Level Up Leadership: Eric Haller

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a podcast for anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to Level Up Leadership on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke to Eric Haller, Executive Vice President & General Manager of Identity, Fraud & DataLabs at Experian. Experian DataLabs is the research and development organization within Experian. Eric pitched the idea of DataLabs to Experian’s executive team and received funding for 8 people to begin the first lab in 2011. Since then, Eric led the development and expansion of Experian DataLabs in San Diego, London, Sao Paulo and Singapore.

Here are some takeaways from our conversation with Eric:

Don’t be afraid to shake things up.
Regardless of others’ opinions of you, it’s important to remember you’re capable of bringing improvement and positive change to whatever role you step into; it’s the reason you were hired in the first place. Be a mover and a shaker.

Find your treasure trove.
Experian is Eric’s treasure trove—some of his best friends are here and he is constantly intellectually challenged. When deciding to join a team or work on an innovative project, ask yourself how you will grow from the experience and what treasures you might gain.

Share your ideas.
It seems like pretty straightforward advice, but Eric brings up a great point: there is a lot of concern—especially among young adults—about sharing ideas with others because of the fear of someone else taking it and running with it. Eric wants listeners to remember there is a lot of execution required to make a good idea a reality and that socializing it with others will not hurt you. Get comfortable with sharing those ideas!

 Take the leadership qualities you admire and implement that into your own leadership.
Just like an artist’s style is the amalgamation of other artists’ styles they admire, your leadership style will often be a combination of the traits you admire from leaders you’ve witnessed yourself. Pay attention to your role models and the qualities you like about them and do your best to use that.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Eric for Level Up.

Check out our interviews with other leaders here.

Full Transcript

Patty:

So Eric, you spoke to our team at our North America communication summit a while back, and something that you said, that kind of surprised me, was that you studied journalism, and now you’re the EVP and GM of identity fraud and DataLabs. So I just kind of want to know your background in journalism, and how you ended up pivoting your career path.

Eric:

So, when I was in high school, I competed for a spot on a television show that in Orange County, called High School Spotlight. And I was a sports anchor on the show for two years. It was aired twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7:30, and the studio was actually the original studio for MTV. So a lot of people don’t realize that MTV is filmed in New York City, but actually its pilot debut was out of Orange County. And so-

Mike:

Oh, really?

Eric:

So, yeah. In fact, if you’re a real Orange County local, it was out of the Ziggurat building, which is over in Laguna Niguel, and that’s where I did the show from. So, I was pretty excited about it. I really enjoyed it. It was kind of an ego boost in a way, because I’d go to the grocery store and people would say, “Hey, did I see you-”

Patty:

People would recognize you?

Eric:

Right, yeah. I mean, it was … When you’re 16, 17 years old, that’s pretty heady. And it got me some opportunities, like I started doing stadium announcing, and so I did the Special Olympics for Orange County.

Patty:

Oh, wow.

Mike:

Wow.

Eric:

Yeah, so then I started meeting movie stars, because there’s a lot of folks that get engaged in that to support … It’s actually, if you’ve never been to a Special Olympics event, it is a life-changing experience. I mean, it’s an amazing, an amazing experience.

But I started doing these things and I was like, “This is what I want to do with my career.” So I went to USC, and was in a special program. It was the merging of broadcast journalism with sports information. And they only accepted anywhere from six to eight students a year into it.

And so I had this portfolio that I submitted, and I managed to get into it. And then my first year, my freshman year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu came from South Africa, talking about apartheid, and they choose me as the student to interview Desmond Tutu on-

Mike:

What!

Patty:

Wow. That’s so cool.

Eric:

Yeah, so I really got out of the gate, I’d say, pretty strong.

Mike:

Yeah, totally.

Eric:

I had a nice [inaudible 00:02:57] into this. And I remember after that interview with Desmond Tutu, now I’m going to age myself. So I had to edit my interview. And back in those days, you had the little recorder that you would hold up for the interview, and then after that, you went back into the studio and it was tape-to-tape editing.

And if you’ve ever done tape-to-tape editing, it is an incredibly tedious process. And I spent the entire weekend editing this interview with Desmond Tutu, for a 30-second spot, that would be played literally hundreds of times over the year.

And so, all I kept thinking … This is a typical Experian … People in Experian are just going to resonate with, because they’re going to understand this perspective. While I’m editing it, all I thought about is, “I’m going to get a college Emmy out of it.”

Mike:

There you go.

Eric:

This is my definition of high performance. “I’m going to get the Emmy, and they’re going to recognize me across the country for one of the most spectacular college interviews ever done.” I spent two days editing this thing down to 30 seconds, and then it played.

And I got great feedback from it, but the feedback was not enough that justified the effort. And I sat there, and I remember talking to the people that run the program, and the world’s changed a lot since then, but basically they said, “Hey, Eric. You should be prepared that when you graduate out of this program, and you actually become … You want to be a sports anchor, that you’re going to have to spend the first three to six years of your career doing this kind of editing, where you’re interviewing and you’re editing. And a lot of these guys do their own editing. This is what you’re going to have to do.”

And I was like, “That, I don’t want to do that. That was like … It was just such a downer, so I walked away from the program thinking to myself, “You know, maybe I’m not cut out to be a sports caster, because I really don’t want to do this work for the … We’ll call it the glory of being on television.”

And so of course, I’m explaining this from the perspective, remember, this is an 18, 19-year-old, 20-year-old kid, that’s making these kind of judgment decisions. It turned out to be a good call for me, career-wise, because I went back home and I was like, “I have no idea what I’m going to major in. If I’m dropping out of journalism, what am I going to do?”

And my dad said, “Well, math has always been your best subject.” And it was. I mean, I was always, we’ll say, top of my class when it came to math. I was always in the hardest programs, most challenging programs, and it came easY to me. And so I said, “Well, I don’t really want to major in math. I like math, but I don’t really …”

And he said, “How about finance?” He said, “Finance is all about making money.” And I said, “That sounds pretty interesting to me.” So I wound end up getting a degree in finance, and I found those classes to be interesting. I found them to be easier, a lot easier than my journalism classes. So that might give you some insight into my core capabilities, because I found the journalism classes to be very challenging.

It was a hard road for me, and I took a lot of lit classes in high school so I thought, “I can write.” No, I can’t write like a journalist. I tried. Oh, I’ve trained to write like a journalist, so I suppose I understand the structure, but it’s not my core skill set.

But finance? For some people, that’s a challenge. For me, breezed right through it, like water off a duck’s back. But anyway, that was my transition out of journalism. I certainly have an appreciation for journalists. That is for sure.

Mike:

Yeah, that is such a interesting background, and also interesting how that pivot you had to make, because you had been … You were totally set up for this broadcasting career. I mean, getting into sports broadcast in Orange County in the early days, working at an MTV studio, getting to know people, getting into a very exclusive USC broadcasting program … which is very expensive too, on top of that. So it’s a huge investment of time and money. And then to have to leave that, that must have been really, really hard to make that switch.

Eric:

It was … I didn’t do the pivot at SC. I mean, if you want to get into the insights of my youth, I put myself through school, and so when I went to USC, I got a partial scholarship. I didn’t get a full scholarship. And I was an RA in the dorms after my freshman year, so I got free roam and board.

And I was in student government, so I got one unit of free tuition for being in student government. And it still wasn’t enough. So I did jobs during the summer, and what happened was, I wound up running out of money. So I couldn’t even pivot at USC. I had to drop out of school.

I didn’t qualify for financial aid. My parents made too much money, and my parents had this perspective of, I should work myself through school. So, I wound up putting myself through school at San Diego State. And so, that’s where I finished up. And I worked full-time during the day, and went to school at night, working for a large portion of time in the customer service center or a call center for a bank, and doing collections on the weekends.

And it was in that process that I really started getting engaged more in analysis and coding. So, one of the other things that I had when I was in high school is, I liked to code, which was a very unusual thing for that time period. I learned when I was in middle school, I got lucky and I got selected … This is how old I am. It was 1978, and they didn’t know if children in middle school had the ability to code.

And so, I was selected as one of two people from Serrano Middle School in Orange County, to be a guinea pig, to be taught how to code. So I learned Basic and Pascal [crosstalk 00:09:43]

Mike:

Wow.

Eric:

Yeah, so it’s funny because the other guy, that is a good friend of mine, he wound up majoring in computer science and has had a long career as a software engineer. Me, I was like, “Well, I’m going to be a sports caster,” so I didn’t really get into it.

But when I started working at the bank, I realized there was a lot of data that we were getting off of our call center … They called it an ACD. It basically captures all the calls that everyone’s making. And I didn’t see it being leveraged, so I looked into it and figured out a way to get data off the machine, and then I wrote some programs that started to determine which reps were the most efficient.

To be honest, I thought I was the best rep, so I did it because I wanted to prove out that I was the best rep. So again, it comes back to me and my ego. But in that process, I also said, “Hey, if I could do this, I could forecast based on calls, optimize for average second answered and overall call processing time.”

So I wrote some programs for forecasting as well. All of this got me some attention and the bank. I did some other things to get myself some attention too, mostly because, like I said, I like it. I like positive attention, so I kept going down that route.

And it turned out the chief operating officer of the bank liked a lot of what I was doing. And when he went to Visa, he offered me a job. He actually offered me a job before I even graduated from San Diego State, which I had to turn down, which was kind of nutty. So if you can imagine, this was in 1988 and he offered me a job paying, I want to say it was about $45,000 a year, when the average graduate was getting about $18,000.

Mike:

Wow. And what a huge opportunity to be at Visa. That’s huge.

Eric:

But I turned that down, and I wound up … Wait, wait. These are the world’s craziest stories. So I turned it down, because I was in love with the woman that I wound up marrying, and I was worried that if I moved up from San Francisco, she hadn’t graduated yet from San Diego State, and if I left, she would dump me.

And so, again, a decision made by a 21-year-old kid. And so I turned it down because I didn’t want to take the risk. And so, we wound up getting married, and as I was interviewing for new jobs with my new bachelor’s degree, I got like half a dozen job offers, and they were all over the place.

And my old boss called me up from Visa and he says, “Hey, Eric. I want to get you on board here, but I don’t have a job open.” And I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jeff, but I got all these job offers. I’m taking one of these jobs, and I just can’t make it up there.”

And he said, “Let me look into it.” So the day before I get married, so about two hours before my rehearsal dinner, Jeff calls me up and he says, “Eric, I want you at Visa. I can’t hire you in this moment, but I just got Chuck Russell, he’s the CEO of Visa, to sign off on a consulting contract for you. We’ll pay you $1200 a week plus overtime.”

Now, this is for a kid just out of … Right, $1200, that sounds pretty good right now. In 1990, 30 [inaudible 00:13:07] it’s like a lotto prize. I mean, you have no idea how spectacular that is. I mean, it allowed me … So anyway, I’ll finish the rest of the story.

So he calls me up. So I tell my wife … my bride-to-be, actually. My fiancee. I call her up and I say, “We need to talk. Show up to the rehearsal about an hour early.” We get there an hour early and I said, “Jennifer, I got to take this job. I have to take it. It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s Visa. I’d be an idiot to walk away from this, but we have to move up to San Francisco.”

And she grew up here in San Diego. She’s the youngest of seven kids. I basically asked her to leave her entire life behind to come up there. There were a lot of tears. But in the end, she agreed it was the right thing for us, because eventually, we wanted to raise kids, and we agreed she would probably be at home to raise the kids.

And I said, “Hey, look. This is one of those things that, if I do this, it would give us the freedom to live the life that we want to live at a later date.” So she agreed. So, at the rehearsal, at the end of the rehearsal, I announced to her family and my family … This is how fast it happened, that we’re moving to San Francisco and I’m taking a job with Visa.

It put a huge downer on the rehearsal. I mean, people were … It was terrible. Our honeymoon happened to be in the Redwoods. On the way up to the Redwoods, I signed the contract with Visa. They’re in San Mateo. On my way up, I signed the consulting contract. We hung out in the Redwoods. On the way back down, we got an apartment in Redwood Shores.

Patty:

Oh, wow.

Mike:

Wow, like that. Just like that.

Eric:

So literally, we pulled the car over. We said, “This is the neighborhood. How much is it?” It was 900 a month. I’m like, “I can afford this, no problem.” By the way, that same apartment is $3600 a month, to kind of give you some …

Mike:

Wow.

Patty:

Oh, wow.

Eric:

But I was like, “$900 a month? I can afford that, like nothing.” We got the apartment. I mean, this is 20 or 22 years old or something.

Mike:

Yeah, yeah. Totally. You’re right.

Eric:

We loaded up all the wedding gifts in a U-Haul, and then we came back up to the Bay Area where we started. So, yeah. Pretty crazy. Crazy story.

Patty:

That sounds crazy.

Mike:

So, when you look back, because like, that was all based on a relationship you built with this person, who saw you work, and obviously you were doing a lot more things besides working at a call center. You were looking into predictions and redirecting phone calls, right? So, he saw-

Eric:

Oh, yeah. A lot of stuff. Yeah, of course.

Mike:

So, when you were in that role, were you brought in just to work at the call center and then you started to figure stuff out how to make things efficient?

Eric:

Yes, exactly.

Mike:

Really?

Eric:

Yeah, I was. I was paid six bucks an hour as a call center rep, and I mean, I’m not making any of this up. It’s just crazier. It’s like, fact is stranger than fiction. I was really into the job of being a customer service rep, and I went all out on that. I tried to figure out how to be the best rep I could be, all the different things that we were doing in the center, that I thought could be better.

And actually, I wrote up a document that I gave to my boss with all the changes we could make at the bank, and she said, “I’m not really empowered to make any of these changes.” And that’s how it got to the chief operating officer, and then he pulled me out of my cube one day, about three weeks later, and said, “You are wasting away as a customer service rep.”

And so, he actually put me on assignment. Now, my raise, I think the most I ever made at the bank at that time, before I went to Visa, was $6.75 an hour. So it’s not like they said, “We’re going to throw all our money at you.” I got paid a typical CSR hourly wage, but they started rotating away from department to department, so I went into disputes, I went into collections.

Now my job was, for six weeks, “Learn what they do in the department, and then do the same thing you did in the call center. Write up everything you think that could be better.” And so, people met me. They knew I was this kid that was coming in, and some people didn’t like it. Some people embraced it. It was quite an experience. That was good.

And then towards the end, when he went to Visa and I was still at the bank, Visa would start sending me special projects to do at the bank. So, when they launched the address verification service … This was pre-launch. This was, they’re building it, they’re trying to get feedback. I started doing analysis for them while I was at the bank, and being a Visa issuer, the bank was very comfortable.

They liked being partnered up with Visa. And so I would do my thing, and I would send it in, and so when he went to the CEO to get my consulting contract done, he actually used a lot of the analysis that I was already doing for Visa to say, “Look. This is a young guy worth bringing in.”

And basically, what my job was, right out of the gate, was to go into all of our authorization systems, our clearing and settlement systems, every service that we offered along the way, and do the same kind of thing. Looking at how things are working, what could be improved.

I did a lot of reading reports, a lot of data pulling off the mainframe, a lot of analysis, looking for anomalies. Segmenting, characterizing, looking for the root causes to things. So, it was … Yeah, I got a good break at a young age.

A lot of those things, people, I think, maybe 10 years after that time period, it became much more mainstream, but in that time of pulling together data and doing analysis, I was just kind of at the right place at the right time, and I was motivated. I was self-motivated to do that kind of work. I enjoyed it.

Mike:

Yeah. Also, I want to talk to you about the relationships, because you are obviously a mover and shaker. You saw some things that you could improve on. So then, the COO is hand picking you and saying, “Yeah, I believe in you, Eric,” and starts to push you around at different locations.

And you mentioned, in this kind of situation, when you have somebody new, who’s young, who’s going to be coming in, analyzing a department, there is a lot of tension that can be there. And then like, “Who is this person? Wait, he’s from the call center? And now you have him looking at my job?”

I can imagine a lot of like, “Huh? What? What is he doing? Okay, I guess.” How did you manage that period of like, you have your own self-doubts too going on, and you need to have the confidence to go in and make relationships, and it could be a very awkward experience?

Eric:

So, I’ll be honest. I’m a much different person now than I was back then. I didn’t have so much of the self-confidence issue. I wasn’t concerned about how people perceive me. I’m actually more sensitive to how people interact me, far more now than I was in my twenties.

I think I always thought to myself back then, I was a bit, I’ll say “prideful,” and thought, “I’ll figure …” There’s always room for improvement. Nobody does anything perfect. I’m always going to figure out something that could be improved on.

And I would say that, like I said, there were a lot of people that didn’t embrace me, but there are some people that liked it. I think leadership in the bank loved it. A lot of people did not. And so, I think it was more of, when you’re in the lunchroom … In a bank environment, the lunchroom, at least back then, was a very normal place to hang out during lunchtime. You didn’t really leave the bank and go somewhere else to eat.

You typically brought your lunch, or maybe you bought your lunch downstairs or whatever, and you ate it in the lunchroom. And so, most of my lunches were alone, unless somebody from IT, like some of the guys who were into computers, because I coded, they would sit with me.

And they would be curious to know what I was working on and talking about my ideas about … or our ideas. We would just talk about things that we could automate and that kind of stuff. So, those are the guys that I wound up clustering with, but most of the people in actual operations, just how you described it. I was a kid. I was coming in. Almost everybody was 10 to 20 years older than I was, and I was trying to figure out how they could all do their jobs better. So, it was not like a warm reception.

Mike:

Right.

Eric:

So, yeah. Like I said, this is all over 30 years ago, so it’s … Yeah, this is the start of my career.

Patty:

So, how did you get to Experian?

Eric:

So, the first time was when it was CCN, in Nottingham, and I was running a small team at Visa around new product development in the advanced technology group. So the projects that I worked on, the first project was securing Visa transactions over the internet, so I worked with Microsoft to do that. It was a four-person team, where we built out the first protocol for securing transactions over the internet. I worked on smart-

Patty:

Oh, wow.

Eric:

Yeah, actually, that’s probably my biggest achievement while I was there, because that actually wound up sticking for a long, long time. That actual protocol became the protocol for probably close to 15 years.

But I could tell, at the time, that the world was going to be gravitating in a significant way to analytics. Of course, I had it wrong then. We’re now referring to this concept of “edge analytics,” edge computing, where a lot of things are happening on the edge.

To be honest, if I’m being completely transparent, back in 1994, I thought that’s the way the world was going, because I saw so much computation being required to get things done, that in my mind, I was like, “It’s crazy to think a lot of this could be done centrally. A lot of it’s going to have to be pushed out to the edge.”

And so, I got that wrong, by the way. But now, it seems to be coming full circle. But I wrote … There were two companies that were really into analytics then, FICO and CCN. FICO was called Fair Isaac back then. And so, I met the guys with FICO, and I didn’t feel like I was a fit, culturally.

I talked to a lot of the guys. It’s a different company now, but back then, they had this kind of arrogant swagger that I just didn’t feel like I fit into that crowd. I wrote to the CEO of CCN, and basically, I wrote him a two-page letter on my thesis of where analytics was going.

Mike:

Wow.

Eric:

Yeah, this was back when … I typed it up on a typewriter, put it in an envelope with stamps on it, mailed it. Kind of like a [inaudible 00:24:40] pass, just kind of threw it out there, because I want to be heard. I have this thinking. I’m going to send it to the CEO. What’s going to happen? You never know what’s going to happen. So, he wrote me back. He wrote me back and said, “I love what you wrote. I’m going to be in the Bay Area on such-and-such a date. I would love to get on your calendar, and let’s talk.”

Mike:

That’s huge.

Eric:

So, we did. Ne he flew out to the Bay Area and we had a fantastic two-hour lunch, and we talked and we got along really well. So, he leaves. By the way, the lunch finishes with, “Eric, we really want you to come and work at CCN. You’re exactly … You’re perfect for it. We really want you to come.”

Great. Send me a job offer. I’m totally, totally in, because this is what I want to do. I think this is where everything’s headed. Visa is not there. They’re not there. They don’t even have an interest, not even a remote interest in this. It’s what I want to do.

So, anyway, this is the craziness of life. My boss leaves. He starts up a company. He calls me up and asks me to run all the development work and the product work, and basically it’s sales and marketing, he wants to do, and he wants me to basically manage everything else.

So, I’m ready to leave at Visa and go do that, because it’s a startup. It is a cool idea. I won’t get into details, but I’m ready to do it. So at this point, I call up the CEO. I have the telephone number. I call him up.

And I said, “Look, I’ve been waiting around for eight weeks or whatever for you to get back to me. Along comes this great opportunity. We’re just like, two things kind of passing in the night. Let’s kind of go our ways and let’s keep in touch.” And he’s like, “No, no, no.” So, he has me go to a Kinko’s the next day, and it’s Palo Alto.

Mike:

I love Kinko’s.

Eric:

Kinko’s. And I’m doing video conferencing at Kinko’s, and this is a name that people at Experian will know, is John Peace. So, I interview with who now is Sir John Peace, so-

Mike:

Wow.

Eric:

So, Sir John gets on the video conference with Roger Albrook, who’s the CEO, and he’s sitting right next to him. And Sir John interviews me for about an hour in Kinko’s, and … This is the total truth. It’s a lot [inaudible 00:27:12] These are the crazy times. This is just absolutely … It sounds like I’m making it up because it sounds so crazy, but it’s just all absolutely crazy.

And so, Sir John, at the end of the hour, says, “Eric, you’re going to come and work for CCN, and Roger is going to fix you your offer.” So, the phone call ends. In two hours, I get a seven-page offer letter from CCN, with basically … I probably shouldn’t say this, because … Well, no. Everybody’s gone now so I can say this, double what Visa was paying me.

So, it was a huge, huge win for … I just looked at this and I was like, “Wow. This is a sweetheart offer. They offered me a vice president role for strategic development, and they asked me to work on M&A. They asked me to work on strategy.” It basically, they wanted my input on product development. It was great. It was a fantastic opportunity.

And that evolved into what becomes Experian. The first major project that we did was buying the credit bureau from TRW. Which actually, I can get into a lot of details around that. But in the end, it was acquisitions. We bought that. We bought MetroMail and Directec which is a big part of the core of EMS, like consumer view and those things.

Those strategic alliances, I did all. So, one of the biggest things that I did during that time period was, I negotiated the first credit header file deal, the first national reseller deal for credit reports, all with this company called ChoicePoint, which was a spin-out from Equifax, for the property and casualty insurance space.

So basically, I spent … Gosh, close to a year, negotiating seven different deals with ChoicePoint, to give them our position in property and casualty insurance, which is now our big relationship that we have with LexisNexis.

So, I did those things. I left, because I had an idea around identity fraud, that I pitched at Experian with two other guys. And the response at the time, this was old Experian, was, “Identity fraud’s not a very big problem.” Because back in 1999, it wasn’t a big problem. “And if we wanted to [inaudible 00:29:37] we have all the data we need,” which I did not agree with.

And so, I was so passionate about that idea, that I left, and I started a company up with these two other guys. Probably was a great idea to do it. I mean, I don’t really second guess myself around that, because starting up a company really helped … It’s kind of like, the way I would describe it, it’s like unplugging from the Matrix.

You wind up learning so much about yourself in the process. That company, by the way, long story about it, but it became known as ID Analytics, and actually has had a very successful run in the US market, and I think was recently acquired by LexisNexis, about 300 and … I think $375 million? Excuse me.

So, it was a good run. I wish I had captured a big chunk of that money, but I did not. And we could have a whole nother show on startups and what I learned and all that. But it was a good experience for me. I wound up doing a few startups as a result of it. And then, I was recruited by Experian to come back, and run a P&L for the company, which I did, for about two years, before I jumped in and started up the DataLabs.

Patty:

So, I have a question. You mentioned cultural fit earlier, and how it just wasn’t a fit for you at FICO. And looking at your experience, I see that you’ve jumped around jobs semi-frequently, and then landed at Experian for 13 years. So, I want to know what it is about Experian that’s kept you here so long, and what you deem is a cultural fit for you.

Eric:

Yeah. Yeah, it’s funny, but I was just talking about this with some folks, I think it was yesterday. The number one reason why I’m at Experian is the people. I feel like my best friends are at Experian, and once you develop those relationships, they start to become sticker than almost anything else.

I’ll say, though, if that’s all I had, I would have been gone a long time ago. It’s not that I don’t value those relationships. I do, incredibly, and it’s the number one reason why I’m here. But that’s not … I’m going to say this in general, for all the high performers who are listening, which I’m sure there are quite a few, that decisions that you make about where you work are actually … They’re pretty complex.

There are a lot of factors that go in. One of them’s personal development. Are you growing? One of them is, are you being intellectually challenged? Which might be a factor in personal development, but you could separate those two out. One of them is, do you think where you’re at, the business is empowering you to win in the market? Are they winning in the market?

These are all factors as well. I describe Experian the same way today as I did in 1998, which is, “This place is a treasure trove.” It is an absolute treasure trove. It is mind-boggling to me sometimes, the amount of assets that we have under our roof, and the number of opportunities that we are empowered to go after.

Our biggest challenge is often our choice in trying to figure out, what’s the best investment to make, to go after growth? But it’s kind of like, if you remember being a kid and playing with either Legos or Tinker Toys or an Erector set or Lincoln Logs, I mean, we have so many pieces to build so many different things, our own limits are us, the people, that are trying to make these decisions, trying to figure out what to do.

So, that’s what … I can’t get away from that. If I went somewhere else, it’s one of those things where the web of opportunities of what I’d really like is so tight here, it would be hard for somewhere else to compete with that. And so, that’s why I’ve been here for 13 years. It’s just a very hard proposition to walk away from. I’m very attracted to it, kind of like a moth to light. I guess you could say that.

Mike:

I like that.

Eric:

So, I can’t help it.

Mike:

I love that.

Patty:

And 13 years at Experian, you actually did so much, one of which is, obviously, DataLabs. Can you walk us through how you got the courage to pitch that? Because that’s such a huge idea, and it became this huge thing, and that’s pretty much your baby now. So, can you walk us through what that process was like?

Eric:

Well, I had a lot of encouragement from Kerry. So, Kerry and I were working together on an acquisition. He had asked me to take point in pulling together a lot of the synergies between Experian and this company we were looking at.

The acquisition fell through, but the procession that I wound up going through for that identified so many different opportunities that were just kind of latent, that may have had the potential to go after, but we weren’t.

And so, in that process, when Kerry and I were talking, we were talking about creating an environment to go after these kinds of opportunities. And when the deal fell through, I asked him if it was okay if I pitched him on creating that kind of environment anyway.

And so, he was open to it. I don’t feel like … It wasn’t like I came up with an idea out of the blue, and sat on Kerry’s doorstep and pitched it to them. When I walked in, he kind of had an idea of what I was going to talk about, because of that whole process.

But it was only five PowerPoint slides that I walked in with, and he did step me after the second slide and said, “I’m already sold.” Yeah, that’s another story. I mean, he took me to his country club, and brought in all the BU presidents, and got them all feeling good with Caymus wine. We all had Caymus wine. It was fantastic.

And then for dessert, I gave my pitch on the lab, and then they all liked the idea, and then he got them to agree to pay for it. So, that was a fun experience. It’s kind of like the legend of the lab. Every year, for years, we have Caymus. We have Caymus for every holiday party. We bring in Caymus.

Patty:

Oh, I love that.

Eric:

In a more elongated fashion, I tell the story about how the lab, and about the Caymus of the country club. So, it’s kind of like a little bit of lab history that we keep everybody … You know, everybody’s aware of it.

Mike:

Eric, I want to ask you about just like, seeing you move and pivot, and you have all these different ideas. And I’m sure there’s people listening in, who maybe are young in their careers, and have a lot of ideas too, but they’re not quite sure, “What do I do with this idea? How do I move this forward?”

And I’m just wondering if you can speak to that person who has a really good idea here at Experian, and they feel like it can change the way we’re doing things and improve things for our businesses and our consumers, but they’re unsure, how does ideation work at Experian? How do you get things moving?

Eric:

So, there’s a few questions you have there. The first question about, “You have an idea.” I think one of the biggest challenges in youth, when you have an idea, is your concern about sharing it with others. And I’ll tell you why. Because a lot of times, people will think, “If I share it, somebody else might take it and run with it, and then I lose it.”

Experience would say, sometimes that’s true, if you’ve got maybe the recipe for Coca-Cola or something. But otherwise, no. I mean, otherwise, there’s so much execution required to make an idea, a good idea a reality. You’re really not taking much risk, socializing it. Really pretty rare that someone hears an idea and has the wherewithal to jump on it and run super fast, and make it happen, then you got scooped.

So the first thing I would say is, feel comfortable with socializing. Build a circle of trust, and push on the circle a bit. You don’t need to have … Your family may be a good sounding board, but it’s probably not ideal for whatever your idea is.

Find people at work that you can talk to and share, and be a listener, and get feedback. A lot of times, we come up with an idea. I mean, I’m saying, “we.” I’ll say, “me.” I get so excited about my idea that I think it’s really good, and it’s hard for me to hear any feedback that might change it or alter it in some way.

Very hard. When you’re younger, it’s even harder, more challenging to listen to feedback and change your idea. Some people are really good at it. They’re naturals. But most people struggle with this. So I would say, be open. Socialize, and listen to the feedback, and be willing to change your idea a bit along the way.

So, that’s one thing, because when you get to a point where you’re like, “Wow, I think I really do have something. I’ve talked to five, 10, 15 people, and the feedback I’ve gotten has gotten me to a place where I actually think this idea could do whatever, cut costs, make revenue, build better relationships with your customers, be more efficient, whatever it’s going to be. And so now, I want to put it into action. But what’s the best way to put it into action?”

During your socialization process, if you don’t know the answer to that. You can find that out too. Ask others, “How would I put this into effect? Who’s empowered to do this? Do I need to get funding? What would they look for? If I needed to get funding for this, what would they ask me? What do I need to pull together?”

So, it all depends on where somebody is in the learning process of making an idea turned into something, but I’ve always found that there are a lot of good ideas that never see the light of day, because people aren’t willing to take the risk to go through that process.

And I think if you wind up getting to that stage where you’ve actually even socialized it to a point where you’re getting feedback on how to put your idea into action, the plan will reveal itself. The plan will become self-evident. You’ll know what you need to do, and then it’s a matter of, “Do you want to do it or not?”

There are a lot of times you might come up with an idea, you go through this whole process, and you get to the end of it and you go … It’s kind of like what we were talking about with interviewing Desmond Tutu, and then realizing that the benefit isn’t strong enough to weigh against the work required to do it, and so you might abandon it. Or you might go, “Holy smokes. I’m sitting on a goldmine here,” and take whatever the next step is.

Mike:

And I think one of the hardest things you mentioned is dealing with the feedback, especially when you feel like, “This is a brilliant idea. We should do this.” And then you get the feedback and you’re getting some good critical analysis, and maybe it hurts your idea, but also, people can feel personally attacked. Sometimes we’re a little bit too sensitive when it’s our idea. Can you talk a little about that?

Eric:

Well, yeah. I mean, I probably wear my stripes on my back from getting beat up on ideas than just about anybody. I think just like, I was a kid that was comfortable selling greeting cards door-to-door and donuts door-to-door, and I always was out there. I had plenty of rejection as a child, trying to drum up little stupid businesses while I was in elementary school or middle school or whatever, so you kind of … Maybe I have a little bit more of a demeanor that allows me to feel comfortable being rejected, as uncomfortable as it feels.

Some people don’t feel that way, so I’m trying to put myself in a position of, if I was uncomfortable with feeling rejections, at some point, you’re going to have to get a bit comfortable with it. Realize that it isn’t about you. It may not even be about your idea. It could be a wrong idea or a wrong … I’ll give you a perfect example.

The lab worked on this. I wrote my master’s thesis on this. This is something I totally believed in, which is around … It’s around a technology and it’s use case. It’s called secure multi-party computation. It’s a form of cryptography that allows multiple parties to share information anonymously.

And it’s gotten to a point where you can drive lots of information through models, so that you can share, we’ll say, more complicated types of information, anonymously. I see tremendous opportunities for it. I personally get super excited about it.

Feedback in the market? Not so strong, initially. And we tried to put it in very specific applications that would resonate with our client base, and there was an interest with it, but feedback is a bit more of a hammer looking for a nail.

I understand that. I was a little hurt by it, because I probably am more passionate about that in the last five years than just about any idea that’s blown through the lab. I really, I personally felt vested in it. But what I told the team was, “You know, maybe it’s not as good an idea as we think it is, or maybe we’re just ahead of our time.”

So we’ve kind of put that to the side, I want to say about 18 months ago. And I was on an analyst call last week. It was one of our top research analyst firms in the world, and they tell me about a new concept called “confidential computing.”

And I said, “So what’s confidential computing?” And they said, “This is going to be huge. It’s going to be really big.” And they describe it. And I’m like, “Huh. I already bought it. I already got it sitting in a lab, where it’s ready to go.”

So, it didn’t feel great when I got rejected, but I didn’t think to myself, “That’s the end.” I just thought to myself, “Not now.” Maybe not ever, but that’s what I … What I put in my mind is, “Not now,” and put it to the side. And it may actually have a chance at primetime. So, I think that’s more the mindset. I don’t know if that is helpful or not, but that’s what I have in my mind.

Mike:

Totally. Patty, I love that, right? The “not now.”

Patty:

Yeah. That’s a good mindset to have, I feel like. Mike, do you have any last questions before we let Eric have the floor?

Mike:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. My last … Well, I have a lot of questions, but I know we have to go. My last question is, Eric, you’ve been talking about these stages like, “That was my 20-year-old self.” And I’ve heard you reference like, “That was me at this period of time.”

And you’ve shown to me, over getting to know you, tremendous self-awareness, and it takes time for us to learn to be self-aware. And I’m wondering … My last question would be like, for those who are looking to like, “I want to be more self-aware. I want to understand how other people view me, and I want to be able to look back maybe at my younger self and be like, ‘Well, that was me then and I’ve evolved from there.'”

Can you, I guess, share … It’s a very hard question to answer, but can you share some advice for those who are looking to grow in self-awareness?

Eric:

Oh. Yeah, of course. And here’s the thing, is my emphasis around just kind of knowing myself better, really comes to, I have goals in my mind of where I want to be, some day. So, when I’m around people like Kerry Williams or Brian Cassin, I don’t mind calling them out by name, they are spectacular individuals, and I want to be more like them.

I see their behaviors. I see how they react to things. I see how they think, and I want to be more like them, so that I can be an executive at their level someday, maybe. But I recognize that, where I am today, and where they are now, are in two different places.

So, the only way I can make that change is to figure out what I need to do to change myself. They’re not like changes of, “Hey, I’m going to change my core being and what I enjoy and what I want to do maybe outside of work with my time, which may be very different.”

But it is how conduct myself as an executive, how I evaluate investments, how I motivate people. All these these things that they’re very good at. So, to do that, you need feedback. And so, I have been, from the time I was about 35, really engaged in getting feedback externally.

How do people perceive me? What I do well, what I don’t do well, where are my blind spots? So that I can have things to work on. To be honest, in the last three or four years, I haven’t really done much of that. I think most of my personal development has come less from doing more formal, external training, and just kind of, when I notice something, I’ll make a mental note and I’ll be like, “That’s something I really need to focus on.”

I’ll give you a very clean example. If you ever get an email from Kerry … I hope he doesn’t … Kerry, if you’re listening, it’s all compliments. So, when he writes an email, it’s very succinct. He never gives more information in an email than really what needs to be said. And he does that so you get very clear direction.

There’s no ambiguity. You know exactly what’s expected of you. For somebody like me, I flourish in that. I love it. Who wants to guess what your boss expects? You want to know. And so if you’re looking for feedback and you get feedback, clarity is really important. Guidance, strategic direction, clarity is important.

He is the best person I have ever seen in my career at writing clear and succinct messages. When I write … Heck, I just told you, I was a terrible journalism student. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t do it as well as he does.

So, all I can do is practice. And over time, with practice, knowing that that’s my objective, that I want to be a more clear communicator, and with a lot of our communication being done by emails, that my emails become more and more clear over time,.

So, it’s something that I focus on to get better. But that’s a very specific thing, so I see it. Sometimes, it’s more of getting a survey result back and, “Hey, your direct reports tell you, here’s your strengths and weaknesses.” Your colleagues tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. People above you tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you get that feedback and then you make changes that way.

That’s important to me too. I just haven’t done that in a long time, because I feel like the responses, over a few years, became pretty consistent, where that was giving me less and less feedback for me to actually feel like I could benefit from developing those. So, now I’m kind of, I’ll say on independent learning.

Mike:

I like that. That’s great. That’s great.

Eric:

You remember when we were kids, yeah, it was like, independent learning. “All right, you got it down on this subject, so you can now go off and do your own thing.” So I guess that’s where I’m at right now.

Patty:

Oh, I like that. Well, Eric, we do like to dedicate the last minute or so to our guest of the episode, so if you have any final words, any last words of wisdom for our listeners, we’d love for you to share it now.

Eric:

On any particular subject, or what …

Patty:

Yeah, just like the parting words.

Eric:

Well, I mean, the theme of this conversation … I wasn’t sure where we would go with the conversation. The theme was just basically, taking risks, and relying a bit, I guess, on yourself in some ways, in your own personal development and your career. So, if I were to say any parting words of wisdom, I would say … I mean, probably, most people have heard this already from other sources, is, “Don’t be afraid to take a risk.”

Generally, that’s not the culture of Experian anyway. Generally, the culture of Experian is the nature of high performers, where they will press a bit beyond what expectations might be, in order to achieve some phenomenal things.

And so, in that case, if that’s your walk in your career, don’t be afraid to take the risk. And to reduce uncertainty, talk to other people. Get as much feedback as you can. It’s not all about googling on the internet to find out your answers. You’d be surprised at … I’m always surprised. Always, about what I hear from other folks, that I wasn’t expecting.

I mean, just this morning, I was on a call with global lab leaders, and one of the lab leaders came up with an opportunity that they saw in the market, and I sat there and I was like, “I don’t know how we go about executing on that.” And then another lab leader came in with a perfect idea on how we could go about executing it.

So, I like to be a guy to figure things out. I like to be the guy that comes up with answers. And if you’re like that, recognize that there are a lot of folks out there that are going to look at things differently, and they may come up with a better answer than you’re going to come up with on your own. So, don’t be afraid. Don’t hold back, to socialize things and get that kind of thinking and feedback, because it may put you in a very different position over time.

Patty:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Eric. This was a really great conversation.

Eric:

Oh, my pleasure. You know me. I love to talk.

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