Words of Wisdom with Ric Elert, President of the global digital marketing company Conversant
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ric Elert, President of global digital marketing company Conversant. With a 24-year-history of building tech platforms that support billions of online transactions, Ric is a master at scaling and accelerating technologies that help marketers drive consumer engagement and generate the greatest results and efficiencies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve spent my entire career building and working with tech platforms and advanced digital marketing solutions. I started off at Information Resources, Inc. and then comScore, and eventually joined Dotomi, which would later become Conversant. Every step along the way, I’ve worn multiple hats, tried to drive efficiency and scale. It’s a habit that goes back to when I was 10 years old and a paperboy. I delivered the morning paper, so I had to get up at 4 a.m. and not only make deliveries but collect money too. The faster I delivered the paper, the more sleep I could get and the more papers I delivered, the more money I would make. It was like running a little business and taught me to be responsible and efficient at an early age. I also learned to be respectful of time (mine and others) and make sure whatever I spend my time on is worth doing and doing well.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The day before Thanksgiving 2010 always sticks out in my mind. That’s the day Conversant switched the technology stack we were using to the stack we’re running today. We moved our entire infrastructure to a new datacenter and a new processing model, and the cut over had taken place while I was driving into work. I was sitting in traffic, dialed in to a call to track what was going on, and it was one of those moments where we flipped the switch and hoped it didn’t die. I remember getting to the office and watching a monitor all day, looking at the rhythms and hoping it didn’t flatline. The number of transactions kept growing and growing, and they held and we have been running ever since.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We give people the opportunity to own projects at all levels, which you don’t find at other places. We want people to own their projects and decisions as we work to make things better and smarter. It shows people they have the capability and opportunity to do anything they want and is something we encourage and celebrate.
We’re also a flat organization; I don’t like hierarchy. Information flows better in a flat organization and allows us to solve problems faster. I want people to feel comfortable talking to me and updating me directly on projects starting from day one. The flatter the communication, the more accuracy you have in communication and the efficiency you can achieve.
What advice would you give to other Presidents to help their employees to thrive?
Be accessible. Don’t hide in your office. I hate the idea of an “Executive Suite.” My office isn’t any bigger than the rest of our leadership team. I want people to say “hello” to each other when they pass colleagues in hallway. When people have a bond, they’re not going to hide problems. I don’t want someone to sit on their hands waiting for an answer when there is an issue.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Conversant CEO John Giuliani was a big influence. He was the first manager I had that I felt wanted to see me succeed, not because his name would be a part of it, because he understood that our success led to the company’s success. Some managers are ego-driven or worried about their personal brand. He wasn’t that way, and he taught me it was okay not to be the shiny beacon of the company. I pride myself on being a servant-leader, and John was very much that way.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me before I Became President” and why.
- Don’t be frustrated at the pace of change when you become a bigger company.
- People will treat you differently because of your title. [It’s the reason I never use it.]
- Beware of people who don’t have the right motives.
- Stay true to who you are.
- Pick your battles. You can’t solve everything.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself” is one of my favorites. It keeps you in the right frame of mind.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I’d have to say the Pope. I admire his ability to break things down very simply when he addresses a crowd and emphasizes doing the right thing. It’s something I think about in business. If and when my “60 Minutes” moment comes and I have to answer whether or not I did right by another company or person, I always want to be able to say “yes, and here’s why.”