Charleston, Blackbaud Make An Easy Recruiting Story, Says CIO Lant
The Charleston Digital Corridor’s Leadership Profile Series is focused on the individuals who are driving the Charleston tech scene forward.
Todd Lant is chief information officer of Blackbaud. Headquartered on Daniel Island, Blackbaud provides software, services, expertise and data intelligence to nonprofits, foundations, corporations, education institutions and individual change agents. Blackbaud, founded in 1981, has about 3,000 employees.
Where did you grow up?
I moved around a good bit as a kid. So cities I would call home are Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, Atlanta, and Boston. All those have fond places in my heart.
How did you come to be in Charleston?
Blackbaud called me up. I had a great opportunity to be part of a company that does more than just deliver product. We do a lot for our customers, and that really excited me. So I hopped on the opportunity and found myself here.
At the time, I was at a place called the Houston Independent School District. It was the first job I’d had where the outcomes of what we delivered were more than just corporate financials. Everything you did impacted students and their potential futures, so that really probably lit my passion for working someplace where there was more to it than just the corporate operations.
In your own words, what does your company do?
We lead uniquely at the intersection point of social good and technology. We provide software, services, data intelligence, and meaningful thought leadership for the social good space. That social good space is pretty comprehensive. It includes nonprofits, foundations, corporations, learning institutions, and now, it also includes the individual change leaders who support them in leading that change.
What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?
I had a great opportunity right out of college. I joined a company called Lithonia Lighting. It’s a large manufacturing company in Atlanta and they were in the middle of a large IT transformation. There were four of us selected for a leadership training program for IT, and we were able to spend a short period of time in every area of the business learning about how their business worked and how technology enabled that. That was really a great start to a career that gave me a lot of diversity and married the technology side of things with business.
How would you describe your organization’s culture?
It starts with a passion for social good. We’re a purpose-driven company that is passionate about helping customers use technology to make a difference in the world. Oftentimes we say it’s as important as code here, and having a culture that people are attracted to and continue to facilitate is really important.
We’re a technology company – innovation is paramount to what we do, and we’re in a state of innovation now that’s really unprecedented. So that permeates into everything we do culturally. We work very hard to ensure we foster that at all levels of the organization.
And then we’ve got a set of corporate values that I think really reflect the culture here. “We work as one” is about working together to do more than we could do working individually. “We bring heart” is about the passion we have for our customers, for the outcomes we deliver. “We expect the best” is about operational excellence and making sure we put quality into everything we do. “We invent possibilities” is back to the innovation idea – you’ve always got to be inventing, always got to be innovating. And then, “We give back” is a big, big part of our culture here. We do a lot to give back to the community. Most of our employees volunteer for various events around the cities they live in. Most of our executive leadership serves on nonprofit boards. We have a variety of CSR initiatives, such as volunteer for vacation and employee-led community grant-making, which really reflects our culture quite nicely.
What is your management style? Why is that your approach?
I’m really passionate about outcomes, about what I do, about bringing technology to bear in business. So my management style tends to reflect that. I like people around me with energy. I like people that challenge me. I challenge my folks, so I expect them to deliver, not always with a lot of direction but in the right direction. I like to have fun, too.
What lessons have you learned from good bosses? Bad bosses?
I’ve worked with a lot of really successful folks that have been successful in very different ways. So there are different paths to success. It’s very easy when you pick up the latest self-help book to get so focused on the path and lose sight of the outcomes. But what I’ve really learned is that outcomes matter and everybody succeeds in different ways. So working toward successful outcomes at your own pace is really important.
What’s the hardest or most important lesson you’ve learned in business?
It’s really important to continue challenging myself. If you’re the smartest person in the room, get out of the room. Go learn something, go talk to a customer, or go get a product demo. Go figure out an area of the business that you don’t know a lot about and figure out how you can make it better. Without that challenge, I think you’re just sub-optimizing your potential.
Do you have a routine that’s important to your day? A morning ritual, meditation, etc.?
I’m not as superstitious as hockey players, but I do have a routine. A healthy prayer life really helps keep my priorities in alignment. Hugging my girls daily is very important to me. It brings me back here every day to fight hard to change the world, to make a difference.
I start every day with my team first thing in the morning and have a stand-up meeting. Starting the day with the team, getting us focused, making sure there’s good, solid communication is important to me. I like to exercise every day. It keeps my head clear, keeps me physically in better shape.
And I do like some loud music. When I ride to work, when I’m working – I like my music, and I tend to wear headphones in the office. I’m a rock guy. Ranges from groove metal to just about any other kind of rock.
What obstacles have you faced building your business? How have you overcome them?
Every place I’ve ever worked in IT, you face similar challenges: There’s always way more to do, way more that you want to do, than you have resources to get done. So it’s really important to start at the top, making sure your IT strategies align with your corporate strategy, making sure that’s very clear for everybody on the team. And then when you drop down to the next level, making sure your priorities are very clear, that you are executing well against those priorities and measuring outcomes, focusing the resources you have to maximize them to get the right things done.
What do you look for in the people you hire?
The hiring world has changed quite a lot. We now hire folks very differently from when I was starting my career. We hire folks we expect will change jobs or roles every two to three years. And so, it starts with culture. It doesn’t just start with skills. We’re looking for future leaders in the company. We want folks who are passionate about our mission. Those who fit well with our values that I talked about a moment ago, so as they do progress in their careers, the strongest ones desire to stay here at Blackbaud and they are successful because of that.
We care about aptitude and technical ability obviously, as well. We are a tech company and that’s paramount to what we do. But it starts with culture and our values when we recruit folks here.
What is your biggest pet peeve in business or amongst colleagues?
I am fairly high energy. I love being around high-energy people who are passionate about what they do, who drive things forward, who care about outcomes. When I work with folks who start to get a little bit complacent at times or don’t seemed to be focused on outcomes, I really give them a lot of attention to help get them to a place where they’re on board with aggressively moving the agenda that we have forward.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
Doing what you love and loving what you do go hand in hand, and that generates not only passion but the drive you need and the fortitude you need to be successful. I think sometimes we lose focus. I’ve mentored some folks who chased a title or chased dollars or chased a business opportunity and let go of that focus. And they really were less successful because of it in the long run.
What advice would you give new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?
First of all, congratulations. I think it’s a great career. It’s a career that is going to be around for a long time. Tremendous, diverse opportunities. And it’s a challenging career. The advice I would give is, it is constantly changing, and that is going to accelerate and continue to accelerate, so remain focused on career learning, constantly staying abreast of what’s going on both in business and technology. And you’ll have a great career and have fun doing it.
What do you see as the future of your company?
Blackbaud is the world’s leader in delivering cloud solutions to the social good community, and we’re really just getting going there. Our vision is to power the ecosystem of good that builds a better world. . In order to do that, it looks like a couple of things. It looks like continuing to innovate in what we do, in delivering those solutions. It looks like figuring out new ways and improving the ways we already have connected our customers to advance the social good movement. Ultimately, it’s about building the tools that our customers need to succeed at their missions.
What one person has been the biggest influence on your business life? And why?
I’m going to give you two. First, my mom. My mom was very successful in her career. She was masters educated, and when I was a freshman in high school she decided she wanted to change careers. She went back to school – tremendous work ethic, tremendous confidence – and reinvented herself and ended up being the controller of a multi-company conglomerate. Very successful. And so I go back to that often. You can change yourself. You can make a difference. You’ve got to work hard to do it.
I also have a professional mentor that I’ve worked with for many, many years in the technology space. He’s really been tremendously helpful in keeping me true to who I am, keeping me focused on really delivering what I can, not only for my company but for customers and what they do. Keeping me tied to my personal strengths. He had some adversity in his life that really changed him and changed his focus in his career, and I’ve been able to learn from that, too, which will hopefully save me some pain in the process.
Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?
I’m multilingual. I truly carry both a Mac and a Windows Surface Book. I typically carry an iPhone, and I do carry an Android phone from time to time. I have five different tablets that I carry; both Android and Apple. I love technology. I love to learn the differences and understand them, and a lot of that’s about knowing my internal customers and our external customers, understanding how those technologies are used in different ways and what their strengths are.
What is your usual Starbucks order?
I like a little bit of dark roast to go with the cream. That’s my usual order. When I’m international, I love a flat white. I don’t know what’s different about it in the UK or in Australia, but I love a flat white internationally.
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
I stay quite busy outside of work. I havetwo daughters, a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old, so I’m busy with their activities and their lives. They challenge me as much as work does, oftentimes. I also serve on a number of boards for local nonprofits, and I really enjoy that work as well. I enjoy triathlons, so I spend time on my bike, in the pool, and going out for a run.
What has it been like building your technical team in Charleston?
It’s been good. We recruit nationally, and we recruit in Charleston; it’s our largest home. It’s a great market for us. It’s an easy story when you take Blackbaud’s story, Charleston as a great place to live, and a growing and emerging technology community.
Do you see any challenges recruiting tech talent to Charleston?
I think the challenges are national and global more than local. There are technology jobs that are in very, very short supply and very, very high demand. You look at areas like information security, all areas of data intelligence, analytics – we’re competing across the globe for the same talent, and there’s not enough of it. So there are certainly challenges there. Again, Blackbaud’s story and the local market tends to help us with that. But we must be creative like everybody else.
What are your thoughts on how Charleston’s technical landscape has grown?
It’s been fun to watch. I’ve been here 13 years now. Blackbaud was one of the early ones, if not the early tech company in town. So two things have happened. One is we’ve watched folks grow and spread. I attend events such as the iFiveK and sometimes it’s kind of a reunion. You see folks move around and start new tech companies. The tech space has really grown, which is fantastic.
We are also in the midst of a digital transformation across the world, all companies have become companies that have tech talent and are doing similar things. So it’s fun to watch that community grow as well. We have a big health care market here; we have a big hospitality business here; wehave many other industries. So seeing the technology in those areas grow as well as ours has been really nice to watch. Obviously, aerospace and automotive have grown significantly. So it’s a very different space today. It’s a great place.