Matt Clark Of Corcentric: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Your people are your most important asset — protect them as best you can. We have managed to get through each Black Swan event in our company’s history without doing layoffs or furloughs. This has allowed us, each time, to come roaring out of recessions and has contributed to a tremendous amount of loyalty.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Clark PRESIDENT CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER.

Matt Clark is the President and Chief Operating Officer for Corcentric. He is responsible for setting and steering Corcentric’s strategic vision along with its mission of empowering businesses to do more. His leadership has led to a substantial increase in employees, revenue, and the company’s growing presence in the B2B FinTech space. Since the beginning of 2018, Matt has guided the company through three acquisitions that position Corcentric as a global leader in Source-to-Pay and Order-to-Cash solutions.

Matt is an adviser and guest lecturer for the University of Maryland’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, and is an active member of Vistage Chief Executive Group, which provides peer-to-peer mentoring for DC area business leaders. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Growing up I had a passion for sports and a goal to have a career in sports broadcasting. I went to the University of Maryland and got a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Upon graduation, I hoped to start a career path at NFL Films; however, I was not able to get my foot in the door. Needless to say, I was pretty upset about it. I was then presented with an opportunity to work at a technology startup so I decided I would do that to make some money while I figured out a new plan for my broadcasting career. The opportunity with the technology startup exposed me to all elements of working in a tech company. I had to wear multiple hats (Marketing, Sales, Project Management, Product Management, etc.) and quickly developed a passion for what I was doing. What I thought was going to be a short-term job to make some money turned out to be the catalyst for a career in tech.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

In Corcentric’s early days, I was out on the road selling. When I look back on those days it makes me laugh and, in fact, cringe at how naïve and unprepared I was for those meetings. I would walk into a meeting with my presentation and prepared talking points. As soon as the prospect took me off script, I was immediately in over my head and looking for the closest escape hatch. Those experiences were not fun, but they were a wake-up call and a major catalyst for me to be relentlessly focused, each and every day, on developing the skillsets and knowledge required to ensure Corcentric’s success, as well as my own.

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?

I am most grateful for my parents. They both, in different ways, showed me what hard work and putting others before yourself looks like and I have tried to do the same in both my personal and professional life. They were partners, both in business and in life, and I watched them navigate through the highs and the lows. When I was a teenager, we had a family business that went bankrupt. In what were extremely difficult times financially and emotionally, they made sure my siblings and I were well cared for and felt safe. Through hard work over the course of many years, they persevered and bounced back in a major way.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When the business was founded 25 years ago, the vision (and purpose) was to enable companies to reduce the cost of doing business so they could invest in sustainable growth. We saw an opportunity to provide the subject matter expertise and technology at scale that would unlock the full potential of our customers. Our goal continues to be focusing our creative DNA on providing every competitive advantage possible to optimize how businesses purchase, pay, and get paid.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

When the pandemic really took hold in March of 2020, I knew the first “all employee” call was going to be crucial to setting the right tone for how we were going to navigate through the impending turbulent times. In preparation for that call, I remember telling myself to focus on projecting courage, emotional intelligence, and integrity. I knew that if I put those things at the center of my focus that we, as a company, would get off on the right foot to take this journey where the destination was unknown.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I never considered giving up. We were likely better positioned to face the pandemic than a lot of other companies, yet the challenges were still huge. But we persevered. My motivation? The belief in my company and the dedication and hard work of our entire team. That’s what sustains me. They quickly adapted to working from home and working remotely. They balanced work with taking care of their families…becoming part-time teachers and parental care givers and they never gave up on Corcentric or its mission. So, how could I?

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Leaders need to lead with confidence, vision, and positivity. Even during the toughest times, your employees look to you, not only for guidance but also for the signs that, regardless of the turmoil, there is a future to look forward to. You need to pull together the strongest members of your organization and have them work together to develop and enact the steps necessary to overcome any challenge. And you must communicate all of this to the entire organization, so that everyone is on the same page.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Silence is never good when people are concerned about their future. We were fortunate in that we did not have to reduce headcount and we made that clear to our team. We hold quarterly town halls to let all our employees, worldwide, know where the company is in achieving its goals, as well as setting forward new goals. Each month we name two employees as recipients of our Excellence Awards. These employees are nominated by their peers so, again, we give our people the power to acknowledge one another.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Be as honest and transparent as possible. Trust is the cornerstone of good business and employee relationships. If you lose that, you lose everything. I also believe that people can handle bad news…but you also have to communicate how you are dealing with the issues and what you anticipate the outcome will be.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that predictability can be quickly tossed on its head. That’s why leaders need to expect the unexpected and make plans accordingly. Certainly, you can’t anticipate every Black Swan event, but you can create buckets of unpredictability (weather, disease, environmental, war, etc.) and create a plan for each, one that will hopefully never need to be acted upon.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Your people are your most important asset. My father, who founded this company, and I have always felt that it’s the people that work for you that really make a difference. We treat our employees with respect, making them an integral part of reaching our goals. That may be the main reason that we’ve not only survived this crisis, we’ve actually thrived.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The most common mistake I see businesses and business leaders make is failing to communicate. When you leave a communication void, others will fill that void for you and, unfortunately, often what that void gets filled with is not helpful to the situation. Second mistake…not having a cash preservation strategy. The number one reason businesses do not make it through difficult times is because they run out of cash. Lastly, I often see the mistake being made of not protecting a company’s most valuable assets which are its people. Layoffs and/or furloughs are often the first moves companies make in difficult times. We have always viewed this as a last resort and have been able to avoid any layoffs or furloughs during the Black Swan events that have occurred during our company’s history.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The simple mindset during challenging times should be “less is more.” Double down on the core areas of your business that you have the best handle on and that you have the highest confidence will be able to provide the financial bridge out of turbulent times. Everything else should be put on the shelf or deprioritized. At the onset of the pandemic, we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers and prospects, to think about what solutions we had that would help them best navigate through these difficult times. You must remember that your customers and prospects are navigating the same obstacles that you are and make sure you are not approaching them with anything that is not going to be at the very top of their critical priorities.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Your people are your most important asset — protect them as best you can. We have managed to get through each Black Swan event in our company’s history without doing layoffs or furloughs. This has allowed us, each time, to come roaring out of recessions and has contributed to a tremendous amount of loyalty.
  2. Cash is king — have several contingency plans addressing how you will manage and preserve cash in different scenarios.
  3. Communicate early and often — communicate frequently and make sure you strike the right balance of being confident and encouraging while not hiding bad/negative news. When you deliver bad/negative news, make sure you complement it with what the plan is to deal with it.
  4. Less is more — keep things simple and rally the troops to focus all their attention on the things that will be critical to getting through the tough times.
  5. Focus on operational efficiency — reexamine every aspect of your business model with the goal of reducing operating costs on a permanent basis. When you come out the other side of the turbulent times, costs will stay low which will allow your company’s profits to grow faster than those of your competitors.

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

My favorite life lesson quote is “Everything happens for a reason; either it’s a blessing or a lesson.” Life both professionally and personally is a constant roller coaster ride. Viewing the ups as blessings and the downs as lessons helps to keep me grounded and helps to keep from getting too high or too low.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Matt Clark Of Corcentric: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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