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‘Storm to Transform – a CEO tells his transformation story’

Jeff VonDeylen

Jeff VonDeylen
Chief Executive Officer

Clients and employees look for authenticity from a business. If a business doesn’t walk the talk, it has no credibility. At Ensono, we’ve tried to walk the talk on multi-dimensional transformation over the last few years and it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.  

It was only after attending a dinner a couple of weeks ago, where I was a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the Mid-West, that I reflected on just how far we at Ensono have come in a very few short years with our own transformation story. I’m sharing some of these reflections in this 3-part blog series.

The truth is, transformation is nothing new. It’s the pace of transformation that has changed, putting pressure on organizations to more quickly transform their people, technology and processes and to align themselves to the way their customers want to consume their products or services.   

Without doubt, my proudest professional achievement has been coming into a company four years ago that, despite being very much best-in-breed, was nowhere near as excited as it should have been about being in an industry that’s consistently evolving and growing – and helping to turn that around to become the vibrant, client-centric, innovative company it is today.

We re-branded from Acxiom in 2016 to become Ensono, a new company, with a new identity, positivity and drive, achieved largely through a set of clearly defined, shared values. Since then, we have acquired other complementary businesses to expand our global capabilities. In three years, we’ve seen our revenues grow from $190 million to $600 million, with our client base growing from 40 to 190 organizations. We’ve also seen our workforce grow from 650 associates to over 2100 today, with a portfolio that now includes cloud, AI automation, consultative capabilities and our Envision Insights platform.

This is not to say the journey has been simple. Here is a brief overview of how I believe we made the change and why it’s been so successful. I’ll be digging more deeply into each of these areas in future articles.

Creating excitement in a complacent company

Complacency is the best way to put your company into a downward tailspin. There was some complacency in our organization, driven by a former parent company, that was stifling growth and hampering innovation and client intimacy. Clients didn’t see us as true partners or trusted advisors and we gave them little reason to.

So, little by little, we created a culture where negativity was no longer the acceptable norm. We rewarded those who took initiative; those who leaned in instead of back every time an opportunity presented itself. We created a culture where doing the right thing for the client was always better than trying to fulfil our own short-term goals. We slowly earned client respect.  As a result, our confidence grew and so has our business.

Understanding the dynamics of industry

Having expertise in our own services and offer is a given. The tech industry is a really thrilling market to be in but to thrive, you must be consistently ahead of the game. But we also need to understand our client’s industries. What are the trends affecting their businesses and how can we help? What are their customers looking for, today and tomorrow and how can we help them meet or exceed those expectations? I tell people joining Ensono is like jumping on to a moving train – it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s sometimes challenging, and nothing stays the same for long. If you can thrive in that environment, it’s a great place to work.

Creating an innovation mindset 

Innovation gets talked about a lot in business today. But as most CEOs will tell you, creating an innovation mind-set isn’t easy.  Part of our sales and service teams’ focus is on contract renewals which, by their nature suggest ‘more of the same’. Innovation takes energy and effort and a great deal of applied creativity. Only by rewarding applied innovation can you expect to change the culture.

At Ensono, we’ve been through some international integrations which are always challenging from a cultural perspective. Melding the best aspects from all parts into a single, unified mindset is really important and we’ve been working hard on that with regular town-halls meetings, team updates and lots of employee activity, both for work and fun. Our efforts have paid off with our expanding portfolio of services and technologies and growing clients in both the US and Europe.

Create client intimacy

Four years ago, much of our focus, like many of our competitors, was on contract renewals and responding to RFPs. We didn’t spend time asking our clients or prospects what we could do to help them be more successful. It’s a simple enough question and in some ways, it seems extraordinary that, for the most part, we didn’t ask. Now we do. In fact, it’s our key focus.

An important date in my senior leadership team’s diaries are the regular Client Advisory Boards where we ask for, and get, some very frank feedback, good and bad, from clients. It’s also an opportunity for clients to influence and shape our future service roadmap.

Internally, we have a “client-in-the-room” approach that really helps make the point that we’re here to help our clients be successful, period. Whatever decisions we make, we think about them from our client’s point of view. 

What’s been great is how our client’s have responded. Most are happy to discuss their challenges and are very willing to listen to good ideas. If we want to ‘…be a relentless ally, disrupting the status quo and unleashing our clients to do great things’ then we have to start by listening.

In subsequent blogs, I’ll be digging a little deeper into the Ensono transformation journey, but also reflecting on some of our client’s experiences which I hope you’ll find both interesting and useful.

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