photo Credit: Courtesy systech International
Robert DeJean, president and CEO, Systech International | Courtesy systech International

[Systech International, based in Cranbury, is a global leader in brand-protection and authentication technologies serving a wide variety of industries, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical devices, food and beverages and health care.]

The best advice that I can provide for a first-time CEO or to someone about to become the CEO of a startup is to really, really understand what you are getting yourself into before you say yes. This is not only about ensuring that you are ready to accept the reality that you will be on call 24 x 7 x 365, from the day that you start until the day that you stop, but also that your family will be front- and-center among those most impacted when the inevitable intrusions of your business take priority over everything else in your life.

You need to have complete alignment at home with the realities of what you are going to be doing, and the sacrifices that will need to be collectively made by all of those involved and impacted. There are absolutely no free lunches in being a first-time CEO, for either you or your family; and you have to realize that your learning curve, and the impositions of your business on your life, should not be underestimated.

Finally, you should realize that you have to be the visionary, the evangelist, the brand ambassador, the operator and the fundraiser all in one. The glass needs to be half full, not half empty, and you need eternal optimism regarding your goal and quest to achieve the impossible. You will consistently have fewer resources, less money and less maturity than your peers, so you will need to make up for it with aggression, confidence, work, planning, commitment and a tireless pursuit of excellence in every facet of your business. But enjoy it, because it will be the most amazing and rewarding experience in your business life.

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