In an interview with Insights Success, Nick Puntikov—Chief Executive Officer of First Line Software, Inc, looks back on his journey and his achievements made so far. His unique ideas and methodologies helped him to pave a pathway for himself as well as for his company.
Insights Success admires such leaders and appreciates Nick’s contribution to the ever-evolving business sector. And, we take pride in featuring him in this special edition, “The 10 Most Inspiring CEOs to Look at in 2020.”
A Brief Intro to Nick
Since he graduated from the university, Nick has served as a technical expert in programming, led scientific research, and held a succession of managerial positions with ever-increasing responsibilities. In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Nick worked for the Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was a top researcher in the field of computational linguistics and natural language processing. Simultaneously, he began his career as a solo entrepreneur by forming one of Russia’s first private software engineering firms that he merged into the international STAR Group in 1995.
Nick impeccably plays his role as the Chief Executive Officer of the organization. He states that he defines the vision, sets the business development strategies, selects key people, jells them into a team, motivates them, takes an active role in closing strategic deals and managing strategic accounts, raises money when required, and represents the company in front of shareholders. Nick’s management squad comprises people who have worked for him for 20-25 years. And yet, the average age of company employees is less than 35 years old.
Influencing aspects of Nick
Below are the three aspects that influenced him in his journey en route to success:
Life factors: When newly born Russia had started its progress towards the market economy, he had three kids and a $20 salary from the Academy of Sciences. As such, it was time for him to make a decision. He had a choice to leave the country and continue as a scientist abroad or to stay and start his own business in new Russia.
People: Nick feels grateful to have met amazing people, and he believes this is the biggest gift of his life. He shares the example of his (FLS) advisors: Richard Soley, the CEO of Object Management Group, and Jeff Sutherland, who invented SCRUM. Both of these men are his good friends and influencers in his professional life. There are many many more with whom he was fortunate to work with during his career.
Books: Nick says that he loves to read a lot. But from a professional perspective, there are a couple of books which had a huge impact on his business and life. One of them is “The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management” by Tom Demarco, and the other one is “Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change” by Kent Beck.
Marching with Core Values
“The vision does not change much year after year,” says Nick. He states that it is a certainty that one must adapt to new market realities and embrace new technologies. Yet, he states that one must never forget his or her core values. For Nick, the company’s clients’ and people are his and the company’s core values. Since the company is in a service industry, FLS puts its client’s interests at the top. It offers a partnership model that provides for sharing its clients’ values and business objectives.
“On the other side of the equation is our people: we invest in their professional growth, and we want them to be happy and proud to work for us,” asserts Nick.
“I am thinking of three: First, from the past: trust and delegation,” says Nick. When he started his company back in the 90’s, he did it all: business development with prospects and clients’, project management for all his projects, accounting, procuring computers and hiring people. At some point, it became clear that it was not scalable. So, he had to learn how to delegate and how to grow his people to take more responsibility without Nick always sweeping up behind them. Secondly, from these days: how to sustain the company culture with growth.
As the company grows, it is more and more important to have formal processes in place, while it is more and more difficult to preserve the human values of the company culture. “So far, it works well.”
Third, from the future: the challenge of an exit. Nick is referring to selling StarSoft back in the year 2007. It was not easy for him and did not work out as well as he hoped it would. “Next time someone comes with an M&A idea, I will be very careful,” asserts Nick. He wants to be sure that every employee in the company benefits from the change of control, not just the founders.
Nick believes the challenge to sustain the entrepreneurial spirit is for people who live in a ‘no-change’ environment. When everything changes so rapidly, an entrepreneur has two choices: keep marching or retire. He honestly reckons it is ‘this changing technological era’ that explains the success of start-up founders who are 50+ years old. New technology is never an issue for him. “When I am getting behind professionally, I hire experts. The spirit is always with me,” says Nick.
He believes that Machine Learning is the new big thing, which holds potential. People sit on gold mines of data, but they are not getting the gold yet. He and his team at FLS built a capability, which allows the company’s clients to take advantage of the abundance of data they have collected. He is especially excited about projects in Healthcare in which FLS takes an active part.
Advice to Rely On
Nick says: “Work. Work hard in your business, and you’ll get it.” “Learn. Use every opportunity to learn new things.” “Build your network. Every person you know has a value (even if you don’t see it yet).”