Stephen Krajewski: From Russia with a Love of good communication
From a small company start in Massachusetts to London, via St Petersburg. Stephen Krajewski has already enjoyed an eventful career. Here, the vice-president of marketing at Hansen Technologies‘ communications division (formerly Sigma Systems) shares a few Life Lessons learned along the way, including readiness to learn new skills, making the most of good timing, clear communication, and a focus on the desired outcomes.
VanillaPlus: What was your first job?
Stephen Krajewski: My first ‘real’ job was as a technical support representative for a small company in Cambridge, Massachusetts that made Unix-based accounting systems for not-for-profit organisations. When applying for the job, I had no experience in accounting, I didn’t know what UNIX was, I had little interest in computer systems so I was clearly the perfect candidate! My go-to support strategy in those first days on the job was tried and true – turn the machine off, grab some coffee and then call back when it’s booted up to check if the problem persisted. In those days that method had about 33% success rate.
Eventually I did learn how to provide proper tech support. Overall, it was a great first job giving me experience of dealing with customers, enough technical knowledge to make me dangerous and the ability to help people solve problems in their businesses.
VanillaPlus: What led you into a career in telecoms?
SK: Knowing how to produce a bill, of all things. My next job was with a company that made billing software for healthcare clinics. I quickly came to understand how important it was to get the billing right because it directly related to the healthcare people would receive. This billing knowledge led to my first position in the telecoms industry with Kenan Systems, one of the first companies to productise billing and customer care software for communications services providers.
It was a fortuitous time to get into the industry: Kenan capitalised on the wave of telecoms deregulation which created new players who needed to bill their customers. Joining Kenan, I was moved into presales (gaining even more technical knowledge) which eventually allowed me to locate in London.
VanillaPlus: Without naming and shaming, tell us about your worst ever boss?
SK: I haven’t had a truly terrible boss, but if I’ve had any bad experiences it’s generally come down to communication. In my experience, there needs to be a very good understanding of expectations and goals between manager and a managed individual. That’s mainly built through clear, consistent communication. Now that I am a manager, I try to bear this in mind, for instance, by making the effort to talk directly rather than relying on email, where so many messages can easily be misunderstood. Great bosses communicate well with individuals, build good relationships and manage all that within the context of a larger team.
VanillaPlus: What has been your most memorable business travel experience?
SK: At Kenan, we became a part of Lucent Technologies, which seemed to have an office in every corner of the world. I started to travel to some of those corners to work with my new Lucent colleagues. The most memorable experience was in Russia during when the country was opening up commercially, spending two weeks working in St. Petersburg in the dead of winter. With no ability to communicate to Russians (unless they knew English), I was provided with a personal translator/interpreter virtually everywhere I went. Not sure what to make of it at first, it provided a challenging twist to carrying out my job.
I would explain our offer and then wait whilst the translator interpreted my words. I had no idea what was going on in the customer’s heads – or, indeed, any idea what the translator was saying! By the end of the trip, my translator and I developed a great rapport. This experience plus the other elements – the culture, the city itself, the (freezing) weather and seeing how Russians were moving into capitalism – were all things I was lucky to have experienced and I’ll certainly never forget it.
VanillaPlus: What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
SK: Two things come to mind. First, I am very proud of the work we’ve done at Sigma to revise our brand identity and reposition the company in a truly different way for our part of the industry. By working with a great team of people who wanted take a different approach, we’ve managed to express Sigma’s products’ value in a way that is more meaningful for our customers and that makes us stand out from the crowd.
I am also very proud of my work at Iron Mountain Europe where I led a team that created a very productive demand generation “engine” for seven European markets. The team took the concept of sales and marketing alignment in demand generation and worked so well to produce tangible results for the business.
VanillaPlus: What business/life lesson would you share with your younger self?
SK: My daughter has just started her career and so I have recently found myself trying – not too successfully – to impart words of business wisdom (biz-dom? wiz-ness?). The main pieces of advice centre on keeping perspective on what’s important.
I have tried to say that in whatever she’s doing, always think about the outcome or result that she wants to achieve. And because she’s starting out at entry level within the organisation, keep focused on what she can control. It may be a limited scope of responsibility, but she can still make a positive impact when she focuses on what she can control.