An Interview with Fotis Georgiadis
Be paranoid. I believe the saying that “only the paranoid survive,” is a good one in business. It means stay on your toes, be aware of competition, stay grounded and be aware of your surroundings.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Bettencourt.
Jeff Bettencourt is the CEO of Slate Technologies, an AI platform that maximizes efficiency and costs for the construction industry. Prior to Slate, Jeff served as SVP and general manager of EMC’s $1B dollar Connectrix SAN Networking business; CMO and COO/chief of staff to the president of the $21B Core Storage Division; and Chief of Staff of the EMC $8B Backup and Recovery Division. He also held the role of EMC’s lead executive for its Product and R&D Value Creation and Integration Management Office, for the $67B combination of Dell and EMC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I like to think my career has come full circle to adapt and be ready for the disruptive challenge at Slate Technologies. When I was in college I wanted to major in architecture and design buildings and be part of the construction industry. Instead, I majored in business and marketing.
I started my career as an email product manager back in the ’90s, when email was not widely used. My career progressed, and I ended up working for Vint Cerf, formally known as the father of the Internet and TCP/IP. There, I worked with Vint and a team to create an eCommerce marketplace on this newly formed public Internet.
We would go on to use ecommerce software from a little company called Mosaic Communications, which became NetScape, one of the most influential companies in the public Internet’s history. I then worked with a few startups, focused on bringing businesses online, then I joined a company in the eDiscovery space right before the 2008 financial meltdown. We sold to Hewlett Packard, where I worked until I was recruited to be a GM at EMC, the largest electronic storage company in the world. I left EMC as an SVP and GM managing a $1B business in the storage networking space, where I also had the pleasure of leading a super smart team to rationalize over $30B of joint products between Dell and EMC prior to the acquisition.
My career path went from product management to business development to outside sales to general manager, to COO and now, to being the CEO of Slate — all along the way touching technology trends like facet navigation and search, eDiscovery, storage (disk to flash), backup and recovery, machine learning and artificial intelligence. I like to think that my collection of ideas, thoughts and experiences led me to my current opportunity at Slate.
Our mission at Slate is to help each and every construction professional impact construction productivity by revealing the timely context that helps them make earlier, better decisions. Slate’s “Digital Assistant’’ uses machine learning and AI to execute multi-dimensional analysis across internal and external data sources. This includes public data such as weather, labor and traffic with the dark data locked in silos and non-integrated systems within the general contractors and sub-contractor organizations. Gartner defines dark data “as the information assets organizations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes.” In fact, in a report called “The State of Dark Data”, data specialists at Splunk released a study stating that as much as 55 percent of potential data context in a company is never available or not intersected in a way that could reveal incredibly valuable decision context.
Early versions of Slate will focus on augmenting decisions before, during and after all the tasks scheduled in a construction program. Once a master schedule is consumed or built, Slate leverages its proprietary dynamic scheduling capabilities to ensure change decisions can immediately update the overall schedule, as well as the order of individuals’ tasks. We’re also evolving easily to implement cross-firm data integrations, intersecting multiple data streams to reveal valuable opportunities that otherwise might never have been found fast enough to impact outcomes. Soon to follow, Slate’s increasing number of integrations with subcontractors and material suppliers’ software and systems will create data insights that are valuable to the executive suite, as well as the individuals executing tasks.
At Slate, we believe we are at the start of a significant shift in how we deliver buildings, where our software ‘machines’ work hand in hand with humans to transform productivity and profitability.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Slate is focused on bringing a digital assistant to critical functions (personas) in the construction industry, removing guesswork from construction and helping companies deliver dramatically better projects. According to McKinsey, “Globally, construction sector labor-productivity growth averaged 1 percent a year over the past two decades, compared with 2.8 percent for the total world economy and 3.6 percent for manufacturing.” The construction industry has remained unchanged for over 100 years. Techniques, tools and machines have changed, but how constructability happens has largely gone unchanged. Slate is here to assist construction industry workers as a new machine that can work alongside them to solve business problems by predicting, relating, introspecting, and providing real-time decision making.
In construction, typically the master schedule of a project is only on schedule immediately after the schedule has been created. After that, things change rapidly. I use the analogy that we learn as children that the quickest route between two points is a straight line. However, with all the planning we do, nothing can stop change from occurring. There is never a straight line to follow. So, what if you had a Digital Assistant that could warn you or nudge you with context that could turn a seemingly negative decision into a positive one? Would you take it? Well, that’s what Slate is all about — assisting a construction supervisor, manager or program manager with information such as lessons learned from the last project, delivery lead time from suppliers, short-range radar weather forecasts, and potential safety issues from video or cameras. There is no shortage of digital data in construction — but there are no machines that give us the capability, coverage and capacity to process all the data we otherwise would not be aware of.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As a young product manager (PM) early in my career, I had this idea that the smartest ideas would bubble to the top and the most organized would win the day. Boy, was I wrong. Business — as in life — is all about influence. How can you show people that you’re describing a better way to go about a project? How can you influence them to come on the journey with you and to be a part of the idea?
There is an adage that as a PM you are responsible for everything, but you own nothing. Your superpower is influence. When you break that down, success depends on your ability to influence others to see a point of view that you think is worth seeing.
The art of storytelling and influence is a CEO’s most powerful superpower. At Slate, I must energize a group of people to go on a journey, where things are not always clear, and get them to work as a team to build and disrupt an industry that no one has cracked yet.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When I joined EMC, my manager was the COO of the division of EMC called Documentum. I was hired to be the GM of the Archiving Software and eDiscovery division. My president and COO had previously been the CIO of Microsoft for close to 15 years. The biggest thing I learned from him is that “it takes a village” to build a successful company. His messages to me were to hire people unlike me, who think differently and look at problems differently. He told me that if not for a very diverse team of people who did not always think alike, his team would not be able to navigate through the challenges.
That message has stuck with me.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
At Slate, we believe that disruptive technology does not have to be a negative if you are not trying to remove the human from the loop. The construction industry has traditionally been about humans and machines. We believe the role of machines is changing. They are no longer used just to assist in building or lifting materials. Machines help us see, predict, introspect, and make informed decisions throughout the day. We call this our Slate Decision Assistant, which is there to assist the human in the loop or role/job to make informed decisions based on knowledge of Slate machine learning algorithms.
Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Always have fun. Two of my mentors would always tell me to pick something you’re passionate about and always have fun. If the work you are doing is not fun and doesn’t put a smile on your face, find a new role.
- Be paranoid. I believe the saying that “only the paranoid survive,” is a good one in business. It means stay on your toes, be aware of competition, stay grounded and be aware of your surroundings.
- Congratulate others on their success. Too many people believe that in order to be successful, someone else needs to fail. Success is not finite, and someone else’s success does not diminish yours.
- Build a diverse team. In business, you must have people from all walks of life. Otherwise, you will miss opportunities to grow a company and handle problems with a different lens. Too many managers hire people that have similar backgrounds to themselves. A manager once said to me, if you hire everyone that’s like you and has the same background, be careful crossing the street (metaphorically). If everyone is looking in only one direction you will get hit by a car!
- Do the right thing. When all else fails in business, we should always do the right thing for our employees, business partners, and customers.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
At Slate, we are focused on helping the construction industry make better decisions. How we will do that is by making a product that is as easy to use as social media (access points and training), focusing on persona types vs. process; and creating a new machine that they can use to make better, earlier decisions that can increase productivity for each user.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My father would tell me: “Always be aware of your surroundings.” It’s about being present in the moment, taking it all in, and enjoying the ride.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe it would be most beneficial if I could inspire everyone to do right by others, no matter what. It comes down to treating people how you would like to be treated. If we as a human race would follow this simple rule, we would all be better for it.
How can our readers follow you online?
Slate LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/slatetechnologies/
Personal LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffbettencourt/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Source: Authority Magazine