Andy Rudin grew up in Northern Virginia in the 1960s, and he quips that he’s about as provincial as they come. In the ‘60s, Northern Virginia was vastly different from the crowded and diverse metropolis it is today. Back then it was more like a small Southern town.
Andy’s father was a local dentist who followed in the footsteps of his dentist father, opening his practice in the City of Alexandria. As part of his commitment to improving the oral health of the community, he regularly volunteered at a free dental clinic. One day Andy’s father asked a fellow dental volunteer why he had not joined the Northern Virginia Dental Society, the local affiliate of the American Dental Association. The dentist, an African American man licensed to practice in the state, told him that he wanted to join but couldn’t get anyone to sponsor him. (Two sponsors were required, according to the Society’s bylaws.) Dr. Rudin decided to become his first sponsor.
“It was a very rancorous time,” recalls Andy. “I remember my father describing how a colleague got so incensed over my father’s sponsorship of this dentist that he challenged my dad to a fist fight. That’s how divisive integration was,” Andy said. “We often think of it as a matter involving the school system, but segregation was institutionalized elsewhere, too.” It took two years to find another dentist willing to become the second sponsor. But the problems didn’t end there.
“What I didn’t know at the time, was that my father’s principled stance caused his state license to practice dentistry to come under scrutiny,” explains Andy. “I give my mom a lot of credit for enabling my dad to press forward with his sponsorship. At the time, she had three kids and could have said, ‘Let’s stay out of this.’ But my father probably thought, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ This experience had a positive impact on my values, what I want to see for society, which battles I take on, and how to live up to my principles.”
That lesson carries through to Andy’s work today, because he champions the importance of ethical behavior in business. However, he views business conduct less through a moral lens, and more as a strategic risk management concern. Andy is the Founder and Managing Principal of Contrary Domino, Inc. which he founded in 2001 under the name Outside Technologies. Contrary Domino delivers revenue strategy, improvements in marketing and sales performance, governance programs, risk management and compliance all centered on revenue-generation activities.
“I think my parents were both very kind people,” reflects Andy, “not only toward each other, but to everyone they knew and interacted with. That was what I saw, and what I took from them.”
“Our clients don’t necessarily come to us asking for revenue strategy guidance and expertise,” explains Andy. “They come to us and say, for example, ‘We had a sales target for FY 2019, and we’re not on track to make that.’ We look at that delta—the difference between the goal and actual—and we unpack why that delta is what it is.”
The company’s clients are of various sizes. Generally, the niche is business-to-business sales, and because Andy’s background is in information technology, Contrary Domino also has a focus in IT. Andy’s sales background also serves him well as he works to provide businesses with a clearer picture of their risks.
“The tendency of senior sales executives is to say, ‘Well, if we’d just had better salespeople, we’d have made quota,’” Andy points out. “Early on in my discussions with clients, I never exclude that as a possibility, but I also consider other internal issues and externalities that may be consequential. Through our tools and our analyses we can pull that number apart and can say, for example, the largest contributor to this gap was due to a technological development, an economic downturn, or caused by executing Tactic A, B, or C – or by not doing them. It’s tempting to just fire the VP of Sales or to dump anyone who didn’t make quota last quarter. But often, that’s not the major culprit.”
Andy is quick to emphasize that risks from graft, fraud, and unethical behaviors can irreparably damage a business and even send it into bankruptcy. He advocates for a method called Giving Voice to Values which encourages employees at all levels of an organization to be the front-line defense for unethical behavior. Giving Voice to Values asks employees to consider what their own values are and teaches them how to make sure the right things get done, especially when those values are confronted by other demands. “It’s a body of ideas that says, here is how to have awareness of your values,” says Andy. “You actually inventory those and anticipate problem scenarios that might confront you at work. Then, you plan what actions to take when those types of situations arise.”
He continues to explain that companies should see this as a critical step toward protecting their revenue, brand, reputation, and ultimately, the business itself. “A lot of people react strongly when I bring up these issues. Some cut me off and say, ‘We don’t hire those kinds of people.’” Andy recounts. “Or they may say, ‘That kind of thing could never happen here.’ But my experience is that if you don’t have adequate governance, if you don’t have guidelines and properly communicate them, if you don’t have a culture that encourages people to speak up, bad things can and will happen. I want businesses to look at ethical conduct in the context of all corporate risk and recognize that employees who feel empowered to do things in accordance with their personal values is paramount for the fiscal health of any company. Right now, there is not enough C-Suite attention devoted to that. We lavish praise on marketing and sales staff for hitting revenue and profit targets without caring enough about how they did it, and whether their achievement was done ethically.”
“I still remember the big thrill I felt after closing my first account, a lumber company in Western Maryland. I came back to the office with a signed contract and a check. It was a great feeling!”
Andy has spent his career building and streamlining businesses. His fascination with business ownership began early when he looked up to other family members with their own operations. An uncle owned a chain of car repair shops in West Virginia; a cousin owned a factory in Massachusetts that produced notebook ring binders. His paternal grandfather, like his father, had his own dental practice, although he always made time for his woodworking passion. Because of these influences, Andy grew up fascinated by businesses and by manufacturing.
Andy was the third child of four, and his parents always endeavored to have the family eat dinner together. The kids spent plenty of time with their paternal grandparents, who lived close by, and played outside with the neighbors, enjoying pick-up games of baseball, football and soccer. His mother took care of the family and volunteered for things she was passionate about, including working with Project Head Start when it was first founded. Later on, she became an usher at the Kennedy Center, a job she held for over 30 years. All in all, Andy remembers his childhood as happy and family-focused, with family trips.
In suburbia, Andy made his first dollar as many neighborhood kids did by mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and cleaning gutters. In fact, people were so eager to have their gutters cleaned, Andy started a subscription service for his neighbors, creating a steady income for himself and watching his savings accumulate. He also delivered papers on his bicycle, and remembers enjoying his biology, Spanish and math classes in school. “I think my parents were both very kind people,” reflects Andy, “not only toward each other, but to everyone they knew and interacted with. That was what I saw, and what I took from them.”
His grandparents were also an influence. “All of my grandparents were very involved with us,” Andy said. “My father’s father was a career Army officer, and he and my grandmother lived with the austerity one instilled in the military, so I think that influenced me. They did not covet the traditional trappings of success. I think my grandfather’s one big indulgence was his Cadillac which he was very proud of. Every model he ever drove had fins on it!”
Andy’s grandfather also passed along his love of woodworking; in fact, today, Andy maintains a home workshop. He considers a small object his grandfather made, and gave him to be a prize possession. “It’s just a small plywood box about 6 inches by 5½ inches with a handle on the top, a power cord coming out of the back, and a small fan blade mounted on a motor,” says Andy. “It does nothing, except twirl. The reason that it’s meaningful to me is that late in my grandfather’s life, he was still creating things, having fun building pragmatic as he was. He was unconcerned about putting together something that had no apparent purpose. So I look at that fan thing and I see a testimony, not just to his manual skills, but also just to the idea that you can build something just for the sheer fun of it.”
Andy went to the University of Virginia. In 1979, he graduated with a marketing degree, and landed a job at a printing ink manufacturing company called Graphic Fine Color (GFC). “It was a great place for a young business graduate to start out,” affirms Andy. “There was not an aspect of that company’s operation that I did not have some exposure to or involvement in.”
Andy’s wife, Barbara, has been a source of support through the founding of his business and beyond. “We’re both very independent and I think that’s really important.”
GFC had about 60 employees and had about $6 million in annual revenue. Andy’s job was to implement their first computer system. “Imagine at that time, walking into a company and the automation in the entire place is calculators, telephones and copy machines,” Andy said. “They got interested in IT because other companies were doing it.” Right away, Andy learned some valuable lessons from his boss, the VP of Sales. First, he was told to stop using the word ‘should’ in his conversations. In the real world, how something “should” work mattered far less than how something did work. Second, his boss made it clear to him that although he was responsible for the implementation of the new IT systems, using his title or automation mandate was not an acceptable way to gain adoption. Instead, he had to win his coworkers over. In other words, he had to “sell” them on the benefits.
“My boss told me he wasn’t requiring anyone to use the tools I was planning to implement,” Andy said. “He made it clear to me that if people were going to use the computer, I was going to have to convince them that it would make their jobs easier, and ultimately, they would gain new skills and win. He knew that was the right way to make an organizational change. Looking back on it, I think that that was really astute.”
After seven years with GFC, Andy joined STSC (later called Manugistics), a Rockville-based software company at the vanguard of a new industry—logistics management. There, he worked on a nascent technology at the time called Distribution Requirements Planning (DRP), helping companies optimize their manufacturing and distribution networks. He held a technical customer support role with the company, and for two years he gained experience with large consumer packaged goods companies like Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly and Ross Labs. “I went from a small manufacturing company into some of the biggest manufacturing operations,” recalls Andy. “The logistical problems were much different and can become much more complex.”
After that, Andy joined Computer Application Specialists, an IBM reseller. There, he began his first formal direct sales role. “I had always wanted to go into sales, and my background had prepared me well,” explains Andy. “It was a lot of fun. I really liked selling, and I liked the idea of having more control over my earnings. I still remember the big thrill I felt after closing my first account, a lumber company in Western Maryland. I came back to the office with a signed contract and a check. It was a great feeling!”
In 1990, Andy joined Intermec Technologies, an Auto-ID solutions provider. Though ubiquitous today, Auto-ID (barcoding and RFID) was a leading edge technology in manufacturing, distribution, and retail. At Intermec, he continued to hone his sales skills as a Senior Account Executive, and focused on working with manufacturers and distributors. However, he was always open to new opportunities, and often found clients in unexpected places. When attending a local business conference, he met a physician who approached him about a records management problem he was having. That conversation progressed into an exploration about how barcoding might be used in an X-Ray department on radiology jackets. Back at the office, Andy’s colleagues dismissed the opportunity, telling him they didn’t work with medical clients. But Andy followed up. “I took the time to understand the scope of his need. It turned out he managed the radiology operations for one of the country’s largest regional and national healthcare organizations. They became a customer and bought over $200,000 of bar code printers, scanners, and consumable products.”
Watching similar mistakes being repeated drove Andy to a conclusion: he could run a business more effectively than many of the young entrepreneurs attracting venture capital money at the time. It was then he founded his company.
Andy’s wife, Barbara, has been a source of support through the founding of his business and beyond. “We’re both very independent and I think that’s really important. We can feel fulfilled with the things we do individually, but when we need support, we’re there for each other.” Barbara likes to spend time with friends and play mah johng. Meanwhile, Andy pursues his hobbies of woodworking and exercising.
By 1999, the dot com boom was reaching its zenith, and Andy left Intermec to work with a series of small start-ups, only to experience each one’s demise for a variety of reasons. Watching similar mistakes being repeated drove Andy to a conclusion: he could run a business more effectively than many of the young entrepreneurs attracting venture capital money at the time. It was then he founded his company.
“I sold a number of logistics implementations as a manufacturer’s rep. Along the way, I provided my business partners a significant amount of expertise and strategy development. Soon, they wanted my recommendations for other sales initiatives, and I became more involved in advisory services than direct selling. It was at that point I recognized the value of a master’s degree.” In 2004, Andy entered the University of Virginia’s Master of Science in Information Technology program and earned his degree the following year. “It was one of the best career moves I’ve made. Imagine being in a collaborative venue, learning with — and from — the type of senior managers you’ve been engaging with your entire sales career. I cannot overstate the value and competitive advantages that an advanced degree provides.”
Today, Andy considers his leadership style to be collaborative. “I think the leaders I’ve worked with the best and whom I admire the most, have understood where they want to go, but they welcome diversity of opinion, even if they think they already have the answer,” he reflects. “They want to work to develop their vision as a team, and that’s what I strive to emulate.”
To young people just beginning their career, Andy advises a couple of things. “First, no matter what moves you in business, it’s important to gain sales experience. I strongly recommend having a sales role at some point in your career, preferably early. No matter what you specialize in, no matter which company you’re with, ask to be assigned to the sales department. Do it for as long as you need to learn the basics. Then, unless you want a career in Sales, move so you don’t get pigeonholed as a sales rep.”
Andy also stresses the importance of standing up for your values. “Don’t feel obligated to conform to something you’re uncomfortable with. It’s possible to get what you need to get done without having an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach.”
Andy’s belief in living your values has brought tribulations, but it has yielded a life of personal and professional success. When he’s not consulting with clients, he runs, bikes, and hikes. In 1993, he swam nonstop across the Chesapeake Bay in 2 hours, 17 minutes, covering a distance of 4.4 miles. “I attempted it three times, and completed it once. That’s the success and the failure. I know the thrill of victory, and I also know the difficulties that result from not achieving a coveted goal. The key is to learn and keep going.”