Craig Schiefelbein, CEO/owner of Wisconsin-headquartered Paragon Development Systems, Inc. (PDS) exemplifies strategic leadership. Is it any wonder then that his Information Technology Solutions (IT) company has grown in twenty-two of the last twenty-four years and strategically partners with healthcare IT departments across the Midwest?
Schiefelbein’s strategic leadership rests first and foremost in his willingness to change his company’s business model. “We’ve changed our business model seven times. Every time I’d think we had it all figured out only to discover we’d be out of business if we didn’t change. The challenge is in running the business while also rerouting it, and doing it before the changes become mandatory.”
PDS started humbly in 1986 as the computer component wholesaler, Memory and More. Today PDS architects, supplies, implements and manages entire IT hardware infrastructures. Its business model involves aligning PDS’s unique blend of leadership, services, solutions, and product to enhance clients’ agility, end-user satisfaction, and IT staff quality of life. In addition to healthcare providers, PDS serves midsize and large government/education, corporate, and professional service organizations.
“Welcome to your window to the big picture” appears on PDS’s homepage, aptly describing its role in client organizations. PDS enables IT departments to get out of the tactical minutia of hardware so they can focus on their mission and add more value to their organizations. For example, in healthcare, PDS enables IT departments to focus on life saving information and solutions, not technical hardware issues and headaches.
PDS’s scope and value promise align well with IT leaders becoming proactive change agents in their companies, as opposed to compliant service providers. Today, with information analytics and other software best advancing IT departments’ contribution to their organizations’ financial and marketplace performance, the required infrastructure – the hardware piece – is often best left to vendors.
But not just any vendor. With cutting-edge services, expert staff and systems, and two decades manufacturing a PDS-PC with state-of-the art components that users have come to trust, PDS earns awesome client satisfaction and retention rates.
A second driver of Schiefelbein’s strategic leadership is his “outside-in” thinking. According to Schiefelbein, his people think he’s a visionary but he says it’s the furthest thing from the truth. “I spend a lot time listening to customers. My job is to be externally facing. This is more important than ever; yet, with the recession, most companies became internally focused.” As a result, PDS invests in innovation based on what PDS’s customers weigh as valuable.
A third driver of Schiefelbein’s strategic leadership is his creation of a deeper purpose beyond making money, one that creates an inspiring aim. Schiefelbein meets quarterly with all his employees to reinforce the purpose of life-quality improvement for IT departments. “No one calls IT leaders unless they are frustrated or unhappy. Our job is to help them do their most essential work-efforts e.g., to save the baby. They need us like never before, as they have to do more and more with fewer resources. You must be altruistic (with your company’s purpose). It’s what you do that really matters. This moves work from a ‘have to’ job to a ‘want to’ job and career.”
Schiefelbein wisely recognizes that strategy is a process that involves more than the CEO. At his quarterly meetings he shares PDS’s strategy and his view of the competitive landscape and desired state 1,3, and 5 years out. “Then I ask them, tell me what you think we could and should do. This is hard as you have to respond back and you cannot act on all their ideas — some not right away, and some ideas are outside the scope of what you want your business to be. My people own how we do things and how we innovate. What will we start? Stop? We celebrate all our innovations whether they are large or small—as they are all focused on how we improve the customer experience.”
Finally, as a strategic leader, Schiefelbein recognizes that his company is only as good as his people and the strength of the community in which they live. His company, headquartered in Wisconsin, has won four “best places to work” awards. IT-research leader Gartner and local business groups have honored PDS’s and Schiefelbein’s philanthropic contributions.
During my 2010 interview, Schiefelbein posed two questions I’ll share to challenge you:
· What are you willing to do differently as CEO to get out of the tactical inertia?
· What won’t you do in your business—what should you outsource?