Ecteon CEO Richard Eckerstrom’s first job out of college was in the CBS Records finance department, where he managed contracts for their clients. He noticed his senior colleagues carrying large loose leaf binders full of agreements from meeting to meeting and thought to himself, “There has to be a better way.”
Eckerstrom teamed with his mentor Andrea Finkelstein (now SVP at Sony Music Entertainment) to create an automated software system that generates contracts and reports in minutes. Ecteon launched in 1986, and today the company has pioneered the contract management software industry through its Contraxx solution. While the company has its roots in the entertainment and media business, it now focuses more on the healthcare, insurance, energy, banking education sectors.
Chief Executive talked with Eckerstrom about the challenges of navigating the tech business landscape, the importance of R&D and what he looks for in top employees.
Q: How has Ecteon evolved over the years to meet your customers’ needs across all of these industries?
A: We like to say there’s nothing in our software that hasn’t come from a customer request, or question, or something they’ve asked or pointed out to us. So our solution may not have been what they expected, but it’s always come from a problem that they needed solved. And I think that’s worked very well for us.
“We try not to—although it’s not always possible—focus the impetus of our development efforts on our competitor, so much as I say, from our customers.”
Q: Is your R&D team trying to find new solutions and new ways in which customers might be able to leverage your technology?
A: We, of course, have a skunkworks. And I think our major competitors do as well, because the industry actually is evolving rapidly in terms of what our software can do for people. So there is kind of a development race going on at all times, at least within the industry, the leading suppliers.
We try not to—although it’s not always possible—focus the impetus of our development efforts on our competitor, so much as I say, from our customers. So if our competitors come up with something and our customers and they would ask for it, we kind of wonder what are we missing? But if our customers ask, we’re much more confident that it’s something that the market wants.
Q: What are some of the common traits that your best employees share? What do you look for in leaders?
A: We have a very, very bright, very well-educated group of employees. And that’s partly because, on the delivery side, we’re talking to chief counsels of large organizations, some of the most educated, smartest people in the world. And usually people without a lot of patience for someone who’s not going along with themselves. Our people are able to understand those business requirements and talk to those people on a one-on-one basis.
They also tend to have a policy, a technical background because that’s what we do, we give a technical solution to these problems. So that’s a fairly unusual and difficult combination to get—people that can both sit in front of the screen and sit in front of a corporate council and do well with both of them.
We’ve been very fortunate to find some really good people and keep them challenged in a way that kept them with the organization, because I always think employees and people at work in general are much more interested in the day-to-day work challenge than what money they’re making. Obviously they want to make a good salary. But these sorts of people want to be doing something cool. And we give them that opportunity, I think.
Q: As a CEO, what’s the thing that gets you most excited about the year ahead?
A: I have to say I bug our development guys because some of the stuff they’re doing is just so cool, and I just love to see them working. And then a couple of our very biggest customers, you know, the Fortune 25-type customers, are asking us to do some interesting stuff with them. And that’s fun to do as well.