Top SaaS CEO Feature: Sejal Pietrzak of DealerSocket

DealerSocket provides a full suite of software solutions to help automotive dealers effectively manage the sale and service of vehicles for their customers. With her background in finance and love of technology, co-founders Jonathan Ord and Brad Perry recognized a kindred spirit in Sejal Pietrzak and hand-picked her to take the helm.

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“I’ve always been enamored with technology,” Pietrzak said in a 2019 interview. “What I love about my work is that technology makes the lives of whoever is using it easier. It allows for innovation. And then to every-day wake up and be part of something that is driving things forward, that’s one of the most fulfilling things you can do.”

DealerSocket has flourished under Pietrzak’s leadership – growing the company to include over 300,000 users across 9,000 dealerships. They boast a staff nearing 1,000 people scattered across four US offices but most of the growth has happened at the Dallas-based home office.

“It’s been a phenomenal year,” Pietrzak said. “We’ve added about 125 people here. We’re now at 280 employees locally. And we’ve found incredible talent in all areas, whether it is engineers, product management, sales, or customer support.”

She’s pleased with her company’s progress and shared some of the software innovations they’ve made to create a better customer experience: “We’ve announced several new innovations in our software, including upgrades to our iDMS, new credit integrations, an upgraded inventory management software, and partnerships with original equipment manufacturers.”

“Most importantly, we held our User Summit last month where we welcomed hundreds of our customers to learn from their peers and see our latest updates,” Pietrzak added.

Pietrzak was born and raised in Michigan and New Jersey and received her degree in international studies from William & Mary University. She went on to get her MBA from the prestigious Wharton School of Business and served in senior leadership positions with the Boston Consulting Group and Wells Fargo before moving into a VP role with the Active Network in 2006.

When asked about her rise to success, she believes it was her willingness to take risks: "Taking chances, trying something new, being willing to move to new locations and cities, explore a new opportunity, always working hard," she explained. "I didn't always know automotive, but I did everything I could to learn the industry."

She continuously talks to her team about tackling the fear that comes with making mistakes. It's better to try out a new idea than to not try at all – all she asks is that they learn from them. "If we are afraid to fail, we will never take leaps of faith (in our jobs or our careers) – and it's the leaps of faith that result in confidence, the biggest rewards (high risk, high reward), and game-changing opportunities," she said.

Her mantra for success is integrity, presence, and purpose and believes its these qualities that have helped her lead DealerSocket to such growth. Four months after stepping into her new role as CEO, the leadership team changed the vision and mission statement of the company to reflect those principles. “Not because I mandated that, but people wanted it” she explained. “Those are 3 key values that everyone can rally around.”

She expands further: “Integrity is about doing what you say you're going to do…integrity to do what you say. If you make the commitment to the team, or yourself, and then you should have the integrity and purpose to do it.”

“Presence: I'm giving my full attention and presence when I meet with the team, and I expect they do the same when they are meeting with me or anyone at DealerSocket, and especially a customer,” she said. “I'd rather have people fully engaged in a 15 min meeting rather than people not paying attending for a 30- or 60-minute meeting. In other words, don't bring your meeting to my meeting.”

“Purpose: You have to believe in what you're doing. Purpose in what you do at work. Whether someone's purpose is to get paid, help customers, or the transformation of the industry and the company we are doing at DealerSocket, people have to know what their purpose is at the company. It helps me in thinking about my leadership purpose. What do I want to bring to the team, the company, and our customers?” she adds.

Of all those people in her personal or professional life, Pietrzak points to her younger sister as her biggest inspiration. As a student at Stanford back in 1993, her sister became one of the first people to look at User Experience (UX). “She studied Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and Symbolic Systems at Stanford, graduating in 1998 when most of us were just beginning to utilize the internet. I admire her for her forward-thinking, and her constant excitement about technology,” Pietrzak shared.

One of the books that has had one of the most profound impacts on her life is Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance. It is about perseverance and overcoming great adversity against all odds. “Having a belief that never giving up, having a belief I would succeed, dealing with changes out of… [my] control but caring about the people that are on… [my] team.”

“How to be an incredible leader,” she said.