When you interview a Tech Leader with over 35 years of high-tech sales and leadership experience, you get answers. Direct, pragmatic, well-informed answers. But in this case, they were also highly personal.
Read this one-on-one with Tech Qualled CEO, Jim Sherriff, and you’ll see what I mean.
Q: What led you to start Tech Qualled (TQ)?
A: For many, many years, my wife Karen and I have felt very strongly that the United States government and corporate America have not done enough for veterans as they transition back into their civilian lives. With our all-volunteer army, we have hundreds of thousands of people making conscious decisions and personal sacrifices to serve their nation, and I think we have to do more. So that’s fundamentally what drove me to look for options.
Then I started looking at what I could do personally, and what my wife Karen and I brought to the table. We came to the conclusion that we could do more to help veterans get into high-tech sales than any other vocation.
We also saw that there is a chronic shortage of high-tech salespeople. So a combination of that opportunity and the direct applicability of veterans to those opportunities were the driving factors behind really wanting to make a difference as veterans transition.
Q: So why has no one ever done what you and the TQ team are doing?
A: I think what you have is two basic business models that have approached veterans to help them make transitions. You have the non-profit segment, and then you have the for-profit segment. The for-profit segment fundamentally focuses on the economics of recruiting and placing. It’s very difficult in those models to make the training investments required to help people make those transitions. So these companies tend to stick to just trying to find people that are easy to place, and then find jobs that are relatively easy to convince veterans to go and take. But they haven’t set up their business with the intention of making money by actually creating value through training.
On the other hand, you have the non-profits. They have great intentions and are passionate about their missions. The challenge with any non-profit is that instead of pursuing revenue through a focus on a compelling value proposition, they must pursue donations and grants. We have benefited greatly by the inherent feedback mechanism of the free market, and it has forced us to adapt quickly or perish. The feedback cycle for non-profits is too slow, and they often do not adapt to the feedback of their constituents quickly enough.
I think we are a great blend in between. We are what many people would call a “social enterprise.” We are willing to accept much lower profits than a traditional for-profit company. With the added advantage of taking some of the financial pressure off, what we’re looking for is a business model that is sustainable, as opposed to a business model that is designed to maximize profitability.
We are very clear that our first priority is our mission; however, we are also very clear that we cannot pursue that mission without a strong financial foundation.
Q: Where do you see the high-tech industry going in the next five to ten years?
A: The great thing about the high-tech industry is that it changes all the time. Let me take a company that we are very close to in this program, Cisco Systems, and talk about their transition to give you a sense of how much surviving companies have to evolve.
Cisco was founded as a company that sold one product: a “router,” something that connects disparate locations and moves Internet traffic. It’s still a huge business for Cisco, but they were a single product company. Since then, here are some of the main transformations they had to undergo:
- They were in a position of being threatened by something called “switches,” so they ended up getting into that business and dominating it.
- They looked at the Internet and realized there was a great opportunity to move video and voice over the Internet, so they made investments there, and today they are the leading company in enterprise voice products (think business telephones / telephony).
- They saw what was happening in the data center, and the amount of complexity that was associated with managing multiple switches, routers, servers, and storage units, so they applied what they knew from a networking standpoint into the data center and created a product called UCS (Unified Compute System). And that has taken the market by storm.
So if you come into a career on a high-tech sales team, you have to remain absolutely committed to staying on top of the industry trends and re-inventing yourself every 12 to 18 months. If you don’t, you get left behind.
This is an environment where you have to love this rate of change to really be successful. The companies and the people that are really good at embracing this change are the people that are going to survive and thrive going into the future.