Interview

People on the Move: On networking, Millennials and mentors

Every week the Washington Business Journal publishes “People on the Move.” This weekly look at who has been promoted or hired has long been a reader favorite. With the help of BNY Mellon the WBJ held a small group dinner for six of those people who had been profiled in the first six months of the year and asked them to talk about their new responsibilities,their company and their outlook. The event was hosted by BNY Mellon’s Susan Traver and the discussion was moderated by WBJ publisher James MacGregor. The other participants were Gore Bolton, Principal, Diversified Advantage Group, Inc.; Ulrich Thienel, Chief Development & Medical Officer, RRD International; Ross Blankenship, CEO & Managing Partner, Angel Kings, LIC; Jennifer Felix, Chief Financial Officer, Vencore; and Reza Amirkhalili, President & Managing Director, Americas, Faithful+Gould; and Greg Burgess, President and Chief Product Officer, The Burgess Group.

GREG BURGESS
“Money and incentives aren’t why people stay: They leave if they don’t like their job and feel like you’re not listening to them.”

ROSS BLANKENSHIP
“Sometimes success can be your greatest impediment to the next success – like having to win the Superbowl again next year.”

JENNIFER FELIX
“We all get wedded to our ideas – it’s good to surround yourself with people who are willing to challenge you.”

GORE BOLTON
“As founders, we’ve been through the full spectrum from start to exit – both positive exits and negative exits.”

ULRICH THIENEL
“People have to want to follow you: You can’t make them do it.”

REZA AMIRKHALILI
“Developing your work and life network is an evolution. “

Q: Who or what has played the most significant role in your career success?
Ross Blankenship: I wrote about this in a book called “Kings Over Aces.” My father was always my mentor. He would say, “Tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.” I think everyone needs to have a mentor or advisor who tells you what you need to hear, even if it’s painful.
Ulrich Thienel: Influences can be good or bad. I had a boss who made a comment so atrocious that I said, “I’m done with this.” And I was in a similar situation that was so different that I said, “This is why I’m here.” Feedback has much more impact when starting on a positive note and then saying, “hHere’s something you could do differently.”
Greg Burgess: My father was a huge influence on me. He was an auto mechanic and a used-car salesman, and was widely respected for always telling the truth. I spent 18 years building a company based on the principles of producing the best product, providing great customer service and always underselling on the delivery. That’s what he taught me and it has paid off. Now I want it to sustain the company beyond me; I want the ideals of being disruptive and innovative, which we are, to go beyond what we’re doing.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise in your new job?
Jennifer Felix: The people, how collaborative the organization is. Seeing everyone working together with the same goals and supporting one another to achieve them. It’s actually very rare, regardless of what you do as a company or what service you provide. Especially for a company of our size.
Gore Bolton: On the private equity side, humanizing numbers. And that’s one of the biggest challenges. How to convince people to be more efficient and create the advocacy within the product, but also to communicate with them that it’s better for company values and other aspects.
Ulrich Thienel: When you take over, you realize you’re not actually in control of everything. You can’t go through life cracking the whip and expecting things to happen: You need to set a vision and explain why it makes sense. Then people follow.
Ross Blankenship: The whole dynamic of virtual management and telecommuting. Which is a blessing and a curse, not having everybody under the same roof. And also how you deal with those interpersonal connections in a start-up. As techie as I am, it’s tough.

Q: Talk about attracting and retaining talent in your business.
Ulrich Thienel: Retaining the difference makers who can deliver projects and get things done is becoming more and more difficult. Everyone wants the same people and there’s a limited number of high-performers in each specific area. So tapping into and keeping talent is an ongoing challenge.
Jennifer Felix: I think it’s about driving from a motivation perspective. Looking at talent and what motivates them, continuing to get people on board and motivated to drive your mission. When you find people like that, there’s almost a natural instinct for doing the right thing. Good people want to work with good people.
Greg Burgess: We’re trying to build a company that’s lasting and sustainable, and it has to be a group effort. You have to find a way to get that cohesion. If I were to try to be a rainmaker and not let other people step up and be part of the company’s growth, then what happens? Part of my goal is that whenever I sell the company, it can be sustainable.

Q: How has building your professional network helped contribute to your career?
Ross Blankenship: At the end of the day, it’s all about your network. It’s the people you surround yourself with, and you have to constantly surround yourself with better people. As I deploy private equity, deploy for venture capital, I seek out the best and smartest people in the room.
Ulrich Thienel: Growing up in a large family assisted me in building networks in the world, because I was used to talking to people and making friends. Having relocated frequently, keeping relationships was very, very important and the network I’ve built with friends has expanded my work relationships. Ultimately, the longer I work, the more work and life become one.
Jennifer Felix: From historical experience, I know I want to work with people that are motivated, that don’t want to let one another down. It’s not just about their skillset. Having a strong network of people that fit this criteria comes in handy when you need to add new talent because it is hard to assess in an interview. I also really enjoy helping and supporting others in their careers and I learn so much about what is going on outside of my own organization.

Q: What has your experience been with managing millennials – and in your new position, are you managing fewer or more?
Jennifer Felix: I probably manage fewer millennials now. But from my experience, it’s really about flexibility with work and life which works for me as long as they are getting things done. That requires plenty of self-discipline.
Ross Blankenship: Because we deal with a lot of start-ups and new departments, we see a disproportionate number of people under 30 and a lot of challenges with grammar, writing, basic communication and follow through. They’re very smart, but often without a sense of urgency about getting things done. What you have to do is to tap into and embrace their strengths, because they’re awesome at technologies.
Gore Bolton: Our training programs have changed; now we screen for reading comprehension and writing, for instance. And the online education approach has gotten very interesting. On the business side, you can use testing like Meyers-Briggs and do it more easily – and much more cheaply – than ten years ago. So you can find out what someone needs and where they should be.
Greg Burgess: We’re a software development company that’s very multicultural and I find that even the younger people that come here from other countries have a much stronger work ethic than what I see in my own world. But instead of complaining about millennials, we have to find a way to tackle the situation and figure it out: I want to hire more young people.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge to your business in the next 12 months?
Ulrich Thienel: One of the founders died at early this year and it’s a privately owned company; now the question is, how do we continue? We’re deciding what’s working and not working, and how to grow at a reasonable rate. There are a lot of crucial decisions to make in the next 12 months. We need growth that’s sustainable, with a model that allows us to identify resources to support the growth; we need revenue that then drives hiring.
Jennifer Felix: As we grow, we continue to hire at all levels based upon customer’s needs but it is tough to retain the younger employees. We want to develop the talent for the future, but they tend to change jobs more frequently, less than two years. We have very experienced and talented people that have been with the company and understand the customers, but are going to retire. We need to develop the next generation and pass on that knowledge.

Q: In just a few words, what’s the number one take-away that you would want people to know about you and your business?
Gore Bolton: We deliver world-class wealth management solutions to our clients.
Greg Burgess: Burgess sets new standards in healthcare payment integrity innovation.
Ulrich Thienel: RRD provides an efficient, asset-centric alternative model for drug development.
Reza: I would like readers of WBJ to know that Faithful+Gould will look after owner’s interests above all else in planning, designing and delivery of construction projects. Ross Blankenship: Angel Kings invests in early-stage biotech and cybersecurity companies.
Jennifer Felix: Vencore truly values and supports continuous improvement; my personal quest

Quotes from our sponsor,
BNY Mellon
SUSAN TRAVER
“Throughout your career, you should have a 90-day plan. Whatever you’re doing, you should be prepared for what’s coming next.”