For Alex Brown, agility is everything. The 10th Magnitude CEO and founder has made a career out of expecting what's coming next and acting on it before anyone else. His company, 10th Magnitude, helps companies leverage Microsoft Azure cloud solutions in ways that are more customer-focused, and yes, agile.
We caught up with the busy CEO to discuss how he came to found 10th Magnitude and the many lessons he’s learned along the way.
EMPLOYEES: 100; 52 locally
WHAT THEY DO: 10th Magnitude helps businesses scale and deliver with cloud-based solutions that harness the power of Microsoft Azure.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago
DOGS AND DEVELOPMENT: Every 10th Magnitude employee is given a $4,000 training and conference budget each year. And, while at the office, employees are always joined by office dog, Gilligan.
Alex Brown, CEO & Founder
As CEO, Alex sets 10th Magnitude’s strategy and vision while making sure the team is excited, engaged and growing in the right ways.
BEYOND WORK: Alex is a proud cheerleader for his two kids’ athletic careers and spends a lot of his time in the stands at their swim meets and tennis matches in Chicago and beyond.
It’s been almost a decade since you launched 10th Magnitude. Where were you in your life and career when you decided to launch the company?
I've been in the technology industry for a long time now. I started at a big software development firm that was acquired by Dell and spent seven years there in a variety of roles. Then I spent some time in Singapore, and when I got back, I worked in global solutions development at Dell, leading the team that actually built the solutions our consulting services teams delivered.
It was during that time that I was first exposed to the hyperscale providers were doing in Silicon Valley. A light bulb kind of went on for me and I realized: Holy cow! If we figure out how to make this stuff work this is going to change everything — so I need to go do that.
When I left Dell, I worked for a number of smaller startups in Chicago that were working on products that were precursors to what we’d now call the cloud. I was working at a company on these kinds of cloud solutions when the recession hit — and the company went under. But I saw the potential in the product and decided I’d have to build it. So I started 10th Magnitude.
Tech really looks for and rewards people who are agile or comfortable with ambiguity, working in an environment that is continuously changing.”
Technologies in your field seem to develop rapidly. How do you and the company stay ahead of the curve?
A lot of the company’s technical direction actually comes from within our engineering team. I spend a lot of my time keeping everybody focused on our larger company vision — the goals and outcomes we're trying to drive for customers — while allowing team members with expertise to own their work and drive change. The engineering team has done an amazing job targeting new technologies on the market and identifying which of those technologies will help us to achieve our mission for our customers.
How would you describe the team culture at 10th Magnitude? Has that culture developed naturally? Or is it something you were intentional about and put energy into?
One of the core ideas we have at this company is that if you're not continually innovating and changing, you're going to get left behind. I think it's an offshoot of living in this world where things change so rapidly — if we’re not constantly experiencing, learning and celebrating what's going on, we'd fall behind. So that has quickly become one of our core attributes.
We also spend a lot of our time building a sense of company-wide camaraderie. How do we bring people together? How do we enable the teams to collaborate? How do we enable people across the organization to really enjoy the people they're working with? These are questions that affect and define our product just as much as they do our culture.
What advice would you give a person just entering a career in this field?
I think there are a number of things that people starting off in this industry should try to keep in mind. Tech really looks for and rewards people who are agile or comfortable with ambiguity, who like working in an environment that is continuously changing — the answers that you have today will typically be different from the technology you’ll deploy in two months, in four months, in six months.
One of the key attributes that is really valued today is the ability to continue to learn and adjust, as opposed to folks who are very comfortable learning one thing and then continually honing it.
Tell us about one of your prouder moments in your time running 10th Magnitude.
We have an interesting tradition here, where every summer we fly the whole team to our office in Chicago. We always end with a big boat tour down Lake Michigan, with the whole company on a boat. A few years ago, probably the second year we did this boat tour, we were a much smaller organization — maybe 30 or 35 people.
A couple of people mentioned to me as they were leaving the boat how much they loved spending that time together with their teammates and how important it was for us to have this time together. That was a really important moment for me, learning how important this place is to everybody, and how much of an emotional impact it had for people. That ranks as one of my favorite moments in the history of 10th Magnitude.
What’s one misconception you had about running a company that you’ve since learned was wrong?
When you think about leadership, you often think about executive communications, how to communicate with your team and maintain a sense of transparency. What I’ve learned is that it's probably more important that our leadership team is out there listening than being the one doing the talking. I get so much more from those conversations with employees about where we should be going and what we should be doing than I would ever get from an analyst or competitive positioning.
People are capable of amazing things. As a leader, it’s very important for me to provide an environment that allows them to be amazing.”
What's the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your years leading 10th Magnitude?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my time as a CEO is that people are capable of amazing things. As a leader, it’s very important for me to provide an environment that allows them to be amazing. It’s my job to make sure everybody understands what our mission and vision are, where we're going, and to provide them with the tools and the environment they need to make that happen.
When I started the organization, I probably would have given you a little bit of a different answer and told you it's important for me to make sure everybody knows exactly what to do. But the truth is that they don't need me telling them that. They need to understand what we're trying to accomplish, so they can tell me how we're going to do it.