An Afternoon In The Middle Market

AB1_2819Earlier this month I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon listening to a panel discussion, hosted by Dale Kurschner, Editor-in-Chief of Twin Cities Business.  The panel included some pretty notable middle market heavyweights, including Archie Black, President & CEO of SPS Commerce (a leader in cloud-based supply chain management solutions), Paul Lidsky, President and CEO of Datalink (a complete data center solution and services provider), Gary Maharaj, CEO of SurModics (provides surface modification and in vitro diagnostics technologies to the healthcare industry), and Maureen Steinwall, President & CEO of Steinwall, Inc. (a custom thermoplastic injection molder for small to large parts). With this list of accomplished leaders, my expectations were very high, and I, as well as the crowd of over 100 people, was not disappointed.

I was particularly impressed from the opening introductions.  While Archie, Paul and Maureen had a few PowerPoint slides to introduce themselves and their companies, I was a bit concerned when Gary said he had about 20 slides to go through in his allotted three minute introduction. GASP!  While you would think that doing something like that (and especially for a medical device company) would unravel quickly, Gary was able to briefly review each of the slides and articulate a well laid-out story within the timeframe. I was amazed and certainly understand why Gary refers to himself as SurModics’ CRO – chief relevance officer.

The panel then spoke about everything from the emergence of millennials in the marketplace to business transformation and how to manage innovation in a constantly changing world. Personally, I appreciated the candor from each of the panelists as they mixed anecdotal stories with technical explanations of the things that they have experienced at their respective companies. It was an afternoon filled with great insights and practical examples.

If I had to distill it down into some key takeaways and highlights from the discussions, it would be:

Archie Black – Replace the word “process” with “methodology”, because focusing on the former makes you a manager of the status quo, while focusing on the latter makes you a leader and an agent of change.

Paul Lidsky – Business is all about building and maintaining relationships. Whether it’s your employees, customers or partners, it’s all based on the strength of your relationships.

Gary Maharaj – As if the CRO thing was not enough, he spoke about the relationship between growth and return on invested capital (ROIC). Good business leaders should never focus on the one, at the expense (no pun intended) of the other.

Maureen Steinwall – When asked about her definition of success and what legacy she wanted to leave behind, the answer was simple: How many lives did I touch and how many lives did I enrich.


Amen, Maureen!

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