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06 March 2006  
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Home - Technology Life - Article

Hot Seat

Making a mark

Mark Stiffler, the Founder, President & CEO of Synygy, shares with Priya Jain his formula for entrepreneurial success

Mark Stiffler

The renowned American author, poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once said, “Wise men put their trust in ideas not in circumstances.” Mark Stiffler, Founder, President & CEO, Synygy, is among those who pursues this belief in life. Says Stiffler, “From the very beginning I have been very stubborn about my dreams.”

From a very young age Stiffler wanted to start his own company. He was in fact the only one from his family who went to college. Destiny paves the way to success for those who are determined, and Stiffler was no exception. He received an MBA from the prestigious Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Bachelor Degree in Civil Engineering (Project Management) and Management Information Systems from MIT.

He started his career in the late 1980s as a management consultant. He worked in two small agencies, namely Strategic Management Group and Pugh Roberts International. During his work as a consultant, in one of his consulting projects he was asked to teach sales people to analyse data. It was then that he realised that sales people were good at marketing but you could not expect them to be analysts. This realisation was the initial brainwave for him that resulted into the master-idea for starting his own company. The master-idea was to provide a solution that could analyse data and automate that process.

Stiffler pitched on this idea and started looking for customers. IMS (a Dow Jones company) was convinced with his concept and gave him his first contract. Says Stiffler, “We provided IMS with our first product, Automated Data Evaluation Processes and Tools (ADEPT), an automated data analysis tools. And, the sign of its success was the other companies that followed suite like Key Pharmaceuticals, Sche-ring Plough, Wyeth, Johnson & Johnson.”

Founded in 1991 by Stiffler, Synygy today has over a decade of experience helping companies turn performance management into a source of strategic advantage. Based in suburban Philadelphia, with operations in Phoenix, Romania, and India, Synygy was recently named among the ‘Philadelphia 100’ for a record ninth time in a row. With nearly 500 employees, Synygy has implemented hundreds of performance management plans and manages these for tens of thousands of professionals in many organisations, including Pfizer, Siemens, GE Lighting, Saxon Capital and HP.

I had no intention of playing the shoemaker’s child. I knew that our success would depend on how well we practised what we preached and on how effective we could be in achieving ambitious organisational goals

Stiffler concedes that while achieving success is never easy, being in that position is tougher still—one has to be alert at every step. To create an engaged workforce, he is very focussed on nurturing the right work culture in his organisation. “As the Founder, President, and CEO of Synygy, a sales effectiveness, incentive compensation, and performance management solutions company, I had no intention of playing the shoemaker’s child. I knew that our success would depend on how well we practised what we preached, on how effective we could be in achieving ambitious organisational goals and continuously improving the performance in all aspects of the business.”

A firm believer in the ‘bonus culture’ he asserts that it should be incorporated in every organisation. “We only hire the best people and give them responsibility a little more than their capability, and reward them when they achieve it,” he points out, adding that the goal is to create a differentiation betw-een the good performers and the bad performers, by giving the good ones bonus. This will make the bad performers realise that they don’t deserve more. “This differentiation not only increases competency but also helps in creating employee recognition and participation,” adds Stiffler.

Talking about the organisational structure, he adds, “We have a flat structure in our organisation and a 360 degree evaluation culture, where anybody in the organisation irrespective of their position can evaluate another on his performance and behaviour with others. So it becomes the employee’s responsibility to make himself a better performer.”

His success in creating and leading Synygy’s growth won Stiffler the prestigious Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Ernst and Young. He is also an active member of Young Presidents’ Organisation (YPO), a group of 8,000 chief executives under age 50 from 75 nations.

There are many other factors that reflect his zeal in life. “I like travelling to places where I can contemplate and think. One such favourite destination is Bali in Indonesia, which is a very peaceful place. I am now writing a book on performance management, and places like Bali rejuvenates my spirit,” says Stiffler. He is also a frequent speaker on the subject of performance management and a long-time guest lecturer in entrepreneurial marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

During one of his lectures he asked his students, “What do you need to start a company?” Everybody came up with different answers, like concept or courage. The real answer evaded all, till Stiffler said, “You need customers to start a company.” As a lecturer, Stiffler always likes to share his real-life experiences with students and enlightens them with ideas that might some day help them to realise their dreams.



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