As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kermit Randa.
As Chief Executive Officer of Syntellis Performance Solutions, Kermit Randa oversees all product development, sales, implementation, training, and support functions for the firm’s Axiom Software solutions.
Kermit has more than 25 years of experience spanning healthcare and software. His areas of expertise include enterprise software insights and adoption, business transformation and innovation, strategic partnership cultivation and management, and risk identification, monitoring, and mitigation. Prior to Syntellis, he served in various executive leadership and board roles .
Kermit received his M.H.A. from Xavier University. He completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I grew up in a small, blue-collar town in Ohio called Ashtabula where the education and healthcare organizations were some of the largest employers in the community. My father worked in one of the school systems, and my mother was an HR leader in healthcare, and both were lifelong members of our local credit union. They taught me the value of “doing well by doing good,” which remains one of the principles that has guided me over the course of my professional career.
In a sense, I’ve always been interested in engineering healthy communities. I took this interest through college where I studied urban planning as an undergrad with a focus on how to cultivate good working communities. Through these studies, I began to understand that healthy businesses fuel a healthy economy. Thriving communities rely on education and job creation and when you put people to work, there’s a ripple effect on the economy.
I always knew I wanted to do something with the industries at what I call the “foundational” level. These organizations are essential components of society and every community relies on them to thrive. I learned a lot about the power of teamwork through years of work in consulting and sales where the goal is to get your client to a better place. That focus on teamwork created a desire to build healthy organizations that powerfully contribute to healthy communities. That’s what led me down the career path of helping organizations manage and optimize their performance, and ultimately, to Syntellis.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My early career was in consulting and then later in sales. At one large firm where I was in a fairly senior position, I was trying desperately to get some changes pushed through , but it wasn’t sticking. I brought the issue to an executive and asked him to intervene. I’ll never forget what he said to me. “You can’t just tell people, you need to teach them why a new way is worth the work.” While I understood where he was coming from, I learned the hard way that you can’t just legislate change. People will follow but eventually return back to old ways of doing things if they don’t understand the “why” behind the “what.”
This experience taught me that if you want to make meaningful change, you have to take the initiative to get it done starting at the grass-roots level. You can’t just force people to accept it or adopt your ideas, you have to show them the value of change. I’ve carried this throughout my career and in my CEO experiences — it’s especially helped when working with highly dynamic environments. Seeing the value of change has been powerful as these organizations have shown incredible agility and resilience in recovering from the impacts of the pandemic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my favorite quotes comes from Thomas Edison: “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Seeing unrealized potential is one of my biggest motivators in life and work. Whether that’s in people, in companies, or in communities, I’m deeply bothered by the gaps in potential that exist in society. I believe that when you can clearly see what’s possible, you can get to the next level. That’s why I am lucky to be a part of an enterprise performance management company — it gives me an avenue to explore how companies are impacted by often overlooked factors woven throughout the intricacies of financial planning, forecasting, and scenario modeling.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
There are two books that have made a significant impact on my leadership style: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and 7 Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey.
Both of these books have been key in helping me to empower my colleagues and employees to realize their potential. I often share the notion from Covey’s book, “If you only knew how close you are to greatness!” Sometimes folks just need to know that they are only a couple steps away from amazing themselves.
One example I love to bring up in reference to Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto is when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City after both engines of the plane were struck by birds. He always pointed out that he wasn’t wearing a red cape, he was following the checklist. For me, as a CEO of a company that works to help organizations realize their untapped potential, it’s not about being the hero in a red cape saving the day, it’s about helping them take practical steps to drive growth and thrive. At the end of the day, repeatable processes lead to repeatable outcomes. If we can put processes in place, that creates capacity for people to use their skills, abilities and other gifts in more creative ways that are often more meaningful to them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Syntellis really stand out is our deep expertise in the jobs of the people we serve. Our employees are made up of experts from all three of our verticals: healthcare, higher education, and financial institutions. The level of insight they bring helps us build genuine, robust solutions that enable our clients to face the very specific problems of their lines of work. We don’t just provide tools. We go into the worlds of the people we serve and find out how to solve problems holistically with an eye on their mission. We also emphasize the voice of the client, which fuels the way we think about our past, present, and future.
We first started Syntellis back in June 2020, with the needs of the client at the forefront. Although it was challenging to start a company in the middle of the pandemic, we saw a real need for better financial management and scenario modeling to adapt to these uncertain times. Given that we have such a good pulse on the challenges our clients are facing, we knew it was the time to create Syntellis. Despite the unpredictable market conditions, the pace of innovation accelerated, and there was a clear opportunity to deliver solutions to help these organizations manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for their next phase of growth. Although the market conditions were far from ideal, the issues we wanted to address were so important to us and our clients that we made the decision to move forward and launch an organization that would focus solely on helping our clients remain viable now and in the future.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Focus on what gives you energy and then see how that makes a difference to your organization, to the economy, and to the greater good. That’s a lot to unpack, but it’s important to focus on things that get you out of bed in the morning, and looking at your work from the perspective of making an impact on the broader world is where you’ll find true success.
Another piece of advice is to try to find truth-tellers, because the truth and the facts reveal where progress can be made. Because people are generally nice, it is very hard to find people who will give you the full truth, warts and all. It gets harder the more you move up an organization. Even so, it is vital to seek it out. I believe that all CEOs should value creativity because creative thinking takes people and organizations beyond the status quo and into the realm of unique success.
And lastly, know your motivators. Motivators often come down to money, fun, and learning. Do you feel you’re compensated fairly for the value you bring? Are you having fun — are you connected to the mission? And are you learning — are you having experiences that are building professional muscle you can leverage for the next role? Of course, people may have some tough weeks and maybe even quarters. But if you can objectively, positively assess where you are on each of these — you are likely in a good place. For some, two of these will keep you going for a while. If it’s only one, then it’s time to refresh what’s important in your role and take time to understand the value you create. Whether you’re a new hire fresh out of college or a senior executive, it’s important to know where you stand in these areas.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I’m an extremely trusting person — I just think it’s a healthier way of living. However, as a leader, it’s important to trust and listen to your gut rather than just trust what you’re being told. I was once advised to hire someone who I knew was not ready for the job. Despite my concerns, I was told to just go along with it. This situation later turned out badly for everyone involved, and the worst part is it never needed to happen in the first place. From that point on, I made it a priority to always listen to people’s concerns and empower them to voice their opinion. Afterwards, I hear them out, I create space to determine how I feel and think about the decision and go from there. That little voice or gut instinct is often very strong and significant, so listen to it. As a leader, you will live with the decision, even if one of your team members makes it. It is your responsibility to leverage your experience and help employees go ”eyes wide open” into a decision.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I consider tenacity, bias to action, and humor to be the most instrumental traits.
Back to my consulting days, a client was asking me to do more strategic work. He had trust in me, so he wanted me to be the one to do it. The company I was working for at the time expressed discomfort in this, given that there was another division of the company that typically handled this type of advisory. That led to discussion with the client explaining why my division shouldn’t do the work. The company was failing to see the needs of the client as being more important than internal artificial barriers to certain types of projects. After that embarrassing meeting where the client expressed deep concern, we kept working against the internal streams and were able to do the work. That experience taught me about the importance of persistence in the face of change, especially when advocating on behalf of clients’ needs. At the end of the day, bias to action is what makes the difference. The world is full of people that talk about action and ideas. It’s taking action that moves the needle.
As for humor, I can’t say I have a specific story or example here, but I think it’s extremely important that people are having fun with whatever they’re doing. Yes, it’s important to be formal when talking about business matters but injecting humor into work life helps you connect with others (clients, co-workers, etc.) on a deeper level, which in turn helps your organization succeed.
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 C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
The C-level executive role can vary given the nature of the business and where it is in its evolution. But, at its core, being at the C-level is about creating value. That’s what makes it exciting. It presents an incredible opportunity to work with teams to see through the current dynamics and have the resolve to make the changes that create value where there was none or little before. It’s incredibly rewarding.
As a CEO, your role is unique in that you need to look across each function of the business and help highly driven people see past their individual functional levels towards the common goal. When a team that respects each other can see past their individual functions and can connect on how the group can create value , there is no stopping them.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Thinking you’re actually in control. Think about the story I mentioned earlier — when I was trying to make change at my previous job, it was impossible to simply legislate change. CEOs do not sit in a control tower. They sit in a position that gives them the opportunity to set the direction, but they can’t perform all areas of the execution. Execution hinges on the ability to get everyone on the same page and working towards a common goal. From there, it relies on the rest of the company to carry it out. It’s about making sure every manager can provide the support to their team members and do so in alignment with the company goals.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
As I mentioned above, I think the biggest mistake is thinking you’re actually in control instead of truly digging in and empowering your teams to carry out the mission of your organization. Other common mistakes are failing to communicate the mission and understanding your employees’ motivations. Both are vital components to ensuring your organization buys into the vision and can accomplish the common goal.
To avoid this, leaders should focus less on controlling what everyone is doing and focus more on creating connections — whether that’s between the work they do every day and the company’s core business goals, or their personal motivations and the mission of the organization. It may not seem beneficial right away, but working hard to understand people’s motivations is key to the success and longevity of your organization and its mission. Talk to your people. Ask them about their desires and their own personal goals and try to connect them with the larger business goals. Clearly communicate your own goals and expectations so that people can relate to you, and ultimately, to the broader goals as a company. As a CEO, your job is to transcend the mission of the organization in everything you do, so it’s of utmost importance that you have a pulse on the motivations of your team to help them understand the role they play toward in the larger mission.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The ability to communicate the direction of the organization and the rationale behind big decisions. It may sound cliché, but when people say you can’t communicate enough, it’s absolutely true, particularly during highly dynamic times. People want to understand how they fit into the big picture over time, and it’s the job of the CEO to be visible, accessible, and relatable. And we can’t just leave it up to written communications or town hall presentations. The message has to be clear and consumable. It is essential that the managers have the confidence to answer their team members questions. This clear, specific communication has to happen in every interaction so people can see the positive reasons for the changes — not just the risks.
Often, a leader’s message can get lost in translation. As a CEO, you need to over index and invest in getting the message out clearly and in a way that piques people’s interest. It’s not easy, particularly with remote teams, to help people hear, understand, and believe, but your best people want to connect the dots and see the direction. Without transparent and active communication, people will fill in the blanks and sometimes they’ll get it wrong and muddle the message.
I became the CEO of Syntellis during the pandemic, so remote was all we knew. In order to get people aligned and focused on the mission we set out to achieve, I overstressed communication and made myself available to the entire team. With an entire company to get off the ground amidst one of the most disruptive and uncertain times of our lives, I theoretically did not have time to hear everyone’s voice, but I made time for it because I knew alignment was, and still is, the lifeblood of our company mission. This is an evergreen learning opportunity for all leaders. As much time as I spent, I can now look back and see ways we could have done even more.
Ok, super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Well, aside from wishing someone could have told me exactly how the pandemic would shake out, there are a few things I think would have been very helpful to know.
- Your position as a CEO is absolutely unique, so no one will see things from your perspective. Because of that, you need to synthesize everything you see and understand. Digest the complex and relay the simple.
- Success is never about one thing like growth or profit. It’s usually about two or more seemingly conflicting factors at the same time. For example, one might ask themselves, are we going to grow or are we going to be profitable? But in reality, you’ve got to think about profitable growth. As a CEO, it’s important to understand the tension between all factors and how they impact and connect with one another.
- It is a bit ironic but coming into the CEO role from a functional role, everything you thought you knew starts to work against you. While in a functional role, you might have been rewarded for excellence in a particular function, but as a CEO, you must build on those processes and flex to what the business needs and goals are for the future. Most likely, the way you solved problems in your function won’t scale across the entire organization.
- Surround yourself with truth tellers and never stop learning. I grew up with “straight talk” and it has helped me get where I am today. By surrounding yourself with others who value honesty, leaders get the opportunity to recognize and unlock potential within their team.
- Understand and respect the power of your words. Recognize that as a leader what you say has a massive reverb. What you say now will be heard in a different way than when you were in a different role. You are the culture leader of your organization. When you are having a bad day, everyone will know it. Last, don’t be shy about giving praise and connecting with people on a basic level. That’s where the magic happens.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
The “10% More Movement.” This would call on people to take 10% more of their time to focus on personal development. Imagine if everyone read one more book, listened to one more podcast, or learned one more skill. How much further would they and their teams or organizations be towards actualizing potential? I think education is the key to everything.
In a previous life we created a program called “Inspired to Educate.” That was one of the most fulfilling parts of my career. I’d be thrilled to start this type of movement that encourages people to do 10% more for their own personal development, but even more, I’d love to inspire people to teach others or give back to areas like STEM and EdTech. Our future is built on education. So for me, anything that helps people reach just a little deeper to make themselves or someone else more informed or skilled is something I’d be passionate about supporting.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.