Educate, collaborate and innovate. That’s the message at Insights 2008, the sixth annual reseller conference of Sage Software.

As the confab kicked off at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the Potomac River, more than 3,000 attendees came to learn and share more about the products and services they offer to their customers on behalf of Sage.

Before Monday afternoon’s keynote speakers — Sue Swenson (pictured), the new president and chief executive of Sage Software’s North American operations, and John Maxwell, a leadership expert and author — were introduced, a high-energy crew of tap and break dancers took the stage armed with empty plastic buckets and drum and broom sticks to illustrate the philosophy of collaboration. As the group was finishing, Swenson came on stage holding two blue broom sticks and quipped, “I didn’t know I was going to have to entertain as well as run a software company.”

Six weeks into her position at Sage, Swenson held her own at her first conference, drawing from her experience in the telecommunications industry, where she held previous leadership positions.

“You may be expecting me to come out with some big proclamations, about what Sage is going to do to march to a different drummer,” Swenson said. “I hate to disappoint you, but I think it’s early for our first meeting.”

“It’s certainly a great market and a great industry," she added. “It’s also a great business. These are products that make a difference in people’s lives and businesses.”

Prior to joining Sage, Swenson held a number of senior management positions at Pacific Bell, and was the president and chief operating officer of PacTel Cellular, which later became AirTouch Communications. She later went on to serve as president and chief executive of Cellular One and most recently as chief operating officer of New Motion, a company now known as Atrinsic.

Swenson talked about receiving an initial call from Sage regarding the job and admitted her lack of knowledge of the company.

“When I got the call, I said, ‘Have you read my resume?’” referencing her time in telecommunications. “The person who called said, ‘Yes, I read it.’ I was very skeptical ... I went to the interview. They called me back. I have to say, I was very surprised. I got more and more interested the more I heard about Sage.”

Since taking the position, Swenson said she has been traveling to various company locations learning about the business and meeting employees. She said the Sage executive leadership team will start to collectively learn more about what affects the company’s customers in the following months. In talking with employees, she found “opportunities for improvement,” such as helping customers get connected to other Sage products and communicating better with customers of the different business units.

“We’re doing a lot of things right,” she said.

She encouraged attendees to learn more about the Sage Partner Advantage Program, which has four pillars for resellers: growing your business, hiring talent, building knowledge and earning rewards. According to Swenson, the program started in 2004, and 1,000 people have attended courses since its inception. Those who participate in the program, Swenson said, saw an 18 percent improvement over their counterparts who didn’t attend.

Swenson closed by commending the agenda for this year’s workshops, describing the four-day event as “almost like a PhD in Sage.”

Following Swenson, Maxwell took the stage to talk about his thoughts on strong leaders and a company’s levels of leadership. “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” he said. “The business cannot rise above your ability to lead.”

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