|Home - CEO Spotlight - Nov 04 Issue
CEO Spotlight: Phillip Dunkelberger, PGP Corporation
By Angel Mehta, Managing Director, Sterling-Hoffman Executive Search
Angel Mehta: How has your Sales background influenced the kind of CEO you've become?
Phillip Dunkelberger: It made me customer-focused. There's an old adage that nothing happens in business until somebody sells something. In reality, a lot happens before something gets sold. I believe in forecasting everything, not just revenue. We forecast product builds, marketing spend, and return on investment. When I'm in charge, managers are held to the kind of metrics I first learned in Sales. The best source of information is your customers. As much as I like the analysts…
Angel Mehta: Like the Gartners of the world?
Phillip Dunkelberger: Right…they're very good. But nothing beats a good customer round table for getting product and marketplace feedback. So it's one of the core things on which I spend my time as CEO. Realizing that the customer is why we are in business…that OUR goal is to improve what THEY do… that's the fundamental thing that sales teaches you as a CEO.
Angel Mehta: Does that mean that CEO's who lack the Sales experience are at a disadvantage?
Phillip Dunkelberger: Very few entrepreneurs / founders grow a company from start to finish without changing jobs a few times and getting broader experience. At different stages of the company, a CEO has to have different capabilities. You have to have good financial discipline and metrics; you need to understand the technology from an engineer's standpoint; you must understand your customer's support and operations issues.
But the key is how much revenue you generate. Ultimately, what you're called on to do is increase shareholder value. A sales background helps you understand how to get the entire company to focus process-wise on acquiring, supporting, and enriching our customers. If you do that well enough, everything else will take of itself.
Angel Mehta: I ask everyone about CEO DNA, as if the qualities to be a successful CEO are 'in the blood', to some degree. But at this point I'm wondering…is there even such a thing as CEO DNA?
Phillip Dunkelberger: I think that it's a great question…there are really two aspects to it. One is leadership. The other is people-skills. There's an old leadership adage that states that managers do things right, but leaders do the right things. As a CEO, you must do the right things. You must motivate your people. You have to make people believe they can do things that they don't think they can do, especially in start-ups.
Angel Mehta: Every CEO lacks something…what were your weaker areas?
Phillip Dunkelberger: If I look in the mirror and ask, "What don't I do well?", I end up answering: Finance. To compensate, I hired great people in that area. As a CEO, you must have a working knowledge of revenue recognition, auditing, and corporate governance. But you need somebody on your team that lives and breathes this sort of thing every day - so they can make you better at it.
Angel Mehta: Do you insist on making the final decision after collecting information from your team, or are you the kind of CEO who says, "You know what: you just make the decision since you know more about it than I do."
Phillip Dunkelberger: I think that's a style issue. But if you hire good people who have the expertise, you should let them do their jobs. When I started PGP Corporation, I had approximately 22 days from the time we closed on the assets to the time we went live. In that short time, we had to get a website up and start taking orders and get a product updated that hadn't been touched in 6 months. That kind of situation requires you to let people do their jobs.
But, and this is the important point: ultimately I'M responsible for all the decisions that get made, whether I make them or not. When things don't go well, it's my fault…PERIOD. I'm accountable to the shareholders for what happens because I'm CEO. There are many CEOs who might blame a breakdown in a particular function…
Angel Mehta: The VP of Sales couldn't deliver… the CTO couldn't get the product out…
Phillip Dunkelberger: Exactly. But guess what: I manage those people and probably hired them as well. So if it goes wrong, it's my fault.
Angel Mehta: You and I were talking once and I remember you saying that one of the lessons you learned from John Laing is that you're never as good as your numbers and you're never as bad as your numbers. Does that mean you have something other than numbers to measure your VP of Sales by?
Phillip Dunkelberger: I believe salespeople must do more than sell. That's the difference between sales managers, and sales reps. Many of the guys who became Sales VPs were good sales reps but didn't know what 'customer success" meant. They were focused on the next deal, not on making current customers successful. So yes, I measure my VP of Sales on customer satisfaction, successful deployments, customer references - though revenue, of course, is still the primary metric.