Before Sue Swenson took the reins at Sage Software, she had never heard of the company. So when she gave a keynote presentation at the Insights partner conference in May, roughly a month after starting the job as president and CEO of Sage North America, she didn’t lay out a detailed vision for Sage.
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Instead, Swenson, who has more than 20 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry, outlined her plans to listen to employees and customers about how to improve the organization and get customers the right products.
She might not know all the acronyms or products by name, but she has experience leading global organizations, having spent most of her career with Pacific Bell, where she held senior management positions in marketing and customer service and was responsible for more than 13,000 employees—the Sage Group has 14,800 across the globe, 5,000 of which are in North America. She also served as president & CEO of Cellular One as well as Chief Operating Officer of Leap Wireless International and T-Mobile (Deutsche Telecom).
Her most recent role was as COO of New Motion (now Atrinsic Inc.), a large digital media entertainment content provider.
In an interview at the Insights conference, she spoke about her views and goals.
What challenges are you facing starting a new job?
Pacific Telesis had a management development program in which I had 15 jobs in 12 years. I had the opportunity to learn to come into an organization, acclimate quickly and adjust. I come from a military family and I moved every two years, so I’m used to change. I felt comfortable here the first two days. The challenge is to make people comfortable with me and my approach and [believe] that I’m sincere. I’m not embarrassed to ask what I don’t know and I never lost my sense of curiosity of why things are the way they are. I’m challenging people to think about things differently.
What things need your immediate attention?
The first is to make sure our customers get served more effectively with products that meet their needs. I really want to look at our distribution strategy. Is there anything that we need to do differently? I don’t know. I am also continuing the effort to get the entire leadership team focused on the service experience. We feel like we’re close to the customers, but we need to understand issues across North America as a team, not a division.
Hiring the right people is critical. I’m close to hiring a CFO and a healthcare person. It’s important to build that team. About three years ago, Sage looked at its purposes and aspirations and the aspiration was to be the most admired business software and services provider in the world. That’s a big aspiration. Our purpose is a little more near-term—to make it easier for customers to manage their business processes.
What career experiences are the most applicable in this role?
Leadership at big and small companies, including entrepreneurial environments—there are some things to be said for the entrepreneurial spirit instead of just being bureaucratic. The partner channel. Wireless products were sold through dealers, you had the tiers and we evolved them. Sales is the easy part, the service and relationship part is more challenging.
My experience with how to migrate customers effectively and how to take business to the next level, optimizing what we are [doing] today in the context of where we’re going. Understanding how the U.S. fits into the global environment. At Deutsche Telecom, I was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. At Sage, there’s a lot of independence on how you run the group appropriate for your marketplace.
Wireless companies don’t always provide the best customer service. How did you become so passionate about it?
At PacBell, I started as a service rep and I learned if you make a commitment, keep a commitment. We’d make a promise to a customer for a callback. It’s ingrained in my brain to say when I’ll call them back. If you can’t keep a commitment, you shouldn’t make it.