Wharton Lessons: From the Classroom to CEO
- by Seena Mortazavi
It has been a while since my last post, but there is a good reason for the delay. After searching for over a year, reaching out to over 3,000 businesses and traveling all around the country, I am very excited to report that we found a great business in the Northwest!
So how did it all happen? It started with an article in the local business journal. As part of my effort to identify fast-growing niche markets, I subscribed to the local journal and kept my eyes and ears open for attractive businesses. One of the businesses I was quite impressed by was Chronus. The business met several of my key metrics (world-class product, exceptional team, blue-chip customers) and was in an attractive niche within the broader fast-growing Human Capital Management industry. Most important of all, the owner and I had incredible chemistry. What started as a coffee chat turned into weekly meetings where it was clear that we had common values and goals for the future of the business.
Since my first meeting with the owner, life has been a whirlwind. Even with the support of my seasoned investors, I was barely able to keep up with the due diligence journey that entirely consumed three months of my life. I had always taken pride in my ability to be efficient and productive so that I can maintain a healthy work/life balance, but this was the first time in my professional life that I felt like there simply weren’t enough hours in a day. While private equity firms have teams to conduct diligence, I was severely short-handed as a solo-searcher and taking any shortcuts was not an option. The challenging part of all of this was I knew that even after the diligence period, life wouldn’t get much easier. On one hand, if the deal goes through, I would have to ramp-up and transition into the CEO role. On the other hand, if the deal doesn’t go through, it would be back to the search grind.
Fortunately, after months of hard work and great collaboration between everyone, we closed the deal and I stepped in as CEO to help take Chronus to the next level. Since then, life has been busy but quite exciting as the first year of running a business requires a tremendous amount of tactical work and strategic thinking. This is where my time at Wharton has proven to be absolutely critical. Taking lessons learned from professors, workshops, and leadership ventures contributed to my ability to hit the ground running as I ramped up on the business, market, and key drivers of growth.
As many of my peers would probably attest to, the leadership ventures at Wharton transformed my way of thinking about how to form and lead highly effective teams. By sailing a tall scientific ship in Tahiti, going through marine training at Quantico, and trekking in Antarctica, I was able to learn by observing other high-performing leaders and putting myself in extreme conditions to test my own leadership abilities. While I’d like to think that I am a natural leader, these leadership ventures opened my eyes to a completely different way of leading and transformed my understanding of leadership and my ability to lead teams effectively. While I still have a lot to learn, I can definitely say that I am a much stronger leader today because of the leadership ventures and those skills have been instrumental in my transition to lead the Chronus team.
Another critical skill that I learned while at Wharton is the ability to listen. Listening to customers, employees, and peers has been very powerful as I continue to observe and assess our growth strategy. The amount of information that you can learn just by listening is remarkable, but it’s not enough to just listen to words. My time at Wharton taught me how to listen beyond the words by picking up body language, tone, and all the other nonverbal cues that can provide deep insight into what is truly being said. This skill has been instrumental in understanding where our team’s strengths and weaknesses lie and how our customers and the market are evolving.
In addition to our team and customers, I also found opportunities to listen and learn from others that have gone through a similar journey. By forming a strong board and reaching out to Wharton alumni, I was able to learn from their experiences and avoid some of the common pitfalls that companies go through in their first year of transition. Now that we are approaching our one-year anniversary, it is clear that all that hard work paid off. By listening to customers, team members, peers, HR experts, board members and experienced veterans, we have been able to get off to a great start and position Chronus for long-term success.
While the past year has been incredibly busy, it has been the good type of busy. I am extremely excited to be working with the Chronus team and customers to make a real difference in people’s lives through the power of mentoring. We are on a very exciting growth path and are passionate about helping our customers achieve their goals. That passion has made a tremendous difference in creating a smooth transition that has enabled us to focus on the key factors as we continue to grow the business and put our customers’ needs at the center of our business.