At the two-day New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC) Executive Leadership Summit in Jersey City last week, keynoter Stephen Waldis, chairman, president and CEO of Synchronoss Technologies Inc. (Bridgewater), addressed his fellow C-level executives, explaining his philosophy that “controlled growth over time is the most sustainable” growth and provides the most long-term value.
Later in his speech, Waldis, whose firm has grown from startup to thriving N.J. public company, discussed why much of the firm’s R & D occurs outside N.J. The company chose to locate its global R & D facilities in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, near Lafayette College and Lehigh University, schools with excellent engineering programs. The R & D labs are attractive to engineers from Penn State University as well, Waldis said.
Synchronoss employees appreciate being able to work with cutting-edge technology in an area where the cost of living isn’t as high as in New York and New Jersey, Waldis said. He added that the company has acquired developers overseas who are skilled in a certain state-of-the-art software set Synchronoss needed but for which it couldn’t find the talent in the U.S.
At the beginning of his talk, Waldis focused on his company’s growth strategy. Synchronoss, whose flagship ConvergenceNow and ConvergenceNow Plus+ software platforms automate subscriber activation, order management and service provision from any channel to any communications service across any network or device, has grown about 25 percent year over year since its inception. The firm operates using a software as a service (SaaS) business model and gets paid per transaction/customer activation.
When Synchronoss was poised for growth, a key management tool the company used was acquiring a “marquee customer” who could prove the value of the software services. That customer was AT&T; Inc. Synchronoss wound up being the company that handled activation of the Apple iPhone via the iTunes store, no small feat. After the company proved its value and its product’s ease of use to AT&T; during the iPhone launch, it was able to take that experience and apply it to all its customers. This has led to its acquiring business from other carriers. Recently Verizon Wireless said it would be partnering with Synchronoss to have all new connected devices activated on their new 4G network via the company’s innovation lab as a way to accelerate many more devices on their networks faster and provide a better experience for consumers. Waldis emphasized that Synchronoss examines every aspect of its ongoing operations every year, including ensuring that the person at the top, he himself, has the skills needed to achieve the company’s objectives. He said that its board of directors—populated with individuals who have more business and telecom experience than he does—conducts an annual audit of his abilities and skill level. Synchronoss is equally tough on its managers and execs. As a result, Waldis said, he has drastically changed the kinds of functions he performs and has had to give up control of many tasks he likes to do. However, by ceding control, he has focused on larger issues and helped the firm grow.
While many small businesses start out by employing friends and family—which can be great at the beginning—the latter are not always best for a company’s long-term growth, Waldis added. He told a story about one of his firm’s first executives. That individual was excellent when the company was small but couldn’t handle the multitasking involved in running a larger company and had trouble keeping the many balls in the air. His point to fellow executives: at every stage of growth, make sure your executives’ skill sets and abilities are compatible with your company’s objectives.
Waldis shared that he had learned a lot from working with Apple on the iPhone release because Steve Jobs and other employees were relentless in their focus on the customer’s experience. They needed to know exactly what would happen as a result of each action a customer might take. Innovative companies don’t introduce products that are only 80 percent ready to go, Waldis said; they focus on the remaining 20 percent, even though it’s the hardest part to execute.
The Leadership Summit included a CEO of the Year award ceremony, which took place on the second day. Honored were Steven Abramson, president and CEO of Universal Display Corp. (Ewing), named Public CEO of the Year; John Bailye, CEO of EKR Therapeutics Inc. (Bedminster), named Private CEO of the Year; and Caren Franzini, CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (Trenton), Not-for-Profit CEO of the Year.