By Convergent AV
This is an interview with commercial AV industry professional Gary Weis. While many who want to enter the AV industry, and even consider becoming executives, are thinking about it in their early 20’s (and some even younger), Gary believed it would be strange for a 22-year-old to dream of being a CEO. At that age he wanted to become a bomber pilot in the U.S. Airforce, however his eyesight disqualified him, so he had to find an alternative career that didn’t involve flying fast planes – his true passion.
Gary, tell us about how your career began after having to change course like this.
I have degrees in both Applied Mathematics and Computer Science (from University of Illinois at Chicago). The first five to seven years of my career I was most interested in technology and less interested in the management world of business. So I started my career at Sears, Roebuck & Company. There, I worked with the management to build a technology utility company that did all the data processing and communications for the Sears family of companies. When Sears decided to split apart, it sold that business to IBM so that’s how I got into IBM originally.
That’s where your climb up the corporate ladder began, can you tell us how that happened?
Over the years, I saw that if I wanted to help shape technology integration and to advance, I needed to be in a management position and continue to grow. At IBM, I ran IBM’s network, which was called Advantis at the time. When IBM decided to globalize that network, I became the general manager of the IBM Global Network. I built that network in about 22 countries. We were the first IBM organization to actually have direct control of the resources in-country as opposed to the usual IBM management structure.
AT&T ended up buying the IBM Global Network, and so I became Senior Vice President at AT&T Business Services. I took about 5,000 IBM employees and moved them into AT&T. At AT&T, I was responsible for one of the world’s largest data and IP networks that serviced more than 30,000 businesses and provided internet access to more than one million people worldwide. I eventually ended up being CEO of a company called Concert Communications Services, which was a partnership between AT&T and British Telecommunications. While at these companies, I also served as Chairman of Sonic Foundry at the time.
How did you successfully convince 5,000 IBM employees to follow you to AT&T?
Convincing 5,000 people to follow you to another company is a pretty challenging thing. The only way to make that work was to be honest and sincere with the employees and clearly explain what was going to happen.
I don’t think there’s a class you can take that prepares you for something like that. I think the cardinal rule is never panic. If you panic, all your employees will panic. Any leader has to deal with a certain amount of adversity but you have to be honest and share what the risks are and inspirational to convince them that if they do their job, they’ll all come out OK in the end.
Your current story begins as the CEO at Sonic Foundry, tell us about the company.
I became the CEO at Sonic Foundry in 2011 after serving as Chairman. Sonic Foundry is the global leader for video capture, management and streaming solutions. Our solution Mediasite is used by more than 4,300 colleges, universities, healthcare organizations and enterprises in 65 countries. Mediasite hardware and software solutions transform the way knowledge flows within organizations, allowing an even playing field for people to learn worldwide.
Without video, organizations risk losing relevance in today’s world. Video isn’t a fleeting trend. It’s at the heart of how we communicate in our everyday lives, making it more personal, more effective and more dynamic. Without video, valuable content and knowledge is lost forever – Mediasite captures and manages that knowledge and as a result, student success rates soar and employee engagement improves.
Can you tell us about Mediasite’s usage profile as a video solution on campuses and in businesses?
Our technology is being used a lot. Because we have strong analytics in our product, we can tell how many views, hours of viewing and videos are created. Our numbers are larger than any other video capture and management solution in the industry. In 2016 alone there were 2 million videos created that received 50 million views. That’s 20 million hours of video viewed. If we look back over the past several years there are 4 million presentations. For most of these parameters, the year-over-year growth is 20 to 40 percent. This is real proof of the value of the technology that we have.
What are the key innovations and applications that Sonic Foundry have provided in the past few years?
We’ve entered the Unified Communications space with Mediasite Join, which seamlessly integrates with all leading video conferencing solutions and captures exchanges between a classroom and a remote classroom or between businesses. Our customers found it extremely functional because it treats the captured video just like it does any other Mediasite video. It doesn’t just capture the talking heads. It also captures any material that is presented on the video conference.
A new offering that will be available later this year is Mediasite Catch. For many years we’ve had the reputation of being the industry leader in room-based lecture capture. We do that without challenge in the industry better than anybody else. That’s our Mediasite Recorder technology. We’ve continually heard from customers that in some technology-light classrooms, they just want to capture slides and audio without spending much money. Mediasite Catch is an application that runs on a PC that is already in the classroom. This broadens our offering to allow any classroom in any university to cost effectively implement a lecture capture program.
Mediasite Engage is also a brand new application this year. It allows for embedded quizzes or testing in the on-demand video content. An educator will capture a lecture in the classroom, for example, and afterwards they’ll insert questions. The student responses can actually be sent to the learning management system and be recorded in the student’s record.
What do you believe, from the start, has given you an edge against the competition?
I had grit. An early experience at Sears comes to mind. I worked with a smart executive who mentored me and taught me how to be a “big boy” and work to find a solution to a problem before reaching out and asking for others to help. To succeed in an organization you have to have resolve, dedication and determination. Don’t talk, do.
What gives Sonic Foundry an edge is really understanding what the customer needs and helping them see we are the best vendor to help them get there. Our products have been developed over the years to be very capable, flexible solutions. We listen to our customers and take what we hear and use that to improve our products. We have created a sense of community. We support our customers and help them realize our successful partnership and technology. While the technology we develop is best in its class, our edge is more about servicing the customer and less about technology.
What are some of your goals moving forward?
In my current position at Sonic Foundry, my goals are:
– Making Sonic Foundry and my employees successful.
– Developing the company and products to enable our customers to do what they need to do and use video technology in a unique way that separates Sonic Foundry from the competition.
– Fostering innovation in creating solutions for our customers to achieve their business goals.
What are some of those things you do on a daily basis that contribute to your success?
I always try to learn. It’s often the little things that make sense and inspire you when you look back on them. If you don’t challenge yourself to learn, you lack inspiration and that is reflected across the team. Having a daily routine keeps me grounded. I get up at 4:30 a.m. and drive 2.5 hours to Madison. I always make sure I’m home for dinner with my wife.
What advice would you give a man or woman who truly wants to succeed in your organization?
There are a few traits that serve anyone well:
– Develop your own technical abilities and expand your knowledge and understanding of the technology or processes you need to execute daily to succeed.
– Too often people who want to succeed think the easiest path of success is the quickest opinion and the loudest voice. But they aren’t always listening to what everyone is saying. They’re not always offering real solutions.
– Demonstrate success and achieve it. If you need help to succeed, figure out how to ask for help in a practical way to get the additional support and resources you need.
What, in your opinion, is the most rewarding part of working at Sonic Foundry?
The most rewarding part is to provide a video management solution that can be used in any industry. Sonic Foundry is at the center of advancing video technology to enhance success, whether it’s the health sector embracing telemedicine or working with higher education institutions to bring education to remote areas of the world.
Mediasite is helping with global learning initiatives and is a major player in the evolving and changing world of education. Institutions are expanding their reach to remote or isolated areas where students might not otherwise have access to education. In South Africa, for example, a lack of quality teachers and severe home conditions in rural areas has resulted in some South African provinces having 80 percent of schools classified as failing. The University of the Free State uses daily live Mediasite webcasts to provide support in core subjects to more than 80 schools in the Free State province. Pass rates have jumped from 26 percent to 100 percent in some rural South African high schools. That’s incredible.
You can find Gary’s profile here on the Sonic Foundry leadership page.