Business Innovation, Scale & Self Awareness with Marc Viggiano

Jun 4, 2024 | Podcast | 0 comments

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One of the benefits of belonging to the GENIUS NY cohort community is access to experienced advisors. Our most recent episode of #360Pulse #Podcast allows you a sliver of a sliver of the level of expertise in that community ~ Marc Viggiano, CEO and Founder of Niteopark. With over 35 years of experience, Marc develops advanced sensor and communication systems, holds multiple patents, and leads transformative growth in his career, including a significant 40X exit with Sensis. We dive into his leadership philosophy, strategies for building successful businesses, and insights on the future of technology.

About Leadership

My leadership philosophy has definitely evolved over my extensive career. I wasn’t much of a leader initially, and even today, I don’t consider myself a natural leader. However, I believe that anyone can get better at being a leader with hard work. It’s not an innate talent; it’s a skill you can develop.

A lot of people say great leaders are born, not made, but I disagree. You can certainly become a great leader. The US Armed Forces, for example, consistently produce outstanding leaders, proving that leadership skills can be taught and honed. A good leader possesses a mix of skills and values. Skills like communication, listening, and negotiation can be learned and improved. Values like honesty, integrity, courage, and humility are usually set early in life and are harder to change, though it’s not impossible.

When it comes to skills, leaders can always improve. Communication, listening, and negotiation are areas where anyone can get better with practice and education. Values, on the other hand, are more deeply ingrained. Honesty, integrity, courage, and humility are critical for a good leader, and while these can be developed, they are often established early in life.

One of my favorite books on leadership is “Heroic Leadership” by Chris Lowney. Lowney, a former hedge fund manager turned Jesuit priest, provides unique insights into leadership. The Jesuits were an entrepreneurial group, and Lowney’s experiences with them highlight the importance of values in leadership. I also recommend “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. These books fall under the category of self-awareness and help in understanding cognitive biases, which is crucial for any leader.

About INNOVATION

Innovation doesn’t just lie in creating new products but also in improving existing processes. Continuous improvement, or everyday innovation, is where profit often lies. Transformative innovation, while rare and valuable, takes a lot of time and resources. Innovation can also occur in how you build or market your products. Encouraging a culture of experimentation and tolerating failure are essential. Celebrate and reward innovation, even if the reward is just recognition.

Personally, I find my most creative moments come when I step away from my routine, often during flights with noise-canceling headphones. It’s important to tap into new sources of knowledge and be open to different perspectives. For me, reading science fiction helps shift my brain into a creative mode. Everyone is different, but for me, shifting my frame of reference from the day-to-day grind is key to generating new ideas.

Innovation is everywhere, not just in technology companies. Being curious and open-minded, and having a disciplined approach to developing and testing new ideas, is crucial. Whether it’s technical or process-oriented, fostering a culture that celebrates and rewards innovation can drive significant growth and success.

About Scale

When discussing scaling a business, one of the key factors is the team you build. Our CEO at Sensis, Judd Gostin, was meticulous about building a strong team and a robust, independent board of directors. In an early-stage company, a bad hire can be disastrous. It’s crucial to be willing to make tough decisions and cut ties early if a hire doesn’t work out. Building a strong, independent board of directors can provide invaluable guidance and industry context.

In our case, having a long-term vision was essential. Judd wanted to create a company that would eventually go public, which influenced our strategic decisions. Although we didn’t become a publicly traded company, we found a good home with Saab. Having that long view helped us stay focused and build a cohesive team with shared values and goals.

As the company grew, we had to adapt our leadership style. Initially, we could all meet around one conference table, but as we expanded, we needed to change our communication and organizational structure. Recognizing these changes and being willing to pivot was crucial. When the Berlin Wall fell and defense spending decreased, we pivoted from aerospace and defense to civilian air traffic control. This flexibility allowed us to thrive despite significant external challenges.

In fostering innovation, it’s essential to communicate your goals, measure progress, and celebrate successes. Encouraging a culture that tolerates experimentation and failure is vital. For me, innovation isn’t just about new ideas but about successfully exploiting those ideas. It’s about turning a new idea into a profitable proposition. This requires a deep understanding of your customers, the market, and the competitive landscape.

To foster innovation within an organization, it’s important to tap into the vast knowledge outside your company. Engage with universities, libraries, conferences, and industry experts. For me, reading science fiction and stepping away from my routine helps stimulate new thinking. Everyone is different, but shifting your frame of reference can lead to creative breakthroughs.

Innovation is not confined to technology companies; it can be found everywhere. By being curious, open-minded, and disciplined in developing and testing new ideas, leaders can drive significant growth and success. Encourage your team to think creatively, celebrate their achievements, and continuously seek new sources of knowledge and inspiration.

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