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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Seize every opportunity to be successful....

If someone tells you that the CEO of an organization quite often doubles up as the (unlikely) jester, quintessentially to add some fun and frolic celebrating the accomplishment of an organizational goal, more specifically, to acknowledge the efforts of his team - in his queer yet own special way, you are more than likely to pass it off as mere small-talk. Well, that is exactly what Brad Smith often does to just rev it up a little bit after having led his team to yet another achievement for the company. Brad Smith's career isn't the type fairy-tale books would look forward to, where everything happens at the snap of fingers.

Although recent, and perhaps very early to assess the long-term impact of his leadership on Intuit, his has been a truly workman-like effort so far. His success can be attributed to a combination of factors - a deep sense of ambition, thorough understanding of one's strengths, looking ahead of the times, gauging the pulse of the customer, investment in customer-driven innovation and, effecting timely and appropriate synergies to seize any and every opportunity that presents itself - are just some of the traits that Smith has exhibited in his so far short yet very highly successful role as CEO of Intuit.

Early Years

Born in 1964 in Kenova, WV, Smith's educational life barring -his Master's- was spent in West Virginia. He completed his schooling from Credo-Kenova High School, Kenova (WV) in 1982 and, followed it up with a year at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. He did his Bachelor's in Business management from Marshall University by 1986 and, topped it all with a Master's degree from Aquinas College, MI, in 1991.

His initial job stints were at PepsiCo (& 7UP), Advo, Inc., and ADP (where he held various executive positions and rose through the ranks to become its Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Business Development in 2003 - he had joined them in 1996). Obviously, the experience at ADP had fuelled, apart from personal ambition like everyone else's, a desire to rise o a position where he could be in a position to enable people make fullest use of the technology in their lives. He joined Intuit (2003 - 04), which was already a market leader in the Financial Software Services market, as Vice-President & General Manager for its Accountant General and Developer Network division.

Like at ADP, at Intuit too he did reasonably well to climb the management ladder through his performances in different capacities. In 2004, he became the Vice-President & General Manager for the Consumer Tax Group of Intuit, and that of the Small Business Division in 2006 - in which position he worked for two years leading upto his elevation to the CEO's post in 2008.

The Spark

Business leaders are faced with challenges of many types. If the challenge of taking-over a company in troubled waters tops, then assuming the helm at a pioneering - and a very successful one at that- is no less a challenge. In fact, one can presume that the ignominy of not being able to carry forward the success would be much more disappointing than not being able to resurrect a company in a mess. Brad Smith was faced with the exactly such a huge challenge when he took over the reins of Intuit, so to say.

Admittedly, his five years at Intuit prior to becoming the CEO of the company had given him enough insights of the company's capability, work culture, and the potential - both of his team as well as the ever-evolving market itself. What it had also taught him was the necessity for a technology leader -or any business for that matter- to be always open to change, and prepared to oversee the transition while looking to consolidate by leveraging ones inherent capabilities.

With that clearly etched in his mind, his strategies for innovation revolved around what their customers needed in an ever-changing market driven by technological advancements if they are likely to switch to the latest devices or instruments of not only communication but also conducting part of their work or business. Most importantly, being a financial services software maker, Intuit had to align itself with the spate of innovations in the consumption patterns vis-à-vis information, devices, and services.

Therefore, observing and studying the target market carefully and understanding its needs and trends, had to be the top priority. And, what better place to start that than one's home itself; Smith observed his children employ technology like smart phones and social networking and other like avenues, to the fullest in their lives. This, plus the various initiatives that Smith had kick-started to ramp up its operations in what looked-like a mobile driven market such as interacting with customers in the immediate target markets face-to-face to understand to get a hang of thinking about the changed scenario, was what determined, in a way, the future course of business strategy as far as Smith, and Intuit, were concerned. In fact, Smith himself spent a lot of time listening to hundreds of customer-facing employees besides his very active interaction with various stake-holders, whose opinion was so very crucial for him to obtain his objective of making Intuit one of the world's most innovative, fastest-growing companies.

The inevitability of the smart-phone and tablet computing culture taking over myriad business functions -rather processes-, sooner rather than later, was playing on his mind even as he and his team looked to spruce up their primary webservices-based business line.

Journey since

So, when he assumed office as CEO in 2008, he had clearly set some priorities for himself as well as the company.

To start with, his aim was to make intuit a more global company with a view to meet the demographic shifts in the work-force. He had correctly gauged that the impact of social media & networking, growth rate of SaaS (software as a service0, and mobile devices to get things have to be factored in to achieve his next primary objective of accelerating growth by staying ahead of the market trends that figured quite predominantly in his agenda when he started off. Thus, spurred on by a strong desire, as well as necessity, to foster creativity & innovation, he set in motion plans and strategies which have proved to be more than successful - which surprised himself even sometimes.

What did he do?

Well, for one he wanted to address the immediate threat to the business of its marquee product - the desktop-based payroll accounts handler, QuickBooks (QB) which, it is said, is believed to be used by one in every twelve payroll accounts in the U.S.- from Microsoft which was contemplating rolling-out a product of its own to eat into the QB market. So he master-minded a plan called ‘Rolling Thunder,' in which each and every representative interacting with both current as well as potential customers would drive home the point that the new version of QuickBooks with added features is worth the 60-day wait as opposed to going in for a peer product. This worked, and Intuit was able to not only successfully stave off competition from Microsoft, but also its net income jumped 14% (YoY).

He did not stop there. To nip in the bud any likely competition from other existing players with a good market presence, Intuit acquired ‘Mint' - a top web-based financial services rival for an amount reported to be in the range of close to 1% of its (Intuit's) market-cap.

Through the course of this period he realized that to be able to stand-up to competition as well as sustain its market leadership, drastic changes had to be made to its business strategy - in terms of offerings. One straight-forward decision he had to make was to develop mobile counterparts for Intuit's desktop and web-based products. That is where the acquisition of ‘Mint' is believed to have helped Intuit.

Then there was a line of thinking that encouraged Smith to announce rolling out ‘mobile-only' products, especially for the youth.

Furthering his drive to get Intuit upto speed in a fast-changing market scenario, was effort put in to interact with people on-the-go at public places like Starbucks and get a perspective on its products and services in terms of what else can be provided to make life easier for them - vis-à-vis finance related services. One idea that seemed to have stemmed from these dialogues which Intuit proceeded to implement was to create a smart-phone app, ‘SnapTax,' which would not require the user to even key in any information for processing. The idea behind ‘SnapTax,' was to use the smart-phone's camera to digitize tax forms and then use character recognition to enter the text. This meant that the customer only had to make sure the information is accurate and then answer a few questions. Of course, Smith very well understands that the ‘mobile-only' path for Intuit has still a long way to go before it can boast of a presence like it has in other areas of its business activity. Likewise, the company is using the iPhone and other devices to tie into its vast existing Web services which will make sure its market-leadership is intact for quite some time to come.

He nonetheless, is committed to the ideology that for Intuit to be really a technology leader in the financial services sector, it needs to continue to identify not only the current trends but also the future needs its customer might have, and lead innovation accordingly. All this obviously is capital-intensive and like all visionary leaders, Smith also has made sure that the company invests a good chunk of its revenue into research. Not only that, Smith has been able develop a work culture at Intuit wherein employees are encouraged to devote some of their work time (10%) towards research identify solutions to customer problems. The idea, in other words, is to empower and challenge individuals in order to give them room to innovate and make a positive impact on the company.

It is no wonder that the team has come up with several novel products and services (QuickBooks Online, Tax Online, Virtual Office, Pro-Advisor, GoPayment, etc.), with many in the offing (Intuit's pipeline is now five times bigger than it was last year i.e. 2011-12), that are likely to catch the imagination of customers in a world (yes, there are many online offerings that do not have any natural boundaries) whose tone is going to be set increasingly by connected services facilitated by the advent of smart gizmos and like services.

Philanthropy

Smith is a strong advocate of initiatives, especially educational programs, for young children with special needs. He also very strongly endorses advancing educational programs (DonorsChoose.org). He was also honoured by the America India Foundation in 2009 for his leadership of Intuit's corporate and philanthropic commitment to India.

Family

Wife & two daughters

Awards

Smith's accomplishments in a relatively short time at the helm of affairs at Intuit have been well acknowledged. To his credit, he has the following awards & accolades:

@The Small Business Influencer Champion 2012 Award
@Corporate Social Innovation & Partnership Award (Silicon Valley Chapter), March 2012.
@Top 100 Most Influential People (Accounting Profession) by Accounting Today, July 2011.
@Marshall University - Lewis College of Business Hall of Fame, March 2011.

Quotes

@"Seize every opportunity to rely on the power of inquiry and learning to be successful."
@"I encourage our employees to seize every opportunity to move into areas where they have little or no domain expertise and are forced to rely on the power of inquiry and learning to be successful. In today's world, things change rapidly and positions don't come with instructions. The ability to learn, adapt and execute is critical."
@"The people who have the most assets are not the ones who win… When you focus your team on the most important problem, and you play like there is no tomorrow, the odds are in your favor."
@"No matter how large or successful a company is, a leader should always think like an entrepreneur, always listen to your customer and constantly innovate by stepping out of the way to empower individuals and reward great work. This will create a successful, healthy company that people are happy to work for and customers are happy to show loyalty to."
@"We've tried classroom learning. We learned the fast way to develop skills is to learn by doing. You have to practice it. You have to get out of your comfort zone and into your learning zone."
 
Hope viewers caught up the spark...
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