Stephen Swad

March 11, 2012

Position: The new chief executive of Rosetta Stone, a language learning software company based in Arlington.

With a knack for business at a young age, Stephen Swad started a career in accounting that eventually led him to the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he co-authored a market risk rule that is still in effect today. After serving as chief financial officer for AOL, he developed a skill around bringing companies back into compliance with the SEC. Now at Rosetta Stone, he looks to grow the language learning company three times bigger than it is today.

You’ve talked about the importance of communication. What does it mean to be a great communicator?

You have to have a sense of where you are, communicate that and articulate four or five key steps that will lead you to that strategy. I think it is extremely powerful to have the whole company know and understand the vision. At AOL, I would have quarterly meetings with my team and monthly meetings with my worldwide team. I would listen and then communicate where I thought we were going. It drove a sense of clarity. The best meetings are the ones that have a defined purpose and agenda. There’s work that’s done before the meeting, thoughtful participation, and a sense of closure and next steps. I think everyone needs to know the strategy.

What sort of people do you look to hire?

You’re looking for a team that says: “I believe in [the vision], I can do it and I can do it better than anyone else in the marketplace.” You really have to lay out the vision and see who can help drive this around the world. That’s where leadership comes in — rallying people around it.

How has your leadership style evolved?

I have a guiding principle: You need to surround yourself with “A” players. “A” players take you a long way. It’s not really a statement about the player. It’s a statement around the player in the circumstances that you’re playing. Most of the time I find, when you lay out where you’re going and how you’ll get there and you hold yourself and others to high standards, I find that most people flourish in that environment.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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