Interview with AgileAssets CEO Stuart Hudson
This week, I sat down with AgileAssets founder and CEO Stuart Hudson to discuss what leadership means to him. With Hudson at the helm since 1994, the company has solidified its place as a global leader in transportation asset lifecycle management, serving government agencies in more than 20 US states as well as regional and national road authorities in Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. For 5 of the past 8 years, AgileAssets has been named by Inc. magazine as one of the fast-growing private companies in the US.
You’ve been running AgileAssets for over 25 years and have worked with a lot of different people. What are some of the characteristics that you’ve seen that make a great leader?
Well, perseverance is an important characteristic—the ability to continue to try to figure out how to work to solve problems. Leaders know how to get to a goal while still having compassion for other people. Having empathy is important to relate to people and understand that everybody is human and wants to do their best. Those are the broad characteristics that I look for. Of course, having good communication skills, being a person of integrity, and being able to motivate your team is essential. What I’ve found is if you treat people well and encourage them in a positive way, they deliver so much more in terms of productivity and have higher job satisfaction. That comes across to customers, who, in turn, benefit from far better service.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader?
The most important are about the people we work with. Hiring is a very important decision. It’s a big investment to hire and retain high-quality employees. How do we build a culture with room to grow? So there are decisions related to our people and then decisions related to the investments. What projects and software developments are we going to invest in? How are we going to invest in growing our partnership program and our international business? How we invest our money and our strategy, in general, is something we have to revisit every year or two. We have annual strategy meetings where we think about where the technology is going. Where’s the industry going? How are our clients advancing? And we adjust our strategy to get where we need to go. Those are difficult and very important decisions because there are a lot of ways the company could go, and if you make the wrong decision, you may build the Beta Max tape instead of the iPhone.
I totally get that reference! What are the biggest challenges you face today as CEO?
In the last five to 10 years, we’ve continued to have a fast pace of growth, with big clients, so maintaining the quality of the software and service has been a challenge. We have focused on bringing on new people and training them thoroughly to work with clients in a way that the clients can trust and rely on. The software has also been changing and growing. We have many more modules that are a lot more complex and do a lot more in terms of analytics, so innovating is critical. Are our clients happy? We are talking about large government agencies. It’s sometimes hard to make everyone happy, but if the leaders are happy, the users are generally happy too.
We also have the challenge of really fast-changing, disruptive technology and new competitors arriving on the scene. We’ve been developing our software for 25 years from an engineering basis. There’s a lot of technical detail, a lot of engineering modeling that may look complicated and difficult to use, but some of that is very necessary for agencies to be able to allocate their funding accurately. We are putting a lot of emphasis on our user interface and our user experience. Interactive dashboards can give users and decision-makers a lot of information very quickly.
What advice would you give to someone new to a leadership role?
That’s a good one. First of all, I would tell them that they’re allowed to make mistakes. We want to try things, and we need to take risks if we want to succeed. And sometimes you have to fail to succeed. Advocating for what you believe in is important. If you believe it’s right, then collaborate with your team. Be vulnerable and open to input and feedback. Open up to the potential that people are going to attack you or not like your ideas, but be willing to lay them out there. Then work with others to agree on goals and a course of action to get buy-in.
Really, we’re all making decisions together. We’re a team. Keep focusing on how to get to your goal as a team. And the last thing is to lead by example. Leaders need to be ready to get in there, work with the team to understand some of the details and make sure the team is staying on track. Leading by example is important for motivating and developing people.