Adam Torres and Keith Angell discuss building winning teams.
Apply to be a guest on our podcast here
Building winning teams is crucial to scaling a company. In this episode, Adam Torres interviewed Keith Angell, CEO & Director of Pythian. Explore what it takes to build winning teams and the book Keith will be launching with Mission Matters.
Watch Full Interview:
About Keith Angell
Keith Angell has been a C-level executive and/or Board Director at 12 VC/PE backed, high growth tech companies (3 IPO, 6 Acq). Beyond his CEO role, Keith serves as a Board Director for Pythian, Anexinet and Eze Castle, as well as an Executive Partner for Mill Point Capital. Previously, as CEO of Velocity Technology (Silver Lake portfolio company), Keith directed a premiere cloud managed services company, specializing in moving complex enterprise IT/ERP+ to the hybrid cloud (acquired by Navisite).
Prior to Pythian and Velocity, Keith was President of Global Services at Virtustream, where he was responsible for Cloud Managed and Professional Services (acquired by EMC). Before Virtustream, Keith spent 9 years as an executive in IBM’s Global Cloud & Technology Services, including Global Vice President, Cloud Transformation; VP, Cloud Managed Services; and Chief Revenue Officer at SoftLayer. Angell managed much of IBM’s services portfolio and had key technology experiences in cloud, mobility, analytics, and networking, holding executive positions in US & Europe, including business development, M&A, sales, & product offering activities.
Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps organizations transform by leveraging data, analytics, and the cloud. From cloud automation to machine learning, Pythian designs, implements and supports customized solutions for the toughest data challenges and has delivered thousands of professional and managed services.
Full Unedited Transcript
Welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and if you’d like to apply to be a guest in the show, just head on over to mission matters.com and click on Be Our Guest to Apply. All right, so today is a very special episode. We have Keith Angel on the line, and he is c e o and director over at Pythian.
And I’m also proud to announce he is also going to be an author and one of our upcoming business leaders books. First off, just wanna say, Hey Keith, welcome to the show and welcome to the community. Thanks Adam. Really a pleasure for me to be on. I’m a believer in mission Matters, so I’m I’m happy to have a conversation with you and your audience.
All right, Keith. So let me tell you, I have questions for you. I mean, you’ve literally scaled multiple businesses into hundreds of millions of dollars. I’m working on scaling mission matters. There’s a lot of, lot of business owners, entrepreneurs, executives out there that are, are working on scaling their businesses as well.
So we’re gonna be picking your brain today. But before we get into that, we’ll start this episode the way that we start them all with our mission matters minute. So Keith, we at Mission Matters, we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Keith, what mission matters to you?
You know, I’m a big believer in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I think across all the businesses that I’ve been involved now, Almost 30 years. Hmm. I’m a hard driver on treating everybody fairly building cultures of equity, inclusion with great diversity. Even at pithy today, 40% of our senior leadership team is female.
Hmm. And frankly, the largest minority we have. Is white American men. Mm-hmm. So we’ve met, had great progress there in a global company. And so for me, I think as I as I direct and lead companies, DEI is the, is the most important mission for me. Fantastic. Love bringing mission-based individuals on the line to share, you know, how they do what they do, why they do it, and, you know, what, what gets ’em motivated out of bed to go out there and continue, you know, fighting the fight every day and making a difference.
So, great having you on. So just to get this kicked off, Keith, I mean, let’s go a little bit further back in your. Career. I mean, you’ve, you’ve scaled, I mean, over over 10 businesses large numbers like, but where did all, before we get into all that, like where did all this begin? Were you always an, an entrepreneur, executive business mindset?
Like, where’d that start for you? You know, I’ve been really lucky in my career, Adam. But it started for me with my parents. Frankly. They had a high focus on education and building of skills and they were both entrepreneurs. Yeah. So I saw early on as I was growing up, And my first business actually was in high school.
Mm-hmm. I started mowing lawns with a close buddy. We were great teammates and when I went off to college, he actually stayed in that business. Is a multimillion dollar business today that he still runs from what we started 30, 40 years ago. Oh. And I was really lucky in my, in my in my first job out of college to get engaged in the largest, most valuable company in the world, fortune One, in their management development program.
I was fortunate to go through that program and have, Great mentors, learning from experienced managers. I trained, I was trained to build winning teams quickly to achieve goals, to, over the course of a 18 month process. Mm-hmm. Set a mission, achieve that mission, get promoted ideally, and do it again. I remember one very early assignment, Adam.
I was the youngest of 45 people running a warehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So I was, I literally was the superintendent of this warehouse. I had 44 people underneath me. I was the youngest of all 45, and so put into that position early on in my career, I had to learn how to work with others when telling them what to do, would never work.
So I, I learned to team with senior leaders to craft winning agendas. It was a great lesson in my early twenties on on getting started in business. And those lessons I’ve learned from my parents from that high school business and that management development program I’ve used throughout my life.
Hmm. I wanna stick just a, just a little, we’re gonna, we’re, we’ll speed it up, but I wanna, I wanna stick on those early days just a little bit longer cuz I’m always curious when there’s a, you know, cuz growing up my, my father was a, a an entrepreneur. My mother was a social worker. So not, not she. Two different routes.
But whenever I hear of an entrepreneur that comes on the show that has, you know, both that are preneurs are involved in the family business like, or family businesses it always, it always interests me like what were holidays like around an entrepreneurial table? Like were you getting lessons there?
Just, just in general, like what were the holidays like around for, for an entrepreneurial family? Well, interesting. They were in similar businesses. My father actually was a lawyer and he went in through a legal route and started his own firm and had to grow that over time. And my mother was in a legal related business that she started.
And so the, the dynamic at the, at the dinner table with me and my three siblings was certainly there was discussion about what was happening in the universe. And global events, but when we talked about business and one would come home happy from the day and one would come home unhappy, it made for lively discussions.
I thought so did, were there like lessons, like being taught there either directly or, or indirectly just through listening? Like did you, were you, were you kind of a sponge at those age, at that age, or were you thinking like, oh, we gotta listen to this again, if you remember? I don’t know, just, well, my father actually started his his education in engineering.
Mm-hmm. And then moved into law and I. I followed in the engineering path and stayed in engineering and business. Mm-hmm. And didn’t go into law, but he a as I kind of was more bent towards stem, you know, science. Yeah. Technology, engineering, math. You know, he, he had that little bit, but he said I, he failed organic chemistry, so he went into law instead.
But it was really a lively discussion. My my siblings also one went into social work, but my siblings also were entrepreneurs and I think that leadership from my parents really took hold. Yeah. Yeah. I remember thinking like, when I hear my dad talk about or something, I’d be like, I don’t wanna be an entrepreneur.
I don’t, and I didn’t ever wanna be, I, I have another thing that I wrote where I always refer to myself as an accidental entrepreneur. I didn’t really know that that’s what I was doing at the time. But anyway, I, I digress. But I, I had to get, I had to get those childhood stories because I think that, and this is how, in my opinion, it kind of relates, is then, so if we fast forward a bit, then you get to, you know, fortune one management training.
And now you’re, you’re really in the big leagues. I mean, you’re learning from the best of the bust in terms of business. And to me, what I see, at least in your past, from what I know so far, is that there was certain structures and there was just. Certain things to where you don’t have to have it all figured out.
Like I feel like right now with like the idea of being an apprentice or the idea of like growing your skills over time, like with media and all these other things that are in the news. Like you hear about a, the Facebook or the billionaire this, or the person this, or the Elon Musk and I’m, and I try to, you know, tell other entrepreneurs that are on the journey like it, it’s a process.
Like you’re just seeing where they’re at at this moment, but there’s a whole lot more in terms of backstory and that’s. What we try to bring out as well in the show so people know, hey, if you’re going through it, like there’s others that are as well. Yeah, it wa it was it was training that I think really helped me from the start and when I mentor young people or mentor CEOs today as a board director.
Mm-hmm. I go back to those discussions and. I remember my father saying, you know, someday you will lead a company or lead some team to win. And his, his preaching really was about, We’re all the CEOs of our own destiny, right? Yes. And, and charting that destiny and having a mission as we know mission matters, mm-hmm.
Is really important. And, and I, I’ve taken that in terms of building great teams and building great companies throughout my career. So starting with that childhood, You know, mentoring that I got from my parents all the way through the, my initial career training and now at over a dozen firms to, to help them grow and and achieve.
Yeah, it’s been, you know, a great career. Yeah. And so kind of taking it, you know, present day. And obviously in my, this happens every generation, every cycle, every college class, like there’s always quote unquote turmoil or things happening in the world, always. And that, that’s a given. But you, let’s just speaking present day and from your vantage point for that, let’s just say that next crop of entrepreneurs and executives that are, that are coming out into the work.
For us, lot of, lot of change in the way that work is being done. Right. Whether it’s remotely, whether it’s going to the office, I mean post pandemic, like all these things that are happening, you know, just a new set of, of challenges for people to deal with. Right. Like what kind of things are you seeing when it comes to like, this concept of building winning teams when it comes to like, for this, for this next crop of, of entrepreneurs and executives.
Like what are you noticing from your vantage point? Well, the, the interesting thing is that a lot of the, the principles of building great companies are the same. Yeah. But a number of things have changed and I think the, the, the leadership principles have evolved. I remember speaking at a, at a conference at Duke University where I, I got my bachelor’s degree and they had speakers from every decade going back to the sixties, I wanna say.
Yeah. Talking about their careers. And how that has evolved. And the gentleman from the sixties had w had worked for one company for 50 years. Wow. And got his golden, you know, ended up as c e o of Duke Power or something and got his golden watch when he left. The guy in the seventies had worked for two companies.
I represented the eighties graduate and I had worked for six or eight or 10 by that time. And fast forward to an individual that was. Getting his master’s or PhD. At Duke at the time, he had already started three companies. Wow. And so you see this, this natural evolution. And as you, if you fast forward to where we are today, I think, you know, the, the principles of you’re the, you’re the CEO of your own destiny still applies.
Mm-hmm. But what it takes to win now has evolved. Mm-hmm. And so the, the principles of leadership. Especially around emotional intelligence have changed. It used to be that everyone would go into the office, you had formal training programs that really doesn’t exist anymore. Yeah. And given, given the remote work from home elements of today’s environment and the social media, you know, coverage that, that envelopes our young people building emotional skills and empathy.
Is, is perhaps the missing ingredient. And so we emphasize that listening, collaboration, communications, empathy, those are key assets and requirements of leading that really have been shortchange over the last five years because of the great resignation and the pandemic and remote work from home and a number of macroeconomic issues.
Yeah. And so one of the things that, that you’re known for is, is scaling quite a few companies, so I believe 12 companies. At at what point did you now I I’ve interviewed just so you just so you know, Keith, over 5,000 people, like a couple thousand CEOs. And that’s a, that’s a lot of companies.
When did, do you feel like this is your, your gift or when did you know like this was gonna be your thing? Because, and, and I’m saying it’s your thing. You, you didn’t say that, but when did you know this was gonna be your thing, like scaling some? Well, it is, it is my thing. I. I think I, I was lucky to. Get a great education master’s in engineering, masters in business.
And my undergraduate work, I was able to build up some skills early on in my career through that management development program. Mm-hmm. And then my next opportunity really was in consulting. Mm-hmm. And I helped grow a company from 30 million to 200 million and we went public and became quite successful.
Ended up getting bought by a Fortune 500 company. In the nineties and from that experience, I saw what worked and the value creation that you can have in that kind of 20 million range to 200 or 50 to 500. It’s a 10 x revenue and oftentimes EBITDA, net income and gross margin growth. That ought to be a 10 x value creation.
Mm-hmm. And there are, I think, repeatable processes you can put in place to to make that happen. So having experienced that once, I’ve been able to repeat it a number of times across a number of, you know, high growth technology services and software sectors. Been lucky. I think overall, but I’ve learned every time about what works and what doesn’t and what challenges you have.
Early on, and then, you know, as you grow from say, 20 to 200. Yeah. Let, let’s go a little bit. I mean, it, it’s easy. Those numbers big. The, they’re amazing. But I like to get into some of the challenges part of things. So like, like what you, you’ve done this this quite a few times. Like what are some of the challenges in taking a business, I don’t know, say from 20 million to a hundred million?
Like what are some of the challenges you, you face along the way? Yeah. You know, the. The key, I think principles mm are that you have to build a strong foundation for any of these companies. Mm-hmm. And oftentimes that’s in terms of a culture, that’s in terms of a people first approach and a customer first approach, there’s a number of things that you have to build really as a foundation.
Yeah. And then on top of that foundation, there are some challenges. That change quite a bit as you grow, and there’s some challenges that are the same at any size. Mm-hmm. So my view is that the culture that you build, yeah. You continue to stress that throughout the size, no matter what size. The company is the principles, the mission, the vision, the focus on customers, employees, all that stays the same.
And I, and I can think back to to that consulting firm I mentioned. Mm-hmm. We are principle a culture of innovation and customer service and actually regional p and l that was highly motivational to those, those profit and lost leaders. What lasted from start to finish of that company. Mm-hmm.
There are challenges that change. There’s structural challenges, there’s processes. The processes you have when you have a team of one or 10 or a hundred, they have to change. Yeah. And the global footprint that you grow from 20 to 200 million, most of those companies, you might start with a national focus and then you add a second country, you go international.
So you end up with subsidiaries and international growth and vertical industry focus and all those things have to change. But as I look at, you know, the, the repeatable patterns of that growth, There’s a number of things that have to stay the same principles, mission, vision, culture, and then the kind of the industrialization of the company from 20 to 200 has to occur.
And those are in processes and technology and and those types of things. So building a great foundation and then keeping certain pieces the same and then evolving the others as you grow is a key to success. So one of the things you mentioned as a specific example just now was you know, the, the regional PNLs are, are different and how that permeated.
Are there any other throughout the organization, are there any other things that you, that just kind of stick out in your memory when it comes to like, scaling culture and, and if, if you would use the term scaling culture, I don’t know if that’s the right, the right way to position or if the culture just, you know, we would hope ideally at.
Permeates everything that we do in an organization like in a perfect world. But like anything that you recall or like and just in general or any tips on really how to scale culture? You know, as I mentioned, there’s certain things I think that stay the same as you grow company and the focus on taking care of your people.
On b e i on the mission of the firm and the vision, those, those I think stay the same. And so those, those cultural items are really important. For example, at Pythian, you know, our vision is to unlock the power of data where data and analytics firm and. I think that isn’t gonna change. That’s our mm-hmm.
Dna. We’ve been in business for 26 years, that’s what we do. Yeah. But we’ve had to change as we’ve tripled the size of the company mm-hmm. And grown from, you know, several hundred people to many hundreds worldwide. And, and that the, but the culture of collaboration mm-hmm. And communications and accountability and trust and transparency, those have stayed the same.
So there’s, there’s pieces of, of culture as you said, that, that are really critical and, and communicating that, especially in today’s environment where people are, are working from home is super important. As an example, Adam, I do not only do, I do monthly, all hands across the globe in my companies, but every week I talk one-on-one.
With a random set of employees, wherever they are in the world, they’re teammates to hear from them and touch them and talk to them and get their ideas on how we can be a better company. Mm-hmm. Let them ask questions of the CEO and just get connected. It’s so important in today’s world to to continue to, to learn from each other and work as teammates.
To build these winning teams. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s so important. I think that’s a great example for other leaders out there. Like, and I, and I’ll just share a, a quick story. I still remember when I like was a, a young guy just, just getting outta college, and I could think of some of the big leaders that I’ve worked for, had the privilege to work for early on in my career who they came and they met like, just like you’re just, you’re, what you’re describing right there, one of ’em would be Dan Gilbert.
So that was you know, owner of. Cleveland Calves founder of Quicken Loans or Rocket Mortgage. Now the second one, Charles Schwab, I still remember meeting with him and, and meeting like in, in, in one of the centers. And I was just like, wow, these guys like don’t have to do that. But you know, all these years later, what we’re talking 20 years ago or something like that, I still remember.
So for the leaders out there that aren’t, you know, that aren’t doing that, maybe considerate, like maybe consider like having those type of meetings. And that’s just a, a little tip from me because it still remi, it still affects me and I remember it, you know, 20 some years later. So it’s really painted forward too.
Agree. So Keith I do wanna spend a little bit of time here. We’re not gonna spend too much time on it. We’re gonna keep it high level. But we, we got a book coming out together and for everybody listening, don’t worry, we will be bringing Keith back onto the show and we’ll be doing a second interview when the book is live and out.
And, you know, we can, you can pick up a copy, hint, hint. But for today, Keith just. To kind of wet the appetite, keeping it high level. What are some of the things that maybe you hope to you to present in the upcoming book? Well, you know, the, as you asked about what challenges stay the same and what challenges change, one of the challenges that is ever present for every company out there is how to build winning teams.
How to lead and build winning teams. Mm-hmm. And it’s a passion of mine. I love building winning teams. I’m gonna continue doing that cause I think winning teams build winning companies. Yeah, I, I had a, I have a, I’m, I’m lucky to have lots of really smart friends and great places, and I love balancing business ideas off them.
I was I was out in an outdoors activity with a, a good buddy who’s been a very successful private equity managing partner. Hmm. At one of the best private equity firms in the world, and I, this was a few years ago, and I asked him, I said, Scott, what’s the, what’s the one thing that is the common denominator of why you’ve been so successful?
And he didn’t hesitate. One second. And he said, building winning teams. Wow. It’s all about leadership and winning teams. If I get the right leader, Who can build a winning team, that company is gonna do really well. And, and that’s why I focus on this so much. It’s why I write about, it’s why I’m passionate about it.
And, and we’ll talk about it I’m sure in the future, but You know, it is, it is the highest correlation to success in business is having a winning team. So, all right. You know there, I’m gonna cut you off there. That’s enough. I’m, I’m excited and I have like 50 more questions I wanna ask that I’m not gonna ask yet on that particular topic.
Cuz again, like I, as I mentioned for everybody watching, we’ll be bringing Keith back on the line of. Course, and then I will be asking those questions. But I, I do, you mentioned pith and I do wanna spend a, a couple moments here as well. Talking about the, you know, the winning team that you’re building right now.
And, and, and also your, your, your team in general. I mean, tell us a little bit more about the company. Well, Pythian is one of the premier data and analytics global companies in the world. We, we focus on, Major corporations, data, estate, governance, strategy, security, the data architecture and model of those firms.
Then optimizing that data estate wherever it sits on premise or in the cloud, and then the digital transformation and value can drive out of that, including generative AI and all the analytics and advanced insights you can get from that data. Mm-hmm. So we work with major corporations around the world.
To not only stabilize their data and optimize it and manage it, but to create value. So whether it’s a recommendation engine or chat bots that are accurate, or maximizing the, the uptime for a fleet, all the things that you can do around data to drive revenue, reduce costs, and optimize your bottom line.
Most companies as that data is exploding, are struggling with that, not only to manage that data, but to get value out of it. That’s what we do better than almost anybody in the world. It’s a, it’s a great company with great leadership, wonderful team, global team. We have business, you know, throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.
Really fun and I’m just really honored to work with such a great team. Yeah. And, and then I, I also understand that you do a, a bit still of business advisory and board work. Am I off on that? I do, yeah. Because of the. I think the scar, all the scars that I have from doing this so many times, I, I have a pattern recognition.
Man, Keith, lemme tell you, people that listen to our show, they’re like, hold on. I thought I was gonna be How inspired, motivated to be an entrepreneur? No, we didn’t say that. We’re an executive. It it, it costs, it costs to achieve and to grow company. So tell us about the scars. I just had to bring that up cause it’s, I love that on our show, we give it real.
Go ahead. Yeah. So, You know, I try to help other companies avoid the stumbles that I’m sure I’ve taken over my career. So I’m, I’m fortunate to work with venture and private equity firms on boards. And and just as an example, I’m on the board of a, a great company called eci. It’s a it’s an out it outsourcing services firm.
And there I work with the CEO and c o and CMO and cfo. To optimize the, the company over time and work with a great board in this case with h I g. And the company has, has doubled in size to several hundred million over the last three or four years. Really increased in value, expanded its product portfolio and services portfolio, and, and built a really good team.
So, you know, it goes back to the, what we talked about earlier of. Building a great team makes for a great company of course with the right principles and culture and, and as Castle e c I is doing that. Ah, that’s awesome. So Keith, I mean, I know you’re a busy guy, of course. You’re, you’re your responsibilities and your awesome team at Pythian.
I mean, you’re helping other companies as well to benefit from your scars as you said it. Just have to ask, I mean, what’s next? What, what’s next for you? What’s next for your career? You know, I, I, I just get such joy, honestly, about watching and building great teams that you know, I’m, I’m not gonna stop doing that.
A lot of energy to help build winning teams, creating, growing companies. And in the end, it creates, you know, value for the shareholder, for the customers, for the employees. So I’m gonna continue to do that. It’s my passion. So whether there’s 12 more you know, there, there’s, I’m sure there’s bound to be more.
As technology evolves to stay at kind of the leading edge of, of software and services companies, it’s really a fun spot to be love working with you know, aggressive professionals with the right values, who for whom mission matters as well. Yeah. Fantastic. Thank, well, first off, Keith, it has been great having you on the show today.
I’m excited to continue through this book publishing process with you. I know we’re, we’re getting closer and closer to a release, and of course we’ll be bringing you back on the show cuz I can’t wait to bring your writing to, to our audience and readers. But that being said, if somebody’s listening to this and they wanna follow up and follow your journey or learn more about Pythian or any of your work what’s the best way for people to do that?
Yeah, Adam, they, you know, they certainly can reach out to me through LinkedIn Keith Angel and my advisory firm, west shore Advisors gmail.com is, it will get me as well. But I’m easy to get through LinkedIn, of course. Fantastic. And we’ll, we’ll put those links in the show notes so that our audience can just click on the link and go and go.
Check out your LinkedIn, of course. And speaking of the audience, if this is your first time with Mission Matters or engaging or listening to an episode, we’re all about bringing on business owners, entrepreneurs and executives and experts, and having them share their mission, the reason behind their mission, you know, why they really do what they do.
Like what wakes ’em up in the morning gets ’em. Fired up and out of bed to go, you know, make a difference in the world. If that’s the type of content that sounds interesting or fun or exciting to you, we welcome you Hit that subscribe button because we have many more mission-based individuals coming up on the line and we don’t want you to miss a thing.
And Keith, again, it has been a pleasure. Until the next time, thanks again for coming on the show. Absolutely, my pleasure. Thanks Adam.