President and chief executive officer, Paragon Development Systems
13400 Bishops Lane, Brookfield
Industry: Information technology
Employees: More than 300
Family: Married to Deborah Farwell with two sons, Armande (14) and Amani (12).
What was the smartest thing your company did in the past year?
“We moved our headquarters to our expanded and upgraded Brookfield facilities and consolidated our southeastern Wisconsin teams in that facility. This has resulted in increased team collaboration and a closer intimacy to our Milwaukee-based customers.”
What will be your company’s main challenges in the next year?
“We have a dedicated, motivated and highly competent team that is proud to work at PDS. We had a very good 2015 where our team performed very well and bettered on just about every metric over our 2014 results. Our challenge is to continue that trend and accelerate our profitable growth, and at the same time make PDS an even more fun place to work. I know team PDS is up to that challenge.”
Do you have a business mantra?
“We try to stay away from slogans. However, we frequently discuss what values we strive to live by, and there are always two consistent themes. The first thing that has always distinguished PDS is our relentless focus on customer service and our firm belief that as long as we take care of our customers and our team members, all else will fall into place. Second, we are a learning organization. Most successful organizations create a culture of learning where the team members can learn from each other, from their successes and failures, and from the ever-changing business environment and market dynamics that impact their business. They reinvent themselves by addressing the challenges facing them and by embracing the opportunities in front of them, even if that means giving up things that have made them successful in the past.”
Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
“Indeed, we are doing both. We are always in a recruiting mode to attract some of the best talent in the industry to join team PDS. We are actively seeking candidates in sales; engineers and architects with subject matter expertise relevant to our three businesses – Health care, Corporate, and Government & Education; and software engineers to augment our engineering team. Our customers often look to us to help implement special projects for which our staffing organization has the ability to quickly hire staff with relevant skillsets for the duration of the projects. We have been continually making investments in our information technology infrastructure to enhance our customer relationship, business processes and sales automation.”
What’s the hottest trend in your industry?
“Let me see if I can be succinct here. Successful businesses are increasingly recognizing that IT is not an adjunct to their strategy; it is central to it, and in many cases, it is the strategy. As devices become more sophisticated, applications more context sensitive, users bring their own technologies to work and as the needs to ensure security and privacy mount, the IT skills gaps required to address these trends in an enterprise are widening. Add to it the increasing use of social media, mobile devices, analytics for deeper business insights and cloud-based services, and the traditional IT skills are no longer adequate to support an enterprise. An effective way to address this skills gap is to catalyze an ecosystem of vendors, suppliers and customers to co-create products and solutions where each party can bring unique assets and skillsets and, therefore, share the created value. All of this also implies that it is no longer sufficient for the executives running the business to only understand their domain and market; they must be technology savvy.”
From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?
“I don’t have a single business or individual that I exclusively admire. Instead, I look for traits and characteristics I seek to emulate wherever I can find them. I look up to leaders that consistently inspire their team members through clear communication, authenticity and imagination. I look up to organizations that successfully reinvent themselves and are able to establish a culture that continuously encourages risk-taking, rewards agility and evokes lateral thinking.”
What was the best advice you ever received?
I remember my very first skip level meeting soon after I joined Bell Labs as a young engineer. At one point in our conversation, she said, ‘Young man, you are allowed every mistake in the book once – and I want you to make certain mistakes as soon as possible. You make the same mistake twice, I will kill you!’ Of course, she said it with affection and care. Over the years, I have tried to live by that advice and have shared it with my colleagues and team members.”
What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in your career?
“In a recent coast-to-coast flight, I sat next to a well-recognized iconic Chicago activist politician and we had a great conversation on a variety of subjects. While landing at our destination my mobile phone – which was comfortably sitting on the console between our seats – flew through the cabin and hid itself in the front of the plane. This kind gentleman insisted on crawling under the seats in search of my phone for the next several minutes while the rest of the passengers waited behind him with amusement and watched this taller than 6 foot and larger than life figure searching for a tiny device. While I was experiencing a level of nervous embarrassment, the other passengers thought it funny.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
“I enjoy spending time with my family, reading and whenever possible, flying.”