March 01, 2013

Gratitude = Service: 10 Fond Memories from My 10 Years with Aurora WDC

March 01, 2013 by Derek Johnson 

Aurora WDC celebrated 18 years in business in February and, while we don't make quite as big a deal out of it as we probably should, it's been a true honor to serve Aurora's clients, partners, people and friends for the past 10 of those years. In some ways, it feels like eons ago… at the same time, like it has all happened in the blink of an eye.

On the first day of March back in 2003, I joined the Aurora family as Director of Research, although I had literally been part of the family since my brother – Arik – started the firm on his 25th birthday in 1995. (Arik always says it was easier to remember the anniversary that way – just subtract 25). Since then, Arik gave me the opportunity take over operational oversight of the rest of Aurora's businesses in 2007 as COO and eventually leadership of the firm at large in 2010 as Chief Executive Officer, while Arik focused on launching Aurora's R&D lab and moved into the new office of Chairman.

But I think Arik was also giving himself a gift the day he started Aurora… a gift that has gone on to be a gift to so many others, including me. And for that opportunity to serve, I am truly grateful.

So, I thought it would be fun to share 10 of my fondest memories from the past 10 years to celebrate.

Losing my luggage on my very first business trip: I joined the company a few weeks before the SCIP 2003 annual conference in Anaheim and I remember arriving from Madison only to learn my luggage was nowhere to be found as I prepared to spend the better part of a week of meetings with all of Aurora's most important customers. Nonetheless, that week was one of the most important of my life in preparing for what would become my career in the strategic market and competitive intelligence world.

Chairing the SCIP 2009 Chicago Program Committee: fast forward six years and you would find me having dried myself off behind the ears and serving the intelligence community as chairman of the 2009 SCIP annual conference committee, proving there's hope for anybody. I remember recruiting Michael Treacy as the last real rockstar keynote I can recall a SCIP conference featuring and the difference it made in my own career to have a chance to hobnob with such a towering intellect and entrepreneur who was also so genuinely humble and grateful for the opportunity to bring his message to the SCIP community.

Recruiting Greg Ervin as Chief Technology Officer: back in 2005, as Aurora was considering entering the intelligence systems, software and technology market, we were unsure how to do so with such a crowded field of competitors already clamoring for clients' attention. While the strategy we decided on at the time was serendipitous, the person we brought aboard to oversee it was very, very deliberate. As with most of our strategic hires, recruiting one of my best friends from college to launch our systems business meant that if Greg hadn't been available to join us, we probably wouldn't have done it. Fast forward nearly eight years later and Aurora's strategy of building custom software systems for the most sophisticated intelligence technology challenges while relying on best-of-breed third-party software partners for more straightforward applications has proven prescient in helping us to become a go-to resource for clients.
Recruiting Craig Fleisher as Chief Learning Officer: Dr. Fleisher was already an icon of our field when we opened up discussions of his joining Aurora back in 2010 and remains the most cited scholar of intelligence analysis alive today. But Craig's academic credentials (after a career as a college professor, Craig was serving as Dean of a business school before joining Aurora) underlie his deep pragmatism about how intelligence in general and analytics in particular can make a difference in business performance. As CLO, I've had the pleasure of working with many clients to put in place customized training and professional development programs for their intelligence staff and workforce alike, putting intelligence to work more effectively and efficiently in solving their business problems and seizing fleetingly short-lived new market opportunities. Craig is a mentor and guide to me, too, as I consider which tools to put to work in improving Aurora's own performance and elevate the game of our people every day as well.

Recruiting Michel Bernaiche to lead Program Development: it might surprise some to know that, back in 1995, Arik actually launched Aurora into the intelligence world advising business leaders on how to scale their intelligence operations and grow their influence with decision-makers. By helping determine which people, systems, products and processes would govern the intelligence function today and into the future as responsibilities grew in a predictable way, this early advisory service helped Aurora to build its flagship research business by helping clients fulfill their mission when their own research capabilities were overwhelmed. Aurora's hire of my close friend Michel Bernaiche away from his role running intelligence at Dunkin' Brands has only meant Michel's expertise and passion in program design and delivery allows all of our clients to benefit.

Honoring Jim Mathews: last year Aurora had the opportunity to honor a real mentor of ours with an award for young people to attend the SCIP conference. Jim was a career intelligence professional and expert practitioner of Price-to-Win (PTW) methodology in the Aerospace and Defense sector. He was also a true mentor to Arik and me as we launched Aurora's A&D practice, which had its own unique intelligence dynamics to consider. We're all excited to honor Jim's contributions to the field again this year with the second annual Jim Mathews Award for Intelligence Excellence, which will award medals of honor to two college students competing to attend the SCIP 2013 conference in Orlando in May.

Being named CEO in 2010: coincidentally also on March 1st, 15 years after he started the firm, Arik had decided it was time to course correct his role in the company by starting the Center for Organizational Reconnaissance a couple of months prior. Arik said at the time that it had always been his hope that someday I might lead the company as he had… and after seven years in the trenches, I was finally ready to take the helm. I appreciate this opportunity every single day.
Recruiting Heather Bjella: my wife's best friend and maid of honor in our wedding, Heather Bjella was already a fearsome courtroom litigator specializing in intellectual property in Chicago when I recruited her the first time to help me propose to my beloved bride, Allie. But Heather might not have been prepared when I recruited her as Aurora's Director of Analytics and Insights to support Aurora's Global Research and Analysis leadership team. Aurora has benefited not only from her unparalleled standards of excellence in delivering insights that influence the direction of our clients' companies, but also from her sharp legal skills, particularly as we have developed IP-based products and assets to add value to the services we're already known for.

Hiring my own replacement to take charge of research: one of my first and best decisions as COO when Arik promoted me from Director of Research in 2007 was to put John Thomson in the driver's seat of our flagship business, Global Research and Analysis. And today, I consider that to have been one of the best decisions I could ever have made. Today John heads the research leadership team including Heather Bjella (see above) and Richard Loomis, Aurora's Director of Research Solutions, in what is still our most important contribution to clients' success – answering their most critical questions about the state and future of their markets and industry (and striving to help them ask newer, better questions going forward).
Working alongside my big brother: Arik would say we're true business partners in the sense that his focus is on transforming new mysteries about how intelligence can make a difference in business into heuristics for real change, while my concentration is in perfecting those heuristics into reliable, repeatable and exploitable algorithms. We have learned, however, that to be successful in this "ambidexterity" strategy, we have also had to work on becoming more like the other guy… growing personally in those areas where we are weak, in order to understand the value of complementary strengths.
It has been a thrill and a privilege to work in and on the business (and each other) side-by-side with my brother Arik the past 10 years. As you might have noticed from my list above, the fondest memories I have about my time with Aurora have always been about the people involved that have made me who I am today.

In that respect, it has never been Aurora's goal to be the biggest firm in the intelligence market, but our relentless pursuit of both breakthrough innovation AND operational perfection. All of this is empowered and brought to life by Aurora's people, clients, partners and other friends, and our belief that we've built the best team in the business.

And for all these things I am genuinely grateful. We look forward to you joining us in whatever capacity we can partner together to continue making a difference in the world as we are privileged to do some of the most interesting (and often hardest) work imaginable.

Thank you

No comments: