Chris Pierson | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Chris Pierson

Background:  

Viewpost is a secure business-to-business network that enables companies to manage invoices, bills and payments electronically.

The Mistake:

Trying to do everything myself.

Early in my career, I had the privilege to lead an information-sharing group that was in partnership with the FBI, a group called InfraGard. The group is a cleared membership that is in partnership with the FBI to protect critical infrastructure – to share information – all framed around the cybersecurity threat.

The members of InfraGard are from different law enforcement agencies, some intelligence agencies, as well as a heavy private sector component. It’s really meant to bridge the gap between the private sector and the government regarding information sharing, especially as it relates to “critical infrastructure.”

I was about 30 years old and very excited about the organization, very excited about engaging in new federal and state partnerships and helping to make a difference. This was just after 9/11, and I really believed in the mission of the FBI partners. I believed in those of the other agencies we were with and the value that the private sector was bringing back to the U.S. Almost 85 percent of all critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector – so you have to have a partnership.

We [had] over 100 cleared, private-sector people at the time. And as the president of InfraGard, I wanted to grow and scale and increase our partnerships. I felt like I had some great ideas. So I set off on launching many of these projects myself and grabbing some people who I knew would help but doing [a lot of things on my own]. So we started rolling out some of these initiatives and started gaining momentum, and publicity and accolades. But I was really wondering how this would scale.

And one of my friends who was working for a partner agency and also on our board had to pull me aside and make sure that I knew that one of the ways that I would be able to continue to achieve that success was by co-opting the resources and the talent around the InfraGard organization.

He let me know that the enthusiasm [and] the ideas were just amazing, but in order to continue to grow them, we really needed to gain more ownership by others.

I didn’t have to be the one driving all things.

The Lesson:

In order to scale the operations, I would have to move more into a mentoring and team-building role as opposed to doing and trying to do everything myself or being [a part] of all things.

It just all of the sudden clicked for me. The sage advice – it just became clear to me that I could attract others who were accessible and had the skills, and then help to polish [what they were] doing. I didn’t have to be the one driving all things. There was that new realization that, in order to achieve massive scale, I had to partner with some very key individuals to do the things we at InfraGard wanted to achieve as a team.

So we set up lots of committees and working groups, and [I began] imparting my enthusiasm, my knowledge and my goals to them – but allowing them to find creative ways and solutions to scale. And that was a really, really important lesson.

I moved more into business-model planning for the organization with multiple leaders stepping up to execute that vision. So at the end of the day, for me, it really became a lesson in how to energize and empower others to develop and execute a shared team mission.

I was able to take this lesson from InfraGard to other places that I’ve worked – at a large corporate law firm, when I worked running the U.S. operations for the Royal Bank of Scotland, and here to Viewpost as well. It was just great, sage advice in building and mentoring a true executive team.

Follow Viewpost on Twitter at @Viewpost.

Photo courtesy of Chris Pierson

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email nryan@crain.com

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Orlando.