Executives Unpacked Episode 25: Learn From Your Failures with Keith Buckley

This post was written by: John Clifton

The aim of Executives Unpacked is to pass important lessons from leading executives to our listeners. On Episode 25 we were joined by Keith Buckley, the CEO at Xytech Systems, which is the leading provider of end to end media operations for the world’s premier Media and Broadcast entities. Keith shared his biggest lessons and best advice, as well as some of his secrets for success. Read on to learn more about this inspirational executive. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson has to be what I learned from my biggest failure. Back when I was in a startup business, we had a great concept – we were a mobile software company that was primarily focused on enabling people to carry their personal health records on their mobile phone, and then syncing that to electronic health record systems which were launching. We had to write the code from the beginning and deal with mobile phone carriers around the world. I say it was a failure because we actually sold the technology for a reasonable return, but we were never able to fully connect the dots. 

We had investors that said, ‘If you can get a long term contract with one of the largest carriers in the US, we will fund you,’ and that same carrier said ‘If you can prove to us that you have funding we will sign the contract.’ For about six months I bashed my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get everybody to do this together. That experience taught me the lesson of how to make sure all the pieces line up properly relative to the capital structure of a business so that you can be successful. That was a huge lesson. 

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career?

Let me tell you one thing that I learned early in my career, and then I’ll flip it back over. I was in my first sales job and my parents were super supportive. I wanted to get into sales to make my way to the executive level and be a CEO. I was going to my first trade show, which was NAB in 1989. I’m four days into my job. I called my father and I said, ‘What do I do here?’ He said, ‘Keep your shoes shined. You’re about to get bombarded with people who want to potentially buy from you, people that you can build relationships with, people that can help you out in your future career. The least you can do is look nice.’ I did it and it worked. 

The flip side of that which I wish I had known earlier was we were at a very big show. Our booth was right next to one of the main entrances, and I wish someone would have told me that there were going to be that many people thrust upon me because of where we were. That’s how the world of trade shows actually works. I wish they would have told me that sooner. 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

I worked for a gentleman named Peter Marshall way back when, and he said something to me when we were in Hong Kong on a business trip that’s stuck with me. We were doing long days with tons of meetings and he said ‘Just remember Keith, when you hit this point of the day, in the late afternoon or early evening, there’s nothing like that first sip of scotch.’ He could have told me all of the things I did wrong during the day with sales presentations or with corporate meetings or partners or anything else, but no, he told me that when you hit this point in the day, it’s time to chill, relax, and get on with your life.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

The main thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out how to leverage all of our skill sets and address the requirements that our customers are giving us. If you think about how media is created today, compared to five years ago, the pace of change in the way media is produced requires a lot from a company like us. We’re really having to stay ahead of that curve from a technology perspective. Dave White, our Chief Product Officer is constantly looking for ways to make our product and platform work while addressing those changing needs. I also don’t want to disappoint anybody. We have a lot of great customers and a lot of great logos, and I’m busy making sure that we don’t miss out on those opportunities to do a bang up job for those customers.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to this success?

Grit and growth is what drives every successful business. With a focus on growth, you start to backfill everything else that needs to happen within the company. You can point your whole company at that Northstar which is the growth number and then say, ‘Hey, team, how do we get there?’ We’re not on about cutting costs, we’re thinking about ‘How do we grow’. As long as you have that growth mindset, and you can make investments that are intelligent, you’ll succeed. A lot of people get a little bit out of whack and say ‘Here’s a really cool idea. Let’s go develop it.’ It could be the coolest idea in the world, but if it’s not going to help your company grow, you’re going to run out of cash and you’re going to crash and burn. We focus on what we’re going to invest in that’s going to help us grow the company.

What advice would you give to somebody entering the industry?

Don’t stop learning. You spent the first 18-24 years of your life learning how to learn and developing this ability to be a sponge. How do you take that and leverage that and continue to learn and apply things to your life? The guys at Google went to school, they learned how to write code, but what they did with their lives had nothing to do with school, it had everything to do with learning what was going on around them and making the biggest impact in their business. Open your eyes, learn, and leverage your abilities to create something new.

To learn more about the man behind this advice, tune into Episode 25 of the Executives Unpacked podcast here

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