Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 049: Service Centric Leadership

Keep Leading!® Podcast Episode 049: Service Centric Leadership

Jeremie Bacon
CEO, Imagineer Technology Group
Service Centric Leadership

Episode Summary
I interviewed Jeremie Bacon, the CEO of the Imagineer Technology Group and Chairman of the Illinois Technology Association. We discussed Service Centric Leadership from the top!

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Bio
Jeremie is the CEO for Imagineer Technology Group and a SaaS entrepreneur who has been building and advising technology companies since the early 2000s. As co-founder of Backstop Solutions Group, he pioneered SaaS platforms in the financial services and CRM markets before serving as President of Itiviti and co-founding Synap.

When not at work, he can be found spending time with his wife and four children, reading, or eating piles of donuts to power his ultramarathons and adventure races.

Website
https://www.imagineertechnology.com/

LinkedIn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremiebacon/
https://www.linkedin.com/company/imagineer-technology-group/

Twitter
https://twitter.com/jeremiebacon
https://twitter.com/imagineer_tech

Leadership Quote
“It’s not enough to know what the goal is, you have to understand the why behind it.”
George H.W. Bush

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Transcript

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This podcast is part of the C Suite Radio Network, turning the volume up on business.

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For more than 20 years, Imagineer has been committed to transforming the way investor relations and fund marketing teams at investment management firms engage with and service their clients. Visit learn.ImagineerTechnology.com/KeepLeading to learn more.

Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, The Leadership Excelerator®, Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host, Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact.

On the Keep Leading!® Podcast, I talk about leadership from many different aspects. Today, I’d like to talk to someone who is leading at the highest level. I will interview Jeremie bacon. He’s the CEO of the Imagineer Technology Group and the Chairman of the Illinois Technology Association. He’s been featured in Fast Company, Crain’s Chicago Business, and appears on Chicago INNO’s 2019 50 on Fire List, a list of the top innovators in Chicago. Jeremie Bacon co-founded Backstop Solutions which provided back office support to hedge funds and other investment managers in 2003. In 2015, Bacon co-founded Synapse Software Labs where he pioneered Software as a Service platforms in the financial services and customer relationship management markets, a relationship software company which merged with Imagineer. Fun fact – he’s a musical theater junkie and performs at least once a year in a show.

Jeremie, welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast.

Jeremie Bacon:
Hey there! Thanks so much for having me on the show today. I appreciate it.
Eddie Turner:
Well, you’re a pretty impressive guy. What should my listeners know about you?
Jeremie Bacon:
I don’t know. That was a pretty exhaustive list. I think one thing that people usually don’t know about me is that I also am an ultra-marathoner and endurance athlete. I love doing adventure races. And that love and passion for doing ridiculous things in the mountains and in the woods also led to another company that I co-founded called the Forge Adventure Parks and we build outdoor recreation parks which are pretty fabulous, hundreds of acres of outdoor awesomeness. So, that is, I guess, one of the things I could throw into the mix.
Eddie Turner:
So, you’re just a serial entrepreneur is what I hear you saying, Jeremie.
Jeremie Bacon:
I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug when I was eight years old and it has been both a blessing and a curse ever since.
Eddie Turner:
Eight years old. Wow! Now, that’s impressive. I’m often asked are leaders born or are they made. So, it sounds like you are almost born?
Jeremie Bacon:
Well, I think the entrepreneur part of me was definitely born. I think the leadership thing is something that we all learn. I would argue, I guess, that I probably was born with some innate leadership traits and skills and things but I think it’s through experience and, honestly, through a lot of effort that those traits are developed into real skills over time. At least in my case that’s how it’s been.
Eddie Turner:
Okay. And I understand from talking to your staff and some of the amazing work that you’re doing and just the level of enthusiasm and passion that your staff has, the culture that you’ve built in your organization is just phenomenal. And you have a phrase for the culture you’ve built. Can you share that with my audience?
Jeremie Bacon:
Sure. So, we focus most of our efforts and most of our energy on being customer centric in all things and in all ways. Our culture sort of focuses on four key values. And those four key values drive that customer-centric approach that we take. We’re really big believers in the idea of openness and integrity and pragmatism and gratitude. And, in fact, most of our conversations start and stop with us talking about how grateful we are for the opportunity we have to build our products and service our clients. And those values for us, anyway, sort of lead us down this path of being focused on customer centricity which, we feel, at the end of the day, is just another way of saying having an acute always-on focus on needs versus wants of our customers and in our teammates as well.
Eddie Turner:
Very nice. So, service-centric leadership has four pillars. You said openness, integrity, gratitude. And, I think, I missed the fourth one.
Jeremie Bacon:
Pragmatism.
Eddie Turner:
Pragmatism. Excellent, excellent. So, tell us a little bit, if you would please, how you arrived at this as a leadership philosophy.
Jeremie Bacon:
Yeah. So, for me, the journey, I think it was with a lot of journeys, it kind of starts inside my own head and inside my own heart and sort of getting to know myself as a person. When I was a little kid, my dad always used to say to me that one of the most important things that I could do as a young man, as a boy and then as a young man, is truly get to know myself. He always used to say “Know thyself. You have to know yourself before you can know anybody else or really be of great value to those around you.” And as a kid, I didn’t really understand what that meant or how to apply it but as I got to know myself better and got to know my own strengths and weaknesses as a person and as a leader, I began to see the value in sort of focusing on that as a thing. And, for me, my natural, I guess, tendencies and persona are such that I have this crazy passion to grow and expand and explore the world around me and I have probably too much energy, great need for excitement and, for better or worse, I’m constantly driven to seek bigger and better things. And better can be defined in many different ways. In fact, my wife would tell you, my wife is my soulmate and my rock and my island and she’s stuck with me now for 20 years of marriage and 23 plus years as my partner in crime …
Eddie Turner:
That’s outstanding.
Jeremie Bacon:
She would tell you that that’s the thing about me that drives her the most nuts is that I’m too crazy in that way but what’s interesting is that it’s through that passion that I have for sharing and for developing and building teams and growing things and designing products and working with customers and working with people that sort of helped me to see the possibilities for the future and what we can grow and what we can go do and then gives me the sort of the strength to rally the troops, if you will, and help guide and lead my teammates to, I guess, [inaudible][08:17], if you will. It’s this sort of natural tendency to drive groups toward results is something that just comes naturally to me as is that ability and that desire to share passion and energy and to drive changes and to keep things moving at a rapid pace. I think, for me, it’s those things that makes it essential that I try to work in and try to create environments that are built around openness like you need to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking and you need to be open to being wrong and being told you’re wrong by your teammates bluntly from time to time but if you’re not acting with integrity, then you can’t accept that feedback and accept that criticism, if you will. And if you’re not pragmatic, you can’t implement and build and design the kind of products and the kind of experiences you’re working toward. And, lastly, if you don’t have gratitude to do all that, you can’t share that thankfulness with your teammates for them being open and being pragmatic with you and forcing you to be better and forcing you to work for your client and do things in a bigger, better, more efficient way. So, for me, those four principles are really tied together but they also are grounding principles for me as a person who is driven to run early sprint all the time. They help keep me grounded and help keep me in place.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. Well, it sounds like you’re doing an outstanding job of it. And what I love about it is that all this is authentic but I see corporate values all the time, as I’m sure you do in the line of work, you are as a CEO, but this is the first time I will say that I’ve seen gratitude and certainly pragmatism as a part of a core values. So, fantastic.

Now, you said you allow your team to challenge you and speak openly. That says a lot about you as a leader because at times that’s difficult for leader. So, in this openness, what are some lessons you’ve learned that have made you an even better leader?

Jeremie Bacon:
Yeah, thank you for asking that question because, to me, that’s a super important one. I wasn’t always sort of self-aware. And I think, again, coming down to this notion of knowing yourself and knowing your strengths and weaknesses, for me, anyway, opened me up to being able to take that criticism. And, in fact, people who work most closely with me know that I demand it. There are a few things that I demand. One of the things I absolutely demand and use a strong word for is “You’ve got to tell me what you think. And you’ve got to tell me if you think I’m wrong.” One of the challenges that’s associated with my leadership style is that I believe in planning and I believe in deep thought and deep analysis but I’m also oriented toward action. So, as my teammates will say, I don’t sleep much and I’m kind of always on and always wired and always thinking. So, oftentimes I’ve thought through a problem, thought through a bunch of different variants, thought through the solutions and made a decision about what I think is the right path forward but because I do so much of that behind the scenes or while I’m running a marathon or whatever, sometimes I bring those things to the team and like it’s all new and fresh. Not everyone works that way. And so, I’ve found that if you have an environment where your teammates can’t say … actually, I should back up, where a) your teammates don’t understand that that’s how you work and that’s how you’re wired and therefore, you can’t help it, it’s just who you are and then b) don’t understand that they can tell “Jeremie, you’re wrong and here’s why” or “Hey, should we stop and think about this angle?” or “Did you look at this as a potential problem?”, then you end up in a situation where you’re setting yourself up and your teammates up for failure. So, as a result, I demand that people are open and frank with me about how they see or perceive my thinking, my thoughts, and my vision for a particular thing. And that can be a little intimidating for some people. Also, I think, it’s so important to be open and honest about that trait.
Eddie Turner:
Well, that says a lot because a few people, especially at the higher levels, want to be told and you say you demand it. So, that’s very strong. So, I’m sure that would catch a lot of people off guard.
Jeremie Bacon:
No one’s right all the time, right? If that’s the case, you’re right 1% of the time. So, I grew up in the asset management industry. And although I’ve been building software companies that serve asset managers for a couple of decades now, our clients are all money managers and these men and women get paid very well to make the right investment decisions with regards to which securities they’re going to purchase and how long they’re going to own them and who they’re going to back and all this stuff. And the most wise and humble of all asset managers will tell you, and those that are the most successful long term, will tell you their entire purpose for being, their entire goal when they go into the office and look at the markets is to be right 52% to 55% of the time. And if they are, they will win. And the biggest and most successful fund managers in the world, that’s their focus – “How do I be right not 100% of the time but 55% of the time?” And that’s how you win. And it’s really interesting when you think about that way because traditional business isn’t much different, right? No one ever has the best product. I should say that the group that wins rarely has the best product. The group that wins rarely has the best resources. It’s how they spend those resources and how they allocate their time and energy that matters the most. And, again, for me, that’s why it comes back to we got to be out in the open, we got to talk about it, we got to work it out, and then we got to work like crazy for the good of the customer. It doesn’t mean bending over backwards to do a bad deal or to be taken advantage of by a customer. It means being open and transparent with that client and working together to drive a result for them too.
Eddie Turner:
Okay. Well, excellent. Well, we’re talking to Jeremie Bacon. And what we’d like to do right now, Jeremie, is just to pause for a word from our sponsors.

This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.

Hi! This is Beata Kirr, head of Bernstein Private Client Core Asset Strategies and you’re listening to the Keep Leading!® Podcast with Eddie Turner.

Eddie Turner:
We’re back. We’re talking to Jeremie Bacon, CEO of the Imagineer Technology Group and Chairman of the Illinois Technology Association. Before the break, Jeremie was telling us about his company’s service-centric leadership philosophy that he’s built and the four pillars it’s built on and his viewpoint on leadership, leading from the top as a CEO.

Jeremie, you started to tell us a little bit about the type of work that you are doing. So, tell us a little bit more about who Imagineer Technology Group is and who your primary audience is.

Jeremie Bacon:
Sure. So, Imagineer Technology Group is a 21-year-old software company that makes software services for asset management firms. When we say asset management firms, we mean money management firms. So, our clients are the world’s largest hedge funds and traditional asset managers, think groups like Vanguard or BlackRock, Fidelity, those types of money management firms, all the way through to private equity and venture capital firms as well. So, our customers use our platforms to do a couple of pretty important things. One is they use our systems to manage their marketing and investor communications and fundraising activities. So, they use us to help them manage the fundraising process, to deal with opportunity tracking, to monitor their perspective of an existing client’s engagement with their websites, to do marketing services and marketing automation things for them as they’re trying to raise more money, and then ultimately service those investors once they’ve gotten their funds. So, someone comes in and invest a bunch of money. They then use our platform to send them everything from performance estimates and statements and documentation around their performance and the strategies of the funds and things like that. It’s a pretty interesting industry.
Eddie Turner:
It sounds interesting, especially when you start to talk about some of the biggest money market or asset management firms that are out there that you mentioned such as BlackRock and others. Is there a sweet spot that you have if someone is interested in reaching out to you for services? Is there a group that might say “Well, maybe we’re not big enough for this company?”
Jeremie Bacon:
Well, what’s interesting about the way that our platforms work is we have a series of service offerings that are uniquely situated and positioned for everything from startup fund managers that might be two or three people in the proverbial garage somewhere working on their trading strategy and starting to raise money. We have product offerings that are capable for them and that are price point perfect, if you will, for that particular side of the market. The majority of our clients are larger managers that have more experience, either five years, seven years, 15 years old as asset managers and have anywhere from a billion to a hundred billion dollars under management on their platforms. And then sort of everybody in between is a good fit for what we do because we’ve been able to break the platform down on a sort of feature-by-feature and service type by service type basis.
Eddie Turner:
And what’s interesting is you are truly on the leading edge and one of the reasons you’re on the INNO list of 50 on Fire is because of your use of technology to supply financial solutions.
Jeremie Bacon:
Yeah, that’s all we do. Every day all day we think about how do we improve the tools that we already have and how do we think about creating deeper integrations between our own tools and other tools in the marketplace that our clients use to help them complete the picture and sort of further streamline their own operations and become even more efficient with how they build and manage their client relationships.
Eddie Turner:
And I think that’s interesting and I think that’s important because we started off our conversation talking about some of the soft skills that are important for leaders but when we look at the business acumen that you’re demonstrating here and what you’re doing leading in this space, what leadership lesson is there that you could share with other leaders who are listening to our conversation?
Jeremie Bacon:
Well, let’s see here. There’s a couple of things, I guess, that come to mind immediately. And they also conveniently, I suppose, relate back to our own values as a business and how we try to position things. One of the things I wish I had known, if you will, or wish I had been told as I was sort of growing and developing as a business person, as an entrepreneur and as a leader is that the most important thing you can do when offering a product or offering a service, whether it’s your first day in the market or your 5000th day in the market, is to develop mutual respect between your customer, your prospect and yourself, your business. Everyone who talks about your company, whether they’re a salesperson or a customer service representative or your CFO or your Head of Product or anybody in the middle, ultimately, is a champion for and a representative of your business. And their first and foremost number one job should always be garnering, gaining, and earning the respect of their prospective or existing customer because respect sort of leads to trust and, in my mind, trust leads to commitment. And to build a team or to build a customer base and build a relationship, you need all three of those things. And, as you know, relationships that aren’t built on deep trust and deep respect don’t last very long. It just is the way it is. And in an industry like ours, we’re focused on owning our relationships with our clients forever. For as long as they’re in business, we want them to be a client and we have a very good track record of retention of our clients. And, in fact, generally speaking, the only reason we lose a client is if they go out of business. And we get there because of that lesson.
Eddie Turner:
That’s really interesting because not a lot of industries can say that you truly want a customer for life.
Jeremie Bacon:
It also means that we’re willing to walk away from customers that we don’t think we’re going to be a great fit. And so, for me, and my sales teams will tell you I harp on this all the time, the most important thing we can do in sales and marketing when we’re qualifying and working at the top of the funnel is qualify that customer and to do that requires real meaningful discovery and diligence. And if you fail to qualify your customer and you fail to prepare to service them, then you’re preparing to fail them as a vendor and they’re preparing to fail you as a customer. It’s like the old Benjamin Franklin quote – “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail” – old Ben is one of my favorite leaders of all time. And I think that that truism, if you will, certainly applies in what we do. It’s far easier to service an existing client than to get a new one. So, when you are getting new one, you owe it to yourself and your clients to pick the right ones.
Eddie Turner:
Absolutely. So, do you have any heroes or people who you look up to in the leadership space as a CEO. Oftentimes, it can be a lonely place.
Jeremie Bacon:
Sure. So, there are lots of entrepreneurs, women and men alike, who are in sort of the modern era that I respect and look up to and follow but, to be honest, I spend more time looking at leaders of the past than I do at leaders of today. And mostly that’s because most of us who are in leadership roles today, we all learned it from somewhere. This is a bit of a sidebar but I’ve been a musician and singer and stuff my whole life and one of my favorite musicians of all time, is Robert Plant, the original lead singer for Led Zeppelin but he has always been famous for saying that we all make it from somewhere. We all learn and we all steal our ideas from others, from those who’ve come before us, whether it’s musical or it’s anything else. So, the person I go back to the most, honestly, is Benjamin Franklin. Although he’s not always thought of as a leader of men and women, he’s thought of as an innovative idea thinker and entrepreneur in his own right, but I think he’s actually often under-looked or underappreciated as a leader. In addition to truisms like “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail” that he’s known for, I think one of the things that I really respect about his approach and one of the quotes I often go back to with my own children is he said “If you tell me, I will forget. If you teach me, I will remember. And if you involve me, I will learn.” And that, to me, has always sort of been powerful. I remember reading it the first time The Art of Virtue.
Eddie Turner:
Yes, one of my favorites.
Jeremie Bacon:
It’s on my desk. I refer to it literally every week. And I read that as a kid and it blew me away and I thought “Wow, that’s really cool. It’s really neat.” And, of course, he nicked it from some Chinese philosophy, the whole “If you teach someone to fish” thing but it’s really neat, right? To me, it’s really cool. So, I like Ben. He’s a good dude.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent.
Jeremie Bacon:
I also like my mom. And so, one other person I think about all the time, particularly as it relates to sort of eccentric leadership is my own mother. She led by example through her whole life and was always focused on service. And, in fact, one day she sat me down when I had just turned 15 and we were talking about how to live a life that you will feel is rich and fulfilling and rewarding and how to get through good times and bad alike and she basically said to me “Look, the most important thing you can do,” from her perspective, “is to fill your heart with love and admiration and go out and serve others. And what’s truly important is how we live, serve, and love others today in the now.” And, as a person, because I tend to be focused on tomorrow and next week and next year because I’m always thinking about the next thing, that has always been really grounding for me to, again, remind me to stay in the now as much as possible, to be present, and to lead in the moment and to lead with the teams that I’m with because I spend a lot of time in the clouds.
Eddie Turner:
Wonderful. So, Jeremie, tell me, if you will, how would you summarize our conversation today.
Jeremie Bacon:
I guess, I would summarize our conversation by saying that in the world of entrepreneurship and business development and leadership, from my perspective, the most important thing we can do is to keep the customer, keep your teammate, and keep your values at the center. And doing so, ultimately, I found leads to greater success for you as an individual and for your team, as a business group, and ultimately for your client as well.
Eddie Turner:
All right, very good. And on the Keep Leading!® Podcast, we like to give leaders something to help them to keep leading. Do you have a piece of leadership advice? You’ve given several great quotes throughout this interview. Do you have any other quotes or any other advice you’ve received that helps you lead as a leader?
Jeremie Bacon:
Yeah, there’s one other piece that comes to mind all the time and that is it mostly because of the power of the message and the power of the person who delivered it to me but without boring you with all the details, I think the best advice I got as a 17-year-old was from George Bush Senior. I was at the White House and he and I were having a conversation. And during that conversation, he said something to me that also lives in my mind every day all day. And he said “Look, it’s not enough in life to know what your goal is and what you want. You have to understand why you want it and the true why behind that goal or accomplishing it is meaningless.” And that, to me, as a kid going into my senior in high school was mind blowing, to say the least.
Eddie Turner:
Well, I bet. That’s quite an experience to be 17 years old in the White House and be able to talk to an American president. And you may not know this but I’m based here in Houston, Texas. And so, he is truly a legend. And so, yes, George Bush. Excellent. Thank you for sharing that with us.

I just have really enjoyed talking with you. Where can my listeners learn more about you and your organization?

Jeremie Bacon:
Sure. So, ImagineerTechnology.com is how to find our company. And I’m on the internet on LinkedIn.
Eddie Turner:
Excellent. So, what we’re going to do is in the show notes we’re going to put links to you and your organization. We want folks to reach out to the Imagineer Technology Group, connect with you on LinkedIn, follow you on Twitter, and get to know you. You and your team are doing some really amazing things.
Jeremie Bacon:
Well, thank you for saying that. We appreciate that. We’re certainly trying real hard.
Eddie Turner:
Well, it’s been a pleasure to have you and we’ll have to catch up and talk again next time I’m in Chicago.
Jeremie Bacon:
Sounds good. I’d love that.
Eddie Turner:
That concludes this episode, everyone. I’m Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®, reminding you that leadership is not about our title or our position. Leadership is an activity. Leadership is action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment we put on and take off. We must be a leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So, whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.

Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on the Keep Leading!® Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the Keep Leading!® Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.

Thank you for listening to C Suite Radio, turning the volume up on business.

The Keep Leading!® podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.