Friday, December 12, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Vignette

Can a company with revenues of $200 million really be entrepreneurial?

YEP, depending who is in the CEO job.

The December meeting of the Central Texas Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) had a great speaker this week in Vignette (NASDAQ: VIGN) CEO Michael Aviles.

A self-described hired gun who has come into several companies in a variety of industries to help turn them around, Aviles had a great attitude about his role in helping grow Vignette and his role as an entrepreneur - who also makes his family a priority!

He clearly knows that running a company (start-up or public entity) is a 24/7 ordeal, but he encouraged the audience to block out the necessary time for piano recitals and ball games, to be sure that the family does not get the short end of ones limited time. Then do what it takes to get the job done at work. You can do both!

Every company has their own story and tries to make their situation "different". Aviles says the job of a good CEO is to take complex situations and break them down to simple parts. A Stanford professor told him that to succeed a leader needs to "define their job and look for plain stupidity". He has never forgot that lesson.

To Aviles running Vignette is like having a 15 year old start up. He faces all the same challenges of a young growth company, plus the demands of Wall Street. Such tasks requires leadership....
But, being a CEO with great ideas does not mean your team will follow you. To achieve change, you have to change the environment. He prefers to do that with the existing team when he comes into a company, but counsels that changing the environment sometimes means changing the people.

Aviles was a great speaker who connected with the audience of nearly 100 Austin business professionals. I am always a big believer that one trait of a good leader is being able to give an effective speech. He delivered!

He left the audience with more than just his story, he had a series of lessons for entrepreneurs that he has learned through his career:

  • Running a company is a life and a career, not a job. Think long term

  • Make your personal decisions before your professional ones when looking at a new opportunity (He is another one who LOVES working and raising his family in Austin. There seems to be a trend with everyone I have profiled in the "Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project")

  • Use your IQ and your EQ. Read the tea leaves and assess the situation of the company.

  • Establish and build relationships. Show your personal side (The theme of "the importance of building and maintaining business relationships" also runs through all the successful professionals I meet).

  • Get some quick wins in the first 100 days. Use the early days to cover a lot of ground and take a lot of notes on what you discover in your new company.

  • Do not spend too much time on any one thing. It is easy to get sucked into single issues.

  • Think transition. Do not try to make all the changes at once.
It is great to see bigger companies who are also run by those with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Vignette has been around a long time in Austin and has had some ups and downs, but Aviles seems to be a great leader as the company moves forward.

Once again, ACG has some of the best programs in town.

Have A Great Day.



Ben Kunz said...

Nice blog, and this post is interesting. You see the Kmart scandal has helped us all connect with new minds ;)

This post on keeping large cos entrepreneurial in spirit reminds me of the biggest company I worked for, a large oil company with thousands of employees. The company went through some hard times and then brought up (promotion) a new CEO, who did a simple thing: he started *delegating* to his lieutenants, and trained them to delegate and empower down through the ranks.

It sounds simple, but that very move created huge momentum through the organization. People who previously had been worried to take actions started getting things done, without fear that mistakes would harm them or they would suffer unnecessary critique.

In essence this "empowerment" mentality turned the whole company into a nimble startup. The company rebounded financially, great ideas came forth, and within 2 years the stock was up and customers were happier.

Large companies can be small, and that can be a good thing. Instilling the spirit in the employees is the first step.

Nice to meet you, cheers.

thomsinger said...

Ben, thanks for your comment.

I love hearing about big companies being entrepreneurial.

I will add you to my blog roll once gets their act together and works again.