‘It’s not control and command’: Changepoint’s Matt Scheuing on the mythology of the CEO

Matt Scheuing, CEO of Changepoint, hiking Washington’s Mount Si with his daughter. (Photo courtesy of Matt Scheuing)

What do companies working on project and business management, navigation technology, tax preparation, documentation automation software, on-demand transportation, telecom services, and speech recognition have in common?

Nothing, really. Except that Matt Scheuing has held leadership roles at all of them over the course of his career, most recently becoming CEO of Seattle-based Changepoint in 2016.

And how does one repeatedly jump sectors, hopping straight into CEO and president positions? Scheuing half-jokingly credits “the motivational power of sheer, abject terror.”

Kidding aside, “I love learning about businesses and going into a new vertical is such a great mental challenge,” he said. “It’s a crash course that you put yourself on. You’re learning things fresh and you’re motivated to learn as quickly as possible, and you approach it from a different perspective.”

In some ways, Scheuing spent his childhood training for just such a career path. Scheuing is a German-native, and his dad worked for a multi-national company. The family relocated about every four or five years, living in countries including Mexico, Canada, Italy, Belgium, and the U.S. He recalled moving to Mexico City in elementary school and feeling that he had about six months to adapt and become fluent in Spanish, or risk schoolyard harassment.

Matt Scheuing, CEO of Changepoint. (Changepoint Photo)

When he landed at Changepoint four years ago, it was trying to meld into a unified business after acquisitions had united three different companies.

“It’s really hard to pull those cultures and teams and visions and outlooks together,” he said. Some integration had taken place, but more work was needed. He hit pause and rewind in their trajectory in order to reset Changepoint’s vision as an enabling partner to other businesses. It’s difficult to slow down that momentum, but it was an important step to take, he said.

“About a year ago we largely left behind the ‘perspiration’ work of bringing things together and moved on to ‘inspiration,’” Scheuing said. “We’re doubling down on innovation and I’m excited about what’s ahead.”

Last week the company of about 200 employees internationally announced the release of a suite of updated software for project management and analytics.

With his chain of leadership roles, Scheuing has firsthand insights into the job of CEO.

“A lot of the mythology of the CEO is overblown — that you are all-controlling and all-knowing and quick and decisive,” he said. “It makes it look almost cartoonish. The modern CEO role is just as much a servant and enabler as a leader.”

It’s not control and command, said Scheuing. “You are building culture and teams, and building an environment where people can be successful.”

We caught up with Scheuing for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: British Airways, BA 53 (the London-Seattle tech shuttle), somewhere between the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

Computer types: Like a chef with an over-assortment of knives, I use a MacBook Pro and a Mac Air running both Windows and MacOS, a nice big iMac, and a Surface, and a big hunk of cloud storage to keep it all from going pear shaped.

Mobile devices: iPhone X (still with a pristine screen!), iPad Pro — especially since it beats a laptop for discreet note-taking in customer meetings.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: OneDrive keeps things together, Zoom — with Changepoint’s seven office locations around the world — is always on. Yammer and Slack to keep tabs on culture and vibe. PowerPoint, as I speak in pictures.

Scheuing’s office has a lackluster view, but provides better access to employees. (Changepoint Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? When I joined Changepoint, I needed to get my arms around the existing culture quickly, so I chose a central office over a corner office so I could get maximum traffic and interaction right outside my door. I have a “beautiful” seventh-floor territorial view of the urbanity that is Spring and Third Avenue (we like our tech teams to be inspired, so they get the water views). My whiteboard is a mess, and my desk is covered by a remarkable amount of paper, notable for a software-type who has espoused digital workspace, process and content tools for two decades. Our offices around the world tend to be open-style, no-fuss, although we just installed a stunning, bright-red Marzocco espresso machine here in Seattle. It requires a training video and certification, somewhat reflective of our project domain obsession.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? I keep it simple by not over-stressing about it, and I try to have a clear sense of prioritization on both. There’s a natural rhythm to work and life, and it helps to stay flexible. That may mean working a couple of early hours in the morning on a vacation to keep the rest of the day clear, or taking a spontaneous early evening to catch up with an old friend.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Mostly LinkedIn as it helps me keep up-to-date with so many previous professional alumni in my network. I also use it to keep in touch with our customers to see what they’re working on, in their words. Other than that, Instagram for keeping up with friends (and the Sounders) and Twitter only as a customer service tool as I don’t need the cacophony otherwise.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? I use my inbox to manage backlog, never below 100, and never above 200 or I get nervous. I’ve never had to declare email bankruptcy.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 32, typical for a post-travel week

How do you run meetings? Prepped agenda built collaboratively, participatory, focus on facts and not opinions masquerading as such. Sprinkle in a decent amount of humor, appropriate and otherwise, and 5% “Lord of the Flies.”

Everyday work uniform? Smart casual, as the Brits would say. I pick up much of my clothing at airport layovers in duty-free shops, which may explain why I have so many blue Boss pants. Oh, and as my marketing team reminds me, I have a disturbing amount of Uniqlo puffy vests.

How do you make time for family? Especially with an extensive travel schedule, I try to think in advance and create and protect occasions small and large. I also believe travel — a change of scenery in smaller confines — is good for family life. So although the last thing I usually want to do is get out of town again, we find it works for us. With that and sunk costs (season tickets to sports, arts, etc.) there’s a disincentive to cancel.

Does it get wacky sometimes? Sure! I remember my daughter’s soccer team making it to state cup and having out-and-back trips to Dubai, Tianjin and Amsterdam three weeks in a row. But I did NOT miss a game.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? When I’m home I head to the mountains to ski, hike, bike — except in mud season, then it’s tricky. I exercise early every morning so by the time I hit the Interstate 520 parking lot, I’m still in Zen mode.

What are you listening to? I have a fairly wide range, which means I’m probably stumping Spotify’s algorithms somewhere. I’m always adding artists to my list and currently have Steady Holiday, Grimes, XTX and a bunch of “inputs” from my kids on rotation. That’s interspersed with a lot of Ultravox, Morrissey and Rush … it’s complicated.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Wall Street Journal 10-Point (a curated list of top stories), Fortune’s Term Sheet and CEO Daily, Der Spiegel to keep tabs on the homeland, GeekWire, Engadget, and I start every morning with coffee and an analog edition of the Seattle Times.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Finally got around to reading “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou, a reminder that reality is often crazier than fiction — especially if you confuse the two. Next up is Josh Linkner’s “The Road to Reinvention.” He was at our customer conference, but I was so busy prepping my presentation that I didn’t fully catch his keynote. Anyone who fervently believes Detroit can and will reinvent itself deserves a listen.

Night owl or early riser? I’m a natural night owl, but have forcibly retrained myself to be an early riser, so that’s not good for the sleep math, I guess.

Where do you get your best ideas? Tough one, and they’re not usually MY best ideas; I’m more the curator. I pick stuff up everywhere and jot things down continuously. I’m out and about quite a bit, which means I get to riff on ideas from team members, customers, at industry events and sometimes just from letting the mind wander (which is why I always have my phone with me because if I don’t note it down, it may not get recalled).

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