COOs to know: How behind-the-scenes operators keep Chicago tech running smoothly

April 20, 2017

Behind the world's most successful CEOs are behind-the-scenes operators who constantly work to keep their companies headed in the right direction.

But what does that work actually entail? We spoke with the heads of operations at three of Chicago's most exciting tech companies to find out.


Nick Beil was an investor in Narrative Science before he came on board as its chief operating officer in 2011. To him, one of the keys to getting Narrative Science's culture right has been its efforts to promote from within.

What are the most impactful initiatives you’ve set in motion at Narrative Science?

First, we have embraced a behavioral interviewing process that aligns key traits with our core values. This has enabled our hiring teams to focus on finding people who can help drive and shape our growing culture and ensure that we are staying true to our values.

Second, our practice of empowering and promoting from within has been so valuable. There have been times that we had to go outside the company to fill a key role but overall, we’ve promoted a lot from within Narrative Science. We use talent planning to identify high-potential performers before pushing them to do more. This approach has been very good for the company and for our culture.

Read Nick Beil's full interview here


An architect by training, CraftJack VP of operations Noah Mishkin discovered early on that the entrepreneurial aspects of architecture held more appeal for him than building design did. But upon making the transition to the startup world, Mishkin found that many of the skills he honed in architecture school applied just as well to the day-to-day of running a startup.

How do you build company structures that incentivize good work?

First, if you foster a well-natured environment of optimism, people will want to be there, work hard and produce exceptional results... Second, knowing that your company wants to invest in your growth says they care about you and like having you here.

Finally, not knowing how well your manager thinks you’re performing can be stressful — especially in an operations role. A well thought-out model tied to productivity metrics and key performance indicators is a definite must, and it needs to be made known and clear to the employees being held to it.

Read Noah Mishkin's full interview here


A former consultant and a Harvard MBA graduate, Enova chief operating officer Greg Zeeman spent 15 years in a number of banking industry departments, including sales, operations and general management. In his view, this cross-department experience provides a solid foundation for his current job, which is to constantly look for ways to streamline Enova’s operations.

What are the biggest challenges of running a tech organization?

Technology changes over time. Since Enova has launched new brands over the years, we have businesses operating on different technology platforms. One of our challenges is evolving both legacy and newer platforms into a more cohesive services platform. Thankfully, we have a great team that finds creative and successful solutions when challenges pop up.

What is the most significant change you've introduced as COO?

In the past year, we created a global operations team. This centralized task force is focused on standardizing processes and technologies that can be used across the company. For instance, right now they’re working on taking call center technology that’s been very effective for one of our brands and implementing it across the various lines of business.

Read Greg Zeeman's full interview here...


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