“You're the one essentially in charge of your own fate and how successful you are so you have to train like a pro in everything that you do. We do that every day, we train nonstop, we educate nonstop, but we build tools and technology that allow us to keep up with that.”

Fueling Momentum through Change Management and Enablement

Drew Lydecker’s self-given title as AVANT Communications’ “Chief Executive Evangelist” could not be more accurate. AVANT is as much Lydecker as Lydecker is AVANT. His passion for his company, for his professional vertical, and for enabling not only his clients, but also his employees, is clear.

“I have a huge passion around technology and where this market is going and I feel very responsible for pushing the movement,” says Lydecker. “I love getting people hyped up and energized. It really has become my job to educate anybody and everybody about the movement we’re part of right now.”

AVANT Communications’ Chief Executive Evangelist Finds His Voice

Like many new graduates, Lydecker didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do after college. According to him, he never thought he would end up in telecommunications—an industry in which he is now known as a trailblazer. Instead, it found him. He moved to Chicago to start his career and joined WorldCom, a large telecommunications company, where he was introduced to next-generation technologies before the company found itself in the middle of one of the largest accounting scandals in corporate history.

“I put my suit on every day—my armor for WorldCom—and then all of the sudden the company went belly up. It was dramatic,” Lydecker recalls. “To me it was a huge scandal and people were getting escorted out of the office, out of this place that I loved.” While Lydecker saw a lot of bad during his time at WorldCom, he also saw a lot of good. “My dad often says to me, ‘You could’ve gone to Harvard Business School and you never would have gotten what you got out of those two years at WorldCom.’ He’s right,” notes Lydecker. The experience was a springboard for his career that allowed him to make the leap to AT&T, where he met his future business partner, Ian Kieninger.

Lydecker has always been fascinated by entrepreneurs. His father, who helped found multiple companies, was one. As Lydecker puts it, it was never if he would found his own company, but when. His experience at AT&T, and later at CDW, showed him how difficult it was for large corporations to swivel in a new market. This insight inspired Lydecker and his co-founder Kieninger to fill a gap they saw in the telecommunications industry.

As technologies like the cloud and colocation disrupted the hardware-focused telecommunications industry, sales departments struggled to adapt. AVANT Communications was founded in 2009 to provide channel sales enablement of next-generation IT technologies. “We learned how to take somebody that has been doing one thing their entire life and teach them how to do something else—learn a new skill—and that is difficult to do in business,” says Lydecker.

AVANT began like a true startup, transforming a house in the West Loop into its headquarters. Bedrooms became offices and the deck became a meeting space. After nine years of growth, AVANT recently moved into its third office space on the 24th floor of North Riverside Plaza. Lydecker’s one requirement when seeking the new space was a deck overlooking the city—a feature that recalls AVANT’s roots in the West Loop and makes the workplace feel a little less corporate.

Making Change the New Norm

According to a 2017 report from Credit Suisse, the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company has fallen to below 20 years, largely due to disruption by large technology companies like Apple and Amazon. The ability as a leader to quickly adapt to change—or in Lydecker’s case, lead through change—is critical to surviving in the current market. “The only constant in life right now is change, and the rate of change is happening faster and faster,” Lydecker remarks. “It’s not by the year anymore. It’s not by the month. It’s actually by the second.”

With more confusion in the marketplace than ever before, it would be easy to continue doing what is familiar or comfortable to avoid change. However, Lydecker sees this confusion as an opportunity to help others navigate the disruption. “That’s what we do for a living and we have to be a part of that disruption. The thing that I love about it is that as the market changes, so do we,” Lydecker explains.

Lydecker expresses concern for companies that still design business playbooks they expect to last 10 years or more. The rate of change no longer allows companies to create a long-term plan and enjoy years of positive growth without constantly monitoring changes in the market and pivoting to meet new demands.

Lydecker’s awareness of this rapid rate of change allows him and Kieninger to create a workplace culture that not only tolerates change, but embraces it. “As you continue to grow, keeping the culture—what made you special—becomes harder and harder; but if you’re focused on it, you can do it,” says Lydecker. “If you remind people that two years from now you are not going to be the same company and you preset in people’s minds what you’re about to become, change becomes a little bit easier for people and they become part of that change.”

Enablement Is Empowerment

Today, with a workforce of more than 70 people, AVANT has lost virtually no employees in its nine-year history. Lydecker attributes this retention of talent to a work hard, play hard company culture. “We have this culture here that this business, this movement, what we’re doing should be fun—it should be super fun—but you have to work hard,” Lydecker says.

The same way a Major League Baseball player trains every day—taking batting practice, throwing pitches, spending time in the gym—Lydecker encourages his employees to continuously train themselves in skills new and old to enhance their professional abilities. “You’re the one essentially in charge of your own fate and how successful you are, so you have to train like a pro in everything that you do,” notes Lydecker. “We do that every day: we train nonstop, we educate nonstop, but we build tools and technology that allow us to keep up with that.” His passion for teaching others through motivation and investing in the professional development of his employees allows him to watch individuals grow into the best of the best.

Above all, Lydecker emphasizes the importance of finding a company that is willing to invest in its people and understands that the journey to knowledge takes time. By surrounding himself with leaders who are passionate about life and their work, he was motivated to find his own passion and became a true advocate for his industry.

Fast Facts

Location Chicago, IL
Number of Employees 70+
Number of Years in Current Role 9
Previous Experience Started career at WorldCom; moved on to AT&T; was a telecommunications specialist at CDW for 5 years
Leaders He Admires the Most Jack Welch (former CEO of GE) and Warren Buffett (CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)
5 Things He Can’t Live Without Energy, Fun, Passion, Love for Life, and Winning

Interviewed by Marsha Sanchez and Elena Chaikin and Emma Finkbeiner.