Laila Partridge’s extensive career has been filled with executive positions in tech companies of various sizes and stages of growth, and based on her 30 year career that includes being a Fortune 100 top executive in companies like Intel and Wells Fargo, she knows what’s needed to build a startup into a market leader.
That’s why she was so attracted to WegoWise, an energy analytics company that, since 2010, has accumulated the largest database of affordable housing utility data in the world. Partridge joined the company this past April as a consultant, and soon after was given the opportunity to take the helm as the CEO.
At the outset, she was attracted to the exciting nature of a high-tech startup that’s scaling quickly, and she felt especially confident that she could take the CEO role in the company based on her prior leadership roles and entrepreneurial experiences.
She was particularly drawn to the position because it was an operating role that drew upon her specific strengths. Also, she would be leading the company through a transition from a startup where the founders handled many roles to a more defined infrastructure serving as a platform for growth. Key to this would be the introduction of new processes into the existing culture to support the ongoing growth.
“I believe in adaptive leadership,” said Partridge. “In a fast moving market, it’s important to utilize all resources in an organization.”
For Partridge, this means guiding the venture through a stage where utilizing every individual is key. This entails putting the right talent in place, decentralizing the work and letting individuals specialize in the areas where they’re most confident.
“In leadership it’s all about seeing possibilities and encouraging others to create solutions, while providing sufficient organizational structure so that those ideas from wherever they come from attain fruition,” Partridge explained.
But to ensure the success of this strategy, she made sure the entire team was on board with the transition.
“You can’t impose it on them,” said Partridge. “They have to decide to do it with a new leader, so the first step is ensuring a strong working relationship with team members and making sure they understand what the process will entail.”
She stresses that her leadership style isn’t autocratic, but rather focused on engaging all the resources on every level of the organization. From there, Partridge describes good process as doing the “blocking and tackling of basic operations” that provides management with the insight to make daily tactical and strategic decisions.
“You need to have an ability to really measure not only what is happening with sales and expenses, but to have the kind of metrics in place that represent the underlying operation,” said Partridge. “Then, there’s the opportunity to understand it, improve it and have a way to measure whether the process is really working or not.”
However, Partridge says building infrastructure must often be done in “fits and starts” because as a venture passes through different stages of growth it requires different operational support.
“Change can be disruptive and disconcerting, so what I try to do in these transitions is guide the team to where they want to be.”
She believes in the power of the individual’s creativity, and letting them take their own risks. Of course, she says, at times this means failure, but Partridge says that trying and failing is not the true problem, but rather, it is failing and not learning from it.
From there, communication plays a critical role. For instance, during the transitional growth process, someone who previously had 2-3 functions now may only have one. Strong communication and transparency is crucial for success by explaining how each process is happening, explaining the critical elements of each person’s role, and also providing a roadmap moving forward. This strengthens cross-functional collaboration that supports a growing product and customer base.
“The transition requires talking to the team and the organization every step of the way,” said Partridge. “[We say], ‘This is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,’ then reinforce it.”
Partridge puts this philosophy into action in multiple ways. As a leader, she makes sure her company knows that HR isn’t just for hiring and firing, but also for developing an organization and housing its values. They’re the ones that set the precedent for questions like ‘How do peers talk to one another?’ or ‘How does a manager talk to someone who works for them?’
She also stresses the importance of involving founders in the execution of plans. WegoWise’s founder, Barun Singh, is very involved with the company’s development, and has built the organization around a specific set of values on which the leadership team makes forward looking decisions.
For example, WegoWise is a mission-driven company, and their mission is to reduce the amount of energy use in buildings through data. Partridge notes that the vast majority of employees joined the company because they’re passionate about the mission, which she believes gives them an advantage over companies driven purely by profit.
“Individuals come to work and want to achieve and go the extra mile,” Partridge said.
She has a high respect for WegoWise’s unique and productive culture that she first experienced as a consultant. Now as CEO she sees her role as making sure everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the company while important new infrastructure and processes are put in place to achieve the company’s mission.