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Does a software company need to insulate itself from the slowdown in the US economy by concentrating on overseas markets?



CEO Spotlight: Craig D. Norris, Attensity

By The Sterling Report

Running one of the top text analytics solution companies is no easy task, which is why Craig Norris, CEO of Attensity, sees running a company as a team sport. Craig talks with The Sterling Report about his hobbies, some of the misconceptions the public has about his company and on why a company’s current stage of development matters when one is a CEO from a non-technical background.

The Sterling Report (TSR): What technology areas is Attensity increasingly focusing on, and why do you think they are important for Attensity’s future growth?
Craig D. Norris (CN): Our primary focus is on text analytics solutions for the Voice of the Customer (VoC) – an area that is showing demand much like the early stages of the CRM market a few years ago. In order to capitalize on VoC momentum, we continue to build out text analytics solution suites that complement our technology capability, to make it easier and faster for our customers to get to actionable data. How long it takes to get to value is always a key customer question – we have repeatedly demonstrated that you can be up and running in days.

TSR: Do you see any possible hurdles that might upset this momentum?
CN: I think everyone is worried about the economy. An advantage for us is that even in a down economy, customers remain at the top of the pyramid relative to funding initiatives.

TSR: Going by your academics, I see that you come from a non-technology background. How did technology interest you and what has been your experience leading a technology-driven company like Attensity? Has there been a challenge leading a technology company?
CN: On the contrary, I started out in engineering, led systems-integration companies, and all my CEO roles have been for technology companies. Certainly it is fair to say that I did not have a specific background in natural language programming. However, when I joined Attensity, it already had deep talent in that area. What the company needed was a better perspective on how to make our great technology work in a business-focused environment, and that is what I do well.

TSR: Would you say that a CEO’s deeply technical background is a liability? Even big and ‘best run’ companies like IBM and SAP AG have non-technical CEOs. Is this the latest trend? Do companies make too much of a big deal about wanting deep expertise in this area when searching for CEOs?
CN: I think a lot depends upon the company’s stage of development. Often very early-stage or founding CEOs probably need to be deep into whatever the technology is. On the other hand, unless the company remains in a very niche market, a broader business background is a significant asset as the company moves into more commercial business.

TSR: What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as CEO of Attensity?
CN: I think the toughest decisions for a CEO are generally people decisions – hiring and firing. I am very proud of our current leadership team, but it is challenging to pull people together who can work in our culture and can work well together – for us, this is a team sport.

TSR: What changes have you seen in customer demands related to text technology over the last couple of years? What is Attensity doing to address these demands?
CN: We have moved from an environment where customers needed to be educated about what we do and why it is important to them, to a situation where companies now want what we do and have budget for it. In the face of that demand, we’re now presented with the good type of challenges related to growing a business.

TSR: You have worked in large public companies including CAP Gemini. What kind of values did that career-upbringing develop in you that you now apply in your role as CEO?
CN: I think the great thing that working for larger companies does is to expose you to what it takes to make a small company into a large company. It helps you to create a model for the kinds of processes and organization you will need as a company begins to grow.

TSR: What’s the biggest misconception you find the marketplace has about the company right now?
CN: That Attensity offers top-of-the-line solutions only, and that companies can make-do with ‘good enough’ software. We have created a variety of entry points, both SaaS and installed solutions, at a variety of price points so that companies will never outgrow their ability to work with us.

TSR: If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?
CN: We would have created our Voice of the Customer solution sooner!

TSR: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not at work?
CN: My favorite hobby is fly fishing, but I am also committed to my wife of 40 years and in being a positive influence on our children’s families. We now have four grandchildren.

Craig Norris is CEO of Attensity, a provider of text analytics solutions that let companies detect and analyze critical events. He is a high-technology industry veteran with over 20 years of front-line experience in leading profitable organizations in the areas of strategy, operations and sales. Craig has served as Chairman, CEO or COO of both private and public organizations including Ion Systems, Workexchange Technologies and Connectinc.com. He has successfully navigated start-ups and early-stage companies to IPOs and other significant funding events, and has been continuously engaged with the completion of major sales to Fortune 500 organizations. Craig also brings to Attensity a strong management consulting and systems integration background, having been a Regional Vice President for leading international consulting firm CAP Gemini America. He graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Economics from Macalester College, St. Paul, MN and holds an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, New Jersey. For interview feedback, contact Craig at cnorris@attensity.com

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