Behind the career: Steven Stichter

January 6, 2013

Position: The new chief executive of Kinetic Analysis, a Silver Spring company that provides hazard, impact and loss information for real-time events and long-term risks.

As a child, Steven J. Stichter loved maps. After studying computer programming and working in urban plannin, he began working on development issues related to natural disasters in various countries, including Trinidad and Tobago. In 2006, he was one of the founding members of Kinetic Analysis, working on operations until his recent appointment.

As your career unfolded, is there a particular skill that helped you more than others?

One thing I did realize a long time ago is that we are in a society where we celebrate people who are very narrowly focused and specialists. That’s important, but I also realized that I am a generalist. The power in that is an ability to talk across boundaries and facilitate those kinds of discussions.

Can you give an example?

We were tracking Hurricane Sandy and doing loss estimates. Once the storm made landfall, we had a series of insurance and reinsurance clients. They needed to know right away what it meant broadly and to their clients. I had to talk with them so they could piece through how to prepare.

What have your learned as a leader?

One thing I’ve clearly learned is the importance of setting boundaries. When we were starting up Kinetic, there was the great desire to take on whatever comes your way. We jumped from hard problem to hard problem, which was great, but we never had the time to take advantage of what we learned. An important role that I’ve affected in the last few years was saying “no” so we could have that breathing space to learn from, leverage and build on the hard work we were doing.

Is there a right or wrong way to say no?

It’s more about figuring out what you want to say yes to. Where can we bring the most value and focus our development work?

Is there a particular leadership skill that the field of big data requires?

Knowing what you’re looking for but also looking for those surprises. For me, it’s about identifying those connections and interactions and texture. You can’t randomly walk through those big data sets. You need to bring knowledge and information.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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