Position: President and CEO
Family: Wife, Jennifer, and four children: James, Mary Elizabeth and Aimee
Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Education: LSU; bachelor’s degree in Quantitative Business Analysis (1992) and MBA (1998)
In the news:
In December, Sparkhound celebrated 20 years in business. Since its foundation, the company has grown to include four offices and 255 employees. Over the past year alone, Sparkhound has seen 24% employee growth and continues to serve hundreds of clients.
What was your very first job, how old were you and what was the biggest takeaway from the experience?
I got my my first job when I was 14 at Lindsey’s Spacewalk so that I could save money to buy a car. Some weekends I rode around setting up the inflatable bounce houses (formerly known as spacewalks) and others I worked birthday parties, giving horseback rides at their park on Sherwood Forest Boulevard. My takeaway? That work can be rewarding beyond the paycheck. There’s joy to be found in surveying a real accomplishment and doing so with friends.
What time do you typically get up on a workday, and what’s your ideal morning routine to get it off to a great start?
I get up most mornings at 5:15 a.m. and go directly to Iron Tribe to workout or to St. Aloysius for 6 a.m. Wednesday mass. Then I try to get home in time to see a bunch of grumpy kids off to school. I’m going to miss that one day!
You launched Sparkhound in 1998, and since then you added three more offices in Houston (2009), Dallas (2011) and Birmingham (2016). Tell us a little bit about your strategy for managing the growth of your company.
In short: Hire the best people. That means genuine, authentic people who know what they are doing (skills, experience) and care about client outcomes. My job gets a lot easier and I look like a genius with the right people on the team.
How has your industry changed in the more than 20 years you’ve been in business, and how has Sparkhound evolved to adapt?
When we founded Sparkhound in 1998, many of our small clients had modems to “dial up” the internet, we used digital beepers to communicate and “texting” wasn’t a thing. We’d never heard of Facebook and the iPhone was nine years away!
Ironically, some things haven’t changed at all. Sparkhound is still about helping business leaders accomplish their goals faster, better and easier using technology. With the mix of technologies changing every day, even IT-oriented people can struggle to keep up. Our goal is to provide leadership that connects business people with the right solutions.
Only in recent years has there been a more significant paradigm shift in IT and it involves all five of the current buzzwords: cloud, data analytics, machine learning, mobility and robotic automation. Today, we can mix and match these technologies to obtain business value much quicker than ever before. What used to cost millions can be done much faster and at a fraction of the cost.
Considering the lack of skilled high-tech professionals, what’s your strategy for attracting and retaining top talent?
Surprisingly, we haven’t found a shortage of smart people or even of strong technical skills here in Louisiana. Instead, the challenge we’ve run into is lack of business experience in a sophisticated, state-of-the-art IT environment that is common in larger markets.
For example: We clearly have the technical skills necessary to develop a complex analytics engine, but we may not have the consulting skills to fully explore the business requirements and/or the change management skills necessary for ensuring the client can get the most value from it.
Our strategy is to develop top talent by seeding the company with some highly experienced people (locally and sometimes based out of our Houston or Dallas offices) and growing their experiences from there.
What are some of your best productivity hacks?
Boy, if I only knew of some good ones!
What’s something about your job that might surprise people?
Technology is the easy part of our job. It’s coordinating and leading people internally and externally that is the most challenging—and most rewarding—part.
What’s a leadership skill you’ve learned the hard way?
Delegation and accountability go hand-in-hand and doing these effectively is the key to growth. It isn’t easy to do well. Delegate to the wrong person or without accountability and you can find that your company is teetering on bankruptcy. Not delegating means you keep too much on your plate and you become the chief bottleneck in the company. I’ve done both to the detriment of Sparkhound, myself and our team.
What are some of your hobbies or favorite things to do in your free time?
Free time? Have I mentioned that I have four kids? But I do try to sneak in a few duck hunts each year.
You’re taking me out to a business lunch in Baton Rouge. Where are we going and what do you recommend I order?
Mansurs on the Boulevard has become our go-to place for entertaining clients visiting Baton Rouge from out of town. They like the relaxed environment and we go with multiple courses: Start with the charbroiled oysters; enjoy a cup of the chicken, duck, and sausage gumbo; any of their premium fish entrees; and wrap it up with the bread pudding.
As a husband and father of four, what’s your strategy for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?
I’m not sure that it has ever been in balance but I’m probably closer to it than ever. What has worked best for me over the years is to make the decision to put work on the shelf when I’m not working. That means I’m not checking my phone all weekend and responding to emails. However, when I am working—including when I work a late night or the weekend—I’m all-in on that. In short, be present to whatever you are doing and don’t mix. You are fooling yourself—and no one else—when you try to multi-task work and family.
When you started Sparkhound, what problem did you identify that you were going to solve?
Sparkhound is about using technology to help business leaders accomplish their goals faster, better and easier. With the mix of technologies changing so quickly, even IT people can struggle to keep up. Our goal is to provide leadership that connects people with solutions that fit.
How do you approach this problem differently than competitors?
Our approach is to truly understand the need from our client’s perspective and only then start thinking of which technologies may be the best tools to help. It is the tech version of Stephen Covey’s maxim: “Begin with the end in mind.”
What early successes paved the way for where Sparkhound is today?
Two interrelated things happened early and paved the way for incredible growth:
- We engaged early on with two clients who were trying to scale their business to a national level but were struggling with legacy technology. In short, their tech providers knew this technology very well so naturally it was the solution they recommended to our client. By stepping back, we helped to re-engineer the entire business by employing cutting edge (at the time) web-based software that was faster and much less expensive—both to develop as well as support. These two clients served as great references and a springboard to new opportunities.
- Recognizing the importance of team culture for accomplishing our mission: Smart, authentic people who get deep satisfaction in using their skills and talents to help others.
What has been the biggest challenge Sparkhound has faced, and what have you learned from it?
There have been two:
- The mistake of prioritizing “we can figure it out” over “engaging people with experience.” This has slowed our growth, not to mention caused client challenges, due to unnecessary trial and error. A focus on having the right experience in-house and the combined experiences of 220 plus on staff today has significantly reduced this problem.
- There were times when our culture slipped into prioritizing the technology before client business goals—a version of “ready, fire, aim” instead of our core approach of “ready, aim, fire.” Other times, we’ve made the mistake of valuing team camaraderie over client outcomes.
Both of these challenges were violations of our core values and we’ve learned some hard lessons through them.
What is the one thing that you want every client or potential client to know about Sparkhound?
That’s easy: Our joy comes from client success. Seeing the impact of our participation in their business is validation worth more than money. I think about it every time I pass a Community Coffee truck, a Sally Beauty store, see a DSLD advertisement, and so on. When we look back at our careers, we’ll think about who we helped—not about how much money we may have made.
What is your ultimate goal for Sparkhound, and how do you define success?
I want Sparkhound to be known as the gold standard in technology and business leadership, meaning, we have earned the complete trust of the client such that he/she sees Sparkhound as a partner in his/her business. We want Sparkhound to be “first to call” and whom they want to work with because of genuine, authentic people, reputation for leadership and impact to the business. That, and $100 million in revenues!
What’s one of the best vacations you’ve ever taken, and what’s the next vacation you’re hoping to take?
We’ve had some amazing vacations, especially Costa Rica last year. The best ones have been light on the agenda and centered around hanging with the family. For example, when the kids were young, we took an Amtrak from Hammond to Memphis. The train ride was cool and each morning in Memphis, we’d decide over breakfast what to do that day. Surprisingly, Graceland was a favorite even though they’d never heard of Elvis!
What’s one of the smartest purchases you’ve ever made? What’s one of the dumbest?
The smartest purchase was our house. We spent way too much in the first place, spent even more remodeling and landscaping it in 2013, and still working on furniture. But it’s in a great location, we have great neighbors and it’s simply the place that I love to be.
The dumbest was a high-end gravel bike. I knew better when I bought it a year ago and have since ridden it twice. Even when I remember that I should use it, I end up choosing to go for a run so that the dog can get some exercise too.
What is something you are absolutely determined to do in life?
I would love to speak Spanish. And to learn to play the piano well. But probably the thing I’m most determined to do is travel the world.