EVC INTERVIEWS OF LOCAL BUSINESS LEADERS. Russ Levanway Chief Executive Officer TekTegrity

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1 EVC INTERVIEWS OF LOCAL BUSINESS LEADERS Russ Levanway Chief Executive Officer TekTegrity This interview series focuses on business leaders who are directly impacting our local economy. This month Michael Manchak interviewed Russ Levanway, co-founder and CEO of TekTegrity, a San Luis Obispo-based information technology company with customers throughout three counties. MM: Congratulations on your recent nomination for the Spirit of Small Business award from the PACIFIC COAST BUSINESS TIMES. I speak for many who look forward to attending this annual event held in Santa Barbara to see you and your team recognized as SLO County s recipient of this award. August 16 event registration: MM: As a leader in the business community who created a thriving information technology company, what are some of the opportunities and challenges of small businesses such as yours in recent years? RL: Mike, thank you for the congrats, it is an honor to be selected for Spirit of Small Business Award! As you know, the pace of change in technology is very rapid, and the proliferation of cloud based IT solutions, an increasingly mobile workforce that gets their work done on devices like ipads, and improved access to high-speed internet connections is fundamentally changing how many businesses operate. I see these changes as both our biggest opportunity and challenge. How we support our clients may change a lot in the next decade. As a company, we have tried to balance providing what our clients need now with being able to deliver the solutions of the future. MM: Many in the business community are grateful for seeing leaders like you being champions of growing entrepreneurship on the central coast. In your experience, what are some of the steps that have been made, and need to be made, to help foster more start-up companies to create more jobs in the region? RL: Cal Poly has really made a strong effort in the last couple of years to focus more on technology transfer and graduate job opportunities locally. Recent partnerships with Cal Poly, local government, and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the EVC, and Softec are resulting in successful programs such as tech incubators. With all the great technology focused programs at Cal Poly and Cuesta College, we have the Page 1 of 5

2 potential for a highly creative and innovative tech cluster here on the Central Coast. Many young entrepreneurs would prefer to stay in the area if they could find the resources they need to be successful and have a great support network. In just this year alone, the first Startup Weekend was hosted at Cal Poly, the second Hot House incubator program is running through the summer, there are plans afoot to create a co-working space in the downtown SLO area, and there will be a TechPitch event for startups to present their ideas to investors in October. These new and ongoing efforts are going to kick our local high-tech cluster into high gear. MM: What resources do startups need to be successful that might be hard to find locally? RL: While we do have many great entrepreneurs here, there seems to be a high degree of difficulty in accessing the type of capital resources that many startups need. Efforts are underway to attract more angel and VC type funding sources here. The EVC s efforts to make connections between out of the area investors and local startups are a huge help. Also, our industry is highly dependent on fast, cheap, and reliable data connections to the internet. Continuing to build out the fiber optic backbones that are being built in San Luis Obispo and Grove Beach will be a key enabler for high tech startups to succeed. MM: As an owner of a business that operates in three counties (SLO, Santa Barbara and Kern), what have been some of your secrets to your success in resolve day-to-day challenges long distance other than let s say by and miles on your car? RL: Having a great management team. Let s face it, none of us can be everywhere at once, even if we wish we could! We came to a point a couple of years back where it became clear that Jeremy and I would be restraining the growth and success of TekTegrity by trying to handle all day to day management. Finding, training, and enabling great people to manage our departments and locations is key. While recruitment and training may be pretty self-explanatory, the enabling part is what really allows our management team to be successful. I ve made plenty of mistakes and will long into the future, but these mistakes have allowed me to learn and become a better CEO. Enabling a team member to be an effective manager means not shortcutting their authority, even if that means they make an occasional mistake. Page 2 of 5

3 MM: Although you reach your customers electronically, do you have any opinions about the necessity for making our local airport more competitive with more flights? And how important is the airport in your opinion to the vitality of our local economy? RL: The airport is of critical importance. Even though 95% of our clients are within driving distance of one of our offices, I often travel to industry events, peer networking meetings, and trade shows. Many of our clients are very dependent on airport and flight availability for their own business success. Because this area is somewhat rural and isolated, easy air travel to metro regions can be the key factor that influences a business to operate here. MM: We have all seen businesses that struggle with growth. Operating and growing your company in different counties, what would you advise someone who is thinking of expanding their business geographically? What infrastructure or operation processes should an entrepreneur have in place to grow successfully? RL: With regards to your internal systems and processes it s critical to have them documented well. What easily passes around verbally at home base may not be picked up quickly at a new branch office with new employees. And you must invest in the culture and employees at a new location. During the course of day-to-day operations, it s easy for members of a branch office to feel like they are out of the loop or not really connected to the whole team. Even small things like having an after hours social at one office can make other locations feel left out if they are never asked to have a similar event. Whatever investment you make in the team and culture at one office, you have to find a way to replicate at your other locations. Lastly, it s easy to forget that it took years for us to build name recognition, referral partners, and a great reputation on the Central Coast. This doesn t translate into sales opportunities in another region where we have no name recognition. In some ways, you start over in a new territory and it can take years to build up that level of connection in a new community. Getting your name out there through marketing, community events, networking, and advertising are all important. So is being patient and understanding that building a good reputation takes time. MM: As a participant in the EVC s countywide economic strategy for the Knowledge and Innovation Cluster, what are the prospects for growing this county s technology sector? RL: I really applaud the EVC s efforts through the economic strategy, and the great partnerships that are happening between local government and the private sector as a result. The knowledge and innovation cluster in this area already has world-class companies to work for. However, many of them tend to fly under the radar since they have few local customers. It is important to build awareness of the businesses that Page 3 of 5

4 already exist here and create opportunities for them to be showcased through public events like job fairs, not to mention collaborative projects with the colleges. Also, collaborative projects such as openforbusinessinslo.com are a great way to show we are open for business and want to attract more high-tech companies to the area. The combination of showcasing local businesses and attracting new ones will create an attractive employment environment with a critical mass of technology related businesses and opportunities for job mobility. MM: What would do advise young people seeking a career path in the IT or technology field overall? RL: Make sure your expectations are reasonable be willing to accept a position that is more entry level, even a volunteer or internship position if you can, and prove yourself over time through great performance. I started a career in technology by volunteering to work at Cuesta College s Computer Services department. It was a rewarding experience that eventually led to a Network Admin position there and a springboard into starting TekTegrity. MM: How do you blow off steam at the end of the day? RL: I normally run about 20 miles a week and regularly sign up to run in a 5k or 10k race. Running early in the morning gives me a chance to exercise while clearing the cobwebs and mentally preparing for the day ahead. At the end of the day there is nothing better then the chance to spend time with my 2 daughters Alayna and Aviah. They are 4 and 1 ½ years old and being Daddy is my favorite job by far! MM: What s your most memorable book you have ready lately, and why? RL: I recently finished reading Flash Foresight by Daniel Burris. One thing I learned is that many industries get to a dominant position and then try to protect the status quo because it is safe and has always worked. However with the rapid pace of technological innovation, many of these industries have been turned on their head, for instance the automotive industry, record industry, and now the textbook publishing industry. Companies that embrace rapid change and build products and solutions for the future are the ones who emerge in a better place long term. After a large technological shift, an industry outsider can become the new dominant player when the existing players try too hard to keep the status quo. Look at how Apple now dominates the music industry via itunes and Amazon the book publishing industry through the Kindle. This is a great lesson for me to remember. Page 4 of 5

5 MM: What s your newest favorite application on your smartphone? RL: Evernote it s a great cloud-based tool to keep track of all your notes, ideas, quotes, web sites, and pretty much everything else. MM: What is your most recent personal accomplishment? RL: Being able to use the phone. I was deaf for most of my life due to spinal meningitis as a child. Recently, after having a Cochlear Implant for 8 years, I had a second Implant in my right ear. That plus recent technological and software advances have made it possible for me to make phone calls and not just depend on lip-reading to understand someone. There has also been years of psychological conditioning to overcome in that I only trusted my eyes and not my ears. It s been an incredible experience and I am thankful for the technology and the opportunity to benefit from it. # # # Page 5 of 5

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