The Northwest Tech Scene, Public Policy, and Collaboration: WTIA CEO Susan Sigl on Her First 100 Days & What’s In Store

7/29/10

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a chapter in Washington, and we merged their chapter in the WTIA. And that’s been something we want—to get really good at representing those companies. So we absorbed about 100 technology manufacturing companies in that acquisition, and I think we’re just now really getting to the point where we’re refining the offering to them—the value proposition and why it was a good thing. And that’s another piece of this next 12 months: to service those folks.

X: What have been the biggest challenges, lessons, and ‘aha’ moments you’ve faced in your first three months?

SS: I found myself in the very fortunate position of walking into an organization that was already established and successful. Nothing was broken, and the WTIA did not need to be reinvented. So the beauty of that—and sometimes people that have my background of 25, 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, dream about this situation. They dream about being in a situation in which it isn’t like hair on fire, trying to fix six things immediately. So the benefit of walking into something that’s already established and running well, is that you have the ultimate luxury of two things: taking the time to learn deeply what the organization is about and all of its component parts, and then truly getting to be strategic. Then the whole proposition becomes: everything is working, it’s got a good brand, and the challenge is how do I continue that? How do I grow that? How do I leverage that? And that even becomes much more, in some respects, esoteric than if you’re walking in and you’ve got to hire 16 people immediately, and you’ve got to get a new website up, and you’ve got to get new systems in place. It’s a different set of challenges, but it’s almost like the dream scenario.

X: And the ‘aha’ moments?

SS: The ‘aha’ moments. When I signed up for the job, I knew that it was a 40-person board. And coming from a small company culture, that sounded like it might have a lot of inherent challenges. Whenever I tell people we have a 40-person board, everybody has the same reaction: “Wow.” To my surprise and delight, it’s actually been so far nothing but a benefit, because I have a situation in which there are a couple of key committees—the ones that you would really want—that are functioning at a really high level and totally involved. So that’s an executive committee, and a nominating committee. There is a finance committee that does a good job too, but I guess where I’m going with this is that I don’t have all of these multiple, multiple committees that have to be managed, and have board involvement or not. We have the luxury of running the organization so that the staff basically does everything. We’re not dependent so much on volunteers. So that becomes even much more strategic. You’re really drawing on people that are on your board for their strategic input—it becomes very, very powerful.

One of the surprises was that when you hold the title, because of the representation involved—so you’re the CEO of the largest tech trade association in the state—you have reciprocity almost with other organizations and associations in terms of sitting on their boards. So it was like in the first couple of weeks I began to realize that sitting on the Puget Sound Regional Council board, the Tech Alliance board, [etc.] was part of the proposition, which is all a good thing. But every additive thing is time. But it’s good because they really all sort of feed together in the same mission and strategy. Everybody in these groups is working for the purpose of enhancing the state, and enhancing the state’s technology sector, so it’s all good.

It was a little bit different being in a long-term partnership role. In a venture capital scenario you’re usually a partner, versus a CEO. And surprisingly enough there are some very distinct differences about those two roles, neither good nor bad, they just operate differently. In a partnership, it’s pretty much you’re with your peers, and you’re making peer-related decisions about operations and investment decisions. In a CEO role, the buck stops here. So you aren’t in your partner’s office next door working through necessarily to the bitter end what you’re going to decide as a cohesive group. At some point in the CEO role, you are the party that makes the final call. So that’s neither good nor bad, it’s just a different experience. I like it. And in a way it’s a good thing to bring to the table coming from the partnership side to the … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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