In 2015, Charles Sansbury joined ASG Technologies and became the company’s President and Chief Executive Officer. At the same time, he was also named to the company Board of Directors.
As an executive at ASG Technologies, Charles Sansbury has worked for over 16 years, gaining expertise and experience in the fields of “strategic, financial and operational leadership.” He also brings to his work a deep and extensive background in technology, along with a proven track record of “driving organizational improvements and delivering long-term growth strategies.
Before ASG Technologies, Charles Sansbury has also served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Finance Officer of The Attachmate Group, a “global software company.” He has also held senior leadership positions at Vignette Corporation, which provides “enterprise content management software.”
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Communication is key. Charles Sansbury, ASG Technologies
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Charles Sansbury: Thanks for having me. My path started at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, I worked in New York for two years after my undergraduate degree and then went to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for an MBA. From there, I went into investment banking, working as an associate at Lehman Brothers and a principal in the technology investment banking group at Morgan Stanley. I left Morgan Stanley to work for a client in the software industry, and I have held roles in software companies since then, from senior vice president of corporate development to CFO and COO.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Charles Sansbury: When I was early on in my career, I was 34 years old, I was promoted to CFO of a relatively large public software company on September 10, 2001. As we all know, the world changed dramatically the following day. Putting aside the immense tragedy of that day, from a business perspective, the economy crashed and opportunity sets were cut in half because of the economic impact on our customers and our business. I was new to the job, not particularly experienced and there wasn’t anyone to turn to who had experienced this type of situation before — there was no case study for what we experienced. It was daunting, and it involved a lot of sleepless nights.
The company I was working for had been on one of the fastest growth trajectories a software company had ever experienced, and we very quickly had to undo a lot of the aggressive investing that had been done in anticipation of that growth. It was hard, but we got through it. How? The same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. We prioritized projects based on how near term the issue was and started working through the bigger and longer-term challenges, like restructuring. The company ultimately survived and resumed growth, but it taught me that a lot of unpredictable things can happen and there isn’t a playbook for most of them. The best thing you can do when that happens is to pick up your shovel and start working again.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Charles Sansbury: This isn’t necessarily a mistake, although I have made plenty, but it’s a great example of not immediately understanding the value of good advice. When I first started working in investment banking, I was one of the entry level workers who stayed up all night putting together reports. In that role, you’re lucky if you then get to sit in on the meeting the next day when that reporting is presented by more senior colleagues, and there was a desire to contribute to the meeting because you had done all the work to prepare the analysis.
One of my senior coworkers shared the advice that it’s better to stay quiet and possibly appear ignorant than open your mouth to confirm that ignorance. I didn’t like the advice at the time, but later realized the client wasn’t there to hear from junior staff and learned when to comment, and when to stay quiet.
All great businesses should have a purpose that drives everything they do.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- First of all, it’s critical to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. For example, a good company with more products than it can count should narrow in on its products that drive the most value for customers, receive the most positive feedback and have strong ROI to get from good to great.
- Don’t mistake novelty for progress. Businesses tend to overvalue things that are new and innovative, and undervalue the importance of improving upon things that already work. Making incremental improvements can be really hard work, but it shouldn’t be overlooked for “pie in the sky” innovations that aren’t a logical extension of what you already do really well.
- Change or go extinct. Great companies are constantly evaluating their revenue trajectory, product relevancy and position in the market and are at the ready to pivot when needed to ensure continued success.
- Prioritize people. The talented individuals that make up a company play such a massive role in its success. Employees who are engaged, motivated and totally bought into the organization’s mission cannot be overlooked as a critical factor to a company’s greatness.
- Communication is key. It’s important that everyone understands the “North Stars” the company is moving toward, and that the journey to those goals is rarely linear. When corrections are needed midcourse, leadership needs to clearly articulate shifting priorities along the way.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Charles Sansbury: All great businesses should have a purpose that drives everything they do. There are multiple benefits to keeping a central purpose at the heart of the business, including:
- Keeping teams unified in their approach to both short-term projects and long-term goals
- Developing great brand reputation, with that purpose becoming something the company is known for
- Boosting morale, with employees understanding they’re working toward a common goal
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Charles Sansbury: Providing a great customer experience from the first touchpoint is essential. In my experience, making it very clear that customer views on our products matter has been a great strategy — prospects immediately understand what kind of company we are and how they can expect their feedback to be valued.
Companies should be proactive in reaching out to customers and anticipating their challenges and needs. Charles Sansbury
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Charles Sansbury: Customer service is essential. Companies should be proactive in reaching out to customers and anticipating their challenges and needs. I’ve found one type of situation that helps strengthen customer relationships is actually how you respond when things go wrong. When a product doesn’t work, you’re late delivering something or a customer experiences an outage, even if it’s not your fault, handling customer feedback should be a priority within the company.
At great companies, customer feedback is an executive-level priority. When senior leadership is invested in customer care issues, it shows customers you’re in the trenches with them.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!