As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Sofia Passova.
Sofia Passova is the President, CEO, and founder of StereoLOGIC, a leader in integrated process and task mining technology which helps companies discover inefficiencies in their business processes and suggests solutions to improve and automate workflow and revenue. Sofia is a “serial entrepreneur,” thought leader, inventor, and patent holder, who created enterprise technologies used by thousands of companies worldwide.
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?
I have a M.Sc. in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in computer science and started my career as a rocket scientist. In the beginning, I actively worked in modelling and diagnostics of complex control systems for rockets and submarines. When I was introduced to the world of business computing, I saw a huge opportunity to apply my knowledge to helping businesses navigate daily operations and meet their strategic targets. That led to the founding of two successful companies — first Blueprint Systems and later StereoLOGIC, the latter of which I am currently leading.
StereoLOGIC creates process management technology for companies which helps them optimize their business workflow and automates decision making, helping them understand where they can find savings and reduce security and compliance issues. We also reduce risk and security issues, and help companies improve productivity and increase profitability in a very short time (sometimes days or weeks).
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Minutes before an investor meeting several years ago I stepped into the bathroom to look in the mirror. Walking in, I accidently hit another woman with the door. I said I was sorry, but she seemed very focused on her thoughts and did not react.
Five minutes later I walked into the boardroom and that same lady was chairing the investor meeting. You can imagine my feelings, but strange as it may sound we became very good friends. The lady turned out to be a famous Canadian businesswoman, Marnie Walker, who started a company (Student Express Limited) with just her own credit card and sold the company later for millions.
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?
When we started StereoLOGIC, we sold a robust and permanent software license to one of the largest US health insurance companies for less than $100,000 in a one-time deal. The company used our software for many years, saving millions each year and paying us an annual maintenance fee of only $13,000.
The lesson learned? A proper pricing model is a major factor for your business to succeed and be resilient.
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?
Yes, among others the same person I hit with a door in the bathroom. As a founder of the company, I was looking for the best CEO for StereoLOGIC but she told me, “Sofia, you do not need anyone, you created this company. It’s your ’child,’ you have everything you need to grow it, and no one will care about it more than you will.” Later she also became an angel investor.
I also would like to mention another investor (Igor Davydov, Ph.D.) who was a senior developer at NCR and Wells Fargo. He had a background in automated mechanical design and believed in our vision for StereoLOGIC helping companies with operating inefficiencies, and invested in our founding team before we wrote a single line of code. He saw the success of our prior company and believed we could do it once again.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
As you know, life is now so complex for people in all countries, considering COVID, climate change, and other issues, that all our meetings and decisions at work are only fun when our goals are clear. What really helps me is my team, who I have been working with for many years. We deeply understand each other and help each other to manage stress.
To share an example, we had different opinions regarding company strategy with a management team member. Having a glass of wine over Zoom helped us to find a common ground.
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?
My grandmother taught me there are only Good People and No-So-Good People. I still believe in it.
In this context, I also would like to mention why we called our company “StereoLOGIC.” Like in stereo-image (3D) or stereo music, to see the full picture you need multiple aspects of the sound or image. It is the same with logic — to make a good analysis and judgement you need multiple perspectives. This is true for everything, including a very functional management team.
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.
Common goals, common values, and common interests, and the most important is truth and justice.
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 sets the common goals, tasks, and strategy and helps everyone to accomplish them most efficiently. In an innovative technology company such as StereoLOGIC, the scientific leadership is also very important. People should feel constant support and trust in the company’s future.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
People like the image of the CEO who is nicely dressed and dining in nice restaurants. Actually it’s a very tough job taking energy, responsibility, and the ability to understand many things at a high speed. It’s a 24–7 job.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Many people still believe that women are inferior to men in management abilities and often in the beginning of a conversation there is a bit of mistrust. However, the picture is changing. We see more and more women at the steering wheel in many companies.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The actual job meets my expectation.
Do you think 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?
Key attributes of an executive are being dynamic, having an open mind, the ability to find compromises, seeing the “Big Picture,” and having a strategic vision. Being reliable and trustworthy is also important.
Formalists and people with strong pre-attitudes or who are egocentric should avoid this role.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
People doubt only those people who doubt themselves. Be strong, go ahead.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
First, I created a great friendly “family” for our employees. Second, this family is extended by our customers, who are very happy with our services and with whom we share a vision. Third, we help the country to make companies more efficient saving them millions of dollars, while improving the work experience for their employees.
We also attract young people from universities and help them become real specialists.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s a life-time consuming effort.
- The key challenge is not only getting revenues but also keeping the employees happy.
- It’s not always a pleasure to criticize people.
- That competition is not always won by best technology — but more often by marketing budgets.
- There will be COVID in 2019.
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.
I believe that the major quality of each person and humanity as a whole are kindness, intelligence, and compassion. These qualities should be taught from childhood, regardless of country or nationality. Therefore, at the global level, there should be a new mandatory subject for all schools in all countries — “kindness and compassion.” I believe it could improve our political situation, reduce wars, and save many families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“One who walks the road will master it.” At each stage of my life, whenever I started something I was told it was not possible. Neighbors told me I will not get my Ph.D. — it’s too difficult. They told me I could not build a company without money, but I made three starting from zero capital. I was even told our technology was impossible, but we built it and received three US patents. I was told a small company cannot have large clients, but StereoLOGIC works with the world’s top companies.
“One who walks the road will master it.”
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
This would be Jeff Bezos. Why? Because he is a person who understands what it means to make business sufficient, and he has demonstrated this in practice. But he did not stop at creating the best company in the world and moved on to outer space.