Twenty years ago, this month, I made the one-hour drive to the courthouse in downtown San Diego and incorporated Zumasys. I was a sales guy by training with little financial knowledge or backing. I had a BA degree in history and none of the requisite leadership skills or knowledge about how to run a business. My first son was only two months old and we had just purchased our first house in Southern California. If that’s not a recipe for success, I don’t know what is.
The average tenure of a CEO is five years. I feel privileged to have had 20 years leading this wonderful company. But it was not always easy. A year after we opened our doors, our world was turned upside down by the dot-com crash and 9/11. It felt like we had just recovered from that when the 2008 financial crisis hit. And now, of course, there is the global pandemic, which is uncharted territory for us all.
John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods and the founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement, says, “Leadership is an ongoing journey of service, and there’s always room for improvement.” If I’m being honest, most days, I feel unqualified and in need of much improvement.
Thankfully, I had a wakeup call early in the journey. It involved a stress-induced trip to the emergency room; a result of trying to do everything and keep the all the plates spinning myself. Through that experience I grew to realize that it is not about me—my capabilities or my shortcomings.
The Zumasys recipe is: Hire right, connect people to a deeper purpose, and then get out of the way.
That first step, hiring right, is always harder than it sounds. Over the last 20 years, we have changed our business model three times. As we have migrated from IT services to cloud computing to software products, we have become totally dependent on hiring adaptable, capable people. Recognizing and developing people’s strengths, it seems, is a learned skill. We also believe that it is our duty to give each employee the opportunity to do their best work, even if it means modifying their job role to better play to their strengths.
But the secret ingredient—and this is what makes Zumasys truly magical—has been helping people find the “why” in their work. Focusing on purpose over profits has been the key to Zumasys attracting talent, retaining talent, and inspiring real connection.
Time and again, our customers have told us that our people are the reason they do business with us. It has always been my belief that when people are pulling for something greater than their paycheck, they’ll draw on all their personal strength to push themselves in new ways.
We were planning to celebrate our 20th anniversary at Zumapalooza this month in Las Vegas. For obvious reasons, we cannot. Instead, we are doing a video celebration called “Zoom-A-Palooza” where we recognize co-workers from each of our three chapters and toast the impact this experience has had on our lives. The event may be smaller and with less fanfare, but no less meaningful to our stakeholders.
Our stakeholders—our employees (current and former), customers, dealers, suppliers, partners, communities, and investors—are more than just our business ecosystem. They’re our family.
Maybe I’m biased, but Zumasys feels like a special company. We’ve used our platform to give away over $1M to 300 nonprofit organizations and individuals in need across the globe. Because of our unique purpose-driven programs, we’ve been recognized by Fortune Magazine and others for being one of the Best Workplaces for Giving Back.
And today we’ve found an even greater purpose in the revitalization of the MultiValue market that we are all so passionate about.
I could say that our evolution as a company is finally complete. But, if you know me, then you know that just wouldn’t be true. I believe in constant evolution—in pushing and stretching yourself so that in six months, 12 months, or 20 years – you look back on the businessperson you were, and you can’t even recognize yourself.
Where the next 20 years will take us, I couldn’t guess. But I know it will be an adventure and I have complete confidence in our people to take us there while staying true to our greater purpose.
We couldn’t have done any of this without you, but I would like to recognize the contributions of three extraordinary people:
- Kevin Blazona, more than a recruiter, he has become a friend to Zumasys. He placed his first employee with us in 2005. Initially brought in for an entry level inventory/purchasing role, Kevin’s candidate would rise through the ranks and become a top sales producer. Kevin has always had a sixth sense about finding amazing people who had the right attitude and the skills for the job.
- Jennifer McGraw, our COO and my right hand for over 15 years, has always done an exceptional job of onboarding new talent. Jennifer has a special skill around nurturing, listening, and caring for our people in a meaningful way which has been a key piece of the puzzle.
- Andy Takacs, our former CTO, had a special recipe that brought out the best in engineers and developers. Rising through the ranks himself, Andy continually challenged Zumasys’ engineers to dig deeper and go further with his unique leadership style and amazing technical depth.
I wish to give a special thank you to each of them and to all of you who have joined us on this ride. You are our stakeholders and we have enjoyed building close relationships with each of you. The deep sense of pride and fulfillment I have experienced working so hard with friends is hard to express in words – I cherish the memories while also looking to the future.