Coffee Break: Catherine Wendt, president of Syscon, Inc.
Q: Describe your company.
A: We are dedicated to implementing and supporting technology solutions, hardware, software and workflow efficiencies for the specialty subcontractor industry including IT services, accounting and project management software, Cloud hosting services, and custom software integrations for streamlined workflow.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes, we are actively hiring in each of our departments. We will also continue our investment in developing our Azure cloud hosting services, our automation tools for a consistent and streamlined delivery to our clients, and rolling out appropriate Microsoft 365 tools. We will also continue our focus of client education as these products and services continue to develop.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: This year's challenges will be fully decommissioning our 10-year-old Classic hosting infrastructure, moving our clients to our Azure hosting platform. Given Microsoft's considerable R&D and the acceleration of remote needs, along with the seamless integrations with the Microsoft 365 suite, this solution is ready at the right time for the business community. Although it's a change for our clients, it's where they need to be to meet the growing demand for remote workforce needs while keeping things safe, secure, and backed up.
We are also rolling out our automation platform to streamline and bulletproof our service deliveries for day-to-day client requests. This has been a phased multiyear R&D project that has become an outgrowth of our successful cloud app and our selected cloud stack (the tools we use to deliver cloud-specific software). Automating standard tasks allows us to have consistent results while freeing up our technicians and programmers for more project-related work on behalf of our clients.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: Decommissioning on premise and data-center servers, moving critical server-specific software to the Azure environment, moving Shared server folders to SharePoint and OneDrive, and local Active Directory to Azure. Sounds like a mouthful, but basically, the roles and activities that are handled by a local server are moving to cloud-based hosting and platforms rather than replacing aged hardware.
Another trend is the move from regular anti-virus software to Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR), the next generation of protection. Along with this security change, the additional of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). They're baseline security protections and now the insurance industry is requiring them in order to renew cyber security policies. Our clients will see more and more of these requirements written into contracts, as well.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie executive, what would it be?
A: Develop a habit of continuous learning. Find the best authors on leadership and read their books such as Jim Collins, John Maxwell, Nido Qubein, Chris Voss and others; attend industry conferences; sign up for Darren Hardy's daily tips to 'Be the Exception'; get out of the office and spend focused time with other executives to talk through their journeys such as through a C12 or Vistage group; be sure you're involved in dialogue with your competitors through Affinity groups and other industry-specific opportunities to gather together. Lastly, choose your closest leadership team members carefully -- those who share your vision and goals, but who bring different perspectives; you don't know everything.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: Model the way; inspire a shared vision; encourage the heart; enable others to act; challenge the process. I didn't invent this, BTW. These originate with James Kouzes and Barry Posner as part of their research findings to discover what behaviors were common to leaders who make extraordinary things happen.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: I've never found any one company or one leader to emulate. By participating in a C12 Business Forum, the routine of reading and reviewing a business book each month, and joining in IT-specific conferences and accountability groups, I've been encouraged when seeing that our struggles are not unique to us, helping other companies work through difficulties, and having a platform to articulate my goals and logic to those who care but will tell me when I'm off course.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: We started out as a music company. Back in the mid-'80s, there was a trend to use electronic music in a variety of venues including relaxation and even light classical. As instrumentalists ourselves, we felt pretty convicted to write and produce what became our Quiet Times Series featuring acoustical instruments with background environmental sounds. These had a growing audience, so we took on some computer-related projects to help fund the next releases. By the early '90s, the majority of our time was going toward the growing use of computers in specialty subcontractor offices starting with my father-in-law, a mason contractor, and his peers in the industry he loved. We were a trusted adviser that knew their language and could educate and roll out these changes. It didn't take long for the music to become the hobby. We loved our clients' industry and we truly enjoyed the new technology available to these businesses.
Q: Was there a moment in your career that didn't go as you had planned? What lesson did you learn from it?
A: When I moved from handling all our company's bookkeeping to a purely consulting role for several years, there were several lessons. First of all, hiring bookkeeping help does not mean you step away from overseeing the books. This is your company, your income, your future, your family and your employees at stake here. No one will take care of the company with the same level of ownership. Hire the right people, delegate the tasks, but maintain oversight.
The second lesson was how scared I was to embark on this new type of client engagement. What if I made a mistake? What if I didn't know the answer? We drove to client sites (remote access was not anything like it is now) and we had limited access to our company resources when we were at a client's office. I learned that my experience was more broad than I thought, and by continuing to dive in, I could have close relationships with our clients and build on each and every encounter, making me even more prepared for the next adventure.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: Music. Whether it's directing a choir, directing a choir and orchestra, singing with an ensemble, or singing with an orchestra, I can't think of any better way to spend free time. Since my husband also has a musician background, there are many opportunities for us to do this together, or to support each other's performances.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: Beyond Entrepreneurial 2.0 by Jim Collins. I was able to attend a remote seminar he gave through WOBI and he mentioned this updated release. I've enjoyed and shared several of his books over the years with our clients through our newsletters and brought them into our quarterly Traction meetings with our leadership team.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: I have the opportunity to be involved with many projects at the same time, often covering different disciplines. We may be implementing a construction-specific accounting and project management program, moving a client's server and data to our cloud offerings, and closing a month or quarter for a client in a controller capacity. Each of these carries significant responsibility and our clients are counting on us to navigate them through the journey. Add to that the bad actors who focus on threatening our clients' computer-related systems, and some nights are pretty difficult.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: I'd probably be teaching in some capacity. Many years ago, I somehow got the notion that succeeding in the leadership roles I found myself in meant I shouldn't be teaching. I can't help myself -- I'm constantly in situations where I'm compelled or called on to share what I know, make it relevant, present concepts and information in various formats so others can step into new solutions and opportunities. I've learned to embrace teaching in my music hobby and as I continue to be a student of our industry and other leaders.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: Babysitting. As I'm the oldest of 11, I had a lot of experience with children and I was very responsible, so it was natural that I was invited to babysit. Handling the meal time, bath time and bed time was pretty routine for me given my home life. The hardest part was the late nights in a quiet house and staying awake until the parents got home.