After 40 years in the tech world, Quorum Software President and CEO Gene Austin, MBA ’87, has a lot to share about his career, including lessons learned along the way.
Austin talked about what it’s like to run fast-growing – and not-so-fast-growing – tech businesses and about the strategies and skills necessary to lead them. He spoke Feb. 12 in Dallas before an audience of Olin alumni, corporate executives and others.
Quorum is a leading provider of financial and operations software for the oil and gas business. Austin has led the company since January 2019. Previously, as part of the startup space, Austin spent 15 years as CEO for two software companies: Convio and Bazaarvoice.
Convio was a leading provider of online fundraising tools for nonprofits. Austin joined the company at only $5 million in revenue and led it to a successful IPO in 2010 and a sale in 2012 to Blackbaud. Bazaarvoice is a leading provider of online ratings and reviews where Austin assumed the CEO role in 2013 and led the company to a successful sale to private equity in 2018.
Here are some of Austin’s takeaways.
Early in your career
Spend time on the front line. “What I mean by that is at the point where the company and the customer interact. I don’t care if it’s sales, support, services. It doesn’t really matter. That interaction can shape the way you think as a business leader for the rest of your life, which it has me,” Austin said.
Enjoy the journey
“People are in too big of a hurry career-wise in many cases. I always tell them to ask yourself five questions, and I actually got this from a fellow CEO.”
- Are you growing?
- Are you learning?
- Are you having fun? Is your team fun?
- Does your boss have your back? “The biggest reason employees become disgruntled is their relationship with their manager, it’s not pay.”
- Do you have a plan for your future? “Not the 5-, 10-year plan, but an immediate plan.” What are your goals for 6, 12, 24 months from now?
“Skills development and eliminating what you don’t like are the two things people should be focused on, in my opinion, for the first 15 to 20 years.”
Put a startup on your bucket list
“If you have the opportunity to join a startup, do it. It is a phenomenal experience, bar none. I was able to join a company called CareerBuilder.com, which is still out there. It’s a massive job board. This was a disruptive ploy. Fifty percent of the revenues for newspapers were from job classifieds back in the 1996 timeframe.”
So you want to take a company public? Think again
“I would ask why, and I would start going through the reasons you should be concerned,” Austin said.
“You will lose 20 percent of your time as a CEO. You will change the way you can talk to your employees and communicate and rally folks because you have to be very careful about making people insiders. The cost just to have an audit will be in excess of a million dollars. And it goes on and on and on.
“Today you have so many other ways to provide liquidity to your investors. The private equity market has money sitting on the shelves.”
How Austin operates as a CEO
The CEO has to balance three things, he said: customers, employees and investors. “I personally start with the customer. I always start with, ‘How is this decision going to impact customers?’ And then I quickly go to employees. I believe if I’m good by both of those two constituents, I will pay off the investor.”
To learn more, watch Austin’s presentation, “What the Tech?”