As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Wacker.
Chris is a technology entrepreneur and CEO of Laserfiche, an elite provider of enterprise software for automating business processes and enabling digital transformation.
As CEO, Wacker sets Laserfiche’s strategic vision and drives business growth. With 30 years of industry experience, Wacker has a unique perspective on connecting inspiration and information, technology’s capabilities and the human touch. He is committed to leading a customer-centric organization — ensuring that every single user has an exceptional, distinctive experience. His dedication to a customer-focused approach to business is inspired by the Laserfiche community and its passion for efficiency and transformation.
Wacker graduated from Hofstra University in 1976, and is a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board for Hofstra University DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In 2019, he received the Hofstra Alumni Achievement Award for distinguishing himself in the technology industry as well as for rendering exemplary service to the institution. Wacker is also actively involved in his local community as a member of the board of directors for the Long Beach Economic Partnership and the Long Beach Rotary Club. He is a former member of the board of directors for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Prior to working at Laserfiche, I worked as a researcher for the U.S. State Department and then as an analyst in municipal government development. But I was also passionate about computer technology, which was a very new field at the time.
In 1987, my wife, Nien-Ling Wacker founded Laserfiche, built on the idea that technology could help the world work smarter. At the time, Laserfiche was focused on enabling offices to create paperless workplaces — something that many businesses still aspire to. I saw this as an opportunity to lean into a passion of mine and joined the company to help manage sales and marketing, while Nien-Ling oversaw product development. In the years since, we’ve grown to have users in 80 countries around the world, and evolved the product tremendously, now offering business process automation and data analytics that enable enterprise-wide digital transformation.
I assumed the role of CEO when Nien-Ling passed away in late 2014 after a long battle with cancer. I’m proud to continue her legacy and build on her vision of inspiring people to reimagine how technology can transform lives.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the early days of Laserfiche, we configured hardware to be compatible with our software. This was back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when not every monitor was capable of showing high-resolution images (and the ones that could had to be set up manually). At some point in these first couple of years, I was in a sales meeting and attempted to connect a high-resolution monitor to a PC for a software demonstration. Suddenly, the monitor started smoking! Needless to say, we didn’t win that deal, but I learned a valuable lesson in testing everything in advance.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I listen to a lot of books on Audible. Most recently, I’ve listened to a few about artificial intelligence that have brought to light a lot of interesting concepts. “Deep Medicine” by Eric Topol explores the application of AI and data analytics to the healthcare field. This feels particularly relevant today in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the American public begins to better understand the importance of data analytics within healthcare.
I’ve also recently read “AI Superpowers” by Kai-Fu Lee, on the differences between the U.S. and China’s approach to privacy, and “The Singularity is Near” by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who examines the competition between human and machine intelligence.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Nien-Ling ingrained in me the idea that money is a byproduct of a job well done. Monetary success should never be the goal in and of itself. If you focus on providing the right solutions to your customers’ problems, the money will come.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m extraordinarily blessed to be able to say that my immediate family has stayed safe and healthy during the pandemic. But I know that millions of people around the world and here in Southern California, where Laserfiche is headquartered, have been impacted in a myriad ways. Supporting the communities in which we operate has been a huge priority since the onset of the virus, and that’s been shown at all levels of our company.
Laserfiche is supporting the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation by donating surgical-style masks and working to implement the electronic records management and workflow automation technology that will help the hospital reopen and begin to accept patients quickly. We’re also offering six months free of Laserfiche Cloud to healthcare organizations in an effort to help alleviate operational stress while delivering patient care. And our employees have sprung into action, too. For example, one of our UX designers has been using his personal 3D printer to make PPE for organizations providing masks to healthcare workers, and one of our CSR team members is volunteering with an organization that makes telesocial calls to vulnerable, homebound individuals.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When we began considering remote work, I was uncertain of how our hundreds of employees would be able to manage it. There were so many variables, including the stress of working during a pandemic and many of our employees now having to balance homeschooling and childcare with work. I’m proud of our employees for adapting incredibly quickly, however, embracing the technology that allows us to collaborate and stay connected no matter where we are physically. Our video conferencing and project management platforms, as well as our own Laserfiche software have been critical to our ability to continue operations and, in some cases, we’ve found that we’re actually more accessible and more productive.
While we never would have imagined doing business this way, we’ve also found some significant efficiencies for ourselves and our customers. We’re seeing digital transformation initiatives accelerate in all industries that we serve, as people realize that digitization and automation are essential to doing business today.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to colleagues who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
We realize that this unique situation can be stressful for employees for many different reasons. We actively encourage our staff to take time off when they need it, and avoid burnout by focusing on their families, friends, and personal passions or interests when they are not at work.
Many of our employees miss being in the office and interacting with others socially, so we’ve been encouraging them to have virtual social gatherings to stay connected. We’ve also learned the importance of having a robust internal communication strategy in place to help our remote workforce, so we’re making sure employees have access to multiple channels of communication so that they’re able to get connected to the people, information and systems they need to do their jobs. And the biggest thing for us has been to check in with employees to ask them how we can do better, or what they may need to do their jobs better while we’re working remotely. It’s important to hear what needs improvement on an ongoing basis. We are each other’s allies in this — so we want to keep our minds and hearts open to new ideas.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We will never go back to a pre-COVID economy. There is now a great desire to do much of our work virtually and reduce commutes and business travel. We are also starting to see real progress for companies to go fully digital. Paper has served us well for thousands of years, but now, people and organizations are realizing that it’s inefficient — and it’s a vector for virus transmission. We expect to see companies invest significantly in process automation and cloud technologies, which better enable people to work more efficiently, from anywhere, and from any device.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
On a personal level, I’ve always been a fan handshakes, but of course I won’t do that moving forward until there is a widely available vaccine. I also think that people will find a much better work/life balance then they did previously as many organizations let their employees work from home partially or on a full-time basis moving forward.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Before the pandemic, we started construction on an expansion for our Laserfiche corporate headquarters in Long Beach, California. Despite the expanded office space, I expect we’ll re-examine our work from home policies and practices for all employees, now that we’ve seen how well this has worked for us. We are extremely fortunate to be in an industry that gives us these options, and I hope that we’re able to help our customers to continue to move toward digital workplaces as well.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
It’s really industry specific, but I encourage businesses to go digital wherever possible. Specifically, in retail or in food service, develop online delivery service or e-commerce business equal to the physical presence. All retail stores should put more emphasis on e-commerce as opposed to brick and mortar. Across the board, companies should be willing to just try new things. There’s a lot of technology out there that has been developed that will help facilitate efficient operations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “life lesson quote” is one that has been instilled in me since I began working at Laserfiche over 30 years ago: “Money is a byproduct of a job well done.” Monetary success should never be the sole goal of any job. Laserfiche was founded on the principle of providing solutions to help solve our users’ problems. By focusing on our customers, we’ve provided them with the proper tools, while simultaneously achieving financial successes.
How can our readers further follow your work?