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Lessons In Leadership: Interview with CEO Global Network Member Robert Bracey, President and CEO, Quartet Service Inc.

June 14th, 2017

Founded in 1998, Quartet Service Inc. is a privately owned Canadian company providing a complete suite of IT strategy and execution services to medium-sized and enterprise organizations across Canada. Quartet customizes service packages—including hosted server and telephony infrastructure, user support, project management and consulting—to suit individual needs and budgets. Quartet is large enough to provide scalable industry leading services, but small enough to work closely with every client. 

What inspired you to start Quartet Service? 

I bought Quartet and restructured it to reflect my IT services vision.  I had a pretty good idea of what business owners wanted from IT and was inspired by the running start Quartet provided for building that kind of company.

What was one of the main challenges you faced in building Quartet?

Managing changing technologies is an ongoing challenge.  Knowing when to invest, when to train staff and when to retire old technologies is a balancing act.  Staying away from technology’s bleeding edge, but still providing technical leadership has always been a challenge. Interestingly, changing technologies is also a great source of opportunities.

Can you name someone who has had significant impact on you as a leader? How did this person impact your ability to lead others?

Arlin Sorenson. Arlin owned and sold a company similar to Quartet and is an expert in the evolving IT services industry.  His sense of humour, ethics and industry knowledge have been invaluable.  His folksy style belies a no-nonsense managerial approach based on experience, statistics and insight.  Our relationship has evolved to include our wives and children.

What is one characteristic that you think every leader should possess?

Every leader must be able to sustain a high energy level.  Stamina is mandatory.  

What is the one biggest mistake you think a leader can make?

Underestimating the power and importance of teams.   

What is the greatest leadership challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?

My greatest leadership challenge was getting rid of management teams that didn’t work.  I did it twice.  The first time was like ripping off a bandage.  It was a force of will based on what I knew had to be done.  The second time was based on culture and my appreciation for teamwork.  It was a much easier decision.  Quartet thrived both times I did it and both times I wish I’d done it sooner. 

What advice would you give to someone undertaking a leadership position for the first time?

Develop a peer group outside your organization.  I learn as much from my peers as any mentors/advisors.  The adage that it is lonely at the top is true.  A peer group will help you blow off steam, help you vent (“I didn’t know what I was thinking until I heard myself say it.”) and help you learn from others’ experience.  A peer group will help your stamina and will keep you humble. 

How do you keep your employees engaged and motivated? 

Keeping our employees engaged and motivated is a big part of Quartet.  We encourage the development of our culture as our company continues to grow. For example, we surveyed employees (with 100% participation) several years ago to explore how our core values have changed.   We adopted, published and promoted new core values as a result.  We have a third party firm on retainer to help us craft HR policies and programs.  Our benefit plans are generous and we’ve modified them as a team to reflect changing needs and new products.  Managing our cultural development is a conscious effort at Quartet and one of the main ways we keep our employees engaged.

What is the best business book that you have read and why?

That’s a tough question.  There are so many great business books. The most surprising book is called “Make a Difference” by Dr. Larry Little.  It is easy to read and is quite short, but it personifies interpersonal communication styles into animal characteristics. This personification helps us remember who communicates how, and has been very effective at Quartet.  The book went viral internally and is now mandatory reading for all new employees.

What are the ‘core values’ of your organization and how are they communicated?

The core values of our company are: Teamwork, Positivity, Initiative and Work Ethic. We communicate these values by posting them on our wall, asking about them on our employee weekly survey, implementing them through our benefit policies, measuring each other by them, and reading books that promote/support our core values. We also invest heavily in training, both technical and managerial.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing business leaders today?

Three of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today are:

  • Bridging the growing discrepancy between the rich and poor. As business leaders, we must embrace this challenge and figure out better ways for people to live more equitably.   
  • We must develop better systems to encourage and measure work/life balance. Psychic income is real and we need to account for it.
  • We must narrow the gap between technology and our ability/willingness to use it. Competitive advantage is now impossible without technology, and organizational development is the key to its integration. Organizations that morph culture, adapt work flow processes and evolve business models will thrive. Those that cannot will wither.  Change management is key.  Agility is a prerequisite.

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