Robert Baum founded TechFlow, the technology solutions company, in 1995 and led the company for 10 years, working with clients like MGM, DreamWorks, and Toshiba. Around February 2016, the opportunity came for Baum to return to leadership as CEO at TechFlow, and he jumped at the chance. There were big changes at the company, including transitioning to being 100% employee-owned and having the United States federal government as one of its main clients.
Ladders spoke with Baum to learn about his transition back to TechFlow and how working with the government affects his role.
Can you tell me about your journey stepping back into a management position at TechFlow?
“While not operational, before coming back, I had remained involved with TechFlow and loosely with its strategic direction. So hopping back and taking over again was not without insight. However, I needed to understand who on the team I had inherited was capable, who could be pushed, and who needed to be refreshed. I think that was the hardest part of the journey because of the people’s impact. I wanted to encourage people to grow and add value but had to quickly assess if they were the right people for the position – so hard part of the journey.
The fun and exciting part were in realizing that a majority of the team was fantastic, energized, and ready to grow. Placing a strategy tied to innovation and technology on top of that excitement created an updated culture focused on employee-ownership and growth – the fun part of the journey!”
What was the most important lesson you learned from that?
“If I was being critical of myself, I would say that I should have moved faster and trusted my instincts better. A close friend of mine, and an advisor to TechFlow for over 20 years, Hus Tigli, would remind me of his famous “time to decision” philosophy. Time to decision is really about needing to make a decision often before you have all of the information you want or think you need. The philosophy implies that you need to be comfortable with making a decision before you have all the information – that in fact, you will never have 100% of the information.
Hindsight 20/20, lesson learned, I would move faster next time by making decisions based on what I had without waiting for a more complete picture. I believe we’d be a step or two ahead of where we are today, but we are quickly catching up!”
You labeled Elon Musk as Fearless and Michael Dell as having “No Regrets.” If you were to write one of those posts about yourself, how would you label yourself?
“It remains to be seen, but maybe as an ‘Innovator’ or an “Entrepreneur”. While I don’t have perfect clarity, I feel like my leadership style makes connections. I see how technology can be applied to our business and how it can impact the way we offer service. I feel like I have a vision for what should work. I am also a good listener and rely on convincing our leadership team at TechFlow to apply my vision with their great ideas to their unique businesses. I want people to buy-in and own their space while playing within the company’s larger sandbox.”
Do you think working with the government changes your role as CEO at all?
“I really enjoy working with our government. Many of our programs have an enormous impact on our nation and on the lives of our soldiers. Working with the government as an outsider trying to influence and improve government programs and services is very meaningful and rewarding.
As the CEO of a company with a large presence in the government space, you need to cultivate and lead with a culture that is centered around integrity and innovation. Integrity because doing what is right for the country is the legacy we are leaving for our children. And innovation because the pace of change is tied to enormous problems with huge data pools that can’t be solved by doing it the way it has always been done! So a government services CEO needs to lead with high integrity and push innovation to truly be effective.”
Why was it important for you to make the company 100% employee-owned?
“When I came back, I needed to get broader support for our change and push. Making the company employee-owned enhanced my ability to tap into and leverage a larger pool of resources. I was not interested in the same old. I wanted to push a new and more energized version of TechFlow!”
How would you describe the company culture at TechFlow?
“When we look for candidates to add to our growing team, we look for a few key characteristics: strong work ethic and high integrity; competitive and driven; team player and collegial; innovative but grounded; customer- and solution-focused; and a positive mindset. I feel those words describe our culture and help us to identify people who share our philosophies.
Culture is ever-changing. When I came back, I made culture a big focus in terms of attention and refresh. We constantly assess our culture and attempt to influence through messaging and sharing experiences that demonstrate. As CEO, I make it my job to exemplify these traits in my everyday interactions.”
What traits do you admire in employees?
“I love when people are energized and excited about innovating. I am a tech geek, so I love to see employees leverage exciting technology in their solutions. I love to see people stretch and do things they have never done to drive the company forward.”
What advice would you give to someone interviewing at TechFlow?
“Apply for the right job! We have a lot of openings. Make sure you understand what is required and exceed the minimum requirements. Make sure you focus on what makes you different and why you are the best candidate. Be proud of what you have accomplished, and tell us why that matters for us. Be proud of yourself!”