Chicago & Oak Brook, IL
Number of employees:
Paper route. It was great. I was my own boss, I made great tips, and I got to ride my bike.
I’d love to tell you that I did five other things beforehand, but I didn’t. By and large, alligatortek is all I’ve known for the past twenty-plus years.
Leader you admire most:
Lately, I really admire Elon Musk. He is the perfect blend of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Questions & Answers
Have you always known you wanted to be an entrepreneur?:
No. Right around the time I was finishing my master’s degree, I was ready to go work for a large, great company and build my career. My father had actually worked in corporate America and realized he hit a glass ceiling. He gave me two pieces of advice before I started working: 1. There was a glass ceiling, and 2. he believed I wouldn’t put up with it. So he encouraged me to go out and start on my own company.
Why is your company called alligatortek?:
Alligator Computer Systems was our first moniker, and that was born out of “Putting byte into productivity.” “BYTE” was how we started. Over time, we morphed into alligatortek.
What have you learned in your previous jobs that helped you as CEO of alligatortek?:
I evolved from the notion of working hard to “working smart.” I have learned how to employ good leaders and let them grow in their positions so that I am able to delegate a lot more to those that I am confident will be able to execute. That’s the magic of leadership.
What motivates you?:
I get fired up by being around people who are constantly growing and reaching their potential. I look for opportunities where I’m able to tie a person’s unique ability to his or her role or provide an outlet to discover true professional passion. I love knowing that I helped them get to the next level.
Do you think there is a difference between leadership and management?:
Today, it’s not a matter of if employees leave, but when. When someone leaves alligatortek, it will be bittersweet because they are leaving stronger and better than when they joined the team. Yet even though they flew the coop, we can say we helped bring them to the next level.
In our world, leaders look to develop other leaders, growing people to take over for you, whereas a manager is more directive. At alligatortek, we look for people to grow personally and professionally, which means providing them with the opportunity to make decisions. That’s what a typical leadership model is, as opposed to management.
What is one of the toughest challenges you’ve faced as a leader? :
If I could do it again, I would invest in more human capital. Our biggest lesson learned was the importance of hiring really talented and amazing team members as soon as possible.
We are in version 3.0 of our company. Version 1.0 was very much a network of people that we cobbled together without a common thread. In Version 2.0, we got smarter but we didn’t have our core values and mission solidified. Version 3.0 is really about everybody rowing in the same direction—people who understand our core values are more than statements simply put up on the board.
If you were to ask anyone in our company what our core values are, they wouldn’t struggle to remember them. We hire to them, we screen to them, we live by them. If I could rewind the clock, I would have really embodied that from the beginning—as opposed to having to learn it.
How did you craft your mission and values for your company?:
The mission is based on my own personal mantra: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The company became a natural extension of that statement: alligatortek helps other companies achieve their potential. When a company wants to get to the next level but doesn’t know how to get there, we are their vehicle. For our team members, it is the same thing—we serve as a personal and professional launching pad.
The core values started with values that were important to me. Then our leadership team went through an exercise where they threw sheets of paper on the wall and listed what was most meaningful to them. Our values—stewardship, positive attitude, accountability, and excellence—are the collective response of the group.
What advice would you give future leaders based on your own personal experience?:
You have a unique set of talents to bring to the organization. Look for an opportunity where you can be a contributor, where you can help that organization get to the next level. Ask questions like, “Hey, I can bring X to the table. Do you think I’ll have an opportunity to use that here?”
Once you’re in that role, take ownership of it. Think: “If I were the CEO or if I owned 100 percent of the equity here, what would I do?” Treat your role with real heart and ownership, because then you’re infusing your values and it becomes a joint journey.
Continue to explore and take advantage of as many opportunities to round out your skill set. Eventually, you will find work that feels like it is what you’re meant to do.