Tag Archives: leaders to legends

A business by any other name: The transformation of Outerwall

Scott Di ValerioTwo years ago, Coinstar Inc., known for its eponymous coin conversion kiosks as well as the movie rental kiosks Redbox, found itself in stasis. Addressing a packed Anthony’s Forum during his Leaders to Legends talk, CEO Scott Di Valerio put it this way, “Think about a company that has two businesses that grew rapidly and then have hit a level of maturity, that’s where we were two years ago.” He knew it was time to shake things up—a process that included a name-change (Coinstar became Outerwall in 2013), renewed focus and vision, and leveraging customer data—all while maintaining their unique company culture. During his time at the podium, Di Valerio expanded upon the three latter aspects, explaining how each one plays a pivotal role in the story of Outerwall.

Know thy customer
When discussing Outerwall’s marketing strategy, Di Valerio made it clear that data is king. After the company name-change, Outerwall purchased a NASCAR truck and began regularly sponsoring banners in Seahawks and Sounders games. These decisions, Di Valerio revealed, are driven by data that indicate high brand loyalty among sports fans—a key factor when deciding who to market to. “When we took a look at where to push our product brands, and our demographic, and our consumers,” Di Valerio argued, “sports is the highest return area for us to go.” Outerwall also invested in a CRM system, enabling the company to begin sending targeted emails, track user behavior, and provide incentives for customers who haven’t used a Redbox kiosk in a while. Likewise, customer data can also be the reason to end a service. When answering a question on Outerwall’s decision to shut-down the short-lived streaming service Redbox Instant, Di Valerio points to the data that reveals Redbox customers to be transaction-based and more interested in new release movies—something subscription-based services cannot provide.

Focus
Every action Outerwall takes must fit within its four strategic pillars:

1) Lead in automated retail
2) Optimize core business
3) Grow business probability and
4) Invest in strategic platforms.

One such action is their investment in ecoATM, a kiosk that enables users to sell their old mobile devices (cell phones, mp3 players, and tablets) for cash. In support of the venture, Di Valerio points to other mobile buy-back programs like mail-in services, store credit offers, and online classified ad. All of which, Di Valerio argues, is not exactly customer-friendly, stating “the number one thing people want from their used electronics…is cash, not store credit or credit on their bill.” By deploying ecoATM, Outerwall will continue to leverage automated technology while delivering a service that no one else can provide.

Strong company culture
As CEO to a company with over 2500 employees, Di Valerio sees his role as chief “encourager” of sorts, promoting teamwork and removing roadblocks that impede innovation. To this end, he keeps his hiring philosophy pretty simple, stating “Hire people that can take your job and don’t be intimated by it.”
Outerwall also maintains an environment of giving, with over a third of Outerwall employees regularly volunteering at charitable organizations (the company matches employee volunteer hours and contributions). The company also donates 1 percent of its after-tax profits to non-profits, a move that Di Valerio says works double-time, creating a positive workplace while attracting a “different kind” of investor/shareholder.

While it may take several years to truly understand the implications of Outerwall’s transformation, it is clear that Di Valerio is very excited about the direction his company is taking and will continue to, in his own words, “find a better way for a better every day.”

Watch the full lecture here.

 

Money follows vision

As the executive director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Simon Woods must strike a delicate balance between the business and artistic sides of his organization. While for-profits may be based on creating value, non-profits are centered on creating “impact.” So, there’s always a struggle when deciding to “do things that lose more money, but make more impact,” Woods said.

Simon WoodsOn October 29, Woods presented at the Leaders to Legends lecture series and discussed the recent challenges and transformations the Seattle Symphony faced under his direction. According to Woods, the previous decade was not an easy one for the organization, beset by external pressures like the recession, and internal friction from the misalignment of artistic vision among members. Symphonies are large and fragile organizations: “They’re like giants—they fall hard,” he said.

Woods came to Seattle in May 2011, during “a moment of great artistic potential aligned with a moment of financial peril,” he said. Together with Music Director Ludovic Morlot, Woods has been instrumental in defining and executing a vision to establish the Seattle Symphony as a dynamic, forward-looking, and community-focused organization. Woods worked previously as Chief Executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, President and CEO of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and Vice President of Artistic Planning and Operations at The Philadelphia Orchestra. He’s spent the better part of 20 years on the business side of music.

Woods explained the six-part plan that helped turn things around for the Seattle Symphony.

  1. Change the brand from traditional to contemporary. According to Woods, Seattle is a progressive city, so it needs a progressive orchestra.
  2. Plan boldly. To match the new brand, the Seattle Symphony started taking more risks in its programming by performing more contemporary pieces, playing in different spaces, and collaborating with rock, pop, and rap artists.
  3. Control the messaging. Woods underscored the importance of staying on message, so that the organization could present itself as “the orchestra of Seattle, not just in
  4. Work to build a financial bridge to the future through fundraising and re-budgeting.
  5. Focus on the long term. The Seattle Symphony didn’t ask its constituents for help now, but rather for help becoming a great organization for the next generation.
  6. Gather morale. Woods wanted to “build an internal culture of collaboration and harmony.”

So far the plan has paid off, and the Seattle Symphony has balanced its budget for three years in a row. When you “invest in reflecting the values of your city, not surprisingly, you get rewarded,” Woods said. More significantly, the organization’s impact has not diminished. In fact, the Seattle Symphony has a greater impact than ever, as demonstrated by the launching of new projects like its music education program, prison outreach program, and the creation of a record label, to name a few.

The challenges may not be over, but Woods remains optimistic. “As the world speeds up, there is more and more need for beauty and peace in life,” he said.

The journey of Tableau

Christian Chabot, CEO and co-founder of Tableau, spoke at the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series on April 2. He outlined how Tableau, a business intelligence* software company, went from a small start-up in his Capitol Hill apartment to a publicly traded company (NYSE: DATA).

Chabot drew parallels between the rise of Tableau and the pattern that all disruptive companies follow as outlined in the book Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen. That pattern is outlined below.

1. Disruptive technology comes along that is written off as low-end.
Initially, industry experts dismissed Tableau’s software even though it made it much easier for people to analyze data. Its software democratized people’s ability to work with and analyze data.

2. Market share captains write off the disruptive technology.
Gartner, an industry research firm, wouldn’t give Tableau the time of day from 2004-2006, and from 2007-2009, Gartner referred to Tableau as an interesting little data visualization start-up that is part of a niche market.

3. Massive numbers of people start to adapt the new technology.
The company’s revenue has roughly doubled every year since 2005, except for in 2009, the year of the financial collapse. Today, Tableau is the fastest growing software company in the world.

4. Technology moves up market and replaces the high-end technology.
Gartner visited Tableau in 2013 and said traditional business intelligence is dying and the world is moving toward the way Tableau operates.

5. Traditional providers start to struggle financially.
While Tableau is experiencing rapid growth, companies such as SAP and IBM, former leaders in the business intelligence industry, are reducing the size of their business intelligence divisions.

To learn more about Tableau and hear Chabot’s two pieces of advice for entrepreneurs and why he thinks Seattle is a better place for start-ups than Silicon Valley, watch the video below.

* Business intelligence (BI) refers to software applications that are used to analyze an organization’s raw data. BI includes data mining, processing, querying and reporting.

Christian Chabot was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Building a loved brand

Jim Weber, CEO of Brooks.The success of Brooks Running Company and their CEO Jim Weber is a classic underdog story, a come-from-behind victory that every sports enthusiast loves. When Weber joined Brooks in 2001—their fourth CEO in two years—the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Thanks to Weber’s tremendous leadership and insight, the company successfully rebooted, repositioning itself in the market, and has since experienced years of double-digit growth and industry recognition.

On March 5, as part of the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, Weber came to the Foster School of Business and recounted the story of how he turned his company around. “I feel like I have the best job in Seattle,” he said. Weber’s passion for building brands and businesses is matched by a passion for athletics, reflected in his previous professional experience, which includes positions such as chairman and CEO of Sims Sports and vice president of The Coleman Company.

After his arrival at Brooks, Weber explained, the company made a major shift in its market focus. It’s common knowledge that many athletic shoes are never used for athletics, which Weber refers to as “BBQ shoes.” According to Weber, roughly half of their sales were in this “family footwear” category when the company made the bold decision to focus on a niche market and double down on technical performance running shoes. At the time, it was considered heresy for a company like Brooks to focus on just one sport. Conventional wisdom stated that a table “needs more than one leg to stand on,” as Weber put it. Now, after years of growth as a result of this decision, Weber looks like a visionary.

Part of Brooks’ strategy is to compete in a different way, Weber explained. True, there is good old-fashioned product leadership, the years of research and development in biomechanics that leads to a superior product. But Brooks also competes using its corporate culture, e.g. the way it “celebrates the run,” and invests in the sport that supports its business.  Weber said the Brooks recipe for success is combining an incredibly serious technical product with a brand known for its unique, fun-loving energy. Corporate culture is instrumental to this success— “Run Happy” is much more than a tag line. “Our brand is positioned in a very welcoming way,” he said.

An important aspect of leadership is knowing how to pick your battles. Weber mentioned that it was impossible for Brooks to compete on the “visual technology” front, i.e. improvements that make the product pop off the shelf. “Nike will spend more on marketing by noon than we will in the whole year,” he said. Instead, Brooks focuses on “runability” and servicing as a niche expert. Every brand has a center of gravity, Weber explained. For Brooks it’s the trail and the specialty running stores that are at the heart of the running community. By focusing on those retailers and developing relationships with key influencers like coaches, leading athletes, and sports medicine practitioners, Brooks works to win the trust of its customers. “We create trust every time someone has a good experience with our product,” he said.

The lecture concluded with a Q&A session where students and faculty posed questions on topics like supply chain challenges and reactions to the barefoot running movement. On the subject of international expansion, Weber stated that his company is executing the same strategy, but still had much to learn. He explained that, thankfully, the brand ethos of “Run Happy” translates well across cultures and resonates with people around the globe.

Watch the full lecture below:

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When the path isn’t always clear: Congresswoman Suzan DelBene on leadership

“A key part of leading is deciding. Deciding with imperfect data. Deciding when there isn’t always a path that’s clear.”

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene says she came to this particularly astute conclusion while working as a youth football referee. Like her positions at Microsoft and Drugstore.com (she served as vice-president) it provided her with two essential lessons; 1) the importance of decision making when there are still unknowns and 2) a leader must always provide a vision and a path forward.  Further qualifying this belief, the congresswoman stated, “With any organization, people are most effective when they have that vision going forward and they know where they’re heading and they know why they’re heading in that direction.”

A Foster MBA Alum, Congresswoman DelBene says she was inspired to run for Congress during her time at Global Partnerships, a micro-finance non-profit that provides loans to small business owners in Latin America and the Caribbean. After her first run for Congress in 2010 (in which she was unsuccessful) she was appointed by then governor Christine Gregoire to serve as the Director of Washington state’s Department of Treasury. In 2012, she successfully ran for a congressional seat in the newly drawn 1st district. Sitting on the House Judiciary and House Agriculture Committees, DelBene now deals with issues such as copyright laws, biotechnology and more.

Using terminology such as ROI (return on investment), the congresswoman routinely uses her business experience when approaching policy-making. Pointing to the seemingly unending federal budget debate, DelBene believes that too many of her colleagues are plagued by short-term thinking. She argues that Congress should approach budgeting concerns like successful CEOS, focusing on investment and long-term strategy. She points to the indelible benefits and returns from federal programs that invest in early learning, unemployment insurance, research and infrastructure as examples.

During her time at the podium, the congresswoman also stressed the importance of being good stewards of policy and citizen engagement, urging audience members to work in conjunction with business and community leaders to pressure Congress in to action.

Watch some highlights below:

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Men in cheaply made gorilla suits: How Avvo used the internet to disrupt the legal business

Mark BrittonDuring his introduction at the November Leaders to Legends Breakfast Series, Dean Jiambalvo jokingly referred to Mark Britton as having “the most dangerous job in the world.” Mark Britton is the founder and CEO of Avvo, a lawyer rating and legal Q&A forum website founded in 2006.

A lawyer with the firm Preston Gates & Ellis, Britton began working with major area clients like Microsoft and its then budding travel spinoff, Expedia. After experiencing what he dubbed the “meteoric growth” of Expedia while serving as their executive vice president of Worldwide Corporate Affairs, Britton decided the travel associated with the position was too much and moved to Italy with his family to teach finance for his undergrad alma matter, Gonzaga. Interestingly, he found that even though he was no longer practicing law, friends and family were still calling him for legal advice. It made him wonder, “Why are all of these smart people lost when it comes to the legal system?” At that time, Britton notes, there was no “Expedia like resource where people could go to get their questions answered.” Thus, Avvo–short for avoocato, the Italian word for lawyer–was born.

Like EBay, Amazon and TripAdvisor, Avvo is rooted in an internet culture where the “expectation has been built where you can converse with your friends [online] about a product and rate it.” And with the advent of Google, Britton adds, we have become accustomed to asking for, receiving and discussing information with zero cost to the consumer. A practice Avvo continues, providing their rating system and Q&A forum to customers for free.

Besides ratings and forums, Avvo provides advertising for lawyers. During his presentation, Britton referred to the “yellow page mode” of advertising. He found that even as recently as nine years ago, lawyers were spending $1 billion dollars in outdated phone book advertising. And to add insult to injury, the advertisements themselves were not good. To the amusement of the audience, Britton included some of the worst offenders, including ads that featured scantily-clad women, men in cheaply made gorilla suits and tricked out cars straight from a ‘Pimp my Ride’ rerun. Jokes aside, Avvo definitely hasn’t gone without controversy.

Towards the end of the lecture, Britton touched on some of the challenges Avvo has faced, including a lawsuit filed against Britton and Avvo a mere nine days after the company launch. Although it was later thrown out, the suit, paired with a year-long stagnation in online traffic and negative press, took a toll on the young CEO. However, Britton believes that the uphill battles built mental fortitude, stating, “The risk of failure, when you’re trying to cut something out of nothing, is approximate.” He also reiterated the importance of self-assurance and steadfastness, saying, “You need to believe and that’s the key. You have to be obsessed with something.”

Avvo currently has six million monthly visits, 160,000 lawyers listed, 10,000 advertisers and 117 employees. When asked about Avvo’s future, Britton stated, “We have a company trying to buy us but we’re not spending a lot time thinking about it…we know we can double our business.”

Mark Britton was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Investing in life

Gary Furukawa (BA 1981) is the chief investment officer for Freestone Capital Management, a wealth management firm. Recently, he spoke at the Foster School about his career path, gave an overview of the financial markets and shared his personal insights on a range of topics, including what Freestone looks for in potential employees, books to help you develop your own investing framework and more.

Furukawa started his career with Deloitte & Touche in Seattle as a Certified Public Accountant. In 1982, he joined Smith Barney as a financial consultant, eventually rising to senior vice president. In 1999, he founded Freestone. He has been a highly successful investor along the way, investing in a wide variety of asset classes: distressed real estate (1980s and again after 2008 crisis), private equity (early 1990s) and thrift conversions (1988-present). He was also an original angel investor in Amazon.com and aQuantive.

Top insights from Furukawa’s talk:

  • Most useful courses he took at the University of Washington: English/writing courses, sociology and psychology courses and behavioral finance courses. Furukawa said, “Learning about the flaws in the way you think is very powerful and will help you make better decisions.”
  • Your life = the sum of your decisions.
  • Through your education, you should try different things until you find something you really like. It should be something you have the potential to be good at.
  • Self-knowledge, obtained through reading, thinking and life, is the most important knowledge. Learning really starts after you graduate from college.
  • Wealth is primarily created three ways (in the U.S.): owning a business or owning stock in a successful business, owning real estate for a long time or inheriting money.
  • Your pay check funds your lifestyle, but in order to build wealth you have to save and invest your money.

Watch video highlights, which include his ideal employee traits, investment lessons, recommended reading and life insights.

Gary Furukawa was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Organizational leadership

Bruce Avolio, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, led a discussion on organizational leadership on April 24, 2013 at the UW Foster School of Business. Panelists were Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden.

LTG Robert Brown was commissioned into the Infantry in May of 1981 after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1986, LTG Brown completed the Armor Officer Advanced Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then attended graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he earned a master’s degree in education. Throughout his career he has held a variety of leadership positions, including Commander, 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), 25th Infantry Division; Chief of Staff, US Army Europe and Seventh Army; and Commanding General, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. LTG Brown transitioned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord on July 3, 2012, where he serves as Commanding General, I Corps.

Phyllis Campbell is the chairman, Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase & Co. She is the firm’s senior executive in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, representing JPMorgan Chase at the most senior level to clients. In her role, she manged JP Morgan Chase’s operations during a tumultuous time. She joined Chase shortly after it acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis. Previously, Campbell was the president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, the largest community foundation in Washington. She has also served as President & CEO of U.S. Bank of Washington. She holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

Brad Tilden is president and CEO of Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. As CEO he leads the nation’s seventh-largest airline, with 9,600 employees, 60 destinations and 117 aircraft. Additionally, he oversees regional carrier Horizon Air and its 3,200 employees and 48 aircraft serving 39 cities. Previously, Tilden served as Alaska Airlines’ president. Before joining Alaska, he spent eight years with the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in its offices in Seattle and Melbourne, Australia. He holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

The panel discussion was incredibly interesting and insightful. They covered a wide range of topics, including leadership obstacles, women in leadership positions, managing risk and more. Watch video highlights from the lecture.

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden were Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Seeing the future with Ken Denman

Ken Denman (MBA 1986) holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School of Business. He spoke in March at the Foster School about his career path and latest venture, Machine Perception Technologies, a software-based company working to merge emotion detection and machine learning to take personal technology to a new level.

Denman has held myriad executive roles which have spanned large corporations, startups, emerging markets ventures and turnarounds. He led iPass’ successful initial public offering, and led the strategy work for monetizing Openwave’s patent portfolio and spinning off the operating units. He is also an engaged angel investor and board member with public and private board experience. Currently he is president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies (MPT).

Watch video highlights, which also include a demonstration of Facet, MPT’s emotion detection software. The demonstration was led by Dr. Marian Bartlett, lead scientist at MPT.

Ken Denman was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Paradigm shifts and P4 Medicine

Dr. Leroy Hood, a pioneer in the systems approach to biology and medicine, spoke at UW Foster School in January 2013 about innovation, complexity, P4 Medicine—predictive, preventative, personalized, and participatory—and much more.

Dr. Hood has played a role in founding more than fourteen biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Darwin, and The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. Of the 6,000+ scientists world-wide who belong to one or more of these academies, Dr. Hood is one of only fifteen people accepted to all three. Additionally, Dr. Hood has published more than 700 peer reviewed articles and currently holds 36 patents.

In a career of dramatic innovation, Dr. Hood has seen a number of paradigm shifts. He identified four common traits. Each paradigm change:

  1. Fundamentally altered how, in his case, scientists think about biology and the practice of biology.
  2. Faced enormous initial skepticism and, in some cases, actual hostility because there were perceived threats to the traditional way of getting things done.
  3. Forced the creation of new organizational structures—the bureaucracy that comes from existing organizational structures hurts the ability to change the way you think about something.
  4. Required enormous risk taking.

Watch the video below for more highlights from his talk, including how the Human Genome Project transformed biology, implications of P4 Medicine, and his thoughts on the future of systems biology.

Dr. Leroy Hood from Foster School of Business on Vimeo.

Leroy Hood was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.