As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Hontz.
Keith is the Chief Executive Officer and President of Savantis. In this role, he oversees all key aspects of operations across the SAP GLOBAL SOLUTIONS and IT STAFFING SOLUTIONS business units.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?
After receiving my Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from James Madison University, I began my professional career with DuPont Information Systems, where I started as a systems analyst before quickly being promoted to project manager and eventually team leader focused on deploying sales and marketing systems within the DuPont CORIAN business. After receiving an Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Delaware, I took on a new role at SAP America as Sales & Marketing Project Manager within the Internal Business Consulting team. After more than two decades at SAP America holding key positions including Global VP, Regional VP, and other leadership roles in consulting, presales, product management, sales, and executive management, I had an opportunity to engage with hundreds of SAP customers in the private and public sectors. In April 2019, I left SAP to become CEO of SocketLabs, an industry leader in high-volume email infrastructure, where I quickly built a leadership team, onboarded an enterprise sales organization, and helped establish double-digit YoY revenue growth in my first year with the Company. Currently, I serve as the CEO and President at Savantis, a leading consulting and implementation partner within the SAP ecosystem.
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?
When I was working for DuPont in my first job following college graduation, I was leading a team of system analysts working on the DuPont CORIAN Sales & Marketing database project. While working on the data conversion programs to migrate data from the old system into the new system, one of my team members performed a simple “drop coriandb” SQL statement to clear the data. Unfortunately, this was done on the live production system by accident, so we had to recover from the previous evening backup. It was certainly not funny at the time, but definitely taught me to always back up your data and be extra careful when working on production systems.
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?
When I started at SAP, there were about 1,700 employees in the US and it was a fast-paced entrepreneurial atmosphere, which was night and day different from working at DuPont (SAP’s 1st customer in the US). I considered making a career move from Consulting into Sales and I credit that move to the vote of confidence I received from Mary Sibley, who was heading up SAP CRM Presales at the time. I personally recognize Mary Sibley as my coach and mentor who gave me the opportunity to grow my career in Presales, and Greg McStravick for promoting me to Vice President of East Line of Business Sales in 2011 where I overachieved revenue goals, took our team to Winner’s Circle, and was promoted to other leadership roles during my time at SAP.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Savantis was founded more than 20 years ago as an IT Staffing company, known then as VedicSoft, with a clear vision and purpose to cost-effectively deliver IT projects. As it evolved into a full-service SAP Gold Partner now called Savantis, our vision and purpose have evolved into helping companies drive strategic initiatives for sustainable growth by delivering end-to-end solutions that integrate with world-leading business software from SAP. Savantis is a leading strategic implementation partner within the SAP ecosystem, specializing in expert consulting, outsourcing, and IT staffing and we have earned a reputation for delivering successful and cost-effective IT projects for our clients.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Savantis enables organizations to operate more efficiently by solving challenges through digital innovation with the expertise of our people and the quality of our products and services. Through co-innovation, and by using the most advanced technologies to support organizations’ digital transformation, Savantis offers solutions for businesses in all SAP-defined core industry segments. Savantis supports the complete enterprise SAP application portfolio — CRM and Customer Experience, ERP and Finance, and Business Technology Platform — and has industry-leading expertise in SAP S/4HANA, SAP CX, and other innovative technologies for retail, alcohol beverage, cinema, entertainment, high-tech, manufacturing, and more.
Savantis has two distinct business units — SAP GLOBAL SOLUTIONS and STAFFING SOLUTIONS. Intelligent Industry Solutions and Intelligent Industry Portfolios of industry-specific solutions and services provide targeted Customer Experience and Enterprise Consulting, Cloud and Support Outsourcing, and IT Staffing Solutions, which are exclusively focused on engaging with clients to ensure their success.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic which underscored the importance of digital transformation for enterprises globally, the key technological innovation which has continued to disrupt our industry has been the evolution of cloud computing. Enterprises have been looking for innovative ways to improve business continuity, optimize costs, and provide resiliency especially during recessionary curves. This has exponentially increased the adoption of cloud-based technology solutions. Businesses no longer want to rely on their own data centers and large teams of IT resources to manage their mission critical platforms. Based on IDC forecast models, SAP-related cloud-based revenues will increase to 68% of on-premises systems and the partner opportunity will exceed 7X this by 2024.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
We have continued to invest heavily in our SAP Global Consulting Solutions business and Managed Services leveraging both on-shore and off-shore SAP expert resources. We pivoted our focus to SAP based on the rise in cloud-based technologies and the margins generated from the SAP Consulting business which far exceed that of our IT Staffing business.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Our leadership team has over 75 years of combined SAP experience and seeing the recent success in our SAP projects, we knew we collectively had the background, expertise, and deep network of relationships to drive our SAP business like never before at Savantis.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
In just the first half of 2021, our renewed focus on the SAP business has been yielding tremendous results together with record breaking revenue in our Staffing business. Our pipeline of potential business is significant and we’re continuing to hire services sales executives to drive our business forward.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
As we have renewed our focus and partnership with SAP, we’re continuing to receive a steady stream of new potential clients which have originated from the sales teams at SAP as well as Amazon Web Services which we are partners with. In addition, we are getting invitations to sponsor executive events and speak at industry conferences and are being featured in major media outlets. We have a dedicated marketing communications and PR agency (Zenergy Communications) who has been instrumental in promoting our renewed brand and competitive position within this marketplace.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
Keeping an open line of communication is critically important for a leader to maintain, especially in times of disruption. The fear, uncertainty, and doubt brought on by the pandemic was a test for every individual in a leadership role.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Our global team of SAP experts and IT staffing resources have become conditioned to working remotely; however, we believe as a leadership team that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction on a regular basis. We have held numerous virtual happy hours via Zoom and celebrated the “grand reopening” of our headquarters office with a welcome back party with food, beverages, and team competitions.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
It’s important to rely on both business instincts as well as data-driven decision-making to guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times. Proactive planning is key in ensuring the safety and well-being of employees while providing business continuity to your customers.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
In business, there are many common mistakes which business make when faced with a disruptive technology. The top three which come to mind are complacency, isolation, and inflexibility. Businesses which become complacent stop innovating or reinventing themselves as technology changes and will quickly fall behind. Imagine if you were in the food service or restaurant business with no strategy for online ordering, buy online, or curbside pickup and how challenging it would be to survive in the pandemic? Isolation, or operating your business in a vacuum, is another common mistake, especially as teams were forced to work remotely. Businesses which foster a highly collaborative environment and open lines of communication are the ones which thrived. Finally, a business needs to be highly flexible and adaptive when looking at new business models, innovative technologies, and new routes to market.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
The five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant are the following:
- Prioritize — We have a weekly leadership team meeting where we focus on our top business priorities which make the highest impact on our business. As a previous manager of mine liked to say, “Focus on the vital few, not the futile many.”
- Promote Teamwork — It’s imperative to have a collaborative team-based environment which includes a diverse set of backgrounds, experience, genders, and ethnicities. “None of us are as smart as all of us,” is another great quote from a previous leadership team.
- Be Accountable — It’s important to hold your teams accountable for delivering their work on time with a high degree of quality.
- Lead By Example — Some of the best managers I’ve worked for have excelled at the role I was in previously and showed me the way to become a top performer.
- Network — Expand your network every day as relationships matter. “People (still) buy from people they like and trust.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“First, Break All The Rules.” This is one of my favorite books which was all about thinking outside the box, doing things which have never been done before and making it your own. I’ve taken on many initiatives, technology projects, and leadership roles which had never existed before I took them on. Although many of them I was underqualified for, I took the confidence from my background and experiences to rise above and demonstrate success with the help of the teams I recruited to work together with me to achieve exceptional results.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I encourage you to reach out to me via LinkedIn and visit us online at www.savantis.com.