Corner Office: Brad Smith

Over recent years, Brad Smith’s team at Intuit could
never be sure whether they would come to work to find
him in a blue suit, a suit of armor, a 1920s
wool swimsuit or an Elvis costume—
his wardrobe choice depended on
what sales or product launch goal
the team accomplished.

In 2006, when he was senior vice
president of Intuit’s Small Business
Division, he told his team he would put
on a 1920s bathing suit and jump in a
pond if they met the launch deadline
for the latest version of QuickBooks.
His team met the deadline, and he took
the leap.

“I’ve done a number of things in the
spirit of employee motivation,” says
Smith, 44, who was named CEO in
January 2008. “I tend to be a storyteller
and a student of history. I often tell stories of great
battles, like the battle of Thermopylae, to inspire teams
who face what appear to be insurmountable odds. And
yes, I have been known to don costumes ranging from
a Roman soldier to Elvis Presley as a reward for a job
well done.”

During another particularly challenging launch,
Smith huddled Intuit managers at a retreat to develop
quick-thinking strategies to counteract
Microsoft’s release of a
competitive product 60 days before
the latest QuickBooks edition was
due out. Everyone received a copy
of the graphic novel 300 based
on the battle of Thermopylae to
inspire them in their efforts to
maintain market dominance in
accounting software over software
giant Microsoft.

"Seize every opportunity to rely on the power of inquiry and learning to be successful."

Intuit managers developed a pre-announcement
strategy code-named
“Rolling Thunder.” The goal was
to convey to potential customers
that QuickBooks’ new version was
worth the 60-day wait, even as Intuit
shared the airwaves with Microsoft as it announced its
new product.

“Rolling Thunder” worked. QuickBooks-related
revenue jumped to $861.7 million in fiscal year 2006,
the year of “Rolling Thunder,” which was 14 percent
above the previous year.

“Beyond the costumes and storytelling,
I find that one of the most powerful motivators
is defining clear goals, and giving
employees the resources and decision-making
authority to do what they do every
day—deliver their best effort to make a
difference,” Smith says. “At Intuit, we’ve
introduced concepts like unstructured time
to enable individuals and small teams to be
entrepreneurial and identify new processes
or product ideas.”

When Smith became CEO at Intuit,
known for its financial programs Quicken,
TurboTax and QuickBooks, he brought a
strong desire to foster creativity and innovation among employees, and to reach out to
the company’s stakeholders and stay ahead
of market trends. His promotion came at
a time of re-branding, as the 25-year-old
Intuit looked forward to its next quarter
century. “It’s a different world than when
we started as a company in 1983, and we’ll need to do things differently if we want to be
one of the world’s most innovative, fastest-growing
companies,” Smith tells SUCCESS.

“When I transitioned into the CEO role,
one of my primary goals was to learn what
our stakeholders were thinking about,” he
says. “I went on a listening tour, talking to
our board of directors, other CEOs in Silicon
Valley and our investors. I also spent time
in small groups with more than 300 of our
customer-facing employees.

“I primarily asked three questions: ‘What
do you see as Intuit’s biggest untapped
opportunity, what is the biggest risk facing
Intuit that keeps you up at night, and what is the biggest mistake I can make as a CEO in
my first year?’ There was a wealth of learning
and consistency from what I heard that
helped frame the priorities for my first year
as CEO,” Smith says. “To paraphrase Mark
Twain, ‘A wise man learns from his own
mistakes, but a genius learns from others.’ ”

Priorities that emerged included making
Intuit a more global company, especially
with 37 percent of its customers already
doing business globally, and accelerating
growth and innovation, Smith says.

“There were four major shifts occurring
in the market that would require us to
change: demographic shifts with the emergence
of the digital generation entering the
work force; the impact of social networks
and user-contribution systems to add value
to products and services; the accelerating
growth rates of SaaS [software as a service]
and mobile devices as a means to get things
done; and a world increasingly without
borders,” Smith says. “Those four tenets
became the core of our new growth strategy
and how we will continue to make our
offerings even better in the future.”

Less than 90 days after taking over as
CEO, Smith announced the launch of
Intuit’s new product services. In addition
to producing software for laptops and desktops,
Intuit’s new services included software
that offered increased connectivity and
could be downloaded onto mobile devices.
Now, a customer shopping for groceries
could instantly input the bill into Quicken,
and a business owner could pick up a
purchase and instantly add the expenditure
into his record-keeping system via a mobile
version of QuickBooks.

Customers helped institute some
software changes. In a program called
“Follow Me Home,” in which customers
allow Intuit to observe them at home
and at work, team members saw how a
customer doing global invoicing had to
import/export data several times between
QuickBooks and Excel, which led to the
addition of the multicurrency feature in
QuickBooks 2009.

After Intuit’s re-branding, revenue from
May to July 2008 was 11 percent higher
than the final fiscal quarter of 2007, with
total revenue for 2008 topping $3 billion.

Smith says his desire to learn as much as possible through his listening tour was
influenced by his education at Marshall University in West Virginia. There he learned
“you didn’t have to have all the answers, but you had to know what questions to
ask.” Smith has continued to give back to his alma mater as a mentor to students.
While teaching them to follow their dreams, he’s also gaining knowledge about the
digital generation.

Wearing his class ring every day as a reminder of where he’s from, Smith recalls
how his first employer, a Fortune 500 company, sent him to a communications school
to drill the West Virginia accent out of him. He maintained the accent, as well as a
strong appreciation for the individual, and the strengths and talents each employee
contributes to a company.

In his personal life, Smith enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.
He practices karate and plays the saxophone. His favorite charities are those helping
young children with special needs and those advancing educational programs, such
as Donors Choose.

At work, Smith takes time to inspire and encourage his employees. “I encourage
our employees to seize every opportunity to move into areas where they have little or
no domain expertise and are forced to rely on the power of inquiry and learning to be
successful,” he says. “In today’s world, things change rapidly and positions don’t come
with instructions. The ability to learn, adapt and execute is critical.”


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