Tag Archives: leadership

Burt De Mill: When Technical People Do Business



Burt De Mill is the President of BDM Consulting, a San Diego based consulting firm that works with small and medium sized companies who are in the biotechnology tools and clinical diagnostics spaces.  Burt helps companies define their products and markets, conduct new market research, and launch products.  Burt talks about the challenges scientists encounter when they interface with the business world.

Highlights:

Q: Burt, you are a scientist by training.  How did you move into business?

“I wanted to be a doctor.  I was the kid who wanted the chemistry set and microscope for Christmas.  I was a chemistry and biology major at the University of Maryland.  Then I applied to medical school and didn’t get in.”

“While I kept trying, I worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital doing cancer research.  I was working with a very prestigious physician, Dr. Philip Burke, who said to me after I gave a presentation, ‘Burt, good job, but I noticed you had more fun doing the presentation than doing the work.’  I realized that I do like talking about the work.  I was also taking business classes there for free while I worked.  I felt that business was like a duck swimming on the lake to me.  It was simple.  It was easy.  That’s kind of how I ended up the failed scientist turned into a business guy.”

“I made that split over 25 years ago and never looked back.  I still do have a soft spot for the science, but I like it in a business context.”

Q: As the Sr. Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Genoptix Medical Labs back in 2005, how did you scale revenues from $4M to $184M in 5 years?

“It was kind of like running a marathon with your hair on fire, but it was kind of fun!  It was fun because we were building something.  There were some key points.  One was timing.  That’s something you can’t plan for, but it’s important for a business.  Is it the right business concept at the right time?  Is society ready for it?  Are customers ready for it?  A lot of good businesses are the benefactor of that.”

“There were three key things that we did.  We knew who our customers were and who they were not.  That is incredibly important for a startup….  We surrounded ourselves with a fabulous team…  The last one is we measured things.  This is really important when you scale…”  To hear the details, listen to the episode.

Q: As a leader, how does it feel it to not be the one doing it all but getting others in to do it?

“In the consulting business I’m in now, I work with some incredibly smart people—PhDs, MDs.  The talent is enormous in what I call their vertical.  They know that enzyme or they know that diagnostic test like the back of their hand.  But it’s very hard to be an expert in all areas.  One of the things I’d advise founders not to do is to get caught up in what I call ‘founder’s syndrome.’  Founder’s syndrome is: it’s my baby, I’m going to hang on to it all the way through, and I’m afraid to let anybody touch it because it’s my child.  Most of the time, it does not go to a good place.”

To hear what Burt recommends to prevent founder’s syndrome and what other leadership challenges he sees when he consults to small businesses, listen to the episode.  Burt has some great advice for technical leaders.

Words of Wisdom:

“Failure’s not a bad thing.  Sometimes you learn a lot about yourself.”

“You can’t be good at everything, so you have to rely on your team.”

“If you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.”

“Scientists also have to sell to bankers and lawyers and business people.”

Shout Out:

To the Rady School of Management at UCSD for helping science majors get exposure to business at the undergraduate level.

Contact Burt De Mill for a free one-hour consultation:

Email: burt@bdmconsulting.org

Phone: 760-707-9519 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.


Gina Stetsko: Becoming a Compassionate Leader



Joanie has a conversation with Gina Stetsko, Vice President of Manufacturing at Eupraxia Pharmaceuticals in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  Gina has a been a leader in Pharmaceuticals for over 35 years and she’s held other executive positions in the pharmaceutical industry including: Vice President of Product Development, Vice President of Operations, and Chief Scientific Officer.

Highlights:

Q: How did you get into pharmaceutical development?

“As a child, believe it or not, I used to read encyclopedias. Luckily, they were scientific Encyclopedias.  I chose Pharmacy because I was interested in how you could swallow a drug and then it would affect your headache or something else in your body.  I no idea!  As a child, you want to know those answers.”

“I stuck to it and became a pharmacist and I got my license and decided that I could do more, and my boss told me, ‘Go back to school.  You can do more than this.’ So, I got my PhD in pharmaceutical development and I’ve spent the last 36 years working on developing products and manufacturing products.  I’m taking the drug from the bench in science all the way to the marketplace.  There’s a lot of engineering and a lot of pharmacokinetics. There’s a lot of math and science and things like that along the way.  So, I guess I just really liked it and I stuck with it.”

Q: How did you develop your interest in leading people?

“I started to gravitate towards smaller companies. I started in large companies and inside these companies we developed the products what’s called ‘virtually’ so you don’t have the full staff within your own company.  You have to go outside and hire people at different companies around the world to do the do your work and one of the things that that taught me was how to deal with different people in different cultures–not only company cultures, but country cultures.  I think that that was one of the things I enjoyed the most–not in the beginning because it was hard, but eventually.”

“I was always curious and interested to meet people and see how they think.  I think, with what’s happened over the years, is that I enjoy the science less and I enjoy the people more.  That was not on purpose.  It just kind of happened and now I really enjoy the people and developing the people.  As a matter of fact, there are four people that I mentored at different companies that own their own companies now.  And, to me, that’s the biggest achievement of my career versus the products, because these people figured out a way to understand themselves better and to be effective in an enterprise like that.”

Q: How did you get to the point where you were loving developing people?

“Well let me just tell you that, at the beginning, I actually thought: ‘I am going into research so I don’t have to deal with people like I did in the pharmacy.’ Little did I know, my first job out of graduate school, I got put on all sorts of international work workshops and workforces and things like that so I was flying to different countries and I was having to deal with people.  So, it kind of forced me.  It was a survival thing that kicked in. I realized, well, this is what I’m going to have to learn to do.  I think that life is not perfect and you make mistakes in each place and you learn things that you bring to the next place.  And so over time, I guess over 36 years, it was just one event after another.  You just you build this toolbox and that’s really, in a way, what happened over the years.  You have different challenges in different countries in different situations and you just adapt.”

Q: How did you move from an intellectual style of leadership to a compassionate one?

“I used to think that if I was smarter, I was better.  And so you’re always looking to be the smartest one in the room, right? I reached a point where that irritates people.  It really does!  It’s like, okay, so you know you’ve got to not be the smartest person.  Then I realized that, to get people that work for me to be more effective, they really needed to feel that I heard them. So, instead of coming in my office for me to solve their problem like I was when I was younger (I had all the answers, right?), it’s drawing it out of people and avoiding giving the answer, and saying, “I don’t know.”  Let’s work on that together.” Or, “What do you think?”  The more I did that, it made my job easier. I didn’t have to be the smartest person anymore because the pressure was off me.  The pressure was on those people because I was forcing them to dig deep and think about what they wanted.”

“Then, over time, I think I built a style that made it feel safe for them to speak what was inside.  And then I really liked that!  Something clicked in me: I really like to understand. Even in my private life I do that with people.  ‘Tell me more about that…’  ‘Why did you feel that way?’  Or, ‘I’m just curious…’  I’ve just become a very curious person.  It’s really a shift from trying to be the smartest person to being just truly interested in other people.  That’s the compassion part.  I think people don’t normally get that.”

Words of Wisdom:

“Everybody has their own life and they put their vision of reality together differently.”

“Feel free to tell people ‘I don’t know.’”

“Don’t go to meetings.  Let them work it out on their own.”

Contact Gina Stetsko:

LinkedIn: Gina Stetsko, https://www.linkedin.com/in/gina-stetsko-phd-29a28b101/


Alex Balazs: The Benefits of Inclusive Leadership



Joanie interviews Alex Balazs, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect at Intuit.  Alex shares the story of his transformation from being a quiet engineer to becoming a communicative leader.  He also shares his insights on inclusion and describes how he is supportive of women in tech.  Being inclusive is key for Alex and he shares why.  He is also on the Board of Lead Inclusively, Inc., a company that helps companies be more inclusive.  We cover a lot in this episode, so be sure to listen to the end.

Highlights:

Q: Tell us the story of how you came to work at Intuit.

“I was born in Ohio and was raised in the Midwest. I always had this feeling that I needed to expand my horizons.  Post graduate, I moved to Northern California and worked for Carl Zeiss.  My first professional program language was Assembly.  I went to work for a startup in Boston and it didn’t work out, but a mentor from Carl Zeiss had just bought a small startup called Intuit and invited me to interview.  I started at Intuit in 1999.”

Q: How did you branch out of being a quiet engineer?

“I was a total introvert growing up.  I was always confident in my personal ability but didn’t know how to communicate.  There was a dissonance between what I felt I could say and what I felt was coming out of my mouth.  And it led me to not say things.  I was afraid I would say something stupid.  I felt the need to be the smartest person in the room and if I didn’t feel I was then I didn’t say anything.”

“There were a couple of events in my early Intuit career where my leadership moved on.  This was the leadership that was responsible for communicating to the rest of Intuit and figuring out which projects we should be working on.  When they all left, I said, ‘Now what am I supposed to do?’  I felt really sorry for myself.  I was afraid. I was angry.  I was upset.  And suddenly I just said, ‘This is an opportunity for me, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to transform myself into someone who can communicate.’  Through that process I learned that I had to start putting myself out there.”

“The last part of the transformation for me was the transformation from hoping I was the smartest person in the room to expecting I was the dumbest person in the room.”

Q: How does surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you improve your leadership?

“I do think as you get into leadership roles, it is the only way to be successful.  I’ve seen leaders who’ve tried to be leaders and the smartest person in the room, and it doesn’t work.  Smart people don’t want to work for you.  Smart people with ideas don’t want to speak up.  As an engineer, your job is to assert and to take up space.  I realized as a leader, my job is to create space so that other people can step into that space.”

“And when I did that, the notion of introvert/extrovert became a misnomer.  It wasn’t necessarily about me becoming an extrovert.  It was about me bringing in diverse thought and viewpoints from everyone, including many engineers who are introverts.”

To hear Alex’s tips on how to bring in introverts, how he is inclusive of all diverse people, and how he supports women in tech, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Think of three concentric circles: your comfort zone, your learning zone, and your panic zone.  The only way to make your comfort zone bigger is to get into your learning zone.”

“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

“I don’t know how a company can survive without being diverse.”

“Working for tech companies, we actually have privilege.”

Contact Alex Balazs:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexgbalazs/

Twitter: @alexgbalazs


Joe Molina: People Strategies for Techies and Vets



Joanie interviews Joseph Molina, the Executive Director and CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce.  Joe draws from his experiences in the military, teaching at Cal Poly, being an entrepreneur, writing books, and working with veterans to bring us his lessons learned about the people skills needed to be an effective leader.  He talks specifically to veterans and techies.

Highlights:

Q: How did your varied experiences lead you to be the CEO of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce?

“I’ve been teaching since I was a teenager.  I always wanted to teach.  My first class was teaching adults how to get their GED, and I loved it.  Then life comes around and you start going in different directions and I started doing business and teaching business.  I always enjoyed doing business. It gave me the opportunity to try things out.  One thing I’m not afraid of is failing.  Learning has always been part of my life and I’m always moving forward.”

Q: Certainly, people in the military have had experience conquering their fear. How does that help them when they transition to the workplace?

“When we get out of the military, when the vast openness comes in and we go from having one, two, or three options to having a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand options, that becomes the challenge.  Regrouping becomes the issue and the mission.  We all feel that way. One hundred percent of people I talk to feel that way, of feeling lost, and wondering what to do now.”

“When we are in the military, we have a purpose.  We have an identity.  When we get out of the military, that identity has shifted and maybe even disappeared. Coming out you are somebody different.  It brings up so many questions.  That’s what motivates me to really, really want to work with veterans.”

“When we are in the military, we have a good support system.  We have a lot of friends.  The moment we cross the gate, we can’t go back.  For someone who has been in the military for ten years, when they go home, nothing is the same. Things have changed.  Friends may not be there anymore.  Lives have changed.  When we come out of the military, we become a ghost. The new community doesn’t know us. We’re not connected to the old community anymore. What do we do now?  One of the programs we’ve created at the Veterans Chamber of Commerce is to connect veterans to organizations.”

Q: How do you help techie veterans connect with organizations?

“If I’m the person who has the techie skills, I need to understand the person doing the hiring is probably an HR person who is not techie.  The first step in applying a job is the resume.  The resume should have what it is that I know how to do so that anyone can understand it.  Transmitting that message in the way that a nontechnical person can understanding it will give you a leg up.  Communication skills for the techie person, the nerd, are so important.”

Q: What can organizations do to support veterans, such as hire them?

“One thing that organizations should be aware of is that you get the best employees when you hire veterans.  You have individuals who are committed to reach the goal, together, with other people.  They know the team approach.  They always complete their tasks; nothing is left half-way done.  They always follow you; loyalty is huge.”

“When we’re talking about techie people, we know that this individual is going to perform 110%.  They’re going to follow the instructions given.  They’re going to complete the task or the mission the way it’s been presented.  This presents a challenge to the manager, because the manager needs to know how to communicate their message with their vision clearly so that others can understand it.”

Joe talks about much more than just veterans.  To hear Joe’s advice for leaders, like how to motivate techie people and how to delegate, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“There’s one thing that stops people from moving forward and that’s the “f” word—fear.”

“Anyone can be trained in a computer language but you cannot train someone in motivation.”

“You get the best employees when you hire veterans.”

Contact Joe Molina or the Veterans Chamber of Commerce:

www.vccsd.org


Nick Armstrong: Super Skills for Super Leaders



Joanie interviews Nick Armstrong, a Super Nerd who founded Fort Collins Comic Con.  It’s a completely volunteer-run Comic Con that donates all of its proceeds to the local library reading programs.  It has burgeoned into a thriving, welcoming community of generous geeks who bring joy to themselves and the broader community.  It’s also a very affordable Comic Con.  Listen to Nick’s story of how he started this venture and what led to its success.  By the way, he also started FoCo TEDx and there’s a story about that too.

Highlights:

Q: How did you come to found Fort Collins Comic Con?

“I almost died.  I was a really horrible programmer for about two years.  They paid me to stop.  I had nine jobs during that time and was only fired from two of them.  It’s what most Millennials do.  It was after my last job and I didn’t feel well.  My stomach ache never went away…  My appendix almost burst.  The doctor came over to me after the surgery and said ‘What are you doing with your life?  You just got a second chance.  What are you going to do with it?’  I didn’t know.  And then I decided to start my own company.”

Soon after, “the Fort Collins Library District said, ‘We’d like to do something big for our summer reading campaign.  What have you got?’  I said, ‘Let’s make a Comic Con!’  Like any successful business venture, we recruited a bunch of people who could do it better than us.  It’s 100% volunteer run.”

“The idea of the value of a dollar: if you donate it to the Food Bank, they make five meals out of that.  At Comic Con I wanted to make sure we stuck to that core value of you have something to come to as a geek and you don’t have to pay a lot for that platform.”

“We focused on the fun and kept it family friendly.  It’s super affordable.  For less than a hundred bucks, you get a family of four in.  We donate every dollar we make from our Con to the library.”

Q: What kind of people skills come up in Cos Play?

“It takes a lot!  A lot of people think you can just go to the Halloween store to get a costume, but you can’t.  People usually make their own from scratch.  It takes a lot of creativity.  You have to be able to imagine that other half of the costume that you’ve never seen on the screen.”

“The Cos Play community, in particular, teach other cos players the tricks of the trade.  They work well together.  We’ve got some amazing talent and they are so generous with their time and their talents.  Extending that to the larger community to bring joy to people’s lives.”

Q: What people skills have you developed to lead people?

“I always look at the Star Trek characters to emulate their skills.  They all have their different style.  Each character has their own temperament, and each is adaptable is some way.  Star Trek really lends itself to leadership abilities and competency.”

“Growing up I had a lot of really strong female role models.  Business leaders and mentors, who when I was creating my business, were key in creating the sense of community and allowing the people who really shine at something to step forward and do their thing without machismo getting in the way.  I owe a lot of credit to, not only fictional people, but real people.”

Q: How do you make money?

“The thing that allows me to be generous with my time and money is that I have clients that I work with on a number of things, on marketing and marketing strategy, and I create events for them that have the same impact that Comic Con has for us.”

Listen to the episode to hear more about the impact that a volunteer-run Comic Con has.

Words of Wisdom:

“I don’t have ton of control and I think that’s a great thing.”

“The things that have turned out really great are the things that I’ve invited other people into.”

Contact Nick Armstrong:

Website: https://wtfmarketing.com/

Email: nick@wtfmarketing.com


Mike Nowland: Solutions to your Leadership Problems



Joanie interviews Mike Nowland, whose purpose in life is to help managers be better, do better, and live better. Joanie met Mike when he was working as the Corporate Training Manager for the Americas at ResMed. Now he’s the president of Enriched Learning and Development, LLC. Mike shares tips for technical people who move into leadership roles.

Highlights:

Q: What kind of nerd are you?

“I’m probably the least technically proficient person you’re going to meet, at least on this podcast.  Numbers and I have been enemies since middle school.”

Q: What did you do at ResMed?

“ResMed was smart enough to keep me away from the medical devices and let me focus on the leadership aspects of leadership and development.  There, we improved the health of people through better sleep.”

Q: What are you doing now?

“If you think about any business.  I don’t care if you’re a heart surgeon or designing a CPAP device or if you’re in the military, you’re dealing with human nature…  It’s a human being business.  If you’ve got people, we’ll work well together.”

Q: What is the difference between managing and leading?

“We have to do both.  In the normal execution of our duties every day, there are things that we manage.  We manage people’s arrival times and departure times, deliverables, performance reviews, and all these processes we manage that execute the performance of the organization.  At the same time, we lead people to understand what stellar performance looks like in this organization, how they contribute to the outcomes in the execution of their duties and how they fit with the outcomes of the organization.”

“Both are important, and both can be taught.”

Q: What kinds of challenges do people who are technically savvy and leadership challenged typically face?

“One is, because they don’t know how to effectively communicate expectations or how to train others in the skills that got them promoted, they almost double down on their workload.  They think: ‘I’m not comfortable training someone on how to do it.  I’m going to do it twice as fast.  I’m going to lead by example.’  Frequently, it’s not developmental for someone on the team.  And, in 3-6 months, they’re burned out.”

To hear all three typical challenges as well as solutions, listen to the episode.

Words of Wisdom:

“Most managers are managers today because they were strong individual contributors. It can be very frustrating to make that transition.”

“Other people were probably performing pretty well when you got promoted. You don’t have to do their work for them.”

“When you get promoted, you get a grace period to ease in.”

Contact Mike:

Email: mike.nowland@crestcom.com

Website: Enriched Learning and Development