Thorwald “TH” Herbert of Semarchy: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

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An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

To be an executive, you have to be compassionate. Compassion runs throughout everything, and without it, you can’t do the job well. There are many good examples of leaders who lack compassion, and it doesn’t end well. That is not the way you should approach the world. You have to be compassionate to your employees and customers.

As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing TH Herbert.

TH Herbert is the Chief Executive Officer of Semarchy. Prior to assuming the position of CEO in 2021, he was the Chief Operations Officer and sales leader for Semarchy. Before joining Semarchy, he was Managing Partner at SWG LLC, and held leadership roles in sales, product and technology in several other successful companies. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science & Mechanics from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I moved to the United States as an exchange student from Germany. This has some bearing on my career path because I studied engineering. My full name is of Nordic origin and based on mythology (Torvald). It is pretty unique and not commonly found on Google. My father and I share the same name, which started to cause a lot of problems as I began to move forward with my career. For example, I received his tax refunds, and he received my bad credit.

These problems eventually led me into the data space because I had firsthand experience with the impact of poor data and identity management. While I originally had aspirations to build rockets, I ended up building servicing software. I was always drawn to the data aspect of software because, after all, the software is data.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It is really interesting seeing the way certain types of challenges materialize and relate back to my own story. One story, in particular, is about a large energy customer we have. They provide fuel, among other things, in airports and began talking to us about some of their problems. We always think about huge problems involving customer data and product information in terms of the data world. This company’s problem was actually much simpler than that. Their question was, “How do our customers find where to buy our products at airports?”

It’s interesting to see that data problems can be both big and small. This minor problem significantly impacted one of the top 10 largest companies globally, and we were able to solve these issues within a few weeks. This experience reminds me to stay engaged with what I do at Semarchy. We always hear interesting kinds of problems.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At a conference in New York City about five years ago, we were in charge of setting up our own booth, and our mistake was not being as proactive or prepared as we should have been. While we were setting up, we found that our television came out of its box with a giant crack in its screen. This was what we used to display our demo reel. We didn’t have a chance to check the television before the conference. So, as it is raining, I and my VP of customer success run to Best Buy for a new 50-inch television. The rain picks up, and no cabs are stopping for us, so we had to carry our brand new television back to the conference center in the rain. We learned at that moment that backup plans are essential! Being overprepared would have kept us from being in this very uncomfortable situation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to thank Semarchy’s original CEO. He partnered with me and taught me a lot about the value of our people inside our organization. I’ve always been a “people-oriented” person and have worked with great people like Tom Siebel, who is very customer-centric. However, what I learned from our former CEO was that success begins with the employees. If I make my employees successful, happy, and enthusiastic, they will carry those feelings forward in their interactions with customers. Customers are going to benefit from that and remain happy as well.

I’m focused on ensuring that my employees are doing what we are asking them to do and enjoying it. I think that this attitude enables us to be successful. I’m grateful to people like Tom Siebel and Salah, the original founder of Semarchy, for having this attitude towards others.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It starts with being an executive team with diverse shared views and opinions. These differences of opinion generate thoughts and ideas that help you evolve as a company. When you’re transitioning from being a startup to a medium-sized business, you have to include a diverse set of ideas. This is not possible with just one mind — it comes from hiring different types of people. Our diverse leadership team generates great ideas for us.

Of course, we face challenges as an organization working with Fortune 500 customers. However, we keep our diversity and inclusion initiatives at the front of our minds, and we are always working towards being more equitable and inclusive.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

There is a definite challenge in the recruiting environment for the tech industry. About 95% of job candidates for lower-level leadership positions look the same. You have to push the recruiter to bring a diverse set of candidates to the company. You also have to push the company to be more open to change.

This open-mindedness trickles down through an organization. For example, as a U.S. company, we have certain holidays that we need to make flexible for our diverse set of employees. We need to be capable of supporting different religious beliefs and holidays. It starts by asking questions like “How do I recruit?” and “What are our policies?” At the end of the day, companies need to respond to their employees and say, “You’re entitled to take your holidays when you want to take them.” There’s a lot of thought and initiative that must go into making this happen.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The default answer would be that I have to make the decisions and own the outcomes. I have a straightforward decision-making process, which really comes down to three questions:

  1. How is my decision going to impact the employees?
  2. Is my decision going to improve our business outcomes?
  3. Am I creating any risk for the organization?

Those are the decision-making factors that every CEO has at the top of their agenda by default. Looking beyond that, I would say I view my responsibility as enabling everybody in my organization to be successful at their job. It’s very simple: I’m here to serve them, not the other way around. I want to enable and empower our employees while giving them the proper tools to help them do their jobs.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

CEOs and executives are perceived as individuals without many responsibilities, which is truly a myth. The burden of many people’s lives rests on my shoulders because there is the need to give stability to our employees and their families.

When I took the role of Semarchy’s CEO, I realized that all of my decisions come back to the data I’m relying on to make those decisions. Even though we are a small company, it is so impactful for me to have good information and good data during the decision-making process.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the people you work with. You want to make sure that everybody is successful, happy, and satisfied in their roles. The more data you have, the better prepared you can be for making the right decisions.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

With this job comes the great responsibility of caring for others before myself. It is equally rewarding to know that I’m responsible for their growth, happiness, and the stability they bring to their families.

Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

To be an executive, you have to be compassionate. Compassion runs throughout everything, and without it, you can’t do the job well. There are many good examples of leaders who lack compassion, and it doesn’t end well. That is not the way you should approach the world. You have to be compassionate to your employees and customers.

When I was in sales, I walked into a large organization, and an executive was telling me that there was a huge problem. I told him I was sorry to hear that and offered to talk to him about it. He said that I was the first guy to come in and not solely focused on the financials, which is how a company should operate.

Also, you have to be willing to do the work and take the pressure. There’s nobody to turn to if the business is not succeeding. In order to be successful as an executive, you have to decouple your business life and your personal life.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?

The work culture has to be about the team having fun first. We really insist on having fun and building the connections between our employees in order to create a good work culture. The pandemic presented us with a huge challenge, and sitting behind computer screens and talking to each other remotely does not help foster these personal connections. We actively strive to bring our employees together, even if they can’t come to the office. We’re a very virtual company, but we do what we can to have some fun and get to know each other.

Before the pandemic, we brought our entire company together in one place. The last company-wide meeting that we had was in Morocco, and we did all kinds of local cultural things together. You’d be amazed how much of a connection you can build with people.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Fixing data problems makes the world a better place. Fundamentally, one of the things I love about this company is that what we do improves lives. Our technology is the Herculean manual lift of consolidating spreadsheets and fixing information.

Looking beyond that, we have a day of giving here at Semarchy. The entire company spends a whole day giving back to the community and good causes. We work with nonprofits like Cancer Research UK and give them the software for free. Giving back is a very important aspect of the work culture. Everybody wants to feel that what they are doing makes the world a better place. We do this both indirectly and directly here at Semarchy.

Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

When you have an organization, the first challenge is how not to become a victim of your own success. The lesson I’ve learned is that it comes down to using the tools you have at your disposal, and data is at the top of this list. Before expanding your company, you need to realize that you can’t trust your own instinct alone, and you need to become a fully metric and data-driven organization.

Over the past year, we have implemented metrics and objectives at every level. For example, a hiring decision is not saying, “I think I need somebody here.” It is a decision derived from saying, “Here are the metrics for that role, what they deliver, and how we expect them to deliver based on our company’s growth.” Data allows us to be proactive when it comes to the hiring process.

As a small company, we are realizing how challenging it can be to maintain governance and base decisions based on good quality information. You need to lead by example and ensure the quality of every plan.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

It’s transparency, integrity, and humility in doing what you do. We sell value; we don’t sell software. If we can’t back up the value of the solution with the customer, it will not last. In dealing with employees and customers, it’s really important to be transparent, open, direct, and ethical. There are too many companies out there that are still pulling the wool over customers’ eyes. Let’s be real and humble. We don’t chase business that we don’t think we’re a good fit for because it will only cause everybody more headaches. That’s not a good way of doing business.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think it goes back to that idea about the employees coming first. As a company, we take good care of our customers, and our employees take good care of our customers. Reflecting on earlier statements I made, that is all that we live by here, and it has heavily influenced my career and my personal approach to things.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would love to sit down with someone with an extensive background in philanthropy, like Mackenzie Scott. Everybody has their own philosophy about business, but the world (to a certain degree) is driven too much by greed these days. The world has to figure out a way to become more generous to those of us who are not so fortunate.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thorwald “TH” Herbert of Semarchy: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.