Eight years ago, Laurie Schultz was brought into ACL to blow everything up.
“We fell asleep,” said the CEO of what is now Galvanize Inc. “We had a lot of great people but we weren’t really working on our edge. I’d say we kind of became a bit 9-to-5.”
Schultz, who assumed her first chief executive position in 2011 when she joined the company, had to lead some “really hard changes” to the organization’s business model. She was tasked with transforming the 30-year-old company’s culture and revitalizing its customer agenda.
She had to make the case for change, and it wasn’t an easy feat.
“It’s really hard when you’ve got a 30-year-old company to take the risk of blowing everything up,” explained Schultz. “We had to disrupt ourselves first in order to get another 30 years of success in our market.”
It’s a risk that is paying off. Schultz says Galvanize now has a higher concentration of recurring, predictable revenue that is growing, and its momentum is built on updated technology and a new customer agenda.
She said the revitalization is grounded in a successful cultural transformation at the company that feels even more rewarding to her than the company’s financial overhaul.
“We’re on the other side of a few really scary things,” Schultz said. “I feel like a million bucks. The trick is to now look at the next agenda of stuff that hasn’t been done before.”
How she honed her ability to take risks, as Schultz puts it, is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. Is she naturally comfortable with risk? Or has she been placed in scenarios throughout her career that have required her to take them?
The Red Deer, Alberta, native’s her first job after graduating from the University of Alberta with a bachelor’s degree in business and commerce was with Alberta Government Telephones (AGT), which was acquired by Telus Communications (TSX:T) a couple of years later.
Schultz was responsible for launching calling-line identification at AGT, which was the first company in the world to introduce a service that displayed the number of the person who was calling.
“Honestly, 50,000 people in one night got this product. And literally the next day, I had every women’s shelter in the province phoning me,” she said. There were also lots of calls from police and doctors.
“This was this massive privacy surprise. This huge revenue success – massive privacy surprise,” she explained. “I was so grateful for that very first job because I had to figure out how to balance, clearly, kind of a social issue with a really popular revenue-type product.”
After her time at Telus, Schultz spent three years as a senior manager with KPMG Consulting, which was followed by five years at Intuit, where she first served as director of consumer finance, then as vice-president of the company’s small-business division.
In 2004, she landed at Sage, which offers a variety of business software products. When she left to join Galvanize, Schultz was overseeing the profitability of Sage North America’s multimillion-dollar enterprise software – a portfolio of seven products originally developed byseven different companies that had been acquired by Sage. That portfolio also spanned 600 employees, 100,000 customers, 3,000 resellers and 100 countries worldwide.
“What I also learned to do there was really build profitability out of a portfolio like that,” said Schultz. “All of these companies have personalities and they all uniquely think they’re the best. To try and bring and integrate acquisitions together – it was such a great gift.”
As Schultz has transitioned from positions at five different companies throughout her career, she has made a point of reflecting on where she was headed, and on what she was leaving behind.
Careers, she said, are reciprocal.
“I’ve always wanted to try and both have a balance of learning something new in the job I’m in and also giving back a gift of experience where I can. And if those things fall out of balance I think it’s frankly time to leave.”
Eight years ago, she was spending 75% of her time on airplanes travelling throughout the United States. In her decision to join Galvanize, Schultz saw an opportunity to land and grow in Vancouver, and – as a “very proud Canadian” – expand the profile of an under-the-radar company with a long history in the city.
“One of the biggest reasons I left was because I wanted to get focused back on revenue growth,” she said.
The opportunity has also come with a number of firsts for Schultz: a CEO title, a $50 million raise (in 2017), working for a privately owned company and rebranding a global one.
“Hadn’t done that before – that was a pretty cool life MBA,” she said.
As she looks ahead at the next several years, Schultz sees “endless, scary opportunities.”
“We’re talking about being public-company ready. I haven’t done that. That is scary as hell, and it’s also very, very exciting to try and sponsor the learning and the DNA that it will take for us to hit that milestone.” •
What sort of leadership style does a CEO have to cultivate in the 21st century?
In the hallways. Make it personal. Having humility. If you can be accessible by being human and being vulnerable and by leading by example, by being there in the hallways as if you’re one of the team, I think you’re going to get way more brilliant ideas and you’re going to get way more people putting up their hand to take risks.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
We’ve transformed our financials and our valuation as a result, and I suppose it would be obvious to say that feels really good, but in the pit of my belly, the thing that feels amazing is the cultural transformation that’s happened. We have been given a lot of recognition. We’re one of Canada’s top 100 employers, we’re one of Canada’s most admired cultures, and that just feels really good, because at the end of the day, it is personal.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Walking away from things when there’s a values breach or a values disconnect. It’s scary to do, because I’ve always been the primary breadwinner, and to leave something because of a values breach when you could create risk for your ability to maintain your household, that can be really scary. At least in my little life experience, I’ve always landed on my feet. The message there I would give to folks is: never, ever stay somewhere where you fall out of alignment with values. Life’s too short to do that.
What career decisions would you make differently were you starting out today?
I don’t think I would. I wouldn’t change any of the “what” side of my careers. The advice to my younger self would be: be kinder to yourself; you’re not an alien. I think the journey would have been more gentle if I had been more gentle on myself.
What is the one business lesson you’d like to pass on to others?
Culture leads financial transformation. If you get the employee and then the customer experience right, in my opinion, the financial outcome will be material and it will be pervasive. It will last a lot longer.
Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2019 BC CEO Awards November 13, 2019, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/ceo.