By putting customer needs first, Jenny Linton has OSIsoft poised for great things

When you have more than 1,200 employees working in 30 offices around the world, it can be tough to feel connected to everything that is happening in your business.

One reason OSIsoft has been so successful helping its customers maximize their own business opportunities is the approach the company’s leadership team takes to pursuing growth.

“Our plan has never been to grow,” says Jenny Linton, the company’s president. “It’s been to serve customers and then we grow as a result of that. We grow where our customers are. We have a priority in which we make decisions.

“We start with the best interest of the customer, then the best interest of our employee and third, the best interest of our stakeholders. When the big guys come in and offer top dollar, they really just want to buy our customer base and we’re not for sale. That philosophy makes everything a lot easier.”

Linton’s father, J. Patrick Kennedy, who currently serves as CEO, founded the privately held business in 1980. OSIsoft developed the PI System, which gathers data regarding energy consumption, production process flows and/or asset utilization from equipment inside places like factories, oil refineries and large buildings or data centers.

That information is delivered in an easy-to-process manner that helps customers save money, improve production and make more informed strategic decisions.

OSIsoft helped Alcoa Inc. use software to determine what products it should make and sell each day.

“It now costs about 3 percent of the energy to make aluminum than it did 100 years ago,” Linton says. “They have their own power plants and they have begun to use their software to determine what they should make today. They watch not only the production of aluminum through our software, they watch the wholesale price of power. When the wholesale price of power goes up, they stop making aluminum and start selling power. They have been able to make quite a bit of money that way.”

OSIsoft has more than 5,000 customers. That includes 95 percent of the top 40 oil and gas companies; 90 percent of the largest pharmaceutical companies; and 65 percent of the Fortune 500 industrials. The PI System runs at more than 19,000 sites capturing data from more than 1.5 billion sensors.

“We change the way the world uses resources and it’s a big deal to our employees,” Linton says. “We’ve had customers that have shut down power stations or learned they didn’t need to build a new power station because of efficiencies achieved through their other power station. That’s a huge impact.”

A good start

The mindset of serving the customer first and going where the opportunities arise has worked well at OSIsoft. But Linton says when she became the company’s president she found an opportunity to bring a more internal, HR-oriented focus to the business.

“We had a distributed management team,” Linton says. “We had sales initiatives that weren’t aligned to the products we were developing. You can only sell what you make. As you get bigger and bigger, it becomes more difficult to keep that aligned. When we took over, we moved all of the executive management to the same area of the same office to make sure they could work together.”

One of the most effective programs to create better alignment is the orientation program that brings new hires from across the company together at OSIsoft headquarters in San Leandro, California.

“We started orientation about 10 years ago when we were still just a 250-person company,” Linton says. “We were bringing employees in one at a time. We thought what if we combined this into a session where we could get some traction and also bring in people who wouldn’t traditionally be brought in. Let’s bring them all in and give them all the same experience.”

At the orientation, employees learn about the organizational structure and the company’s history. Often, they’ll also get a chance to go on a plant tour of customers near the headquarters. The intent is to learn as much about the new hires as it is to share information about the company and its customers.

“We get to meet people in a less rigorous environment,” Linton says. “Our orientation is please introduce yourselves, tell us where you came from, tell us about your school and tell us what you’ll be doing for OSI. It has given us a chance to get to know people coming in from other parts of the world and get some ideas about whom we’re hiring. It’s been very valuable to the owners and the executive team.”

Linton takes a transparent approach to her role at the orientation.

“I describe that we’re a family-owned company and I’m Pat’s daughter, but I’m one of four,” she says. “There are several of us here. I talk about having kids and some of my own experience and background. I consider myself responsible for the orientation program.”

Get on the same page

Another challenging aspect of building a business with such a vast international presence is the ability to understand what is required and what works at each location. One country’s customs can be very different from another, and Linton needs to be up to speed with all those variations.

In the past, she has tried hiring all local people for a particular global location to maximize familiarity with how things work in that country. But it hasn’t always worked.

“They understand the local culture, but they may not understand the American company culture,” she says. “It’s trying to be respectful of the needs of the local culture while still being able to understand the needs of the company. It’s a balance. We’ve done really well in some places and not so well in others.”

Respect and the ability to listen are key to finding common ground, whether it’s at your home office or a location on the other side of the world. But OSIsoft also made a move to take full ownership of all of its global locations to build a common sense of purpose.

“Making sure everyone is being paid by the same company has been helpful,” Linton says. “Being clear about what functions are required. We have an office in Bahrain. What do we need in Bahrain? We don’t need developers in Bahrain.

“We need salespeople and support people and not much else. So it’s being really clear about what each office does and that has been helpful in not hiring inappropriately. We also do interoffice exchanges to make sure people in the big office get to work in the little office outside of Prague and understand the issues that occur when you’re working in an environment like that.”

In addition to the new-hire orientations, OSIsoft does two conferences a year in which it brings in support engineers from outer offices to get exposure to the larger company and its customers.

“We have tried to put some of the resources that have traditionally been held in California out into the regions,” Linton says.

The company also holds a user conference twice a year where customers can come in and sell to each other.

“We don’t get up and present our product to our customers,” Linton says. “We get the oil companies to present to each other and the pharmaceuticals to present to each other. It’s been valuable for customers to share ideas that way.

“They get ideas not only in their own industry, but they get a unique chance to watch how other industries are dealing with industry agnostic issues like security and employment and a change in industry. The power industry is going from a more carbon-based environment to a renewable-based environment. How does that affect us? The same thing is happening in other industries as well. We hold user conferences twice a year to keep us excited about what we do.”

The philosophy of creating a stronger team and a stronger sense of purpose has earned the support of the team.

“About five years ago, we opened up a wholly owned entity in China,” Linton says. “We made a commitment, there’s about 40 or 50 people working in China now, but we still had some leadership issues. We had a lady who worked here in California and she just walks in one day and says, ‘I would go to China if you want.’ We said, ‘Oh, OK, you can go to China.’ She’s been there for two years. She was trusted; she understood the company and what we wanted to do. And it’s worked.”

A bright future

Another major piece to the evolution of OSIsoft is this summer’s opening of the company’s new 135,000-square-foot headquarters, along with an 800-space parking structure at the San Leandro Tech Campus.

“We’re hiring 200 people a year globally and want to increase our hires in San Leandro going forward,” Linton says. “We’re hoping to attract other tech companies to San Leandro.”

The project also includes a brewery, a restaurant and several residential projects.

“We hire a lot of people fresh out of school and when you arrive in the Bay Area, where on Earth do you live?” Linton says. “We thought we could give them an environment where they could come and settle in San Leandro and understand what they are doing without that pressure of immediately finding a place to live.”

Becoming president at OSIsoft wasn’t a lifelong ambition for Linton, nor was there any pressure from her father to come work at the business. But as she looks to the future, she sees a lot to be excited about.

“We’re so lucky to be working in an environment where we can do what we love,” Linton says. “If you don’t love what you do, you should do something else.”

Takeaways:

  • Think about how your decision will affect your customer.
  • Be respectful of the needs of different cultures.
  • Find ways to get better every day.