From Consultant to CEO: 10 Things I’ve Learned at ProQuest Consulting

I first joined ProQuest in 2010, and I’ve learned a colossal amount of lessons over the years. From Senior Java Consultant to CEO, I’ve progressed through a large range of roles, earning more and more responsibilities and autonomy along the way. ProQuest turning 10 is a great opportunity to reflect on the past years and share some of my best advice.

So here we go, listed in chronological order, my top tips as a CEO to help you progress in your career and become a successful leader.

Consultant to CEO Tip 10: Join a small company.

Of course, there is a lot to learn in large organisations and promotions do happen. But, if you are keen to learn and progress quickly, small and medium-sized companies with strong potential are definitely the way to go. In my experience, you’ll have much more responsibility and role diversity with constant opportunities to prove what you’re made of. And stay away from internal politics.

Working together with Clive and Chad.

Consultant to CEO Tip 9: Become a high-performer.

You need to win people’s trust. I believe the most genuine way to do this is by putting in work, going the extra mile, and delivering beyond expectations. I’ve always cared deeply about my work and treated it like my own company was on the line. Be mindful that you need to prove yourself and excel at your initial tasks before being assigned more responsibilities.

Consultant to CEO Tip 8: Be transparent and accountable.

Do not whinge. Be open and proactive by systematically sharing status updates with your managers and (b)cc'ing them in your emails. Managers love being informed without having to ask (I know I do). Be accountable for your mistakes and stay positive by turning every challenge you face into an opportunity to become better at what you do. I’ve learned a great deal from Clive about total transparency with customers. It might seem a bit scary sometimes, but it always pays off.

Consultant to CEO Tip 7: Drive process improvement.

Always look for what can be improved in a company and suggest solutions, rather than pointing out problems. I was a Salesforce Consultant when I stepped into Clive’s office (Founder of ProQuest and Managing Director at that time) with a well-crafted slideshow I prepared on how we could better run projects using Scrum, increase collaboration and retention, and deliver software with higher-quality. I didn’t get a promotion that day, but definitely planted a seed in my boss’s mind about the type of help I could provide. I never stopped elaborating and implementing new ideas since, even in areas I had no particular expertise in, like finance and marketing. As long as you invest yourself, research and study, there’s nothing you can’t learn.

Consultant to CEO Tip 6: Reward staff performance.

If you’re not a manager, never miss an opportunity to notify your superiors about your colleague’s outstanding contribution. I’ve always fought against great work going unnoticed. It helped my teammates, especially introverts, and indirectly it helped myself, as I realised later that acknowledging performance was a core skill for strong leadership.

If you are a manager, I recommend putting processes in place for employees to promote each other’s great work. At ProQuest, we have the “Thanks” feature in our internal Chatter, we have quarterly MVP (Most Valuable Player) votes and awards, annual ETHIC (core values) votes and awards, quarterly performance appraisals with potential pay raise and promotions. We do everything we can to reward exceptional behaviours in the workplace.

Consultant to CEO Tip 5: Give everyone a voice.

Initially I wasn’t sure if strong leadership meant showing the way and telling everyone what to do, or opening the conversation and gathering everyone’s inputs. I quickly found out the latter was a billion times more productive. With a company retrospective workshop every three months, where all of our employees use post-it notes to say what they think we should start, stop and continue doing, their engagement went through the roof. Systematically making the top 10 suggestions happen took their satisfaction to the next level. Our Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS is between -100 and +100) went from -45 back in 2014 to +94 in 2017, with 95% of employees being “Very or Extremely Satisfied to work at ProQuest.”

Consultant to CEO Tip 4: Systematise everything.

Be an analytical thinker. A company with strong and efficient processes in place is a company that can scale. I love my spreadsheets and I’m a bit obsessed with monitoring, reporting, dashboarding and templating to provide my team with tools and guidelines that will help them be the best at what they do. Involve your employees in these activities, it’s the easiest way to inspire change and reach higher performance.

ProQuest's core values.

Consultant to CEO Tip 3: Create a strong culture.

Identify your company core values and display them up on the wall. Our “ETHIC” stands for Excellence, Teamwork, Honesty, Innovation, and Customer Centricity. As a CEO, I do all I can to make sure that everything the business and the employees do directly relates to these core values. Communicate the company vision to your team and onboard them in your mission. Strive to build a unique workspace that stands out from your competition.

Consultant to CEO Tip 2: Hire carefully.

Oh boy, that was a lesson learned the hard way. A wrong hire can harm a company at so many levels. Finding talented individuals and assessing their cultural fit is paramount. We’ve continuously refined our recruitment process over the years to ensure we only hire highly-skilled team players. Then the onboarding process is key to a successful integration. Clarify what is expected from your new hires at the very beginning, and regularly assess how they perform to address early any potential problem. And most importantly, promote referrals, as they are by far the most efficient way to grow your team.

Consultant to CEO Tip 1: Be customer-centric.

My last and most important tip: provide your customers with the best experience. You should strive to make each and every customer a raving fan. Systematically assess their satisfaction and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. It leads to a virtuous cycle on all fronts, including winning new business and employees feeling proud of what they’ve achieved. I couldn’t thank enough our customers who have placed their trust in us and embraced the benefits of our agile Salesforce solution delivery. That’s what we are passionate about, and that’s why I love my team so much.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Clive Roberts from his trust over the last 7 years, combining our strengths in an open and respectful collaboration.

I also want to thank the ProQuest team, coming from all around the world to join forces, and always working together to solve the next challenge. They are my endless source of inspiration, and my fuel to always aim higher.

Happy 10 Year Anniversary, ProQuest. You are growing strong, and we have a lot of success to come.

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