A Conversation With... Russell Secker: Leader of First Research

He's a true globetrotter... in more ways than one. Russell Secker is currently the leader of First Research based in Austin, Texas and Wilmington, North Carolina. But if you call him, don't expect a slow southern drawl. He's a Texas transplant with a British accent and a brisk but friendly way about him. Spend a few minutes in conversation with him and you realize that, whatever the subject, Secker can probably sift through all the chaff and quickly arrive at the key points. That passion for efficiency spills over to his personal life, where his favorite pastime is running --not just a jog around the block, but serious running. The more you learn about Russell Secker, the more you are certain he's in the right industry. Because on or off the job, Secker is all about streamlining.

Beginnings

His career in management started with college in Warwick, England where he achieved the British equivalent of a Bachelor's degree and an MBA. After graduating, his path took a few turns. First he was a technologist, then a consultant. Next he pursued business development and eventually, general management. From there he started his own consultancy firm. And finally, he joined Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) in 1986 at its New Jersey headquarters. From that point till now, he says, his career has come full circle, though with ever increasing responsibility. Here's why: After several years with D&B in New Jersey, he moved overseas where he served as head of marketing for D&B's Europe office. Always looking for the next challenge, he left D&B in 2000 to open an office for their then-competitor, Hoovers, also in Europe. Two years later, he returned to the United States to take charge of the product, marketing, and editorial teams at the Hoovers head office in Austin, Texas. Then in 2003, Dun & Bradstreet bought Hoovers, so once again he's part of the D&B team. Today he leads
First Research
, a division of Hoovers, while maintaining his responsibility for the company's Editorial team.

What does Hoovers do?

Among other things, Hoovers finds enormous amounts of information that business people need, and then process it down to the salient points. They "push events to the forefront as they occur," Secker says, so that decision makers have all the information they need to do their jobs. They focus in depth on 45,000 companies, and cover 30 million companies in total. Using a combination of methods, including scanning technology, SEC filings, and people dedicated to tracking events, they uncover information that might otherwise take time to filter to the surface.

Hoovers takes mountains of data and puts it into a rapidly digestible form so that busy executives can spend five minutes with the report from Hoovers and learn everything they need to know. "There are ever increasing amounts of information and an ever decreasing amount of time," says Secker. "That's why people need Hoovers. It's like the difference between trawl fishing and spear fishing." With spear fishing, you get one fish at a time. With trawling, you are able to capture many fish at the same time... that's the advantage that Hoovers methodology provides. They save clients time and money by creating business models based on customers with similar characteristics, like profitability and location. Having a successful model and replicating it is an important key to driving business.

Secrets of Success

Secker has learned his share of lessons that have helped him along the way. Considering that in his first seven years in the Austin office, the company's annual revenue has grown from $15 million to over $100 million... chances are, he knows what he's talking about. In typical Secker-fashion, he strips away the fluff and offers a few concise words of business wisdom that others can use to lead their own companies to success:

  • First, it's not enough to focus on either the details or on the big picture. To be really successful, you have to keep your eyes on both at the same time.
  • Take a long look at your processes, and ask yourself, are you doing the right things for your business? Is there something else you should be doing in addition or instead?
  • And... hire nice people to run your company.

Secker recalls how, in his first week at Hoovers he went to a tradeshow for librarians, and got a chance to see his company through the eyes of clients. All through the show, people would seek him out to tell him how much they loved Hoovers. That, he says, has been the essence of his Hoovers experience. It showed him that they were on the right track... focused on both the details and the big picture, doing the right things for the company and the staff, and employing nice people. "We do things in a fun and engaging way, and that works for us. People like the fruits of our labor at Hoovers."

In his personal life, Secker is proud that he and his wife have raised "three successful children," two currently in college and one who is a busy homemaker and mother. Secker's wife is a tri-athlete and he describes himself as an "ultra-runner." This coming spring, he is preparing to literally run across Europe. In 64 uninterrupted days, he will run 45 miles each and every day. That's commitment! For a man like Russell Secker who is all about efficiency, streamlining, and cutting the fat... you'd expect no less.

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