As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick Ralston, CEO, Contract Logix.
Contract Logix is a company passionate about the journey toward total digital contract transformation. Rick Ralston is the CEO at Contract Logix and he and the team there are focused on designing technology to identify and eliminate risks in legal contracts. Rick has over 35 years’ experience in various engineering, operations, and leadership roles including C-level roles in over a dozen successful entrepreneurial ventures. His businesses have taken him across five continents and several sectors including oil and gas, healthcare technology, digital media, and internet marketing technologies. Rick holds an MBA from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and is an advisor to numerous technology startups and growth phase businesses.
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?
Contract management, or software in general, was not a direction I had ever imagined for myself. For over a decade, my career was in the energy sector focused on engineering and operations of oil and gas pipelines. During those early years, I was fortunate to work with incredibly talented engineers and truly innovative teams aggregating tons of data to analyze pipelines and build risk models. Then came the Internet and the world of aggregating and analyzing data changed forever. Today it is all about the data. At Contract Logix, we take a data-first approach to help people manage their contracts and the associated risk. Since the pipeline days, my concentration on data and technology has stayed strong.
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?
Like the time I said the Internet was just a fad? The mistakes are too many to count! Most are funnier now than they were at the time.
A good example was in a presentation to a group of CIOs. A couple of wicked smart analysts and I had been working on a vision presentation for an IT board to reengineer their organizations. One of the other members of our vision team had built the slide deck, but I was the one presenting. They slipped the word “superlative” in the presentation. Somehow it became hyphenated and turned into super — lative and the lative wrapped to the next line. Flying through the slides standing at the front of the board room, the words came out of my mouth just as they were written: Super Lative. Then the laughs came. It took years to live that one down.
A lot of good lessons come from that story, though. The first one is to never present someone else’s material. It is crucial to know your content like the back of your hand. Now if I use slides at all, I try to keep the words to a minimum and use graphics to make the point. A second lesson is to not present on warm paper. In other words, do not throw together a presentation at the last minute.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It is a toss-up between: “The Practice of Management” by Peter Drucker and “Out of the Crisis” by W. Edwards Deming. Both are full of pragmatic business principles that can drive and sustain profitability. My roles have always had both a technology focus and a people focus. Over the years, the weighting has shifted from being heavy in technology roles to, in the later years, being heavy on the people roles. Early on, the technology centric principles in these two books really helped our teams set up key metrics and build quality into our products.
What has been surprising to me is how often I refer to them for the people side of the business. A simple example is how Drucker emphasizes effective communication and the importance of hearing what is not said. Deming was similar in that thinking when he proclaimed, “If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our vision at Contract Logix is to eliminate all hidden risks in contracts. We believe that all organizations, whether you are large or small, for-profit or not-for-profit, will have hidden risks in your contracts. It is our job to help you find and manage them. The managing risk element of our vision came from my old oil and gas pipeline days.
On the personal side, my purpose is to help others achieve their dreams and be all they can be. I just use a business as the canvas for them to envision their art.
People are deserving of an ethical workplace where they can trust their leadership. If my role were to do nothing other than instill ethical business practices, it would be my dream coming true. If my experiences, and many times my mistakes, can help others learn, then I have added value to society.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Find something to respect in all people. You may not always agree with them, but you can always find something to respect in them. It is an easy principle to live by when things are going well. When revenues are high and customers are happy, everyone is wonderful to work with.
But business is not always a bed of roses. When you lose a customer or miss a development deadline, the road gets rough. Being quick to blame others is a dead end. Empathy is critical if you want to run a successful business. Seeing the other person’s perspective, and then respecting that perspective, will get you through the down times — together, and as a team.
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?
Healthcare is the number one challenge for our family. For many people it has been remote work, childcare, isolation, and mental health. In our family, remote work has been an on and off norm for many years, so that came naturally. Mental health, well, that is always an issue when you are running a business.
The family challenge for us is the ever-changing safe practices in our healthcare system. Our oldest son and his wife gave birth to our second granddaughter back in May. Everything turned out fantastic, so no worries there. But it was nerve-racking to sit here hands tied in the Boston area with them in the Midwest. It was very unsettling not knowing how the disease would impact a pregnancy, if they could be together during childbirth or even which hospital would accept them until the day they went into labor. We prayed a lot, and still do.
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?
We have been extremely fortunate to have a product that helps our customers manage their business remotely. It is 100% in the cloud, uses automated workflows to assign tasks, and tracks the progress of a contract as it goes through the system until the process ends where electronic signatures close the loop. Over the last three months we have seen over 700% growth in the use of our electronic signature process. This tremendous value to our customers has helped reduce the financial impact on our business.
That does not mean there have not been financial issues. Many of our customer segments have been hit hard. Our software is used by a lot of not-for-profits organizations and their revenue generating process is upside down. That should be concerning to all of us. Many other segments, like healthcare and energy, have asked to delay payments, extend terms, and reduce users. We are doing everything we can to help them be successful in this new remote world we all live in.
Inside our company, going remote was not a big issue to start with. Our business continuity planning and testing really paid off. However, over time other challenges have kicked in. Childcare for our employees is huge. Working remotely to develop and support our software products is one thing, doing it while your kids are in the next room is another challenge all together. Add on top of that the critical need for education. What has worked for us is to be flexible, be patient, and constantly apply our guiding principles of trust and respect. Our employees have continued to display their resiliency. Day in and day out you can count on them to be there taking care of business.
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 your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Lots of video calls. We have used a variety of conferencing tools over the years so everyone in our company is well versed in the technology. When we first went remote, some of our team did not want to use the video. We forced the topic to help with communication and collaboration. It paid off. Now they have virtual coffee breaks, virtual game nights and even the occasional after work virtual beer night.
From the friends and family perspective, we are closer than ever with our long-distance relationships. The virtual communication capabilities have become natural, so we all talk more often. That is awesome!
My advice to others is be careful what you let into your mind. We need more positive influences in our lives. Take this time to study, learn, and expand your knowledge. Try to block out the noise and let in the light. There is a lot of good in the world. This is a great time to find it and talk about it.
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?
Digital transformation and specifically digital contract transformation (DCX). For years companies have been trying to digitally transform their business, now they must. Our product usage is way up, across the board. Our customers are using more automated workflows to assign and manage tasks than ever before. They are adding users, going mobile, and definitely going remote.
Security was hot before the pandemic. Now with the need for robust business continuity solutions, tight security is a minimum expectation. The hard work our team has put into HIPAA/HITECH, NIST, and SOC2 is really paying off. Our customers have gone virtual and their IT departments are wisely making security top of mind.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Fiscal responsibility. Many companies have been running loose for years. Now they must tighten their belt just to survive. It will be good for our economy in the long-term, but painful in the short-term. We all must concentrate on how we add value to society, or we will be left behind. This gets back to the earlier question regarding W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker. To be successful, a business has to get back to fundamental business principles.
Along with the need for ethical leadership, in the new world a business must be held to the basic requirement to fulfill a customer need. Get close to your customer and know what they need. Provide your products and services more efficiently and effectively than your competition.
The hottest topic right now with our customers are Key Performance Indictors (KPIs). Our customers are trying to do more with less and our contract management KPIs give them the information they need to benchmark and optimize their processes.
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?
We are doubling down on professional development. The key now more than ever is to have a curious team hungry to learn and grow. Our people will guide us. I am personally spending more one-on-one time with my leaders and encouraging them to do the same. We are rethinking everyone’s roles, responsibilities, expectations, and metrics. We are working with employees to identify career paths that are motivating for them and expanding their opportunities.
One personal commitment I made back in April is to spend time weekly with our Customer Success team. With only a couple exceptions, I have honored that commitment each week for over three months. We talk about what we can do to continue to build trust with our customers and grow the relationships. We know we need to be a natural extension of our customers’ in-house team.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Take advantage of the downtime to hone and refine existing skills or learn new ones. Focus on the people side of the business. Earlier we talked about the data, but data is just data without people. Give your employees room to try new things. Embrace new techniques to help your customers, find new methods to become more efficient, and test out new business models.
And do not forget to trust and respect each other. Life is too short to hold people back from reaching their potential.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Walk ten miles in another man’s boots before you challenge his decisions.
Whenever someone is acting irrationally, I remind myself that they do not see themselves as being irrational, they are just coming from a different perspective. It is our job as leaders to see their perspective and learn from it.
Plus living in Oklahoma and Kansas most of my life, I like to wear boots. So, it fits.
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