At the Helm: Genesys CEO Tony Bates

Earlier this month, Tony Bates joined Genesys as our Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Paul Segre, who will continue with Genesys as Chairman. We sat down with Tony to talk about customer experience, his journey from being a university dropout to a respected technology executive and his vision of how Genesys will continue to enable customer success.

What got you interested in joining Genesys?

Tony Bates: Number one is the culture. The Genesys culture is very much aligned with my own thinking. It’s about teaming, collaborating, doing what’s right for your customer and backing up actions with results. The company’s execution and rapid growth are quite stunning to me. Performing like this during a transition from on-premises to cloud solutions is very impressive. Providing leadership on a large-scale basis to thousands of employees is really important to me.

Number two, Genesys is exactly the size, scale, and type of opportunity I’ve been waiting and training for my whole career. We are a global company with relevance to significant customers and we’re poised to go from $1.5 billion in revenue to the next stage. Third, I’m familiar with the customer experience space and Genesys provides a toolset that’s at the frontline of what makes customers successful. I love how transformative our technology can be for businesses and their customers.

How do you describe Genesys and our current market opportunity to people outside the contact center industry?

Tony: When I told my mum in England about my new job, I told her we shape our customers’ success because our products are the first experience people have with a company. Everyone knows the difference between good and bad customer experience, so I say our job is to create seamless experiences today and sticky next-generation experiences for great customers like Marks & Spencer, eBay and Coca-Cola.

When I talk to folks in the industry, I talk about it differently. What we do is a strategic control point for businesses. We’ve moved from being a contact center application to being pivotal to business transformation for our customers.

What are the key elements of great customer experience for you?

Tony: Great customer experience starts before I walk into a store, go through a digital door or enter the IVR system. It feels like the company already knows me — my likes and dislikes. Great customer experience is getting my questions answered and my problems resolved quickly. I want a personalized experience every time; I want to consume the experience the way I expect, which is friction-less, quick and easy. Companies are only as good as their customers’ satisfaction. We have a huge opportunity to help customers create these experiences. It’s much more than technology; it’s a business approach to personalizing experiences for our customers’ customers.

From a business perspective, what brands do you admire and why?

Tony: I think about brands that make you feel special in the way you experience and consume them. Nike has done an incredible job of not only being a great retail brand but also transforming into a great commerce experience. Great companies understand the balance of innovation and operational excellence. Apple, for example, doesn’t innovate just in products; it innovates in retail. Apple stores are modern and edgy, yet comfortable.

We know you taught yourself to code, which would be very intimidating for most of us. What drove you to take on that challenge? 

Tony: When I dropped out of engineering school in 1986, I got an unbelievable opportunity to be a network operator in the University of London computer center. I had a boss who said, “Let’s put our hand up for projects, then we’ll figure it out.” I was 19, in a super-computing environment and had never really used a computer, so I had to learn. There were no manuals back then; we were making it up as we went along. I used my 70-minute Tube ride to learn how the technology worked. Later, I realized I could actually help create some of the products.

What’s the best business advice you ever got, who was it from and how do you use it today?

Tony: John Chambers, the former CEO and my boss at Cisco Systems, always said, “Take calculated risks; don’t be afraid.” That was very empowering to me. He coached me to think about where our customers were going next and how Cisco could help them get there. He was really good at seeing transformations, but from the market in — not driving them out. I was also advised to be wary of technology religion. I went through my own experience of being very ideological about technology, but I learned that it was more important to use technology to move the business along in right direction.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Tony: I’m results-oriented, first and foremost. I want to win. I want to do it in the right way by creating value for customers. But let me be clear: I want to win. To do that, I think you need a leadership style that empowers teams but holds them accountable. It’s important to communicate effectively, get alignment and go forward as one team. That’s another piece of advice from John Chambers. It’s fine to get everyone’s input, but once we agree, we fly in formation as one. When you do that, you get incredible results.

On a personal note, what causes are important to you and your family?

Tony: Giving back has been instrumental in keeping me and my family grounded and grateful. My wife Cori and I are involved with the Tipping Point organization, whose primary goal is to end poverty in the San Francisco Bay area. Tipping Point is results-oriented, focused on solving big problems and make an impact, which aligns with my own leadership style. We’re also involved with the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. My wife is an American-born Korean and we think it’s important to promote awareness and participation in Asian cultures right here in Bay Area. Finally, I’m on the board of trustees of the US Olympic Committee. Many people don’t realize that in the US, all of the funding for the athletes comes from the private sector — not the government. Yet, we have the highest-performing athletes with the most medals. It’s impressive to see the correlation, as in business, between improving performance, achieving results and sustaining success over time.

What are your impressions from your first couple of weeks at Genesys?

Tony: My standout impressions are the quality of the team, their focus on customers and the level of innovation. We have some of the most leading-edge capabilities of any company, especially when it comes to the cloud. I’m also amazed at the knowledge base of customer success built over decades.

Another thing I’ve noticed is a nice mix of being a global company yet being very collegial and close. That’s rare to find. My first couple weeks were like drinking from a fire hose, but everyone has given me a warm welcome. It’s all back to the culture again — and I hope every new Genesys employee feels welcomed the way I did.

What do you most want Genesys customers and prospects to know about us?

Tony: Genesys is about customers for life and customer success. Customers love us and depend on us. As we move forward into technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and new ways of thinking about omnichannel, we’re bringing them along on a customer success journey. I want customers to know we’re here for them now with whatever technology they want — and we’re building on a next-generation platform that allows them to re-imagine their services.

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