Q&A with Unitrends CEO
How has your experience with the U.S. Army Security Agency helped you successfully motivate and lead Unitrends’ staff?
I served in the U.S. Army in the post-Vietnam era, a time when we had half of the resources we really needed to execute our mission. Without sufficient resources, we learned to get the job done through creativity and innovation, as we knew there is no room for failure in the military. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would later rely on those same survivor skills to lead Unitrends out of the trenches.
When I first took the reins as CEO in 2009, the company was flat-lining – the kind of sluggish company that makes investors seriously consider padlocking the doors. In business since 1989, the company had yet to “pop” and showed no sign of doing so any time soon. As a result, we were grossly underinvested and understaffed. Leveraging the lessons I learned in the military, I created a culture where resourcefulness is valued over resources. We employed – and continue to employ – highly skilled, motivated individuals that, despite the resources they have to work with, find a way to reach their goals and advance the business. This combination of skill and resourcefulness has propelled us to great success.
Today, even though we are coming off of our best year in the history of the company, we still follow the same guiding principle: A good idea is better than a bagful of cash. Not only is this approach financially practical and operationally successful, but it also serves as a natural employee motivator. Their opinions, suggestions and ideas are valued and have been used to shape Unitrends into the company it is today.
In what ways do you compare military teamwork with that of business environments?
In the military, you’re only as good as your weakest link. As such, units are carefully assembled with experts in a variety of fields to eliminate blind spots and ensure strength in all areas of operations. You quickly learn that there is no “I” in team; success is a collective effort.
Businesses should operate in much the same way. A diversified leadership team that works in unison is the key to corporate success. And diversity starts with a company’s CEO. CEOs need to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and employ people who complement them. If everyone has the same skillset, there will be glaring holes that can be detrimental to a business. A well-rounded management team that works closely together is key to making everything else around it run successfully.
Which do you believe is more important: possessing strong leadership skills or empowering others around you?
There’s no doubt that possessing strong leadership skills is important. But, knowing when to step aside and let your team do what they do best is even more important. My motto is: “Assemble your dream team and get out of their way.” I implicitly trust my employees to do their job well, and, until they give me reason to think otherwise, I encourage them to take initiative and run with the projects they own. The best leaders are those who empower others to do great things. Trusting employees in this way is not only a great leadership technique, but it also serves as a strong motivator and employee retention tool as well.
How has your military experience helped you to strengthen Unitrends’ business?
I was introduced to flying during my military days, and it quickly became one of my greatest passions. Upon leaving the U.S. Army Security Agency, I earned a private pilot’s license and took up aerobatic aviation.
Being a pilot taught me a fundamental lesson: Metrics and benchmarks guide the path to success. Every pilot follows six key instruments – known as our “six pack” – on the plane’s dashboard, which ensure you are flying straight and level at all times. The trick is to give equal attention to all six metrics. If you focus on any one for too long, you risk crashing.
One of my first duties as Unitrends’ CEO was to establish our own “six pack” of metrics and ensure that each had a strong team behind it to guide the company to success. Dedicating your resources to one main goal – whether that goal relates to profits or revenue or customers or employee satisfaction – can cause your company to veer off-track. At Unitrends, we’ve created clearly-defined metrics across all key areas of the business and put the resources in place to support each one. Since doing so, we’ve seen explosive growth: 2012 was Unitrends’ most successful year in the history of the company, with 88% growth 2012 over 2011.
Are there any secret agents or spies in the data backup and recovery market?
In the data backup and recovery market, there aren’t any “secret agents,” per se. However, there are plenty of industry secrets, and backup vendors often keep this so-called “intelligence” from their customers. Today’s increasingly agile, complex and heterogeneous data centers have made data protection a challenge for many companies. That’s why it’s important for the industry to come forward and offer up some of this intelligence for the benefit of existing and future customers.
For example, what many companies often do not realize is that per-client and upgrade fees are the cash cow of the industry. Backup vendors implement these fees to ensure they’ll receive additional revenue as their customers grow, when they add new computers to their accounts and when new versions of operating systems and applications become available. Companies should not fall into this trap. There are data protection vendors, like Unitrends, that don’t nickel and dime their customers in this way.
Another so-called industry “secret” is that when something goes wrong, the costs of finger pointing can be enormous. If you find yourself in a disaster – one that jeopardizes your corporate data and your job – you will want to have support from a vendor that recognizes the value of customer service, rather than the one denying responsibility and pointing the finger at other vendors. Want some advice? Select a vendor that puts their customers first.
Last but not least, online or cloud-based backup can be an unbelievably slow recovery medium. Though online or cloud-based backup is touted as “the next big thing” in data protection, it actually has a big disadvantage if you do not couple it with an on-premise appliance. If you’re relying on pure cloud-based backup and a disaster strikes, your data could be unavailable for weeks – and even months – before you can recover it from the cloud. Instead, consider pairing your cloud-based backup with an on-premise appliance. This hybrid approach will ensure your data – and your business – are backed up and running in no time!
Unitrends is a leading provider of data backup, archiving, instant recovery and disaster recovery solutions.