Lead by example has long been the mantra for Chief Executive Officers around the country but for Alex Terry it’s a way of life. As the CEO of artificial intelligence company Conversica he realized long ago that being a micromanager doesn’t foster innovation, instead stifling it.
“I try to lead by example as much as possible” Terry told The SaaS Report in a recent email interview. “I truly believe in the cultural values that we’ve developed at Conversica and try to put those into practice every day.” That means being clear about the company’s vision, goals, and resources but also hiring the right team. Terry looks for those who are smarter and have more experience in their areas of expertise and then gives them the freedom to execute. “I personally don’t like to be micromanaged or kept in the dark about the big picture, so I use the Golden Rule and treat our team members the way I would like to be treated,” Terry said.
Terry Brings Deep SaaS Understanding To AI
Terry has been at the helm of Conversica since July of 2015, bringing his more than 20 years experience in high growth SaaS companies to the AI software concern. Before landing at Conversica he was CEO of Become, a shopping analytics platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide marketing services to thousands of merchants in North America, Europe, and Asia. Conversica is at the cutting edge, using artificial intelligence to conduct human-like conversations that automate the process of landing new clients. The conversational AI software can automatically engage and qualify sales leads and alert the human sales rep when it's time to jump in and close the deal.
While vision, transparency, and respect are important in any business Terry says it’s imperative when trying to do something “bold” in the AI industry. Failures are commonplace. Not every project goes according to plan. “That’s fine and to be expected,” he said. “By being honest with ourselves and each other, we can learn from every project and rapidly iterate and progress toward our goals as a team.” Transparency is so important to Terry that he shares much of the information from the company’s quarterly board meetings with all employees. “We respect our teammates enough to be honest about what’s working and not working. I feel like that approach resonates. There’s a lot of power in communicating with compassionate honesty,” noted Terry.
Less Talk More Listening
The veteran executive is known for his ability to motivate his staff, something Terry credits with his modest upbringing that forced him to develop a very strong work ethic early on. Without a huge sense of entitlement, Terry says he’s able to bring a problem-solving mindset to challenges rather than a “who to blame and bully” approach. Humble beginnings also makes you more open to feedback and an ability to listen, something Terry said is missing among some executives. His best advice for leaders is to just stop and listen. “Try to listen more than you talk. Talking can make you feel important but you’ll learn a lot more by listening,” said Terry. Another big piece of advice: pay attention to all the markets customers are in. You are competing for lots of things including employees, investors, suppliers, and attention, he said.
It has not always been smooth sailing for Terry, but his belief in honesty has led him to success. Terry recalled a time when he was tapped by a big private equity firm to be the CEO of a large tech startup. A year in the PE firm wanted out, sending the business into turmoil. But his truth-telling steered him through. Terry had to contend with improving the profitability of the company amid quarreling among investors and layoffs in some units and expansions in others. Time pressures and competitive forces made the ordeal all the more challenging. “Part of what allowed me to manage through this difficult situation was my ability to maintain a positive and trusted relationship with investors, outside Board members, and execs within the company,” said Terry. “I was honest about the situation and clear about our alternatives and trade-offs. I was able to establish credibility with all parties and build trust that allowed us to work together to achieve a positive outcome.” The result: the company became profitable for the first time ever with it repositioned in high growth areas.