What it's like to be the boss: 4 Colorado CEOs open up

Jess Ryan

Many of us dream about being the boss, but how many consider what it’s like to actually lead a company? We checked in with four local startups’ CEOs to learn about their leadership styles and the ups and downs of their jobs.

 

Blinker’s CEO, Rod Buscher started the 54-person company four years ago. He was previously founder and president of the John Elway dealerships and the founder and CEO of Summit Automotive dealerships.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I lead with hope, vision, empowerment and accountability.

How does it manifest itself through action?

My success has been due to great teams and letting them do what they are experts at. We talk about “running through walls” to be successful. We take on schedules, problems and opportunities with that can / must do attitude.

What's the best part of your job?

Working with my team and seeing them succeed.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

For Blinker, it is making the right marketing decisions to gain traction on our app. We are changing behaviors.

What advice do you have for leaders at other startups?

Be prepared for a longer time build, ramp and market your product and it will take more money than expected. It is not for the faint of heart.

 

Greystone Technology’s CEO Peter Melby has been leading the company for 15 years. Before joining the 87-person team, he said he was “the guy the clients called when their computers didn't work.”

How would you describe your leadership style? How does it manifest itself through action?

I work to trust people to be smart, learn through success and failure and to be accountable for their results. We run Greystone on the principles of directed autonomy and psychological safety. We give team members clear definition on where to spend their time and what success looks like, and we allow autonomy and creative thinking inside of that space. We expect our team members to respect this autonomy by communicating authentically upstream and downstream. It’s been imperative to build a culture where mistakes are discussed openly alongside successes. It’s easier said than done. Over time, we learned that just asking for this is not enough, so we've created a unique team communication platform to facilitate it.

What's the best part of your job?

I enjoy the challenge of scaling the "unscalable" parts of our business. We are a technology service provider focused on deep personal knowledge of our clients, their businesses, personalities, politics, etc. Our entire service model is built on gaining deep context and using it for better solutions. For example, we provide each client with dedicated teams as opposed to call center style help desks. We were told that it was foolish to try to scale such a personal model past 10 people. Those voices are quieter now that we are pushing 100 with client satisfaction that continues to grow. Every new stage requires new innovation and that's what I love about it.   

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Scaling a service model that is based on human connection means some things should be done the hard way. We can’t just create a model based on our own efficiency and automation without considering the impact on the experience. Additional investment on the front end often gives a straighter path to the right result. We have to keep our eye on that reward when we’re tempted to take shortcuts.

What advice do you have for leaders at other startups?

Don't lose your heart when your focus is increasingly dominated by financials. It's easy to get sucked into running a company by the paper and not what you see with your own eyes. Teams don’t rally around financials the way they do a common mission. Most of us got into these positions for a love of creating or impacting things bigger than ourselves. Keeping that viewpoint in the face of pressure to deliver financially is a challenging balance but we must be intentional about not losing it. That’s what makes us uniquely suited for these jobs.


Luke Norris is Faction’s CEO. He’s been at the company for eight years and leads a team of 50. Before joining Faction's team, Norris was the CIO of another tech company.

How would you describe your leadership style? How does it manifest itself through action?

My style is a very "carry your own bag" type of style. What I mean is I expect my employees to be engaged in their own successes. They should be provided the tools and guidance, but the tactical resolution should be 100% on them. This manifests itself in a very entrepreneurial environment where the staff are owners of the problem and the subsequent resolution.

What's the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is the quarterly recaps; seeing how the plans came together in growth for the company and the staff’s personal and professional growth.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Managing expectations is by far the hardest part. Ambition and goal setting is great for an organization but it also must be achievable with organizational execution.

 

For roughly a year and a half, Matt Schiltz has been CEO of Conga, which has about 135 Colorado employees (and 243 total). Before that, Schiltz was CEO of Blue Box Group, which was acquired by IBM.

How would you describe your leadership style? How does it manifest itself through action?

Leadership is often the determining factor in a company. Over my years as CEO at a number of technology companies, I’ve developed a style of first and foremost understanding and focusing on the people who make up my company. As I’ve said in the past, technology is fundamentally a people business. It’s essential to understand who’s on the team, show them that no matter what role they’re in, they are valued, important and empowered. That helps to establish a culture of information-sharing that enables us to accomplish our goals.

What's the best part of your job?

My passion really is about people. I enjoy working to create a culture. That’s my top goal, and what I enjoy most: creating core values that permeate the company and establishing a company culture that supports people to achieve success. At Conga, this means desire for knowledge, passion with purpose, adapt to win and delivering five-star value in every interaction.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

As a company that’s growing globally at an accelerated rate, we need to constantly evolve while keeping a steady focus on our core values. This means we have an organizational and operational focus on these values that is reviewed regularly and reinforced and demonstrated by the company leadership.

What advice do you have for leaders at other startups?

One thing I’d recommend to entrepreneurs: it’s never too early to focus on developing people. They are going to be the most important asset of your company, every step of the way.

 

Photos via featured companies. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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