Episode 76 – How an IT Services Firm Built an Executive Leadership Team – Member Case with Matt Rosen

The quality of the leadership team paramount as professional services firms grow, scale, and exit. On this episode we speak with Matt Rosen, Founder and CEO at Allata. He shares how he structured his executive team to replicate himself, develop a succession plan and spend time working on the vision of the future.  

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that don’t know us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we have the privilege of talking to Matt Rosen and the leader of a company called Allata, which I’ll introduce in a moment. And we’re going to talk about building a quality management team and how he’s done that at his firm and hopefully learn a few things along the way. So, Matt, it’s good to see you. Would you introduce yourself to the audience, please? 

Matt Rosen [00:00:54] Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show, Greg. So my name is Matt Rosen and I’m the founder and CEO of Allata. Allata is a tech consulting firm based in Dallas with offices in Pheonix, Boise and Provo. And what we do is we help companies with their most complex technology initiatives from a strategy, architecture, development and data standpoint. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:14] Okay, awesome. And Matt, when did you find the firm to grow? 

Matt Rosen [00:01:18] I found the firm back in 2006. It was just myself and a developer. And now we’re over 220 people and growing quickly. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:25] It’s an incredible story. It really is. Congratulations and all that. So let me set up the topic, because I asked you that question about when you founded it and where you are today because you’ve scaled so fast. And I think one of the reasons why you’ve done that is because you’ve been able to build a quality management team, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting a few of them. And it’s a it’s a big subject because sometimes founders that are growing like that, they hit a bottleneck eventually. And that is they’re kind of the hero with a group of helpers. Doesn’t work, you know, there’s just too much work for one person. And you got to hire senior people or develop senior people. You have to give them enough autonomy to make the contributions that that they need to make, empower them to be successful. And I think you’ve done a really good job with that. So I’d like to start with an opening question, which is at a high level. Explain to the audience kind of the organizational structure, your leadership team that reports to you. My role, maybe, I don’t know if you need to mention names, what by role? And tell me how you came to that conclusion and why you built it the way you built it. 

Matt Rosen [00:02:35] Know so where we’re at today is I really have three direct reports. I have a chief strategy officer and she owns sales marketing. I go to market offerings as well as our partnerships. I have a chief technology officer and he’s really looking forward to the technology direction new trends do we should be jumping on. He’s also my personal helpdesk when I run into issues with the news, when I’ve got a chief operating officer, so the Office Leadership Report sent to him. So I have leaders for four different groups in the company. There’s Dallas, Pheonix, Virtual and Boise, and then he’s got all our back office functions from recruiting the H.R to finance. And so really everything falls to the three of them. And underneath them they’ve got leadership structures and sales and marketing, especially at a delivery level. There’s four group leaders that almost all the consulting resources roll into. And then we’ve got practice lead. So for strategy, for architecture, for product and design, for technology solutions and for data, we’ve got vice presidents that head up each of those service lines, if you will, and people are really matrixed across the organization into their office leaders, as well as the practice leaders. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:51] What I find remarkable about your story is you’ve been around five or six years. You’ve grown like crazy, and yet you personally only have three direct reports. Now, I know underneath those three, they have their teams, but that’s that’s pretty remarkable. Sometimes I see guys and gals like you with 8 to 10 and they’re living almost miserable lives because there’s not enough hours in the day. So how did you get it so tight to only three? 

Matt Rosen [00:04:18] Well, you have to have really good leaders. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. You’ve got to have people that you can set goals for. You know, I’m not a micromanager. I’m not even really a macro manager. I said I level goals and I get the heck out of the way. I hire bright people, you know, I do have one on ones with the three of them. And I probably talk to the layer below them at least every other week. But, you know, we’ve got a real structured way in which we do a sales meeting every Monday. We do an operations meeting every Tuesday. I’m always in on those or people are sending me a synopsis of them. So it gives me just enough information really to run the firm. And it took a while to really trust folks and things off, especially in the sales arena. That was based on. One of the recommendations you made when I was early on in the collective was You’ve got to stop being the hero sales guy. That was really hard for me to let go, but I finally have found a leader who came from a large firm and she brought a lot of process with her and is now leading the sales team and is a very effective seller herself. A lot of it comes down to finding people that are great at doing the things that you don’t or can’t do well, empowering them to do their job and staying out of their way unless they’re just not meeting their goals. They know that people are going to do things the way you do them. And that’s okay. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:27] Yep. Okay. So awesome story. I’m really proud of you for what you did on the sale side of it was hard for you to let go because you enjoyed it. I remember talking just. 

Matt Rosen [00:05:37] To get involved. I still get pulled in from time to time, but I’m not actively leading sales cycles get I’m speeding up from time to time. I’m handing them all. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:44] Yeah. And it’s tough to let go of the things that you really like to do. So that’s a great story to hear that you’re doing that. I know that your company is not for sale, but given your growth, I imagine the phone rings. And one of the things that potential acquirers are always looking at as part of their diligence is the quality of the management team. So if someone came to you with an offer you couldn’t refuse, you know, some crazy number that you’d be ridiculous if you didn’t take it. Do you know who your successor is and who you would hand the firm over to? Or would you plan on staying after the sale? And then if you were to hand it off, does does everybody get pulled up the org chart, so to speak, so that the thing doesn’t fall apart post-sale? 

Matt Rosen [00:06:28] That’s a great question. You know, we’re not for sale. If some crazy offer came along, I would foresee myself sticking around for a couple of years to make sure that there was a smooth transition integration. Ultimately, I built this firm because I didn’t want to work for others and know I wanted to build a firm that was sustainable and successful with or without me. So, you know, there definitely is a succession plan in place that we’re executing on. There’s definitely a couple of folks that could, with some training and tenure, probably step into my shoes. Nobody’s nobody’s replaceable. It takes time for them to grow into the role. Then what we’ve got is a really good mix of people that work career consultants and a mix of people that that were in industry. I had a lot of clients that were VP’s about that I was going to work for. You’ve got this really nice group of leaders that have either consulted their whole careers or sat on the side of the desk of those that we’re selling to that as a lot of credibility when working with clients. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:25] Awesome. Glad to hear that. Sometimes when I talk to members and I suggest that they do what you’ve done, I hear particularly from maybe the younger firms, those that haven’t reached the scale that you’ve reached. They say, Well, if I have all these people that are going to do all this stuff, what am I going to do? Which I tell them, Hold on, you know, you’ll have plenty. If things go well, you’ll never ask that question again. There’s going to be too much to do. So now that you have put this great team in place and you’ve elevated yourself, what do you personally spend your time on? 

Matt Rosen [00:08:01] You know, I spend my time thinking about where we need to head next. From a company’s perspective, what what goes we might want to go into what offerings we might want to have. I spend time visiting with a lot of our larger clients and spending time with them just understanding what’s important to them. Like a lot of them are my close personal friends. I spend time talking with with leaders as they need, you know, strategic advice. You know, they might call me and say, hey, we’ve got this situation. What do you think? And they run things by me, you know, putting this great leadership team in places allow me to actually get out and, you know, play a round of golf every now and again, which I hadn’t done in about 20 years. So that’s kind of nice fun that, you know, folks like you or, you know, clients that like to get out there as well and enjoy a walk run by golf. But, you know, there’s always things you can be working on, looking for ways to make the firm better or, you know, taking leadership courses, you know, doing interviews such as this, really being the thought leadership in your space as well as looking for how can you grow the firm maybe through M&A. So we’re actively talking to a couple of companies that might be accretive and be good partners for us as we grow. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:10] Yeah. So listening to what we just heard there is that Matt spends his time on the business, not in the business, spends a little time in the business in the right spots, but he has a team that’s doing that for him. So he’s pursuing the vision, the future. And unless somebody is dedicated to that vision, the future, it never happens. You just constantly in reaction mode. Matt is in and being proactive now and he’s leading. He’s not managing. There’s a difference between managing and leading. And what we’re hearing from Matt today is he’s leading, which is a great role model for all of us to follow. Got one more question regarding the management team and the structure in particular. I know when I went through this process that you have gone through the thing that I was. Less willing to give up. And I clung to the most. Which was a flaw. I didn’t do it the right way. This was a mistake. It came to investment decisions when money was going to get spent. I held on to this money like it was my first communion money. I was unwilling to let anybody, you know, make those decisions other than me. How is that handled in your firm? How is do you approve all expenses or do people have authority to do these types of things? 

Matt Rosen [00:10:23] So in this, I would say over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve moved to a budget. As long as people are spending what’s in that budget. That is not a problem with it. In fact, they but the budget in some respects to control me from spending too much on different. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:36] But the budget was for you. 

Matt Rosen [00:10:38] So that was actually from a year ago. Six we got hold of a budget, but we’re doing a good job and you know, we’re performing ahead of plan as a result of it. So, no, you know, again, that comes back to empowering people. I mean, the only thing I’ve not given up is, you know, I’m the only one that sends wires. But other than that, because people have corporate cards, they have budgets they can spend on what they need, we have a good controller, you know, authorizes money to go out. And so most of that I’ve given up and people make a lot of decisions where we where we spend that budget that’s been allocated without my involvement. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:10] Yeah. Interesting. That’s really inspiring in the budget process is it sounds like this is a relatively new thing, let’s say, in the last couple of years. So how do you guys create the budget? Is it done once a year? Is it done at the beginning of the year, end of the year? How does all that work? 

Matt Rosen [00:11:26] Yeah, it gets done, you know, as the year is wrapping up. So towards the end of 21, we set the budget for 2022. You know, we reviewed it with the group leaders. You know, we had them plan things that they wanted. We were meeting with sales and marketing and and the, you know, the practice leads and everyone kind of put in their wish list and we kind of whittle it down to what we thought we could spend in addition to where we think we could achieve from a revenue top line standpoint. And so we review in monthly, we do at the end of each month kind of a financial review, see how we’re tracking. And you know, if we’re doing a had a plan, we might spend more on certain things or make more investments in certain areas. But the big you know, the big thing for 2022 is making sure we’re focused on EBITDA building a sustainable organization and, you know, spending where we need to and not spending where we shouldn’t. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:17] It’s great that you review it monthly. It’s kind of like a variance to plan type meeting. 

Matt Rosen [00:12:22] Absolutely. We go through line by line in the major categories under super over. And you know, we adjust as necessary as we go into the next month and at least for January, we’re on track to see how we’re doing. February next. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:36] You know, the hardest part about budgeting for me was the forecasting part of it. You know, it’s easy to look at what’s happened and you can do the variance to plan on that. But then if someone says, hey, what’s going to happen in six months? It’s tough because professional services can be a little lumpy. And, you know, it’s not as much forward visibility as we might like. Have you have you implemented any type of forecasting system that sits on top of the budget that predicts the future? And if so, how’s that going so far? 

Matt Rosen [00:13:02] You know, it’s really a combination of two tools. You know, we’ve got a Sierra tool, like most organizations do, and we try and put it in as much as we know. We’ve got, you know, kind of a four stage sales process and just waited to get kind of that weighted pipeline. And we’re always trying to have 2 to 3 X or revenue plan and we do pipeline. It turns out to be that much because we tend to be a little bit conservative, but we have that forecast of all the deals that are in the pipeline, what’s coming as well as our forecast of what we think clients are going to do between now and the end of the calendar year. And then we invest in a professional services automation tool that allows us to see weekly how we’re tracking a plan, making sure our up to date also have some modeling scenarios where we can figure out, you know, based on the people we have available, you know, what type of team can we put together, what’s their profitability? Because for the longest time we only understood margin at a company level. We didn’t understand it at a project or client level. And now we have that visibility and abilities allowing us to make smart decisions. You know, I think about consulting hours. It’s like bananas. They spoil at the end of each month. So you’ve really got to sit in tightly and ensure that you’re watching them and leveraging them and try not to leave anything behind. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:15] Question On the PSA platform, which I’m so glad to hear that you’ve installed, that I’m a big advocate and I think it really helps, particularly on those two items, project and client level profitability and managing that inventory. What advice would you have for younger firms, smaller firms on when it’s appropriate to progress to the point where you would install a professional services automation tool. 

Matt Rosen [00:14:41] When the Excel spreadsheet starts breaking. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:44] Which happens early. Yeah, was probably. 

Matt Rosen [00:14:48] Better. My team had to push me for years and I don’t mind mentioning the tool for employee to talk about when they even link and. We were able to cut a pretty good deal with them and they had professional services that helped us implement it. The challenge is you do have to take someone senior and have them help line your entity implementation. So it is an investment, one that I had pushed on for a while. I would have and she provided that sooner. We probably we would have actually been a bit more profitable. If I waited a year or two too long. But now that we have it and it’s and we are seeing returns from it, we are capturing time that we weren’t previously. It’s allowing us to model up skill sets and understanding where we need to be investing. You know, it probably is something we should have done two years prior and my team pushed me for it, but I held off because I wasn’t ready to make the investment. But I’m glad they finally pushed me to. That mix of harvest and spreadsheets was no longer getting the job done. It 200 plus people. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:44] Yeah, exactly. Well, listen, man, you’re just you’re absolutely knocking it out of the park. I mean, every single thing you’re supposed to be doing to be on the business and scaling the business is working really great. And your results back it up. And I want to, on behalf of the membership, just thank you publicly. This is a big contribution. You’re a role model for many. And hearing your story and how quick you’ve gotten to this point is is an inspiration. So thanks for being on the show. 

Matt Rosen [00:16:10] Yeah, thanks for having me on the show, Greg. Appreciate it. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:13] All right. And for those that are interested in learning more about this subject, building a quality management team and others like it, pick up the book. It’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. You can find it on Amazon. And for those that are listening that want to meet really bright professional services owners like Matt, consider joining our community. You can find it at collective54.com. Thanks again, Matt. Take care. 

Matt Rosen [00:16:36] Thanks. Take it easy.