Errol Ginsberg Featured

8:00pm EDT October 24, 2006
 For Errol Ginsberg, maintaining the culture of a company with more than 700 employees worldwide — particularly in the rapidly growing technology industry — is a particular challenge. It’s not an easy task, but you might expect a creative response from the president and CEO of Ixia, who named his company for a flower from his native South Africa. One way Ginsberg he maintains the culture and makes sure employees stay focused and engaged is by showcasing their creativity on the company’s Web site, which features employee photos taken both on their travels and in their backyards.

His dedication to maintaining the company culture has paid off. Ixia, a provider of performance test systems to IP-based infrastructure and services, has gone from start-up to $159 million in revenue in less than a decade.

Smart Business spoke with Ginsberg about the importance of trusting your gut, being flexible and knowing when to give up some of the control of your company.

Focus on what you know.
You’ve got to have a very clear, singular focus with very clear goals of what you are trying to achieve, build, sell, etc. That has to be very, very clear, very simple. You have to go after that in an unwavering way.

As an entrepreneur, you’re going to encounter all kinds of things where people will try to dislodge you or discourage you. If you have a good vision and a good focus, then you can stick with it. Then you can succeed.

Move to new areas carefully.
Ideally, there will be somebody who is intimate with whatever that opportunity is, who can help brief us on it. You get together and review it and try to come to a consensus about pursuing that opportunity.

There’s a fair element of gut feel on these things. You can do some analysis, try to understand the market opportunity, but a lot of these things don’t have that kind of data available. You have to ask enough questions, and at some point, you make a decision. A lot of times it’s based on prior experience, which is really instinctive, gut feel.

Act sooner, not later.
You don’t always realize you have a problem until it’s gone on for a while. They become the bottleneck for the company.

They want to be involved in every decision, every meeting. They work 24 hours a day, and it’s still not enough time. They stifle the company’s growth.

You kind of know it when you’re having problems. If you’re smart enough, you hire people before you have those problems. You think you’re doing OK, but you’re missing deadlines on releases. Maybe the quality of your product isn’t where it should be. You realize this isn’t working very well.

Find natural leaders.
A person may have been a very good technical person, was promoted to a position of management and failed miserably because they may do a poor job managing. It could be because you didn’t give him the right skills or, perhaps, he just can’t get the respect of the people, and the people don’t want to follow that person.

If people don’t believe in what you are saying and what you are telling them, then you can’t lead anybody. They have to believe in you to listen to you and follow you. Otherwise, they are going to go around you.

Make smart hiring decisions.
At the end of the day, you want to be careful about who you hire. You want to hire the best people you can find, the smartest people you can find, and you don’t want to make a mistake — not just for the company but also for that person. That person could be quitting another job, and if we end up with the wrong hire, it messes us up, but it messes that person up, too. He’s in the wrong job; it’s a mess for everybody.

Be willing to change direction.
A company may run into difficulties along the way — market issues, product issues. The first thing is to recognize that change is needed. Once you know that, you have to galvanize people, explain the problem and set a goal that you can get people to believe in and then execute.

Change is not always about building another product. Change can be somewhere within the company. You may have organizational issues, and you may have to deal with them. Acting on them quickly is a difficult thing.

Sometimes you may have people that you’ve worked with for years, and you start to realize that the company is outgrowing them. You have to make a change. That’s a difficult thing to do.

Insist that employees use new systems.
You start off by saying we’d like to do this and use the system, then we gave everybody training on the system. You can’t just say, ‘Here’s the system, go use it,’ even though it’s relatively straightforward to use.

We trained the folks on it. It still wasn’t effective. What we had do is say then, was, ‘You will use this system.’ At some point you have to be kind of forceful about it. This is now an integral part of how we run this company.

Once people started to understand, they weren’t just entering things into a database that nobody cared about, they started to take it seriously.

Track sales.
From a sales standpoint, we’ve actually done quite a lot. We have a much more rigorous system for tracking sales opportunity. We put in Salesforce.com about two years ago. We have gotten very effective in terms of how we use it.

They don’t like to be monitored in any way whatsoever. That’s why they become salespeople. They want that freedom of going about their day.

We don’t try to monitor their day, but we do need to know what kind of opportunities they’re working on.

HOW TO REACH: Ixia, (877) 367-4942 or www.ixiacom.com