How David Segura built a strategy for growth at VisionIT Featured

7:01pm EDT December 31, 2011
David Segura David Segura

Growth mode. A lot of business heads want to be there. David Segura practically lives there.

Segura founded VisionIT in 1997, growing the IT solutions firm to more than 900 employees and $230 million in revenue by 2010, expanding the firm’s reach to an international stage, with offices in Mexico, Puerto Rico and India. For Segura, who oversees VisionIT as CEO, growth has been less of a phase and more of a state of being.

“The biggest initial challenge was starting a business from scratch,” Segura says. “It took many years for us to build a strong brand, name recognition in the market, and take it from that stage to national, and then to global. Today our challenges are managing the growth and expansion of VisionIT.”

Growth has required Segura to manage VisionIT — the brand name of Vision Information Technologies Inc. — by developing a strategy for the future and rallying hundreds of employees around that strategy, and continually finding new talent that can help VisionIT remain an influential player in in the IT space. Segura has needed to maintain a strong focus on the long-range goals that he and his leadership team have put in place for the company, while still maintaining a degree of flexibility to adapt to market changes and unforeseen opportunities.

“What is exciting is seeing not only the top-line growth and seeing how much we’ve grown as an organization over the years, but for me it’s more so seeing our solutions become world class, leading the industry and being a key partner to many of our Fortune 500 customers, and our state and local customers,” Segura says. “That was ultimately the vision I saw for VisionIT, having a global impact and influence in the IT sector.”

Gather your people

The strategy and areas of focus in any growing organization need to be defined at the top level, with you and your management team. Segura recognized that fact early in his tenure at VisionIT and has strived to build and maintain a talented leadership team that is cohesive, yet not afraid to express diverse viewpoints.

To aid in building that type of team, Segura sought outside help, bringing in a former executive from Johnson & Johnson to serve as a consultant.

“I loved the group we built in the internal organization, but thought it would be great to have an external executive who has already gone through and managed a global operation, getting his insight on overcoming similar challenges that he faced regarding growth and expansion,” Segura says. “That is one definite recommendation I have: leverage all the assets in your organization. In our case, in building a strategy, we needed to leverage our top executives in the company as well as bringing in the right outside advisers.”

Segura also took steps to augment his internal team with additional direct hires, including the addition of a chief information officer to deal expressly with internal matters.

“A lot of times, companies in our industry hire a CIO in that role more for customer-facing matters,” he says. “But in our case, based on the size of global operations, we reached a point where it became very critical to have a senior leader focused on internal operations, investing in technology that would enable us to better deliver our services across our global footprint.”

As the leader, you have to walk a tightrope between team unity and independent thinking. You want decision-makers who are in agreement about what your company is and where it needs to go. But you also want leaders who can get everything on the table in your planning meetings — points of contention, disagreements, differing philosophies on how to get from point A to point B — so those issues can be resolved in a constructive manner.

At VisionIT, Segura says a major key has been to simplify the focus. The main areas of focus for your business are the foundational building blocks. Their importance can’t be overstated. However, you need to keep the language short and basic. If you can’t sum the goal up in a few words or at most a sentence or two, you’re probably not zeroing in enough on a defined set of goals.

“That’s what I have learned, to keep things as simple as possible,” Segura says. “You want it to be easily understood by everyone in the organization. So that means coming up with something that is easily conveyed, so that people throughout the company can understand the strategy. With your overall strategic plan, it starts with the vision and mission of the company. That is something that doesn’t change. The ongoing future of the company is something that is best left static. The next level down is really the three to four major focused priorities for the overall business.”

Those areas can be broadly stated priorities, such as a focus on people, organizational excellence, financial excellence, or sales and market growth. The areas of priority should be phrased in a way that it conveys clearly what is important to the business.

“Based on the business model, if it’s an organization that creates products for the market, research and development may be one of the core, focused areas of priority,” Segura says. “For our organization, as an example, people and organizational excellence is one of those focused priorities. It’s an area in our business, providing services, that becomes very key for us that we have the right people in the right positions in the organization and are giving them the tools and resources to fulfill their daily objectives.”

Beneath the core areas are objectives housed within each core area. Those objectives can be more flexible and adaptable to changing market conditions, as opposed to the objectives higher up the ladder, which are foundational in nature.

“Those are the areas that, as you are evolving, some get completed in a short time frame,” Segura says. “Others take time to reach. In our plan, we’re typically looking one year and three years out. Then constantly, on a monthly basis, we are reviewing in executive leadership team meetings what will complete the strategic objectives. We’ll ask if there is anything new happening in the market that could impact our strategic plan.”

Go back to the plan

Many executive teams will put a great deal of time and effort into crafting, sanding and polishing an all-encompassing strategic plan aimed at giving the company a well-defined sense of direction for the coming years – and then file it away on a shelf or a hard drive and seldom look at it again.

Segura says that is a recipe for slow erosion of your company’s focus on the vision and goals you originally set in place. In short, putting your strategic plan aside, whether a conscious action or not, will cause alignment to suffer throughout your organization.

“Sometimes people just put a plan on paper, then go and never look at it again,” Segura says. “They never ask if the plan is still really representative of who we are as a company and where we are going. In our case, we tried to avoid that by pulling together in our process a couple of years ago. We went back and looked at our vision and mission, and asked if that would best represent our company. We had participants at all levels in the business help form an initial framework, finalize it and roll it out. Then, at the next level, as I shared it, I was setting the three or four or five top focused priorities in the business.”

You might not change your foundational vision for the company, but the way you reach that vision by serving your customers might evolve over time.

Segura uses the example of employing social media as a means of finding job candidates. The tools you use today, such as LinkedIn, might change.

“Say we’re going to leverage more LinkedIn to do that,” Segura says. “We would have someone do some discovery, make a plan, come back and say this is our strategic objective around social media. We’re going to make a certain level of investment in LinkedIn, we are going to run a pilot to attract this type of talent to our organization, we are going to gauge it, give it a time frame, and gather feedback and numbers.

“But let’s say a new tool comes out in the market. I’ll share in our strategic framework that a new tool might be out, there might be a better tool than LinkedIn, and is getting a lot more passive candidates. That is where you’re going to need some flexibility to say, ‘OK, we have already gone down the path, we’re making this investment, but we need to take a look at another tool in the market. That is why you need constant monitoring, review and discussion to make sure you are on top of what is happening in the industry.”

Leverage your talent

Whether you rely heavily on social media as a recruiting tool or have found success with more traditional methods, if you are growing, you need an effective process by which to add new talent to your team — and a means of making sure you’re getting the most out of that talent once it’s in the door.

At VisionIT, measuring employee performance is a key to the strategic planning process. Segura and his staff want to ensure that management is aware of the skill sets within the organization and how each employee is being utilized.

“We review all the organizational charts, understanding who reports to which manager, how the model is working, how are people performing and whether they’re hitting their key metrics,” Segura says. “Without those types of things, people may say they feel great about their job and where the organization is headed, but the bottom line is the performance. If you’re in a sales role, you might say that you’re getting all these great meetings with potential customers, but how much revenue is being generated? So that becomes very important, the recognition of the metrics of the organization by a specific person, and as you are evolving and growing, you’re seeing certain thing, certain trends happening in the business, as you are evaluating the workload for team members.”

Evaluating the workload of your team members is another check and balance against inefficiency. As you grow the business, you will often see the strengths of your team members in action, which will help you best leverage their skills, reduce inefficiency and create a scalable system of delegation that will offer extra capacity as the size of your business increases.

“I ask my senior team members to often look at what they’re working on and whether it is a good utilization of their time,” Segura says. “And I ask them to continue to evaluate themselves and their teams as we work on more projects and engagements, winning new customers. As you do that, you begin to see the strengths of your team members. You see what they love to do, what they’re really enthused about taking on. That further helps you to evaluate as you grow. Because as you grow, it will become apparent that there are certain areas that need focus and complete dedication. That’s definitely happened here, where we now have senior leaders dedicated to finance and the sales side.

“You see the value over time. When everyone is focused, they can work to achieve great results.”

How to reach: VisionIT, (313) 420-2000 or www.visionit.com

The Segura file

Name: David Segura

Title: Founder and CEO

Company: VisionIT

Born: Detroit

Education: Computer science degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn

First job: One thing for me was that I was always very entrepreneurial. I started a side tutoring business in college, tutoring kids in technology. They didn’t like technology and I loved it, so I developed a niche tutoring to help them get an A in IT class. That’s one example of many entrepreneurial ventures when I was young.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

One of my favorite lessons is about enjoying the journey. We’re often running so much and focused on our objectives, we need to truly appreciate the time we are in and the opportunities that are before us. I remind my team about enjoying every moment. When we were launching our Mexico operations, I reminded them that this is the one time we’ll do it. You can go through changes, it can be stressful, but enjoy the moment.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

There are three major traits: be a very good listener, understand the dynamics of each business you are in, and communicate back with your team on your direction. And making sure people are having some fun along the way.

What is your definition of success?

Success is a journey, so I go back to enjoying the process if you’re doing something that has a purpose and an impact. Ultimately, great service is rewarded with more opportunity.