New at the top: Stephen M. Swad

I faint at the sight of blood. So growing up, I knew I wasn’t going to be a doctor. As a young boy, I was a paperboy. I took it very seriously. I expanded the route, got customers and added services like snow shoveling and cutting lawns. I think that helped me later in life with marketing and cash flow.

I spent the first part of my formative professional years at KPMG where, after eight years, I was selected to go through a national office rotation program in Manhattan. I saw the business side of the firm and the national scope.

Even early on I distinguished myself by always seeking to understand my customer. I always put myself in the customer’s shoes to figure out what they were thinking—and why— before delivering a thoughtful and respectful solution. I also had analytic and people skills that have treated me well throughout my career.

I eventually transitioned to the Securities and Exchange Commission, starting out as a professional accounting fellow in the early ’90s and then as the deputy chief accountant, where I saw broad view of how the organization worked, particularly from the accounting and finance side.

I remember we identified that there was a need to put more transparency around market risks. So I co-authored a rule to address that need, and the SEC published it. It wasn’t easy. It took hard work, focus and dedication, but it was very meaningful.


Steve Swad is the new chief executive at Rosetta Stone. (Courtesy of Rosetta Stone/COURTESY OF ROSETTA STONE)

After the rule was issued, I felt good about my tenure there and it was time to do something different.

I was eventually recruited to go to Time Warner, where I met a number of outstanding leaders that I had heard and read about.

By this time I developed strong communication skills to go with my business acumen. I also had the ability to bring the right people on board.

When I left Time Warner for AOL, I was brought in at a time when they were having some challenges with regulators. I was helping out with that early in my tenure. That became part of my background.

Next, when Fannie Mae and Comverse Technology were both having difficulty getting their financial statements filed with the SEC, I helped both of them get back in compliant.

It wasn’t easy. But my brain doesn’t register challenges. I was even like that as a youth. I never thought about the challenges. Never. As a paperboy, you could start your day by saying, “Man, it’s 6 o’clock in the morning. It’s so early.” But I think that’s the wrong focus. I focus on where are we, where we’re going, and what are the steps to get there. And I just march.

I was attracted to Rosetta Stone because I saw the product helped transform customers in a way that was meaningful. I also thought that the market in which the company operates is large and fragmented where Rosetta Stone had a significant opportunity to grow and flourish.

As chief executive, I want to focus on customers outside the United States and institutional markets like education, corporations and governments. My passion, which has been my passion all along, is to focus on strategy, growth, delivering and becoming surrounded with the right people.

—Interview with Vanessa Small

Stephen M. Swad

Position: Chief executive of Rosetta Stone, a language learning software company based in Arlington

Career highlights: Operating chief financial officer, Comverse Technology; Operating chief financial officer, Fannie Mae; Operating chief financial officer, AOL; Operating chief financial officer, Time Warner and Subsidiaries; deputy chief accountant, Securities & Exchange Commission; and partner, KPMG.

Age: 50

Education: Bachelor’s in business, University of Michigan

Personal: Lives in the District with wife and three sons

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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