Executive Profile: Alida CEO Ross Wainwright

Anna Bradley-Smith October 26, 2020
Alida CEO Ross Wainwright
Alida CEO Ross Wainwright

Ross Wainwright has always been a builder.

The CEO of fast growing customer experience management (CXM) and insights company Alida has spent his whole career paving the way to be a strong leader of a global business.

And, he says, it has got him exactly where he’s meant to be.

“I’ve always gravitated towards building things and leading people. In the early stages of my career, I really had no idea what I was doing, but I had passion,” Wainwright told The Org.

When that path led him to Canadian company Alida, formerly Vision Critical, in late 2019, Wainwright found a base of highly engaged global employees and customers and he knew he could have an impact.

“It needed help unearthing its massive potential to transform into a digital industry disrupter. And to be frank, that’s the work I love to do,” he said.

Leading from the get-go

Wainwright’s first taste of the CEO title, one he had always hoped for, came in 1988 as CEO of his College Pro Painting franchise. “I felt like I had the world by the tail. I also had a lot to learn,” he said.

In the following years he met some “terrific mentors” who guided him to his first tech leadership role at 27.

The role took him to Silicon Valley right as the dot-com bubble burst and he landed a job at SAP. In reflection, he said joining SAP at that time was a pivotal moment in his career: the company was thriving, and it was in need of leadership.

“Once I stepped into that position, I was with SAP for years and moved all over the U.S. advancing my career. This is where I eventually got into the business of transformation,” he said.

Transforming a company

After more than 14 years at SAP, Wainwright decided to move on, and in December 2019 he stepped in as CEO at Alida, then known as Vision Critical. The company was founded in 2000, and over the past 20 years, it has built a CXM and insights platform that has helped companies (including Buzzfeed, LinkedIn and GoDaddy) identify competitive advantages and build customer relationships.

When Wainwright joined, he saw it was time to really disrupt the market and take on tech leaders such as Qualtric and Medallia. What was critically important was for change to be customer-led.

“It’s not just about driving products and services, it’s about creating an actionable experience for customers, employees and partners that drives loyalty,” he said.

“We really believe that the best business decisions are those made with customers, not for them.”

Alida, which means verity, truth and actuality, is still focused on helping clients gain compelling insights, but expands them into tangible actions that improve the customer experience in real-time, Wainwright said.

Getting down to business

As a CEO, Wainwright said there was no such thing as a typical day, juggling representing the company to the outside world and keeping progress going internally.

What kept him on track, he said, were lists. “I’m someone who thrives on planning my day based on what real actions I can take. I need to check items off my list and make sure both the big strategic pieces and smaller details are getting done.”

He makes sure to spend one-on-one time with each employee and listen to perspectives from across the company, seeing employee growth and risk-taking as critical to success.

“It’s so important to me that we set up a safe environment where our team can be their authentic selves and have room to make mistakes,” he said. “The fun stuff for me is getting the business out of its comfort zone and taking risks. I’m a big believer that the best leaders get their people out a little over their skis.”

The challenge with the CEO role, he said, was internal politics. “Healthy conflict and differences of opinion are important to create competitive advantage, but when a workplace suffers from inauthenticity, lack of feedback and communication, that’s where I get frustrated and eager to make some changes.”

Tips for the top

In all situations, Wainwright said do not wait to act.

“I’ve learnt that as a leader, we need to be willing to lead the business at the pace our market dictates and make sure we are capable of keeping up, setting trends and driving growth,” he said, adding 10 decisions made with a couple of lousy choices were better than five decisions made too slowly. Perfection, he said, was the enemy of great and clarity should come before certainty.

Something he is certain of is the need for top talent. Wainwright said he was always in recruiting mode and placed critical importance on attracting and developing talent to cultivate a team ready for the long haul. And that team got his full attention. “My job as CEO is not about me or my resume. It’s about everyone but me,” he said.

Being vulnerable in front of the team and leading with trust made company culture more relaxed and authentic, and allowed team members to connect emotionally with their work, he said.

“We’re an extremely motivated and dedicated team with a dynamic and fast-paced culture. The fun for us is really just getting started.”

As a company, he said Alida had huge potential and he didn’t want to leave anything on the table. “We’ve been steadily growing all year and we continue to focus on our innovation agenda, driving value for our customers and partners and disrupting the CXM market.”

And as for Wainwright’s future? “There is nowhere I would rather be than leading this company right now.”

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