What It Takes To Earn A Reputation As A Game Changer
Listen to Episode 137:
Episode 137 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement, Inc. − Enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott!
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris! I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Inc. And right across from me as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott!
Scott Harper: Hey, there, Pam! It’s great to be joining you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. And, as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to their next level of game-changing innovation growth and success.
Now, Pam, it’s one thing to want to change the game, as we talk about, but it’s really something else to earn a reputation as a game changer.
Pam Harper: Yes. It requires not only visionary thinking but the ability to bring people together in new ways to create an environment that enables them to make big things happen. Now, not just once, but on a sustained basis year after year. That’s why we’re pleased to be having a conversation today with the visionary CEO of a company that has been doing exactly that. He is Ari Raivetz, CEO of Organica Water, Inc. Organica is a global provider of innovative biological waste-water treatment solutions.
Ari has nearly 20 years of experience in finance, corporate strategy, marketing, and public and private equity investing. Before joining Organica, Ari was head of Water Private Equity Investments, for R&K Capital, a pioneering environmental investment firm. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Board of Organica, Ari has served on the board of various portfolio companies in the water sector. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree from the George Washington University and an MBA degree from Yale University School of Management. You can read much more about Ari by going to growthignitorsradio.com Episode 137.
Organica Water has won multiple awards over the years. This has earned them a reputation as game-changers in their industry. Most recently, the New Jersey chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth selected Organica to be honored with a corporate growth award. And Ari will receive the award on behalf of Organica and participate on a CEO panel at the 2018 ACG New Jersey Corporate Growth Conference and Awards on May 8, 2018.
Ari, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio and congratulations!
Ari Raivetz: Thank you, thank you very much for having me.
Pam Harper: So tell us a bit about your own leadership journey and what led you to become CEO of Organica Water.
Ari Raivetz: Sure. I’ve spent most of my career with merging and growth companies. When I graduated from college, I spent about a year trying to start my own internet business, and then I spent the next four or five years working in the enterprise software industry for Venture Capital and private equity-backed companies that were both public and private. After working in the startup world for a while I went back to business school to get my MBA, and when I graduated from business school I had a lot of debt, so I had to go work for a bank to pay back the debt. So I worked for Bank of America Securities as an Equity Analyst there, and I really got interested in energy and the environment.
I actually worked on the team that covered the oil and gas companies, many of which were doing fracking for the first time in the US, which is a technique to get natural gas out and what a lot of people don’t know about fracking is that it really pollutes the water environment. So I started to get really interested in water as an environmental issue and left Bank of America to work at Private Equity for a fund that focused on water and water technology investing. And at that fund, one of the first investments we made was in Organica Water. So I was involved as an investor in the very early Series A financing round for the company. At the time it was just a ten-person startup, and after a few years of doing it as an investor I decided to leave Private Equity and move from New York City to Budapest, Hungary, which is where Organica was originally started, and run the business there.
Pam Harper: So it was started in what year?
Ari Raivetz: Organica’s actually been around for almost 20 years; it was started in 1998. It’s not the most innovative industry − It takes a while! It was started in ’98 in Hungary by an architect and a wastewater engineer. They had been boyhood friends from grade school, elementary school, and the whole idea from the very beginning was if you combine a new architectural concept for a wastewater treatment plan with efficient treatment technology, then you can really change the game.
Scott Harper: So, building on that, tell us a little bit more about Organica Water’s mission and what sets you apart in your industry. It’s an old industry, but Organica’s different.
Ari Raivetz: Absolutely! Our mission is, at its core, to change the way people think about wastewater treatment from something that should be as far away from where I live as possible to something that they’re comfortable with having right in their own backyard. That’s really our mission as a company. If you look at a treatment plant that leverages our technology, it looks like a garden. It’s a beautiful, odor-free, botanical garden that you wouldn’t even realize if you drove past it on your way to work or school that it was treating wastewater. We have more than 100 of these plants all over the world, and they treat wastewater at a much, much lower cost because you don’t need to bring the wastewater away from where you live to some remote location and treat it. Most of the wastewater treatment plants in the world are these ugly, smelly things.
Scott Harper: So if you make it more attractive, you can reduce the distance, and that cuts the cost of sewage.
Ari Raivetz: Yeah. 90% of the cost of treating a gallon of wastewater is in the pipes. Only 10% is the treatment process. When you look at where most of the private equity money or R&D money from big corporates has gone, it all goes into that treatment process, and they’re only solving 10% of the problem. The other 90% is the fact that we build these ugly, smelly things and nobody wants to live near them. We all populate in a community; we all want to live close to each other, and land value goes up, and nobody wants to put a wastewater plant there, even though we create all the waste there. So we have to bring it out of the city, out of the community and that costs a lot of money. Organica flips that idea upside-down and basically says, “you can do it in your backyard.”
Pam Harper: So, what do you see as the challenge of accomplishing your company’s mission?
Ari Raivetz: The first ten years the company was purely a Hungarian company, and then when I got involved with the business first as an investor and then almost eight years ago as the CEO, we started marketing the technology outside of Hungary to the rest of the planet. And the challenge everywhere is changing a paradigm that has been in place for 100 years, which is, if you go to school and you’re taught to design a wastewater treatment plant, you’re taught to design a big, smelly, civil structure, and you’re taught not to care about what it looks like and to locate it pretty far away from the community. Everywhere we go, we have to change that behavior dynamic. We have to get people to think about the economic benefits, the societal benefits, and the social benefits of having that happen closer to where we live and work.
Pam Harper: So it’s a real cultural shift all the way around, for a variety of stakeholders, right?
Ari Raivetz: Absolutely, absolutely. There are a lot of good reasons to do it, from and economic perspective, you save all that money on the pipes, you can protect the land value, about half of our business is actually taking an old plant and converting it into this beautiful oasis. And when you do that you see a significant uptake in the land value, so that’s also something that’s a good driver for it.
One of the biggest ones, most recently − I don’t know if you’ve read at all about what’s happening in Cape Town, South Africa, but they’re running out of water. They have no water; they’re gonna shut the taps off in July. And they have this great source of water in their wastewater treatment plants. Not to drink or consume, because only 2% of water is actually potable; is actually consumed by people. But for air conditioning, for irrigation, for cooling, for manufacturing − today, we use drinking water for that stuff. The same water we drink, we’re using for all those other purposes, and that’s just not economic, and when you have water scarcity issues, it’s not sustainable in the long run. By putting treatment closer to where we live, we can really change that dynamic and recycle the wastewater for cooling or irrigation or all these non-potable purposes. That’s a big part of what we do as a company.
Scott Harper: So you’re really about making the world a better place.
Ari Raivetz: Absolutely. One of our core values is what we call “impact,” and it’s not just about one plant, but it’s about really spreading this idea and this concept so that the next generation, my kids’ grandkids will live in a world that’s a lot more sustainable and has a much better carbon footprint and climate impact than the world we live in today.
Pam Harper: We’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more with Ari Raivetz, CEO of Organica Water about lessons he learned for shaping a culture that earned his company a reputation as a game-changer. Stay with us!
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement, Inc. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com, and we enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of game-changing innovation and growth.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me, and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Ari Raivetz, CEO of Organica Water, about how he and his company have earned a reputation for being game-changers. Ari, how can people find out more about you and your company?
Scott Harper: The best way is to use the Internet. Our website is www.organicawater.com. On our website, we have case studies, videos, and we even have a design software that you can use if you’re in the industry to see what one of our treatment plants would look like for your particular case or application.
Pam Harper: And you can find out more also in the “Resources” section for this episode by going to growthignitersradio.com and selecting “Episode 137.” Ari, we were talking before the break, about the tremendous paradigm shift that had to take place in terms of how people thought about wastewater treatment. What was the epiphany that led you to realize that for Organica to earn a reputation as a game-changer, the culture of your organization would need to transform?
Ari Raivetz: I think it’s always been an innovative culture from the very start in terms of thinking about wastewater treatment in a totally different way, but it wasn’t until I sat down across from a couple of potential customers and I saw the stone wall that stood there with decades and decades of conservative decision-making in this industry and how reticent they were to try new approaches to things that I realized in order for us to be successful and to really disrupt and change this industry, we were gonna have to have innovation as core DNA for the company from bottom to top and build the team that way.
Scott Harper: So how did you decide which cultural characteristics you had to focus on if the organization was going to meet that transformational change?
Ari Raivetz: We actually went through a process about four years ago where we surveyed the team. And we asked the team what core values they felt should be present and more present in their teammates. We call employees Organicans so we have a unique word that we use to describe everybody at the company and so we said what is it that makes an Organican? We went through this process, and it was amazing because we had so many common answers and we were able to group them together and ultimately come up with a set of core values that really define what we look for in a person who’s going to join a company. Obviously, a lot of those are around innovation.
Pam Harper: A lot of times when companies are going through transformation, surprises can pop up. Was there anything that surprised you along the way?
Ari Raivetz: There were some surprises. As we started to implement frequent communication about these values across the team, it started to bubble up to the surface that certain people just didn’t fit into that. There were a few people that had been with the company for quite a while that just weren’t really fitting into that culture. `I think you need a certain kind of flexibility to be able to drive this kind of change. There were some things that were kind of surprising in terms of people that just didn’t fit that you might have thought would have fit.
Pam Harper: Well that frequently is the case. You’ve got a lot of different people with a lot of different points of view, and everyone has to come together to make the transformation work.
Ari Raivetz: Absolutely. Just to build on that, I think diversity’s something we really embrace. It’s one of those core values, so we like diverse viewpoints, but we need people to be flexible. If you’re gonna innovate, you have to be able to change. I’ve once read a definition of a startup; what is a startup company? And a lot of people think of a startup as a young business; they define it by the size of the company. We actually define what a startup is by our culture. And what we say is that if you’re trying to introduce something new, there’s gonna be uncertainty. You’re gonna be living in a world of uncertainty, right? The way you adapt to that uncertainty is what determines whether you succeed or you fail. And the way you adapt is through your team. Do you have the right team that’s flexible enough and can adapt on the fly, to be able to figure out whatever is needed to introduce that innovation to your industry?
Pam Harper: Oh, absolutely. You are singing from the same songbook! We are right with you on this. Now I understand that you refer to a culture of systemic innovation. Can you tell us what you mean by that?
Ari Raivetz: It means that it’s okay to make mistakes. I think that’s the biggest thing. If you are trying something new, and you’re trying to introduce something new into an industry, you’re gonna fail. Failure is part of the process. To build a company that can innovate and succeed at introducing something new, you have to accept that fact. That’s easier said than done because it means you have to create a culture where people feel that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fail. The key is, do we learn from it? Can we systematically document what we’ve learned from it and then scalably implement that in the organization so that we don’t make the same mistake twice and keep learning and we keep getting better until, eventually, we’re successful at what we set out to achieve?
Scott Harper: Absolutely. It’s what we refer to, Ari, as an experimental mindset. You’re not failing; you’re doing experiments, learning from them, and iterating on them. And that’s very exciting.
Ari Raivetz: At Organica, we always say that it’s better to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission. That means we hire people because they’re smart, because they’re innovative, and we want them to try new things. We don’t want them to sit around and wait for a manager to say “okay, do that”, but give it a shot. If you make a mistake, that’s okay. Tell us what you learned, and we move on to the next thing. To be able to be fast and learn quickly, you have to have that kind of culture. You have to build that in from the top down so that everyone understands that it’s okay to embrace failure like that.
Scott Harper: One of the things that we’ve found over and over is that when you have this culture and this value of ‘everybody’s an innovator’, everybody is coming up with ideas and experimenting, one of the things that leadership really has to manage very carefully is how do you have that distributive innovation and yet have a coordinated outcome so that people aren’t banging into each other or countervening each other?
Ari Raivetz: Absolutely, and it’s just one of the main ingredients there, and that’s a challenge we face every day, and we continue to face it. And we continue to fight against it. We have a pretty geographically dispersed team, too. That always adds to these elements. I think that the frequency and consistency of communication is just critical when it comes to that. I’m a big business process person and from the early days even when it was 20 employees eight years ago when I became the CEO of the company we put business processes in place where we have frequent communication, transparency of information, and repetitiveness, so that as we add more people in different geographies we’re repeating the same things over and over again and that’s actually pounding that message home.
Pam Harper: So process isn’t a four-letter word for you?
Ari Raivetz: No, definitely not! Definitely not. You can innovate with process!
Scott Harper: We agree with you on that as well, Ari.
Pam Harper: Yes, absolutely. So, how did you nurture the trust? It takes a lot to have the transparency. It’s one thing to say it, a lot of people say “we’re transparent.” You’ve done it. What did you do to help people to feel that trust with each other?
Ari Raivetz: I think the biggest thing is consistency. For example, we have a weekly email, which is almost like a newsletter that goes out to all the employees of the company, every single week. What it is, is really a collection of inputs from the various department heads and leaders on what their main accomplishments were for the week so each of them sends that information in to our COO and he compiles that. Since it’s me, I add some to it. But every week, they’re getting consistent information. We’re following up on things. We’re very transparent in terms of both wins and losses, successes and failures. That’s always there. That’s like an anchor point that people can come back to.
Another thing that we do is every Monday morning we ask our sales people, our product managers, engineers not to travel on Mondays and we have a video meeting across all the geographies where we coordinate the main issues for the week. That’s also a pretty consistent thing where every week of the year except maybe Christmas and one week in August we don’t have it. That’s another thing that’s helped build trust. We do Town Hall meetings, and when we do the Town Halls we publish the questions that everybody asks a week before so that everybody can see them, and that way we can’t avoid the hard questions. We just have these meetings, and we answer the questions as best we can, with as much transparency as we can. I think all of those things go to build trust, but it takes a lot of patience and consistency to get there.
Pam Harper: What are you most proud of since you’ve been leading the transformation for Organica Water to be a game-changer in your industry?
Ari Raivetz: Definitely the team that we’ve built. I spent a lot of my time on the team and making sure that we have the right people that they’re incentivized properly, that the culture is communicated clearly to them. It’s a pretty incredible team. Very passionate about what we do, and I think to bring this kind of change to an industry you have to have passion. It is a really special group of people. I always say that it’s not a company or a technology or a strategy or a culture that is gonna determine your success or failure. 80% of the determination of whether you’re gonna succeed or not is the people. It’s the team. A company’s really just a collection of people. We determine our own outcomes, and we have to figure out what the market’s telling us and adapt. We have to learn from our mistakes and adapt and keep adapting. This is just a really great, resilient, special team that we’ve built.
Pam Harper: And that’s why you’ve earned a reputation as a game-changer. We are going to take another quick break, and when we come back, we’ll talk more with Ari Raivetz, CEO of Organica Water about immediately actionable ideas for your company to earn a reputation as a game-changer. Stay with us!
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Brought to you by Business Advancement, Inc. On the web at businessadvance.com
Pam Harper: We’ve been talking about what it takes to engage everyone in a company to create and bring to life game-changing innovation that brings amazing new value to the world. Along with the energy and potential this brings to a company comes the need to ensure that all the moving parts come together for greatest effect. After all, the faster your company’s transforming and growing, the more challenging it can be to ensure that everyone’s visions and efforts are in sync.
Scott Harper: So that’s why we’ve created our special assessment. Five questions to ask when you need to move even faster. It’s a perfect perspective builder for fast-moving C-suite leaders who need to meet current commitments and move fast enough to respond to new opportunities. Our questionnaire will help you find out where to begin to focus your energy and resources so that what should be happening in your company really is happening. Faster and more effectively.
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Scott Harper: So go today to growthignitersradio.com and select Episode 137. Scroll down to “Resources” and check the link “Download 5 Questions to Ask When You Need to Move Even Faster”. And to learn more about our success stories, go to businessadvance.com, client results.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Ari Raivetz, CEO of Organica Water about how he and his company have earned a reputation for game-changing innovation and growth.
Ari, can you remind us how people can find out more about you and your company?
Ari Raivetz: Sure. You can visit our website, www.organicawater.com and check out videos, case studies. Lots of information out there on our website.
Pam Harper: And also, if anybody is in the New Jersey area who’s listening, on May 8, you can see Ari receive his newest award by going to the Corporate Growth Conference and Awards for ACG, New Jersey, by going to acg.org/newjersey and you’ll see more information about the conference. So, let’s talk about some of the immediately useful ideas for anybody who wants to change the game in their company to do so. Let’s talk about, for instance, the kinds of messages about systemic innovation that you’ve found to be most important to repeat in order for them to be embedded in the hearts and minds across your organization.
Ari Raivetz: I think there’s a couple of things that companies can do that are immediately actionable. One is to spend more time in meetings that you don’t normally go to and see how managers are speaking with the team. What’s happening? Is there a blame game going on? Is there finger-pointing going on? Or is it more a productive discussion around ‘what can we learn from that? What happened, why did it happen, what can we learn from it, how do we move forward from here?’ There’s a huge contrast between those two things, and I think when we started to implement this I had to spend a lot of time in those kinds of meetings and then other senior leaders in the company started to do the same. It took time for this idea to spread down across the organization, ‘let’s not point fingers, let’s focus on what we learned and how we can improve things based on that.’
That’s the first thing and then the second thing is once you learn it, start to develop a system for documenting it and sharing that information across the organization. For example, we implemented something a couple of years ago called “lunch and learn.” One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it, so we had different departments go and prepare to teach the rest of the company from an experience that they had. Some experience that they had where they tried something, and it didn’t work the way they wanted to and what they learned from that experience. We do that once a month at a time zone where everybody can either dial it in on video or attend in person, and it’s been a great thing to help spread information across the company.
Scott Harper: What’s a practical idea that you’re using to reinforce your messages? Because it’s one thing to say ‘it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to trust’, but every company goes through ups and downs. How do you reinforce those messages even when thing get rough sometimes?
Ari Raivetz: Another one of those core values I talked about earlier that we have at Organica is accountability. That really starts with the senior team. When I make a mistake or others in the leadership team make a mistake, we have to own up to that. We have to be accountable for it, and that has to be shared across the organization so that people see that this is something that is consistent from the top all the way through all parts of the organization. We are the example, and we have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. The best way to do that isn’t just with words, but it’s actions and showing those examples and using the right examples to get this message across the team.
Scott Harper: Exemplifying is by far, the most impactful way of reinforcing. Absolutely.
Pam Harper: What kinds of actions would you use to exemplify this?
Ari Raivetz: For example, in meeting or discussion we’re talking about a sale that we didn’t close that we expected to close, the sales leader for the region would take a leading role in that discussion and say, (We call it a post-mortem analysis.) ‘What could I have done differently? If I put myself in the shoes that I was in a month ago, before the decision was made on this sale, what actions could I have taken then that would have produced a different outcome?’ We take those same learnings from that actual experience, and we look at a deal that we’re trying to close two months from now. We say, ‘what are we doing now?’ And picture us in a world two months from now we failed. ‘What could we do differently to avoid that, right?’
Pam Harper: You’re talking about not just taking something that happened, but using it as a springboard for the future. You’ve got a globally dispersed organization, how many people are you now?
Ari Raivetz: We’re 105 employees.
Pam Harper: Spread out all over the world. What is it that you do with technology to bring people together?
Ari Raivetz: There are two main things that we do with technology. We have offices in Princeton, New Jersey, Budapest, Hungary, China, Indonesia, India, we have people in Spain, in Israel; we’re really spread out. We actually also have people in the Philippines and Viet Nam. We’re very spread out! There are two things that we do. Number one is we use the cloud for everything. We standardized on a Microsoft stack many, many years ago, so we share a point. The first day at the company, any employee logs in, they go to share a point, and they see all these tiles with different departments, and we update information there constantly. All the main files, the business processes, the news, everything is up there. That’s our technology-driven medium for communication and consistency. That’s really important to do if you’re spread out and if you wanna make sure you’re sharing consistent information across those different offices or those different people.
The other thing we do is we use video. We use GoToMeeting; you can use Web Axe or Zoom. There’s lots of stuff out there. But seeing someone is massively different than just speaking on the phone. And it’s still not the same as in person, so the other thing we do, it’s low tech, but we travel more. We just spend more money on travel than most companies our size. A lot of innovation has to happen in person, so sometimes, people have to travel not for a meeting, but to be in the office with their colleagues instead of always being on video calls. We use video and travel in almost everything we do.
Pam Harper: So bringing people together in a variety of forms about a variety of messages and learning, all of these things you’ve been talking about are clearly important and have helped you to earn that reputation as a game-changer. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share with us on this topic?
Ari Raivetz: Maybe just one final thought. I don’t wanna make this sound easier than it is. I think it’s been a long journey for us and it continues every day. It’s a lot of hard work. It can be boring repeating the same messages over and over again to different people and different places, but that kind of boring, repetitive work is how you keep consistency and, ultimately, how you reinforce messages within a culture so that things can be uniform across geographies and across different departments in the organization. It is a journey. It continues for us every day. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy. I think if it were easy everybody would innovate.
Pam Harper: It is indeed a journey. Ari, thank you so much for being our guest today!
Ari Raivetz: Thank you for having me.
Scott Harper: Thank you, Ari. Your passion is clear and inspiring. And we’d like to thank all you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, read Ari’s bio or open a conversation with us, go to growthignitersradio.com and select Episode 137.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to discuss with your team:
Scott Harper: To earn a reputation as game-changers in our industry, what do we have to stop doing — and start doing today?