If you attend enough networking events you quickly learn the difference between an executive who is a great presenter, and an executive who gets asked to give a presentation.
Most of the lunch and dinner speakers who populate the stages at corporate networking events, seminars and other gatherings are just average at the podium (many are horrible!). While they are "okay", most do not leave you with any interesting points to ponder.... they do not inspire the audience. It is the rare exception that you go to a networking event and walk away saying "WOW, that was a fantastic presentation".
Those are the exact words I heard from folks as I exited today's Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) - Central Texas Chapter - monthly meeting in Austin, Texas.
Jack McDonald, CEO of Perficient, Inc. (PRFT) was the speaker who both entertained and informed the audience of over 80 local business executives. His speaking style was casual, relaxed and conversational as he roamed away from the microphone and walked about the tables as he spoke at the Shoreline Grill.
He not only shared the stories and strategies of his own company, but did what most lunchtime business speakers forget - he coupled his examples with real life take-aways that other businesses can adopt in their own journey toward success. It was the applicable nuggets of knowledge that he gave which made his presentation shine.
He began his talk by pointing out that the news lately has been plagued by talk of recession and depression, but instead took his words in a different direction: He talked about growing a company in these turbulent times.
Perficient is one of Austin's best stories of a home grown success. The company, which launched in the late 1990s, had it's IPO in the heart of the boom-boom days has survived and has prospered under McDonald's leadership. Their strategy for defining their marketplace and discovering where they can compete and win has allowed them to beat their competition about 80% of the time.
Diversification of product offerings will make a company stronger over the long hall. In a tough economy, it would not be wise to have too many eggs in any one basket. Perficient has made sure that they are not too reliant on any one company or industry - and this has allowed them to continue to grow in an industry where 9 out of 10 of their competitors have gone out of business during the past 8 years.
The company now has 18 domestic offices in the United States as well as several overseas locations. They are creating good jobs at home and abroad. McDonald was clear that expanding internationally is not a zero-sum game in regards to jobs, and pointed out that by opening up and expanding internationally they have created MORE jobs in the USA.
"Continue to challenge your assumptions" was also a key point. Because something worked for your company yesterday is not reason enough when the market realities are shifting. Keeping fixed costs low, having flexible labor options and avoiding expensive "ego-driven" real estate are the best recommended strategies for a company that wants to be able to react to the fast changes that always around the next corner.
McDonald reminded the crowd that while we are facing a recession, it is not the end of the world. His company will still attain growth. The message was clear that other companies should also embrace the future and uncover ways to continue to grow, in spite the sour outlook for the economy over the next few quarters.
His conversation ended with discussion about the future of Austin. While many leaders of entrepreneurial companies do not venture beyond the walls of their company, McDonald serves as Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Vice Chair of Technology and Chair of the AusTech Alliance. Strengthening the tech industry in Austin is part of the Chamber’s Opportunity Austin five-year plan which has surpassed its goals to add 72,000 new jobs and $3.5 billion in payroll to the region’s economy.
Austin is an internationally recognized center for entrepreneurship and technology development with one of the country's best and most educated workforces. It is a diverse and tolerant community that is poised to continue to grow into the future.
While it is the individual entrepreneurs that make things happen, we owe a debt to the infrastructure that has been created over the past three decades that has allowed Austin to thrive. McDonald appealed to the audience to support the Chamber's new Opportunity Austin 2.0 push that is now underway with greater goals for expanding the local economy and growing over 117,000 jobs between now and the 2013.
Getting entrepreneurs involved to build the community now is how we can insure the future.
I have known Jack McDonald for a long time, and consider him a friend, but had never seen him speak before. Probably one of the best CEO speakers I have ever seen. But more than his verbiage, it was the reality of his advice that connected to the audience.
When business leaders take an interest in helping grow the community, it inspires others to do the same thing. Then it is a perpetual motion machine that cannot be stopped. I feel good about the future of Austin and the technology industries that populate our landscape, as even with some economic hiccups in the near future, we have the talent to keep growth in our sights. Both for companies like Perficient (and others) and the Central Texas region will prosper because of the leadership in place.
Have A Great Day.