Level Up Leadership: Robert Boxberger

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a monthly webinar open to anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to The Level Up Leadership podcast on iTunes, Google PlaySoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke with Robert Boxberger, President of Decision Analytics. As president, Robert is responsible for software solutions, analytics and the Global Consulting Practice. Since joining Experian, he has led several initiatives that have helped shape the global Decision Analytics business.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion with Robert:

You can make it happen.
At least that’s what you need to keep telling yourself, according to Robert. With any position, there will always be an inkling of doubt regarding whether or not you can deliver on your set goals, but the difference between success and failure is how strongly you believe in yourself and your team. Like Robert said, “We’re only on this earth for a fairly short period of time. While we’re here, let’s have fun, be positive and believe.”

Lead by example.
Robert is the proud father of three children who have displayed great amount of leadership early on. Robert’s advice for raising the leaders of tomorrow?

  • Show the children by example how to respect others
  • Teach them right from wrong at an early age
  • Be intentional about showing them what it means to be confident and to believe in yourself

You will never be perfect.
And you shouldn’t strive to be. As Robert pointed out, if you come into work thinking, “I’m perfect and I’ve done everything that I can to make this the perfect place,” then there is no more use for you and your job would be done. Always tackle your day and your projects with the mindset that you can always do something new or better.

Everybody doesn’t have to like each other.
With so many personalities in the workplace, it’s only a matter of time before you come across someone you may not get along with as well as others, and that’s fine. Here are a few tips Robert recommends for working with someone you don’t jive with:

  • Maintain the level of respect demanded no matter what
  • Don’t take work matters to heart
  • Push to make it work (Robert likes to use humor as his tool)

Your family comes first.
Whether it’s the CEO, an SVP or an individual contributor, your family will always take priority, and finding the balance between work and family is important. Not only will you reap the benefits of a balanced lifestyle, but it makes for a better work environment when you know you have something great to come home to and something great to go work on.

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

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Mike: Hey everybody, welcome to the Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity inclusion, and so much more.
Mike: We hope you enjoy the show.
Patty: Okay. Usually we just start with your background. So if you could tell us a little bit about your professional background?
Robert: So I have been with Experian for two and a half years. Loving every minute of it. Prior to that, I was the president and founder of a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, and that lasted about seven years, so that is everything that you imagine in to be, it’s kind of like glorified Shark Tank…
Mike: Wow.
Robert: Where you sit in front of people on Sand Hill Road, which is in Palo Alto, it’s where all the VC’s are and you go in there and you pitch your idea and our first round of funding came from Jeff Bezos.
Mike: Really?
Patty: Interesting.
Mike: Wow.
Robert: So he gave us our seed round of a million dollars.
Mike: Dang.
Robert: Then we grew the business. We grew the business from me developing the product team, the sales team, and our first client was in the UK, with HSBC. We had an office in the UK, and we ended up selling it to Visa, which was great. Prior to that, I was always in financial services, so I’ve been buying Experian products and services for most of my adult life. People like Joe Talbot, I’ve known Joe a long time. Joe was my account exec at Providian Financial, where I was the chief risk officer there.
Mike: Oh wow.
Robert: Prior to Providian, I was on the East Coast at Fleet Boston Financial where I was the chief risk officer, and Karen Tatten was our account executive, so Karen and I have known each other for longer than we probably want to remember. Then I worked at Chase City, the Bank of New York. I attended the University of Delaware, and when I graduated I went to Chase’s management training program for two years in Manhattan.
Patty: Okay, so just listening to all of that, all I hear is “President, president, president… chief, chief, chief.” So did you always want to be a leader, you always knew you were going to be at that level?
Robert: No. So, I was a political science major, so I wanted to be in politics.
Mike: Oh.
Patty: Oh.
Robert: I acted in high school and college, but that was mostly to get girls…
Mike: Oh, so you were in Theater, too?
Robert: To get girls… Yeah, so the story goes when I… after graduation, I was at my buddy’s house, my college roommate, and his dad was the president of Chase [inaudible 00:05:14].
Mike: Are you serious? Wow.
Robert: He said “What are you going to do?” I said “Well…” and I had long blond hair and a jeep with two surfboards as the proof. I said “Well, I’m going to go down to DC. I’ve got some interviews for some pages.” He said “Well, you can do that, or you could… I have a slot for you here. You’ve got to cut your hair, I’m going to take you to JC Penney…” – the first and only time I’ve ever been to JC Penney – “I’m going to buy you two suits. I’m going to buy you one blue one, one gray one.”
Robert: And I loved it. So…
Mike: Wow.
Patty: That’s like a big life change.
Mike: Wow, wow.
Robert: So did that, and then yes… did I always know I wanted to be a leader? I don’t know. It just started working out that way. I’m pretty open and pretty casual. I’ve always considered myself a really good team player, and a really good motivator of people, so it just kind of worked out that way. I also coach football. I’ve been coaching football for about ten years, my boys. There’s a lot of similarities there, especially in high performance, in getting people to go beyond what they think they’re capable of doing. I draw a lot from football to here and from here to football. Putting together a team, making sure everybody’s working toward a common goal. There’s got to be a plan, there’s got to be a coach motivating, there’s got to be rewards at the end of it. It’s very, very similar.
Mike: That’s amazing. I love that you shared that story about your friend’s dad, who happened to be the president of Chase, who gave you this huge opportunity to come and work at Chase. When you got that opportunity, what was your thought process on what you’d be doing? This is like your first shot at working in the corporate world.
Robert: Yeah. I was making $12,000 a year.
Mike: So this is a long time ago?
Robert: I was eating ramen noodles and hot dogs, same diet from college actually. Yeah, you know what, I wasn’t sure. My personality was… I grew up, I was born in New York but then when I was 12, we moved to this little beach town in Delaware, so I grew up surfing, life-guarding, and the corporate world really wasn’t anything that I thought it was going to be. I mean, I’m here, I’ve got jeans and sneakers on, so it’s still not what I thought it was going to be.
Robert: It grew on me. I liked it, and I think that I look at it in terms of winning, right? Everything’s kind of a big game to me. How do we win? How do we put the right players in there to win? Every budget that we have is a challenge, and how do we work together to get that? Everybody has to work. Most people have to work… you have to come to work, and you have to have a job. I think that my job is to make sure that while we’re here, make sure that it’s enjoyable, that it’s rewarding, that it’s fun, and we have goals, and we laugh, and we have a good time.
Patty: Looking at your accomplishments on your bio here, you have a lot of things that you’ve already… it would go down as winning, like you said. This is a game to you and you like to win. I think that the one that stands out the most is that you brought revenue growth into the double digits in 2018. I want to know more about how you as a leader took everyone under you and kind of drove them into that goal.
Robert: Yeah. That’s good. When we started the journey in decision analytics, two and a half years ago, our year over year revenue growth wasn’t great. It could be better. It was low single digits. Last year, we ended in the teens, so it’s been great. I wish I could say that it was rocket science, we developed all these great new products, I’m now the smartest guy in the world, and that’s how it happened. It never works out that way.
Robert: The first two months that I was here, I spoke to just about everybody on the team, especially all the sales guys. I asked everybody three questions. I have this book where I wrote down all the three questions. The three questions were just basic questions: What do we do well? What don’t we do well? If you were in my position, what would you do to change our growth trajectory?
Robert: The most common sales response was we need to fix delivery, we need to deliver our products and services quicker, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to sell software to my clients, knowing it could take upwards of a year and a half to deliver, about. Another one was we really don’t have any ‘go-to-market’ strategies. We just develop products and services, and we kind of throw them over the fence, and say hey, go sell it.
Robert: There was a bunch more, so we kind of took some of those things… I’m a big believer in… it’s always funny when you say to a new team, “Give me all of the… What are you working on now?” The team will come in and historically will pride themselves on this big book. Here’s the 367 things I’m working on. Well, there’s no way to work on 367 things. We kind of compiled that list of the interviews, and talked to everybody and got everybody’s input, right? Everybody has to feel that they belong and they have buy-in on this, it’s not me. We came up with, “Here’s some of the things we need to do,” and have a maniacal focus on those things. “Let’s do those things, and when we do them we’ll move on to the next one.”
Robert: We built out a brand new delivery organization so that we could give our sales team and our customers the confidence that we can deliver our products and services. We were delivering PCO [inaudible 00:11:33], in almost two years. We just delivered one in 67 days.
Mike: Wow.
Robert: Phenomenal. We didn’t have any good market strategies. We didn’t have any propositions for our sales team. At the end of the day, we’re a sales organization, right? So we need to do everything we can to put the power into the hands of the sales team. We just finished these great… Kira Brettenfield’s team… Tracy Krepper put together these great animations, because I got sick of Power Point I got sick of our salespeople having to lug these Power Point decks, and everything else. When I was on the other side of it, buying products, I hated this. So we created several animations. Now our sales guys can go in and sell on an iPad. You press start, and it talks about our products and services, and it’s animations, and it’s voice-overs… It’s just a new way of doing things. In essence, we did a much better job selling the products that we have. Experian Products and Services rock! Again, I’ve been buying them for a long time, we weren’t marketing them and selling them as efficiently as we could.
Robert: Ultimately, we didn’t come up with any new innovation, we didn’t come up with a better mousetrap. We came up with a better way to sell our products to our clients, and when our clients had those products and services in their possession, we did a much better job of servicing those products. Our customer service stats are substantially higher than what they were. They’re industry leading, from our ability to deliver and manage our products.
Mike: Can you talk about coming in as a new president, needing to rally the troops, to earn trust very quickly. You talk about having these conversations: What do you do well? What aren’t we doing well? What are some things we can change? You need honest feedback. You really need to hear what the challenges are, to move forward. But you also need to establish trust very, very quickly. When you stepped into this new role, what’s kind of your approach to, begin to like, you’re looking at your team… I like the example of your football team, you have all these new players all of a sudden. You have to determine, “Okay, where should people be? What positions do they need to be in? How do I also get everyone to realize I’m the right coach for them?”
Robert: It’s tough on both sides, right? Here’s this guy, who the heck does he think he is? He’s a start-up guy and he’s going to tell us what to do? At the same time, I’ve got to take a look and evaluate the team, and see what the right mix is. I think the number one thing – and this is true of every successful start-up entrepreneur – you simply have to believe. You have to believe in your goals, you have to believe in the team, and believe in yourself. I can remember, probably my third week in, I was in a budget meeting and we got Brian Cassin in there, we got Lloyd Pitchford, Craig is in there obviously, and some of the finance guys. It was either Craig or Brian said to me, “Hey, how do you feel about this budget?” I’d just been given the budget.
Mike: Yeah.
Robert: I tend to be a little cocky, and I tend to mouth off a little bit, and I looked down at the number. I think the growth was four percent. I looked down at it and I said, “We’ll hit double digits.”
Mike: Really? You just…
Robert: Just like that. Cormack was sitting next to me, and he literally kicked me under the table. We joke about this all the time. Now he says, “You just seemed so… who the hell is this guy?” I believed in it because I believed in the products. I believed in what Experian does. I think Experian is on the verge of greatness, and will be considered a technology company in the same vein as the Googles and the Facebooks and the Microsofts. That’s what our ambition is. But I believed. I remember telling Angela Grainger, “Hey, we’re going to hit ten percent.” Angela – we joke about this too – “How the heck are we going to go from 3-4 percent?” Historically, it was 1-2 percent. “How are we going to get 10 percent?” But I believed, and I never stopped believing, and I knew that we were going to get there. We got fourteen that year, by the way.
Mike: Wow.
Robert: That’s a big thing. You’ve got to believe, and you’ve got to walk in here and know that you’re going to do everything that you can, to get there. You’re not going to leave any stone unturned. You’re going to do whatever you can. I think it’s important that… we had our gap call meeting today, and I’m in the gap call talking to sales guys, and I know most of the deals we have going on. What the products do, and just rally the team. It comes down to belief. You ask any entrepreneur that’s been successful, they believe in their product, even when sometimes somebody says no, you have to have that belief.
Patty: How do you create and maintain that sense of belief and confidence? Was there ever a time after you said, “I’m going to do double digit growth,” that you were like, “Oh crap. What did I do? Can I do it?”
Robert: I’m sure that… I’m sure that happens, but I’m a super-positive person anyway, right? I mean, what’s the alternative? So you really think about it, you can either be mediocre and say, “Ah, we’ll try to get there.” Or, you can say “Hell yeah we’re going to get there,” and rally the team. When you think about the choices that you have, it’s just a no-brainer. I mean, honest to goodness it’s cliché, but we’re only on this earth for a fairly short period of time. I’ve got another 100 years, but I think… I mean, while we’re here, let’s have fun with it, right? Let’s be positive and let’s believe.
Robert: I mean, I’ve been married 23 years. I’ve got three kids and they sometimes get sick of me saying it, but yeah, I mean, you can be anything you want to be and do anything you want to do. You just have to believe that you can get there. Going back to football, you never go to the team and say, “There’s no fricking way you’re going to win this game. Boy, look how big those guys are.” Right? “Boy, Trans Union has some really kick ass product.” I mean, you go into it and you say – I call my boys gentlemen – “Gentlemen. You got this. All right? We all work together, we all remember what we’ve been taught. I’m here in the sidelines. I got your backs. We’re going to win this game.” Really it’s the only way to kind of live. I mean, because the other alternative is just miserable.
Mike: Right, right.
Mike: How do you – because part of being innovative, and part of leading teams, there’s going to be failures along the way, and you’re going to learn a lot from those failures – how do you manage and keep the team positive, keep them believing, when those failures happen?
Robert: Failures are great. I mean, with my start-up, we pivoted three times. Pivoted meaning the product that we developed sucked. We had to say “Whoa, that’s not good.” Then the recession hit, right, and then we had to regroup. We basically held on to the same idea, and failing’s okay. We’ve failed here, and it all depends upon how you treat it, right? I mean, everybody’s heard that you don’t get judged by how you fail, you get judged by how soon you pick yourself up, right? That’s kind of how we manage it here. I don’t think anybody’s afraid to fail, because from my perspective, we just discovered another way not to do something. If you think about one of my famous, my favorite quotes is Thomas Edison, discovered the light bulb obviously. After he discovered the light bulb, he… everybody came out of the woodwork and said, “You know, this is awful, you copied me, you copied…” He took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, and he basically said, “Listen, you guys are right, but I failed 300 times on how not to do it, but all I needed was one time to figure out how to do it, and I did it, I executed on it.”
Robert: That’s kind of the name of the game with us, is we’re big on execution, right? You’ve got to move forward, and you have to do something. Pablo Picasso, another – not that I’m a big art fan – Pablo Picasso said that action is the fundamental key to all success. We talk about that quote all the time, right, it’s just… it’s executing, you’ve got to get stuff done. If you fail, while you’re trying to get stuff done, at least you’ve moved the needle. Now you know what not to do. Inaction is… you’re never going to fail, but you’re really never going to succeed, either.
Mike: Mmm.
Patty: Right. You mentioned that you have three kids, and the first time I saw you was actually at the Women in Experian Leadership Summit, when you talked with the all-male panel. About…
Robert: Which is a nerve-wracking thing for me, by the way.
Patty: Yeah, it must’ve been
Mike: You know what? It’s quite a bit that’s nerve-wracking when like, pitching start-ups and getting $100,000,000 from Steve Bezos.
Robert: That was easy! [crosstalk 00:22:07] Yeah. Being one of… middle-aged dudes standing up there talking to the women of Experian. But yeah, who’s that guy?
Patty: I loved your story about your daughter on the cheerleading team.
Robert: Ashley, yeah.
Patty: For Mike, since you weren’t there. He was… Or, actually, how about you explain your anecdote, because it was about how she was on the cheerleading team and she wasn’t allowed to call it a sport, and they weren’t funding it.
Mike: Oh.
Robert: My son, who’s now 21, he’s a senior at San Diego State, and my daughter, who’s 19, she’s at Pepperdine, she’s actually in Buenos Aires for the next four months studying abroad.
Mike: Oh.
Patty: Oh great!
Robert: Don’t get… I’ll start crying. I have a 12-year-old guy, too. My older son was captain of the football team up North – we just moved to Laguna two months ago – and my daughter was captain of the cheerleader team. The benefits that he got from football were numerous. I mean, it was free this and free that from the boosters, and really nice buses, and they didn’t have to pay for the uniforms. It was great. My daughter and all of her teammates didn’t get that same privilege. When we dug into it a little bit, the county in Northern California did not recognize cheerleading as a sport. They categorized it as a extra-curricular hobby.
Robert: My daughter could kick my son’s butt – my 6’2″ linebacker son – up and down the field. She took that as a challenge. She rallied her teammates, and she rallied the school board, and we supported her…
Mike: Good for her.
Robert: We turned it around, and now it is recognized as a sport, as well it should be. The athleticism with those girls is great. So, that was just something, it just drove it home to me that even in 2019 it still exists, that inequality still really exists. It is up to us to do everything we can to change that.
Patty: I really love that story, and I think my question from that was… obviously, your daughter displayed immense leadership in rallying her team and making cheerleading an official sport. So I want to know more about how you’re displaying leadership with your kids, because they obviously are born leaders already.
Robert: Thank you. They’re also, all three of them are brats. As much as others. I mean, my daughter, she’s pre-med, she’s in the honors program and my son is, she’s, all my kids are bilingual. That was something that they…
Patty: English and…
Robert: I’m English and German, my wife is Irish, so we’re the most whitest thing… cake on the sunblock. From Kindergarten through 6th grade, all of my kids were taught in Spanish entirely.
Mike: Oh wow.
Robert: The best part of leadership thing, we live in a great big world, right? You can’t have tunnel vision on, so you got to expand your horizons, so… Yeah, so when they entered Kindergarten, they were spoken to entirely in Spanish, no English whatsoever.
Patty: Amazing.
Mike: That is so cool.
Robert: She’s in Buenos Aires [inaudible 00:25:52] [crosstalk 00:25:55] I think… my wife is a stay at home mom, and we, everything is 50/50. I think it’s about respect, and just showing the kids by example how to respect people. They’ve all seen me coaching, and so they see that, they’ve seen videos of me on YouTube, couple commercials for Visa. But, it’s obviously, it’s different when it’s your own kids, but I think we do a pretty good job with the kids, teaching them right from wrong, teaching them to be confident. It’s about confidence and it’s about believing in yourself. Leadership comes from strength of character. That’s not always innate. That’s something that you really have to teach, and my son, 6th grade, moved to Laguna two months ago…
Mike: Big change.
Robert: Big change, right? It’s a big…
Mike: That can be very hard.
Robert: It’s a big deal for him. He knows we all have his back, and at the end of the day I’m like “Listen, dude. You play football, you surf…” He plays electric guitar like a champ.
Mike: Oh.
Patty: Amazing.
Robert: “I think you’re going to be okay. You may have a day, maybe an hour or two, of discomfort. But, dude, I think you’re…” He’s a righteous little dude, so…
Robert: I’m the same person here that I am at home. Some people kind of turn it on, turn it off, I’m kind of the same. The same guy. It’s confidence. It’s knowing that if you fail, you can pick yourself back up again. That is, to me, that is the most freeing thing you can ever imagine. Knowing that it is okay to fail. Knowing that somebody has your back. Knowing that you don’t always have to be 100 percent, that if you do stumble, you’re going to be okay. I mean, there’s a lot of folks that believe, that are nervous, they go through life thinking “Wow, if I fail, I’m going to be judged.” It is what it is.
Patty: Yeah.
Mike: Mmm hmm.
Robert: Right? It is what it is. If you can get past that, it’s probably one of the most liberating things there is.
Patty: Yeah, people are always going to think things of you, might as well do whatever you’re going to do.
Mike: Mmm Hmm.
Robert: Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah, it’s super, super liberating.
Mike: Just talking to you I can tell you are extremely self-aware. I’m kind of curious about… What are some of the things you are intentional about? To make sure you’re just aware how you’re doing and how you’re presenting yourselves to others.
Robert: Yeah. Humor is big part of kind of what I do. I really try to make people feel comfortable right away. In turn, that makes me feel comfortable. But, I’m always cognizant of what’s going on and where we need to be, and there’s an interesting statistic out there that says that people that rate themselves a five on a scale of one to five, generally are twos.
Mike: I never heard that one.
Robert: People that kind of rate themselves like a two or a three generally are those top performers. So, I am very self aware and I am a three. We’ve had unprecedented growth in decision analytics. Unprecedented growth.
Mike: Right. On paper, you’re a five.
Robert: Six, six and a half. I was having this conversation with someone, I think it was Adam Fingers this morning with coffee, but I mean, I’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of things that I need to do to improve the team. There’s a lot of things that we can do better. There’s a lot of things that I could personally do better. That’s kind of the journey, right? I don’t think the journey ever ends. When you come into work and say, “I’m a five and I’ve done everything that I can to make this the best place,” I think it’s time for you to leave, right? I answer, every day, thinking what are we going to do, what are we going to tackle? We’re not where we need to be. I’m not where we need to be. We rally the troops.
Robert: We had a great call with sales team today – we call it the gap call – we’re looking at kind of where we are in the deals. It’s “Okay, we got this. Where are we going to go? Hey, Robert we were going to get this deal but it fell through. No worries. What about the next one?” You kind of create that, where people feel like “Wow, he’s okay, he knows… he has my back, he knows there’s a couple more deals behind this one. That’s great.” That’s freeing, right? It enables you to then go get more deals and not be so consumed about that one… it’s not even a failure, right? It is what it is. A deal fell through. The other way to treat it is to harp on that one deal, “Why didn’t you get it? You’re not performing where you need to be.” That person isn’t going to be where they need to be with that type of attitude.
Mike: You mentioned meeting with Adam, and part of being a leader means you’re networking within your organization, you know who’s doing what, you know who to talk to. I’m kind of curious about your networking strategies, how you are intentional about keeping up with different people, here at Experian.
Robert: Yeah, I think the best example of that is Alex Lintner and I. I think historically – and I didn’t know Alex before I came here. I think historically, EITS and DA, we’re very siloed, rev shares were very, very cut in stone and there was animosity about the rev shares, animosity about the product mix and the people, and everything else. The first time I met Alex – and Alex and I really cut of the same cloth – we said hey, I don’t care, right? I mean, you and I have one big goal, and that is the Experian North American numbers, so how can we work together? I’m not territorial, neither is he. So we really did a good job of breaking down silos and talking about how we can work together. Let’s fix some of the rev share stuff. The teams had gelled, in fact this year – coming year – we’re going to have a joint offsite.
Patty: Oh cool.
Robert: So normally, we have our strategic [crosstalk 00:32:48] separately, we’re doing one. We’re going to do a CSDA offsite, where we’re bringing the teams in. But that’s probably one of my better strengths is collaboration because I don’t have any preconceived notions about how something should be done and I don’t look at a specific function or territory. If it makes sense for the business, then it makes sense for Experian. I think the mantra of One Experian is something that we really, really take to heart. I mean, we launched a product that has a cool code name, I can’t talk about it, but we launched a product that was super, super successful. We had to rally. We had to bring in EITS, we had to bring in CIS, we had to bring in the global guys with product, and we all pulled together and it was a phenomenal success. We couldn’t have done that if we didn’t collaborate. I think I generally make people feel at ease, and I’m fairly unassuming, and I’m very collaborative. I think that vibe gives way to people knowing that there’s no ulterior motives. How do we make this company the most successful company that we can?
Mike: Yeah, I like that.
Patty: So, you kind of got lucky because Alex isn’t territorial. But, say you kind of butt heads with someone who is the opposite? Like Alex, same level, but in a different department. How would you go around collaborating with that person if you don’t really get along?
Robert: You know, it’s the same I think. I think the danger you sometimes have is like, “Well it’s easy to collaborate with this person because he digs it, and this person doesn’t, and that’s going to be a little more difficult. I’m kind of the same person, and you may need to maneuver a little bit, but ultimately, everybody wants to know what’s in it for them.
Patty: Right.
Robert: Right? Hopefully at my level, we’re past the bickering kind of thing. Sure, there’s some leaders that aren’t as collaborative, and that is what it is. When you approach it in a tone of hey this is what’s in it for you, this is what we’re doing, and this is what’s in it for Experian. This is the greater good. You tend to get past it. What doesn’t work is somebody who is more difficult, or personalities aren’t great. That happens. Everybody doesn’t have to like each other. What doesn’t work is that when you take it to heart and you kind of push back, and it turns into this fight and this battle, where you get the phone call, you’re like, “Aah, crap.” So it’s just, I push to make it work. Again, I use humor a lot, to kind of get past stuff. I’ve had those in the past, where I’ve… and I’m not… I’ve certainly raised my voice, I’ve certainly yelled, I’ve certainly done the knucklehead things I’m probably not very proud of, but for the most part I’m pretty even keeled, and that helps.
Mike: You know, you talked about before Experian, the start-up that you launched. I feel like the work you did at a start-up is… I can’t even imagine that environment, but I’m kind of curious about the things you took away from launching the start-up, getting the funding, and then moving back into the corporate world. You talk about that maneuver. You could have continued on and launched another start-up.
Robert: I almost did. I actually took a year off, when I sold the company. I’m a big skier, have a house in Lake Tahoe with the family, did a lot of skiing, did a lot of surfing, grew out my beard until I realized how gray it was. I was looking at other start-ups to do.
Mike: Yeah.
Robert: I got an executive recruiter call – I forgot the guy’s name – for this job. My first reaction was, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to go to Experian, I don’t know if that’s the company…” I know the company and I kind of know the company as a big huge battleship, right? It’s not very maneuverable, it’s not going to turn. Talked to the recruiter and then ended up talking to Craig and Charles Chung and a couple other folks. What drew me to the company was the opportunity. But I made it very clear to Charles, who – I don’t mean Charles successor when Charles left – I was very clear with Charles, “Hey, I’m going to run this like a start-up, right? Because I think that’s the right thing to do. I’m going to be wearing jeans and sneakers, but I’m going to have that start-up mentality, where we’re going to believe, and we’re going to be nimble, and we’re going to move fast.” He thought that was great. Quite frankly, that’s worked really, really well for us.
Robert: I think you can take the start up mentality and apply it to everything. Now, the best of both worlds is having the start-up mentality with the sensibilities and the practicality of a big company. So I think I kind of, coming from big, large Fortune 500 companies, and then doing a nimble start-up, I kind of bring both of those aspects of it together. I would say moving fast, having maniacal focus, just on a couple things, seeing those through. Failing fast, being super, super upbeat and believing in your products, is probably the most of what I took from the start-up environment.
Mike: How did you make that culture shift here? Coming on board, because we weren’t like that.
Robert: I don’t think I did. I don’t think I… I didn’t change, I still think I’m at a start-up.
Mike: Okay.
Robert: I still… I mean, certainly there’s corporate things that I have to do. Once in while, I wear a suit, which I can’t stand, and everybody gives me shit for it. I don’t think I’ve… I still think I’m there. I still kind of manage the same way. I mean, there’s certain things that I’ve had to adjust to, a little bit here and there. Corporate governance, working for a large company, but I still am kind of managing the business. Quite frankly, when I was at Providian Financial in San Francisco, it was a company that was in some financial trouble, we took it over. I thought I was at a start-up there too. A lot of it has to do with my mentality, I think, of what we need to do, and how we need to be nimble. It’s having both experiences, I think it served me really, really well for Experian.
Mike: I’m kind of curious about when you build up your team and you’re bringing out new people, what are you looking for? What are attributes of the ideal person who’s going to work with you?
Robert: It’s one hundred percent enthusiasm. I mean, it’s attitude. I never hire for a specific skill set. You hire for somebody who has a really good attitude and who really wants to excel, and quite frankly, I want to hire people ten times smarter than me. Like, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. I mean, I just have a good way of kind of bringing people together and getting the best out of people. I hire for people that are unlike me and have different skill sets. I don’t think it’s necessarily the right thing to do to hire somebody who absolutely has, is the the right fit just because they’ve done the job before. I think having a fresh view of something is also the right thing to do. What works for Uber may work for Experian. Just because they’re not in financial services, they don’t sell the same specific software, but they may have the right attitude, they may have the right enthusiasm, and they may have a certain way of thinking that makes a lot of sense to us.
Mike: I also want to ask you about your… you mentioned your family throughout this podcast, and I’m kind of curious about how you separate work and life. Obviously, you enjoy your life with your family, coaching football, being active in your kids’ lives, you just moved down here, your son’s new at school, you’re kind of encouraging him, you’re part of his life, you have your wife – I think 22 years did you say?
Robert: It’ll be 24 in November.
Mike: 24 years. So I’m kind of curious about how you… how are you so successful and impactful here at work, and then also at home? What does that look like for you?
Robert: Well, it’s family first, that’s always what I tell the team, “Your family comes first.” Ultimately, that’s what really matters. I mean, this is fun, but family matters. I think having a good work/life balance is great, and I think that’s from the top of the house, whether it’s Brian Cassin… I was just sitting down with Craig, talking about something, and the first thing out of Craig’s mouth was “Hey, how’s the family? What’s your football score?” So the first five minutes we were talking about me, and then his son is also in 6th grade and plays soccer. So, I think at the top of the house, right? It really makes a difference. I mean, let’s face it, it makes for a better work environment when you know you have something really great to come home to. You don’t get stressed out about it. Now, there’s times where I’m at home and I’m on the phone at seven o’clock at night, on the phone with finance folks at seven o’clock at night. But finding that work/life balance is really, really important.
Robert: It never goes away, right? Because this is super important, and at my level it’s a lot harder to turn some of the stuff off. My wife is super supportive of everything. My kids, when they see Experian Boost commercials on TV, they go crazy. So, it’s a big deal. But, I really have that good balance. You know, if I have to leave at a certain timeframe to catch something, I don’t miss kids stuff. I don’t miss wife stuff. That’s super, super important to me.
Mike: I think we should [inaudible 00:44:08] Experian Boost audio commercial.
Robert: I get tears in my eyes.
Patty: So funny. So it sounds like since you’ve put family first, there hasn’t been a lot of sacrifice on your part because you’re putting your family first. But, have you ever had, maybe like really bad burnout? That you kind of had to put work on hold?
Mike: I’m curious about, especially during start-up time, because you’ve got to be putting in lots of hours.
Robert: Start-up was really, really tough. Especially since we did it during the recession and everything kind of cut… I don’t think I got burned out, but it’s a completely different dynamic. At one point, I was in London and all of Europe so often that we lived there for about three or four months in two summers, because I had so much work over there. Rather than me go back and forth, I said, “Guys, you got to come with me.” So we kind of moved out there. I don’t think I’ve ever been burnt out. I don’t think you work in the right way if it gets to that point, right? I don’t think you’ve got a good healthy work/life balance if you get burnt out. I mean, there’s times where – I keep looking at my watch because I want to go have a beer – but I mean there’s times that you get… I don’t even know if I get stressed, but there’s times where there’s hard days, right? I think if you approach it from the beginning, if you never light that fire, you’re not going to get burned out. You got to maintain that work/life balance right away.
Robert: But yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever… even my even like the worst days I have had in my career – which I can’t even pick one – there are those, but I guess the point being is that they’re not, in the grand scheme of things, not so bad. If you’re afraid of getting burnt out, or if you are getting burnt out like I said, you kind of got to back up, there’s something a little bit wrong with how you’re treating this. To me, this is… I’m having a blast. I mean, I’m having a blast and it’s fun, I like the people here, I like what we’re doing I like winning, I like our goals. But, to me this is as fun as really as anything else. I don’t think it’s work. I look forward to it.
Mike: Yeah. I like that. I’m curious, earlier in your career, when I hear and see you talk I love your humor, you’re obviously extremely confidant. You’re enjoying your work, you’re enjoying your life. I’m curious about, early on in your career, some of those things that you’ve had to work on to improve that skill – it might be public speaking – but whatever it is, that one, maybe some of those challenges that you had earlier on, that you were intentional about: “I need to get really… I need to get better at this thing.”
Robert: Yeah, I think the public speaking thing has always been okay. I’ve always been a bit of a knucklehead and not talk in front of a camera, maybe that’s from when I was younger. But, yeah, there’s always that. I just read – not that I read quotes all the time – but I just read an interesting quote from Richard Branson. He basically said, “If somebody gives you the opportunity of a lifetime, and you don’t think you can do it, do it anyway, and you’ll figure it the hell out.” Right? I mean, I’m paraphrasing, but that was basically his thing. That’s happened a couple of times. I can remember one time where I was in a… I think I was working at the Bank of New York and I got recruited to go to Fleet Boston Financial. Doesn’t exist anymore as a company. It was a pretty big leap. I think I was going from an assistant vice president to a senior vice president of risk.
Mike: Wow.
Robert: They offered me the job. I remember talking to my wife. I’m like, “Babe. Half the shit they’re talking about, I don’t think I can do.” She said, “Yeah, you can. You’re going to figure it out.” You shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks. I mean, if you never take a risk, you’re never going to get a reward. I just think I kind of learned, but what I’ve always fallen back on is my ability to manage teams, to be motivating, and I have this uncanny ability to kind of look at a problem and find a solution. I don’t know how to do it, but I kind of have this uncanny ability to kind of simplify things and say, “Okay, here’s the big problem we have. Here’s how we can fix it, and here’s kind of the pieces.” Listen, we’re not doing… we’re not brain surgeons. I certainly wouldn’t go from leading DA to cutting into somebody’s head.
Robert: But, a lot of the principle