As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Elly Perets, CEO at Utilis. He has 20 years of experience in executive management, enterprise software sales, marketing, business development and OEM.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Because I am a curious, big ambition thinker, my path to Utilis and its Asterra products evolved out a persistent desire to be a part of technology that has global impact.
Before joining Utilis, I observed many high technology companies starting up. I studied their evolution, and worked to understand their products, their processes, and their success. For high technology companies, the challenge is not always creating a viable product. The challenges are more complex than that. These companies must know how to measure the success of the technology and to prove how it solves a problem in the market. They must set up an organization to communicate these values, penetrate the market, and scale it up.
I watched some succeed, and I was driven to participate. I approached this by starting my career in sales, selling to Southeast Asia, a particularly challenging territory. Over the years, I developed a foundational knowledge of market dynamics, business organizations, and sales processes. My business organizational capabilities are strong, and I established successful multinational and multicultural sales structures.
In my experience, the key to success is in the sales process, from lead generation to close. I came to Utilis with a firm foundation in creating processes around a viable business model. As we expand, I enjoy every opportunity to develop and sell products that support the earth’s sustainability.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Utilis is using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite data to identify hazards or defects in underground infrastructure. We translate radar signals into actionable data helping local government, utilities, agencies, and municipalities better maintain infrastructure and increase their asset resiliency. One market we work in is water utilities, where we provide underground leak location maps.
It is very interesting and sometimes amusing to observe the reaction of prospective customers and engineers when they hear our slogan: “Leaks can be found from space.”
Their face changes to an expression of shock, followed by expressions of doubt and mistrust. I enjoy the process that eventual customers go through, from a complete lack of trust to full adoption of technology as part of their day-to-day operation. This takes time, sometimes years.
Our customers are traditional entities that operate critical infrastructure our society needs and takes for granted, including water supply and transportation lines. We use these continuously, and the vast majority of the users are not aware of the thousands of people who enable the utilities’ operations. The work of these knowledgeable people is incredibly interesting, and I am happy to acknowledge them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
While working in a software company developing workflow production automation, we developed a new product concept and created a wonderful mock-up. It was everything we ever dreamed of. We took so much pride in the idea that I shared it with the members of the sales team. Three weeks later we got a 700K order for the product, which we did not have.
The lesson: “Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My work with Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, the author of The Goal, allowed me to develop analytical thinking and problem-solving skills that benefit me every day. For two years, I worked with Dr. Goldratt implementing the theory of constraints (TOC) in large enterprises in China. These were often manufacturing facilities with complex supply chains. TOC is set of thinking processes based on cause and effect providing tools to deal with issues. Dr. Goldratt insisted on thorough analysis, identifying logical flows and breaking ideas into elements and sub elements before reconstruction. We engaged in long sessions, which were like adventures to me. Together with customers, we peeled off business questions until the root cause was revealed. Then, we constructed a business solution and the plan for implementation.
I am grateful Dr. Goldratt for equipping me with knowledge and skills that are in use every day though my personal life and career.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The diversity of people, thoughts, ideas, and cultures creates a strong and healthy organization. The executive team at Utilis is comprised of talented individuals from varying backgrounds. The voice of each team member benefits the whole organization. Every day, Utilis communicates with a marvelously diverse global community, with whom we work to improve the lives and make the earth more sustainable.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Every person shares responsibility for creating a diverse community, and Utilis takes this responsibility seriously. We support a life balanced between work and family. In the society in which I live, the family occupies a significant place. The decisions people make are influenced by the desire to balance family and career. We recognize that women are typically more affected by this dilemma, and Utilis works to minimize this. We offer flexible work hours, work from home, financial grants for young parents, and hold positions for parents on maternity or paternity leave for a longer time than the law requires. We maintain a culture where the family comes before the workplace, and our organization is stronger as a result.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The CEO has ultimate responsibility for the organization, including its financial health. Other business leaders are responsible for the execution of the business plan. The CEO must be responsive to the highest level of expectation from multiple directions: customers, employees, investors, market influencers, tax, and legal authorities wherever business is conducted.
The CEO must recognize his personal limitations and gather the right team members, providing meaning and reward. The business environment is in an ever-changing model, requiring the CEO to lead the organization with careful agility. Since success is not guaranteed despite past accomplishments, the CEO must be the first to identify trends, threats, and opportunities.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There is a myth that CEOs seek power, but this is false. CEOs have an intense desire to make a difference in the lives of others. We work to positively influence and impact people; in doing so, we may create something great as a legacy.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
So many people find a disparity between what their daily job is and what they thought it would be. My work with Utilis is exactly what I hoped it would be I run a company with a robust technological edge. My work has an impact on everyone around the world. I spend my days among multi-disciplined scientists, physicists, engineers, data scientists, and software programmers. We all work together to improve human life. I had no illusions regarding the difficulties that come with my work, such as the sleepless nights, the responsibility, and the pressure. I am energized by interactions with people, yet I understand and adapt to the loneliness that comes with the job.
Presumably, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
The successful executives I know have certain common values and character traits. Success is usually found in individuals who are motivated to positively impact other people’s lives. This individual must be able to dive into the details without losing sight of the big picture. At the same time, successful individuals must handle pressure, make decisions, live with the consequences of their decisions, and take the risk of making mistakes, because some mistakes are inevitable. Where these values and traits are absent, it is difficult to achieve success.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
We understand that humans crave a meaningful life. Utilis fosters a self-motivated environment. This dramatically reduces the need to monitor, control and nurture creativity among the team. People see meaning through their own lens, and we allow it. We honor and listen to individual voices.
During the last year-and-a-half, we all learned the value of self-motivated employees. Utilis’ employees provided the best outcome in difficult, new circumstances. While other companies moved into protective mode, Utilis flourished, increasing sales, adding people, opening a new subsidiary, recruiting new resellers, and raising capital from UK and US investors. My team, their resilience and their achievements, makes me proud.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At Utilis, we spend each day working to make the world a better place. We constantly gather data from our customers reporting the positive impact of our technologies. Our founder and CTO, Lauren Guy, maintains a dashboard measuring the amount of water and electricity saved, as well as carbon reduced by Utilis customers as a result of using our solutions. We are aware of our impact in terms of sustainability development goals and environmental, social, and corporate governance milestones. We go to work in the morning knowing that we are improving people’s lives.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Identifying the gaps is critical because in the gaps are the greatest opportunities. The gap between management’s perceived reality and the actual, measured reality is wide. Often, we analyze reality as we remember it in the past. New data and facts change our perception slower it should. I wish I had learned sooner to always doubt, challenge, and check the measured reality for myself. Identifying and evaluating gaps takes effort, yet it is beneficial.
- When it comes to people, sometimes it is better to focus on the potential over the experience. Companies tend to reduce risk by recruiting people with experience, but many times the experience is actually not relevant or simply not a good match. Less experience, coupled with learning motivation, can prove itself as a great long-term investment. Behind every successful person is someone that gave that person a chance.
- When it comes to enterprise customers, never underestimate the informal organization structure. In some project environments, the actual decision maker is sometimes not who I expect it to be. Titles, hierarchy, and the reporting structure are important for understanding the organization, but these do not neatly overlap with the map of decision makers.
- Tell me how people are being compensated, and I can tell you what their behavior is. Management strategy must be translated into the compensation structure otherwise it is an empty plan. Most people have an inherent desire to have meaningful careers. Compensation includes both money and meaning.
- Alignment between the company vision and its markets is a primary strategic goal. Disruption is great as the penetration tactic yet becoming a market standard ensures a long-term viable business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Utilis takes on the challenge of bringing the most good to the most people each day. Our mission is to use products derived from SAR technology to protect the earth’s sources. Each day, we protect the potable water supply when we find water leaks. We create programs that positively impact as many people as possible, and people of all ages.
Central to our corporate values is mentorship. Utilis has programs to welcome the young population seeking advice on making better education and career choices. We know that early exposure to mentorship is better, as early as high school students. I challenge companies of all sizes and industries to open themselves generously, offering early mentorship, internship, and learning opportunities. Participation even for a short period is priceless for young people. Utilis is open for internship for anyone with any set of skills, interests, and dreams. Every employee at Utilis is a mentor from whom we all can learn.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Curiosity is a Moral Virtue” is a philosophy that drives my daily life. Over the years, my curious nature continually drove me to seek out more knowledge, better processes, and bigger technologies. Sometimes, curiosity is an expression of interest in other people, and when it is communicated, often leads to better relationships and other positive results. I see curiosity as a valuable leadership trait because it inspires leaders to continually explore fresh ideas, to investigate new approaches and to be willing to take risks. With curiosity, it is easier to create a teamwork environment based on joint exploration.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would like to meet with Michael S. Regan, the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He has an incredible record of leading programs that protect the earth’s resources. He spearheaded a plan to address climate change and transition his state of North Carolina to a clean energy economy. It was under his leadership that the largest coal ash clean-up in United States history occurred.
I would like to learn more about his vision and the path to achieve his vision. I am curious to learn his perspective on how commercial organizations can help drive a change and the mechanisms and leverages that exist to support it.