ISG’s CEO Says Values, Entrepreneurial Spirit Drove Company’s Growth

Michael Connors, CEO of ISG
Michael Connors, CEO of ISG

When Information Services Group (ISG) started, it was a company of one.

“It was one desk, one person. We had no revenue and no payroll. So it was truly a startup and my vision was to build a technology research and advisory firm that could really help businesses perform better, what we call achieving operational excellence,” says Michael Connors, who founded the company back in 2006.

A picture of ISG ringing the Nasdaq opening bell last year sits proudly outside Connors’ office in Stamford, Connecticut, showing how far the company has come in 12 years.  Today, ISG is publicly-traded company with 1,300 employees, nearly $300 million in revenue, operations in 20-plus countries, and 700-plus clients that include 75 of the largest enterprises in the world.

Connors had the background to make it work: before ISG, he was chairman and CEO of Nielsen Media and Measurement, as well has had leadership roles at American Express and Sprint. Those jobs gave him an entrepreneurial spirit and the itch to build something from scratch.

The mentality of ISG is to keep building new products and services. He considers everyone at the company part of its research and development arm. “If someone has an idea in Sydney today, it can go to the market in 30 days from now at our firm.”

His previous roles also taught him about the power of positivity. “You’ve got to stay positive. You’ve got to be able to display your own passion, and you got to be able to display your own energy if you want your teams to follow you with passion, energy, and excitement.”

Clients, not customers

Connors grew up in the Midwest around numbers and analytics, the son of a CFO and an administrative assistant. But more important to a company’s growth than pure data, he says, is adhering to a value system. He truly believes this mentality helped the company grow in its early days. For example, one of its first big clients was General Motors. ISG stood by the famed car company around the time it was filing for bankruptcy.

“They came to us and said, ‘Look, we’re going to be filing bankruptcy tomorrow and we just want you to know we don’t know if we can pay you during bankruptcy and we understand completely if you want to leave,’” recalls Connors. ISG was not deterred and stuck by GM’s side. Not long after, it became one of the few services suppliers the car company actually paid during its bankruptcy. “That is the foundation of our firm —client-centric, client-first, do-what- it-takes- to-help-the-client mentality.”

The word client is actually a distinction point for Connors, who says it holds more meaning than someone being a customer. “Customers to us are people that you go in and you do a transaction with. You go and you buy a candy bar, a newspaper, that’s a customer. There’s no relationship there,” he says.

An example of this focus is ISG’s advisors’ questions and answers service (AQA). Essentially, if an ISG consultant has question about a business problem, they can send out an AQA and within 30 minutes, they will receive an answer from someone on ISG’s team that has worked through that issue before. Connors calls it a “knowledge network.”

“Nobody wants to be Uberized”

To that end, digital transformation is what clients want. It’s not just the biggest revenue opportunity for ISG (40% of its revenue and growing compared to 5% three years ago), but also the most frequent topic of discussion when Connors is talking with the CEOs of clients. Regardless of the industry, everyone is looking to be digitized—or rather, as Connors says, “nobody wants to be Uberized.”

Robotic process automation is one area where clients—whether it’s a fast food retail chain or an insurance company—are really interested. For many, it allows them to redeploy workers to more meaningful work, allowing them to keep talent that would get bored in tedious labor. For example, an insurance company had people doing nothing but managing yacht claims. ISG was able to help them automate that process. Another trend Connors has seen recently is enterprise clients moving their workloads and data to the public cloud.

“We help our clients work the digital angle, if you will, because every client is looking to figure out how they can digitize, how they can automate, how they can move some of their workloads to the cloud,” says Connors.

Actions speak louder than words, so ISG has taken the plunge on many of the digital transformations it’s trying to convince its clients to make. For instance, Connors says the company has automated a lot of its own processes and created a digital client app, which allows ISG to push all of its research and data to its clients on their phones.

Keeping talent

The market is tight on tech-savvy services talent, Connors admits, but he doesn’t see it at as a huge problem at ISG. “One, we’re a fast-moving, fast-growing, very entrepreneurial, innovative firm. And when you’re in the technology space you want to play that way,” he says.

Secondly, Connors says there is a lot of flexibility in terms of where someone can live at the company. “As long as they can get to our client premises we allow them to live where they want. And that has enabled us to keep our turnover rate at a very industry low number because of the flexibility we allow them to live where they want.”

Thirdly, the work is exciting. “You’re involved in analytics, you’re involved in mobility, you’re involved in robotics. If you’re in the tech space, you’re involved with those sorts of things.” Moreover, ISG has a digital training academy—available online and in person—allowing its employees (as well as clients) to get up to speed in different technologies.

Connors advises fellow CEOs to focus on client-centric services, implement a strong values system, and don’t ignore digitization. “The digitization of our economy is here, it is now, and the level and the speed and the urgency in which you pick it up for your enterprise will determine how successful you’re going to be five years from now. I believe that.”

Read more: Q&A: Slated CEO Stephan Paternot On Why Culture Is Key

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