On the lighter side of things we ask Chris Huff, Chief Strategy Officer at Kofax, about what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
I lived a very fortunate upbringing. Not in a monetary sense but in a loving sense. I was raised the oldest of five siblings in a small Indiana town by a single mom who worked two and three jobs at a time and relied on welfare as a backstop to provide the essentials we needed to remain safe and healthy.
My mother taught me the value of hard work, honesty and respect. She taught me that the world was challenging and beautifully rewarding for those willing to put in the work and forever be curious. I’ve tried to do my best to apply these principles as my ‘true north’ as I navigate the world.
My most memorable achievement remains the moment I attained a level of financial stability where I was able to take care of my mom who had worked so many years in an amazingly selfless manner. Seeing her smile, laugh and live without stress is my greatest achievement.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
As I look back on my life, I really cannot point to a single moment that led me into a technology career. Rather, it’s been a journey where I’ve met amazing people that have inspired me to seek challenging roles that helped me grow as a person and professional. My journey started when I joined the Marine Corps. While serving, I completed my MBA and founded a B2C e-commerce company.
After exiting my company after seven years through a successful private sell and retiring from the Marine Corps after 20 years, I joined Deloitte Consulting where I was able to build and lead an automation practice focused on Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
After a rewarding five-year run, I joined Kofax as the Chief Strategy Officer. It’s been a wild ride that I try to never take for granted by always remaining focused on achieving team goals, taking care of those around me and remaining intellectually curious.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I’ve always tried to take a servant leader approach to managing. Providing people autonomy and trusting them to do the right thing typically results in mutual respect and over-achievement of individual and organizational goals. At the same time, underperformance must be addressed head on, but in a constructive way.
Accountability that includes active and open communication, mentorship programs and remedial efforts for blind-spots is generally appreciated and works for the mentee, mentor and inevitably the organization. Knowing that people working with me are taken care of allows me to focus as a CSO on proactively managing CEO and board interactions and expectations to ensure we’re moving forward with ideas and actions that will result in financial and operational success.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
The consumerization of enterprise software. The essence of consumerization is that individuals are gaining digital skills while at the same time organizations are increasing digital trust in technology and software companies are delivering easier-to-use software. Triangulating on these inputs results in the macro trend around the consumerization of technology. Think Dropbox, Slack and recently Zoom.
These products are architected as enterprise-grade, yet they’re being scaled by line-of-business citizen developers. Companies that are going to be successful moving forward will need to put the customer experience at the center of everything they do to ensure the professional and citizen developer, as well as the end-user experience, is delightful and supports rapid time-to-value.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
Our family is very active, so we do a lot of road trips that involve hiking, mountain climbing and adventure-seeking in general. We recently hiked the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and found it amazingly refreshing. With clean air, beautiful scenery and great company any office worries tend to melt away.
If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?
When I founded my B2C e-commerce company in 2005, I failed to appreciate the gravity and swiftness of the macro trend in the shift from physical to digital. As an example, our customer acquisition costs favored targeted print and in-person trade shows over digital marketing, but it was short-sighted on my part.
I quickly started to see shrinking margins, loss of market positioning, and top-line contraction as the go-to-market routes shifted. To top things off, the Great Recession of 2008 arrived and my reliance on dated business practices impeded my ability to navigate the economic downturn. While this was a painful experience, it was invaluable. Today, I am acutely aware of reading tea leaves, identifying macro themes early and using them as tailwinds before they become headwinds.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Outside of the heavy areas of cloud, AI, 5G, IoT and Blockchain, enterprise software companies are investing a lot of time and resources into making delightful customer experiences. This follows the theme of consumerization, but is focused on the ‘why,’ which is that software companies need to start with the end-user optimal experience that she/he should experience and work backwards into the technology. Low-code, human-center design, modern U/I design engineering and many other approaches represent investments being made in this area.
What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?
North America is a very competitive market. US-based business executives have carried personal consumption habits into corporate procurement expectations. This means that the immediate gratification of Amazon delivering needed goods within two hours has translated to business expectations where companies such as Kofax are expected to bring software that solves very complex problems in a short amount of time. Very challenging!
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
The Chief Strategy Officer role has noticeably shifted from being a deep technical role toward more of a value creation, visionary evangelist and customer success role. Moving forward, I see this accelerating because so much of a tech companies’ success is predicated on making bold moves ahead of the competition to create delightful experiences for the customer…and that encompasses much more than technical product features.
What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
Think big, be bold, remain intellectually curious and always seek out purpose. Some of our greatest leaders and innovators have had remarkable failures, but one thing they share is an amazing level of resiliency to continue innovating and staying ahead of the market. To remain innovative requires volumes of reading across a vast array of subjects that allow you to connect dots and communicate a future vision that others only see once the picture is painted. This will make you feel like an outlier in many instances, but will get you noticed by the right people, so have confidence that what you’re doing matters.Click below to share this article