CMO Insights: James Thomas, CMO of Solium Capital Inc.

James Thomas

March 18, 2019

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is James Thomas, CMO of Solium Capital Inc. , which was acquired by Morgan Stanley in 2019.

James talks about:

  • How different companies think about equity and how it drives company growth.
  • Equity management software and how Solium’s platform solves problems for both small and large companies.
  • Using data and information to show how marketing impacts the business.

Learn more about James from his LinkedIn profile.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our other CMO Insights Videos or our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to Revenue Marketing Television, the CMO Insights Series. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today as our guest, we have James Thomas, who is Chief Marketing Officer at Solium. James, welcome to the show.

James Thomas:

Great to be here. Thanks Jeff, for having me.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Really, we’re always thrilled to have you. So equity is a big business, right?

James Thomas:

Big business. There’s a lot going on there with one of our customers, just IPO and again today. So there’s this amazing experience of companies go from startup organizations to private organizations and really trying to grow and build infrastructure as they go public. And then you know, we get to work with some of the largest software and and resource companies and natural industries natural resource industries in the world. So it’s it’s pretty fascinating how different companies think about the concept of equity and how it motivates employees and how it drives company growth. And it’s exciting to be a part of it.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I think anyone that’s not in private equity, looked at the Vista transaction with Adobe, from Marketo in awe and envy. Whenever you can make $3 billion in two years.

James Thomas:

Oh, I’ve been rich on paper many, many times as I’ve been in my career. And thinking about the opportunities for growth and how that motivated and, and and, but it’s amazing to see how, you know, as you see companies go through IPO and, and how that changes the, you know, the equity is great, but it changes so much about the organization and what the expectations are from a public company. You know, I think people sometimes envy going back to being private, and certainly we’ve seen some of that in our market recently with like some Marquetto going you know, public and private and then getting acquired. Must’ve been quite a journey for them.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So how does your platform help manage the aspects and then who would be some of the vendors you would compete with?

James Thomas:

Sure. So it’s interesting if you think about what you know, the full platform we’re, we’re trying to do is, is actually pretty simple. You know, you’re a company is trying to share wealth with employees and shareholders so that they can participate in the success of the organization. So at the simplest level, we’re a software platform that allows you to manage that process. So be able to grant equity, be able to track when investing schedules happen eventually be able to make transactions if you’re a public company, or even if you’re a private company, if there’s some type of liquidity event, like a tender offer, be able to manage the plot process and flow. So at once one level that’s a pretty simple challenge. But if you think about actually what happens, and there are so many acronyms in this market, I came from marketing technology background, and I’m fairly new in our company, but you think about all of the form filings you have to do all the sec insider rules, all of the tax regulations multiply that by, you know, where we operate in about 150 different countries where people have different tax regulations and rules.

It’s a very complex system. So being an equity management software is not something you take lightly. It’s something that’s a long-term investment. And so we’ve been able to put this platform together to solve needs for, you know, very small companies all the way up to some of the largest companies with tens of thousands of employees. So our company competes in a space that’s some pretty traditional competitors that have broader offerings companies like E-Trade or fidelity who are offering wealth management services, but also have some software platforms. There are specialist vendors in our market computer share and others that provide a very similar type of products for different markets a car, different smaller Cardiff company in smaller organizations and private market companies. So it’s a, it’s a pretty diverse space, lots of different ways to compete.

And one of the things we’ve seen we’ve done a lot of is around the partner area. So a lot of these big organizations are not software companies, the ones that manage financial transaction for organizations. So it comes like Morgan Stanley and UBS and Barclays in Europe, all partner with us for our, for our software and they can provide their services on top of it. So we’ve kind of got a, a direct competitive space. We’ve got a really strong install base that we drive through. And then we’ve got obviously the partners that can take us to market in different, multiple different ways.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So are you, are you predominantly marketing and selling to, I guess the equity managers or the wealth managers, or do you also target, let’s say CFOs of companies that are, that either are looking to, or actively have private equity.

James Thomas:

Yeah. In a, in a smaller organization, often you’re dealing with founders and you’d be talking directly with them as well, but as you get larger, you start to deal with a CFO and a finance person in a, in the midst of more smaller, private type of company. As you get bigger, there’s a whole industry of, in a whole group of stock plan professionals whose job it is to manage equity plans. So you know, if we think about our from a marketing perspective, you’re really looking at, you know, certainly a CFO financial audience, there could be legal, could be equity plan administrators and often CEO would get involved in a decision like this because this is especially in the area of executive compensation, very, really big topic. As you know, right now, the CEO pay gap and all of those conversations, like many markets, you sell it into a team of people and you want it, and they all have different challenges along the way.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So now you’ve had some interesting opportunities or last few years, I see you worked at Allocadia, you were at SAP business objects, how different audiences, right. So how is marketing here say different compare and contrast to some of the other firms who’ve been at?

James Thomas:

Yeah, it’s interesting. I actually talked to Marcos Lopez, our CEO about a year before I joined. We had a mutual board member friend that connected us just to talk about the concepts of modern marketing and something I’ve been super passionate about is the idea of marketing, being a part creative and part science, the art and science of marketing. And it’s been a real passion of mine through those organizations, as I learned through you know, crystal decisions was very much a product company, business objects, much more of a strong marketing company with people like Dave Kellogg as their CMO at the time, Tracy, either another CMO of an inside view was there. So I learned, I had some great mentors along the way. And then the past few years you see this, this real trend of marketers really needing to be obviously great storytellers, but also really looking at how we’re driving the business, what the revenue opportunities are, where pipeline comes from.

And so the last seven years running eight years, I guess now running marketing teams, understanding that I needed to a broad set of focus on, on the pipeline and understanding, and really acting like a chief revenue officer, but also make, you know, driving the experience from a demand generation side. And then my background is actually product marketing. So pricing, packaging, positioning, and messaging. And so I’ve, I feel like, you know, part of my success has been, I’ve got to see all aspects of marketing and, and in the past few years, I’ve really turned the attention and backed away from some of the product marketing except where it comes to pricing and packaging to focus on how are we driving sales w what programs are being effective, which aren’t and so much has changed in that areas, you know, where people are spending their time and how they’re engaging. So I’m using a lot of data using a lot of information. But still, I think I’m a pretty creative person too. So being able to play both sides, it just is I think, you know, I’m not in the best in any of those areas, but I think I have a good handle on how marketing impacts that is.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So in the way that you described it in your career progression, would you say then that you’re welcoming for generalists also to join your team? Or do you, do you have some specialist, some generalist, or you want, you want people that can kind of do a little bit of everything?

James Thomas:

Yeah. I heard this term called the T shaped marketer. So everyone’s got to know a little bit about everything and have respect for it. Other groups, I often challenged marketers if they especially new marketers to go do sales for awhile, even like, so get some experience outside of marketing. People from product management could have some experience there. I think, you know, so at one level people should understand a lot of different areas, but I have a couple of people on my team that are really deep specialists and things like demand generation programs, some things like that are actually pretty hard to do so really understanding our systems and you know, how our marketing automation system connects to our, our you know Salesforce automation system and making sure we can track and measure results and dashboards and analytics, you know, there’s some special skills there.

But when I joined the organization joined about nine months ago here most people have changed their roles in some sorts. It’s really challenged them to get into a new area or, you know, become more of a specialist. So become more of a specialist in content marketing versus a generalist, become more of a specialist in demand gen versus a generalist. So I’m trying to challenge people to think of their career progression and marketing. I think, you know, there’s a couple of people in my team that I have this potential to take my job. And so challenging them to be think outside of their scope thinking about what a marketing needs to evolve to because you know what, it’s going to change a lot in Alexa as much in the next few years. It hasn’t last few years.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s, that’s definitely for sure. So what do you, what do you think has changed the most over the last couple of years?

James Thomas:

Yeah, well, we talked about it a little bit, was the real focus on, on revenue. And so, you know, there was a, there was this whole conversation. We used to talk about marketing seat at the boardroom. Well, when we start our Mark, our weekly or biweekly leadership meetings, I often the one presenting the pipeline. I probably wouldn’t have happened two, three years ago. I believe so strongly that marketing has a significant role to play in driving revenue, that we need to have a really good handle on it. And that doesn’t mean just like, what programs are we running, but you know, what sales story territories are performing?

What you know, we’ve got recently got involved in some sales training, revamp our sales deck based on a challenger sales model. So really thinking about this concept of not just, you know, asking lots of questions, but we need to be experts and tell people what to do, needs to tell sales, how to define their territories. We need to tell you know, customers what solutions they be should be using. So the shift to beak, nobody has time to do all the discovery as much anymore. We need to support sales. We need support customers. We need to support our team. We use this board, our executives with information, and that’s a big difference from when I first started, where we were really focusing on pricing, packaging, positioning, the four piece type of approach, which was still fundamental, but, but that’s not enough anymore.

Jeff Pedowitz:

It is. But I think my partner, Debbie, she speaks to a lot of business schools each year. And she tells me that isn’t really, it’s not changed dramatically since when summer, when I learned in school. And that that many of the universities are woefully behind and that are preparing today’s students. So why, why do you think that is? I mean, just, I mean, we know we’re, we’re in marketing has changed a lot, but you would’ve thought they’d be at least teaching them some basics about, about the modern way of doing things.

James Thomas:

God, so it’s incredible. I think marketing hasn’t changed since when I ended up at universities hasn’t changed and organizational development and some of the terms they use, but there are some progressive schools out there that have Hey, I’ve done their own work, but I think it’s actually been almost contingent on CMOs and others to teach people how to do this. You get the odd on the job training and, you know, we’ve in my past had quite a number of interns and and others feeling this responsibility to give back. I don’t, I don’t understand you know, why that hasn’t changed generally why the four P’s hasn’t made a difference. I mean, they don’t teach sales and universities much anymore either.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Yeah. There’s only a couple.

James Thomas:

Yeah. And I think that therefore it’s up to corporate the corporate world over to America to actually spend the time to do this, to actually teach people and and drive that knowledge because I think especially things like product marketing, I mean, that’s a real skill and people like prag, pragmatic marketing have done a really good job of that. I know Debbie really well, I’ve talked to her in the past and she’s so passionate about the revenue driven marketer and, you know, using that terminology is, is kind of mind blowing for people coming out of school. I think one of the things I’ve said

Jeff Pedowitz:

Blogging for people that have been out for 20 years.

James Thomas:

Exactly. And then people think marketing then is just all digital or all social. That’s not true either. You know, like if we look at where our success from, like running a great event is still a huge part of our marketing mix, being, doing a data, you know, really understanding data and how it impacts is really part of it. So, you know, we’re looking often for people from different areas, people have a stats background or, or you know, someone who can really understand, you know, psychology and people are where some of the best marketers come from, not necessarily from a marketing, a business goal, even though it happened to have a degree from a business school and in marketing,

Jeff Pedowitz:

That makes a lot of sense. So I think looking forward as the progress you’re making with your team finish this sentence. So a year from now, I want my team to

James Thomas:

A year from now, my team at Solium will truly understand how they drive and impact the business. When I joined the organization, I no offense to anybody. We were doing many, much more what I would call random acts of marketing. So my team would truly become a team. We would understand how corporate marketing team supports the business in the regions, the regions we offer it in a global environment. The regions were really understand what their role is and understanding what their sales counterparts need. And we would do that in a way that we would come to a meeting in a year from now with all of the data that we have, we’ve captured over the past year and, and have a really strong opinion on where we should spend our time. And so we would do a lot less random, random acts of marketing and much more organized and aligned, and that the sales guys would come to us and say, let’s do this, let’s do this together. And, you know, I think we’re starting that path, but we’ve got a ways to go.

Jeff Pedowitz:

I can almost envision a tee shirt, right? You should get it with a RLM with that line through it right now, because for marketers, we have to come up with a slug.

James Thomas:

Yeah. Recently I’ve been here again, nine months, tried a couple of things just to see how our team could really operate. And we, we did a program for our private market teams around tender offers and say, okay, let’s get all the different teams together, sales, content, marketing, product marketing. And we’ve got a bit of a and create a global and then regional executed program. It was kind of a, a test to see how we could work together. And it was amazing what we accomplished. And that was great. And then from a brand perspective, we just did something similar as, as, as much a test, as anything as could we come up with a big idea, big theme, something that could be overarching our product line to talk about something in the industry.

And we created this concept called Stocktober Fest. So if you look at hashtag Stocktober Fest you can see some of the ideas we had is, is not just talk about us, but talk about this industry and why, you know, being an equity compensation is actually a pretty cool thing to do and created more of an industry movement.

And those are most of my big beliefs, you know, at Allocadia in the past, we created the run marketing movement. So really simplify and talk about how marketers had two jobs, you know, run do marketing the creative side and run marketing, understand the business of it. And I was really proud of that program. It created great traction in our industry. And, you know, my mission here is to come up with big ideas and make marketing fun again and make it compelling and change the world and, you know, get everybody on the same page.

And so this is a couple of things we’ve tried and I’m excited about how my team is really grasp onto it and how our organization has grasp onto that. I know how our CEO has been a really challenging me to come up with big ideas, but, you know, not sure, you know, he’s, he’s, he’s really trusting me. And yeah, there’s some times I’ve, might’ve pushed the limits a little bit and, but I feel like he’s got my back to come up with even more big ideas around our brand next year. That’s all

Jeff Pedowitz:

Awesome.

James Thomas:

Yeah.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So happy to see all the success you’ve had. James, thank you for being on the program today, and we’ll have to get you back soon.

James Thomas:

Great. Thanks, Jeff. I really appreciate the time.

Jeff Pedowitz:

You bet.

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