Position: Chief operating officer, Convera Corp., a Vienna-based provider of search and categorization software for companies and government agencies.
Career Highlights: Vice president, government business, Open Text Corp.; president and chief executive, Infodata Systems Inc.; corporate vice president and division general manager, Simplex Time Recorder Co.; vice president and general manager, Visix Software; and, director, U.S. sales, Computervision Corp.
Education: BA, sociology, and MBA, finance and marketing, University of Pittsburgh
Personal: Lives in Reston.
How did you get to where you are today?
A lot of hard work and good coaching from good and smart people. Based on the advice of a grandparent, I learned how to sell, how to do business and then decided to pursue a more professional path, if you will. My grandfather was an executive at Consolidated Cigar Corp., and he started as a cigar salesman calling on retailers. He said to me, "The first thing you ought to do is find something difficult. . . . Go take a sales position selling something that's hard to sell." So, my first meaningful position out of college was as a manufacturer's representative, selling furniture for a little-known manufacturer. My territory was half of Pennsylvania and all of West Virginia. I was a straight commissions guy. It was one of those deals where if you didn't sell, you didn't eat. So I built the territory with both small retailers and very large department stores. I took it from zero revenue to about $1.5 million in two years, and then I decided to go sell computer stuff. I built a very good business. My primary goal was to get employed in business, build credentials and move on and move up. I took the sales skills that I learned and joined the technology revolution selling mainframes for what was then called Sperry Univac. After Univac, I had a sales job with a number of computer and software companies. Then I wound up at Computervision, which was a developer of manufacturing and engineering software. I started out in a division which was pursuing their weakest marketplace. I took things that weren't doing well, then turned them around into being productive entities. . . .
My biggest break was when I was recruited at Simplex to run a division that was in trouble: that was at about $100 million in revenue but losing money, had no direction, had no marketing strategy, had a sales organization in disarray and had products that had been surpassed by competitors. I consider that a break because I was given a great deal of responsibility, an opportunity to fix something that was very big and very broken. And, through a lot of hard work we were able to turn that division around, grow the revenue substantially and get the division profitable. . . .
Every step of the way, there were mentors and influences -- people that gave me good coaching and guidance. Both people I worked for or with, but also within my customers -- who somewhat took me under their wing and helped me be successful. They helped me devise my sales campaign, gave me hints on how to approach the marketplace as a young sales guy, how to present myself, how to use youth and intellect to offset people with more experience. There were five or six different people whose leadership styles I liked, and I would adopt elements of their styles. I would say my management style is to treat everyone as a peer, to provide coaching and help as well as direction. . . .
I'm motivated by completing the mission. Set an objective, put together a strategy and tactics, and execute with excellence to achieve results. I've been able to develop people, get them to think differently, and I'm pretty good at testing the quality of their thinking, which helps them validate decisions they are about to make or helps them rethink those decisions. My biggest challenge was always taking positions that were a rebuild, reformulation effort or turnaround. Don't look for easy tasks. Look for hard ones and excel at them. You can never work too hard.
-- Judith Mbuya