Earlier this month our founder and CEO, Robbie Allen, decided to step into a new role as Executive Chairman while simultaneously pursuing a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. With the news, Automated Insights welcomes aboard a new CEO in Marc Zionts.
Marc is a successful serial entrepreneur with a lot of experience growing and scaling companies. We sat down with Marc to learn more about him and what makes him tick.
So Marc, tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an experienced executive and have been running companies for a few decades now, always focused on technology. My passion is working with new technology, introducing it to the market and helping to ramp up businesses commercially to drive value creation.
What are your passions outside of the workplace?
Well, I am certainly very passionate about my family. I’ve been married for a long time and have four adult children whom I get along with very well, which is very exciting. I love the outdoors, in particular, anything to do with biking and bike racing is a passion. Another large outside interest is the environment, which I’m also involved in a large non-profit organization called Friends of the Earth.
We have been fortunate enough to see some pictures of your dog, Sidney. Any other pets?
Yes! Sidney is a rescued purebred English bulldog, quite fancy. We have a mutt, who we believe she is somewhat a mixture of a dachshund and a golden, she is a wonderful dog. We also have a rescue cat, and I don’t even know what kind of cat it is, but it’s white with a little grey, that’s the flavor. So we have three animals, and we are certainly a family of animal lovers.
If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
How would you describe your leadership style?
Collaborative. Team oriented. Leadership by example, that’s a big one for me. Aggressive and hard-charging, but with empathy that people have lives and work shouldn’t be the number one thing in their life. I believe people should be taking care of themselves and have a good life with their friends or family or partners however they see fit. If all of those things are in order then I think they become very happy and productive people at work. I do believe in being a well rounded person, but in that context, I do believe in being goal and accomplishment oriented.
What other CEOs or business leaders do you look up to or inspire you?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I admire Robbie Allen and what he created in this company. I think it is very special, the company is very innovative, we’ve got a great product, he has built a wonderful team and a really unique and innovative culture. So I admire what he has created and feel very privileged to be able to build on what he has accomplished as a foundation. Certainly other people that have just changed the rules on how we think about things, like a Steve Jobs, would be someone who I admire. I tend to admire a lot of entrepreneurs, so Richard Branson or Masayoshi Son, people that beat to a different drum and don’t think about convention. I admire the people, that when everyone is running one way, they are running the opposite direction and that they are confident to do that.
What do you consider as the biggest learning experience in your career?
Well, I believe you are always learning, so it is hard to pinpoint a single experience. Well, I guess really, that’s what experience is all about, you’ve had more time to learn and hopefully you now know more about what you don’t know as much as expanding what you do know. So hopefully, the “you don’t know what you don’t know” slice of the pie is getting smaller all of the time. Hopefully experience provides you these learnings. So I wouldn’t point to a singular learning per say other than to say that some essential ingredients in running a business, such as staying agile which is a core value of this company, being resilient, understanding that nothing really ever goes to plan. If people tell you it does, I become a little suspicious. Therefore, I think being agile, resilient, and being determined are the key learnings for me that enable success.
Tell us about your biggest achievement, personally or professionally.
Personally, I think it is raising a family, having nice kids whom I admire. I think for all of us, just being able to do that if you’re a family person, being in a healthy relationship, raising kids, that’s what it is all about. Certainly there has been business success, which the joy there is creating opportunity, watching people grow. Creating meaningful jobs, creating value. I’ve been fortunate to see that happen many times over, so that is rewarding, but I would put the personal achievements ahead of those.
Automated Insights has a unique culture, how would you describe it?
I think the culture is one that really facilitates a lot of interaction and collaboration which aligns very well with my management style, so I thought that was a great fit. It’s a culture built around creativity, trust, and autonomy, but as a result it fosters innovation and creativity and attracts and retains top talent. So, I think that makes it pretty unique. It is a very casual place, I think people are humble and understated, they should not be underestimated in capability or intellect. There are so many people here that are incredibly smart, have great educations, come from interesting places and backgrounds and that mixture has made this a really special company.
What is your number one priority moving forward as the new CEO of Ai?
I think the important thing to understand is that I’m not here because something is broken in the company. In fact, the company is doing very well. I’m here on a mission to grow and scale the company from a sales and marketing perspective. So, I think we have been innovative and developed a great product and educated the market on that product and now we're at a point where we really want to scale that up beyond what we have done commercially. We’ve had great success, but we want to continue to grow and scale. So, if there is a single priority moving forward, the thing I’m going to be focused on is growth.
How do you see the company changing in the next few years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
So I think companies go through a natural change. You may say, “I love the company, the culture, I hope nothing changes.” I will not be changing something to just make a change. I do believe the company will change as we continue to grow. The company today is different from when there were ten people, twenty five people, and now with fifty people, it is different. Some people enjoy that journey, but for other people, it may not be right for them and they decide to do something else. As we go from fifty people to maybe seventy-five or even a hundred people in the future, you may have some similar changes. The other thing though is at some point there will be some people in the company that will not necessarily be based in Durham. So driving a culture under one roof is a great thing to be able to do, but at some point if you want people to be closer to customers because you have people in a vertical focus where they have a high concentration in a market or have some geographic focus, they may not be based in Durham. We have to figure out how our culture can scale, how does our culture become virtual, so it can be inclusive to our remote workers as well as our team based locally. So I think growth and the inevitable fact that we will not be under one roof at some point in time will cause an evolution within our culture. I’m not here to change anything about the culture for the sake of changing it, but I think it will have some natural evolution over the next few years.
Who are your top three favorite robots?
The robot from My Favorite Martian
Rosie the Robot Maid from the Jetsons
- C-3P0 from Star Wars