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December 08 Issue
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
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
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
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
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