As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Partridge. Lisa is CEO of XYPRO Technology Corporation, one of the country’s leading cybersecurity solutions companies.
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?
I started out on the sales side of the organization here at XYPRO, a software development and consulting services firm in Southern California. In small companies, everyone pitches in to help in every area and so I learned a lot about what’s involved in running a software company, supporting customers, coming up with product ideas, networking, etc. The market for our solutions was a relatively niche group that uses a particular “big iron” server for very high volume online transaction processing called an HPE NonStop server. Our customers are B2B, Fortune 500 companies that are part of the global financial & telecommunications infrastructure. Thanks to the vision of XYPRO’s founders, we pivoted our specialty focus to Cybersecurity in the early 1990s and were early players in the space. Other than a small blip in 1994, Our business grew slowly but steadily. I was given quite a bit of autonomy in how I built up the sales organization and distributor network, learning as I went, moving into an officer level role as VP of Sales and later promoted to company President. When the founders realized they wanted to retire, I was approached to gauge my interest in a management buy-out. In 2014 I became the CEO.
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?
A sale that I felt should have been closed but kept dragging on. I had a good relationship with the customer, I just needed their manager to sign off. I don’t know what possessed me (I had probably just read one of those books about sales and taking decisive action to close the deal) but I decided to just jump on a plane and go there unannounced, with the contract ready for signature. I showed up and did just that! My customer was floored, his manager was so amused by it that he signed the agreement on the spot!
I’ve told that story many times and had it retold on my behalf, with great delight, by the person whose manager signed the contract (that he was going to sign anyway). Because that event worked out so well and was met with amusement and success, of course I tried it again and of course it failed. Not only was the second attempt much further away and a more expensive attempt, the manager refused to see me and we did not get the deal. Ever. I also thoughtlessly failed to schedule enough other solid reasons to visit the location that would have justified the cost of the trip. We were a smaller company back then and the money spent on what is obviously an unnecessary risk was non-trivial to our growing company. I tried never to let hubris, impatience, recklessness or an attitude of “what have I got to lose?” take a more prominent seat in decision making than “how will this impact the business?”.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have lost track and count of the books about “motivation”, “frog eating”, asking for the deal, etc., with post it notes sticking out of the 2–3 chapters I made it through before moving on to something else. As I took on company-wide leadership responsibilities, practical books like “The Essential HR Handbook” proved to be lifesaving when navigating the complex waters of employee supervision — what to say, how to say it.
In more recent years, as corporate identity, mission and culture became more of my focus, I homed in specifically on improving overall company performance and employee engagement. I relied on books like the history of Tandem Computers and “Leaders Eat Last” that really stressed concepts like servant leadership, employee investment and company cultural identity.
I haven’t really transitioned from books to podcasts, but I do enjoy NPR’s “Hidden Brain”. Recommended by my Dad who is in his mid-seventies, it’s not necessarily a “how to” career helper in the traditional sense but serves the self-reflective, contemplative brain exercises that are necessary to be the type of leader, and everyday human, that I want to be.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I didn’t start XYPRO. I took the helm when the founders retired. My purpose felt and still feels like it is to ensure I don’t screw up and fail the business the founders put their life into starting.
Finding our “Own” vision for the business took my partner and me some time but we have done that and made it our focus. Because I am the CEO, I also had to find a cultural vision that felt natural, benefitted the employees and ultimately the company. I have found in my personal experience that those things go hand in hand. We have enviable employee engagement.
Our expectations for performance are high but we also make honest efforts to have a positive, supportive, innovative workplace. From employee benefits like paid parental leave and ½ day summer Fridays to career path guidance, leadership and mindfulness training and free onsite (now remotely hosted) yoga. We know happy employees work hard and support the cause. The result is a blue-chip customer base with near 100% customer retention rates.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Everything that happens is ultimately my responsibility. Period. However, one cannot and should not do it all alone. No one person has all the answers and think of all the perspectives to consider when making decisions.
It is important to find and maintain supportive, trusting relationships. Seek out external advisors, networking groups or leadership coaches. I have been a member of Vistage for about 3 years and it’s literally been invaluable for me as a person and for the decisions I’ve made for the company.
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 too struggle with this. I have friends and family that feel anxious and believe things that they hear from a variety of sources. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are not but their behavior can be influenced by news that amplifies insecurities to garner support for their position or to differentiate themselves for ratings.
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?
I am privileged to be in the type of business (essential software supplier to essential businesses) that is less impacted by things like economic downturns and the need to quarantine. We were well prepared to shift our workforce to 100% work from home. We saw the potential for quarantine coming and decided to use the threat of the office closure to ensure we were up to the task. Our practice event simply flowed into the event and we have been 100% remote since March 13.
Our challenges feel important to us and so they should not be ignored. We are acutely aware, however, that we are lucky to be facing these particular challenges. Many of our friends and neighbors are just trying to get by without losing everything.
In the beginning, we perceived the challenges to be:
- Ensuring the office infrastructure could support 100% work from home
2. Ensuring every employee had a reasonable and secure place to work from home
3. Ensuring every employee knew how to their day to day job remotely
4. Ensuring every employee felt they received the technical & managerial support they may require to be successful as a remote worker
5. Ensuring we provided daily ways to connect with each other
6. Ensuring everyone felt they knew the company’s status, plan, financial health, etc.
After a couple of months of successful work from home. Our positive results came from:
- Find out what they’re really thinking
2. We send out surveys on a weekly or biweekly basis checking on the status of their WFH situation, their tech support situation, their mental health and solicit their suggestions
3. Providing regular updates
4. In addition to daily “coffee chats” and weekly happy hours, we continue regular company updates via email and all-staff meetings using video conferencing tools. It has been very reassuring to everyone to hear that business is doing great, no one’s job is in jeopardy, no cost cutting is necessary at this time. It is also comforting to them to find out how their experiences and opinions line up with their colleagues’.
5. Deciding what’s absolutely necessary right now vs. how I wish it were
6. Deciding when and how to re-open offices safely takes discipline and respect for your employees. Doing it too soon, especially when it’s not absolutely necessary could backfire in ways with damaging, longer term effects.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I don’t know what the solution is. Unless it’s my child, I am not more influential than their fears. People must decide what they’re going to allow themselves to take in, how much news they are going to watch, when it’s time to turn off the tv or put down their phone. Those simple things are critically important. I also know it’s a lot easier to say than to do.
At work, I can provide regular updates and reassurances to my team so they know that their safety and well being is a high priority for me. I can cite the sources we are using to guide the decisions about work.
Family and loved ones should hopefully know this, but I’m not their boss.
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?
I think the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” will prove itself once again. Someone is going to come up with products and services that we didn’t even know we needed until we were faced with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Maybe a small business retailer, restaurant or convenience store owner is going to come up with some brilliant solution that allows them to thrive. Office furniture & floor-plan space planners, nursing home facilities and others may follow their lead and find a way to beat the odds.
Students will be influenced by their own personal lenses and become the brilliant scientists and thought leaders that include variables in their hypotheses that were never before contemplated but for this experience.
There will be advances not only in sanitation products, supply chain protections, transportation and the way entertainment and sports venues operate that are borne of trying to feel like we’re free to live our lives again.
I also think it’s imperative to find solutions to widespread intentional misinformation that gets spread around via all the ways we ingest different forms of news. How to determine what’s legitimate, how to protect ourselves from impostors attempting to influence our opinions that lead to the breakdown of civil discourse and encourage a divisive community.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Travel will decrease. Initially, to get our business back, airlines will offer great deals and incentives, promising to protect our health with safety and sanitation measures. Over time, I see this turning into a “fee” from the airlines, to recoup their costs and eventually be looked at as a profit center, just like checking a bag eventually did.
Touch-less and cashless transactions will be facilitated on a much larger scale because cash is a potential contaminant. The increase in electronic payments will mean that simple, easy to use security measures will have to be implemented to protect the consumer. These will be constantly improved upon and updated because there are always those criminals out there looking to exploit opportunities and profit from crises.
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?
Looking forward, companies like ours will likely have a very different perspective on how to collaborate and how important it is to do that face to face in an office.
In that same vein, the workplace renovation we just did late last year for a collaborative, open work and meeting area will no longer be used as we originally planned. Now there will be more costly changes if it’s going to get used at all.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
If you are able, if you have the privilege of options, keep an open mind and don’t make rash decisions. The situation is evolving. Leave yourself room to experiment, pivot and adapt.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A book by comedian, writer, actor, producer Amy Poehler, “Yes, Please” really resonated with me for some reason. I used to spend a lot of time worrying what people would think of the decisions I made. I was preoccupied (vexed even!) and in some cases, paralyzed by others’ potential opinions. Indecisive “fretting” is not actually accomplishing anything. It was a dose of good straight talk and I have that quote taped to my monitor for those times I need the reminder.
“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”
― Amy Poehler, Yes Please
How can our readers further follow your work?