Jared Tessis of Klass Capital on building a values-driven reputation, focusing on quality relationships and the power of empathy
Jared Tessis is the Head of Talent at Klass Capital, a private equity firm that acquires and provides growth capital to mission-critical enterprise software companies. Jared has deep experience in accounting, finance and the world of talent acquisition, having started his career in the professional services world at PwC. Jared has an HBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business and is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). Jared is a passionate member of the Toronto Tech Scene.
Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?
Answering that question is really difficult for me to do. I was never someone who thought about where I was going to be in ten years. Rather, I’ve always thought about the progression of my career in shorter time allotments which usually span about 2-3 years. The job that I have now didn’t even exist years ago, so it would have been impossible for me to say that I knew I was going to end up where I am today back then. That being said, when I connect the dots in retrospect, things make sense.
Starting out, I graduated from the Richard Ivey School of Business and went on to do my CA while working at PwC. I always excelled in the numbers-based and analytical courses which is why that progression made sense at the time. That experience ultimately became the platform for everything that I’ve done since because earning my CA enabled me to build credibility and get a seat at the table where financial decisions were taking place. I still leverage those skills today in the world of Talent Acquisition and while scaling companies. As an accountant and auditor, you need to always be asking questions and that innate curiosity is a critical aspect of what makes someone successful in my line of work. It just goes to show you that a professional education can be applied in various ways.
What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?
Like most things, there is really no substitute for hard work. If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, his adage around devoting 10,000 hours to something in order to be good at it is more often than not, completely spot on. I’ve never considered myself to be the smartest person in the room, but I was always somebody who was willing to outwork others and put in more effort. Drive, commitment, determination and willingness to always give an “A” effort are important factors in success.
Building your reputation is also something that can’t be overstated and your reputation is ultimately an extension of your values and principles. Throughout life and in the business world, your ethics and values will be challenged and you need to be sure that you are comfortable pushing back in situations that challenge your values and morals. Set boundaries and criteria early, and stick to them no matter what.
With that being said, there is an adage that is commonly used in tech that talks about working smart, not hard. What would you say to that?
There is absolutely no question that we should focus on productivity and not just putting hours into something for the sake of doing so, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about the need for hard work as step one. Technology has done a lot to help us work more productively and efficiently. However, I don’t agree that the effort, determination and commitment which you need to put into an initiative in order to accomplish big goals changes. You can’t just show up and expect to do great things.
You spend a lot of time working with tech CEOs in finding “top talent”. What does top talent look like in practice?
Since the companies that I work with are all high growth B2B Enterprise Software companies, they require a very specific kind of talent. Things move very fast in these companies – so agility and adaptability come to play. As well, since the clients that they sell into are large and complex organizations, there is a particular mix of skills, abilities and experiences that constitute my view around what top talent looks like.
The willingness to take ownership over a project A to Z, and the drive to roll up your sleeves to get something done are central to what I look for in candidates. For the companies that I work with, one needs to take on an entire project and see it right through to the end. I also look for people who have the right mix of strategic business thinking and “get it done” mentality. This is a unique hybrid of skills – both strategic and execution capabilities.
Lastly, I can’t underestimate the importance of empathy. People who have empathy can put themselves in a place where they see the whole picture of a situation. They utilize a broader perspective which results in better customer service and improved business outcomes. Empathy is about understanding where other stakeholders are coming from and being cognizant of the things that might not be said. There is an amazing synergy that happens when you fuse what is conveyed between the lines and what is picked up on by those who possess empathy. Through empathy, employees can often better understand complex challenges, which allows them to go faster and break fewer things along the way.
What does leadership look like to you and how can the next generation start thinking differently about what it means to be a great leader?
There are lots of people out there who have obtained big titles and they suddenly think that makes them a leader. In reality, leadership is not always about titles, it has to do with the way people inspire, motivate and set up team members for success. I think true leaders are supportive of team members and have a way of listening, inspiring and guiding the people around them. When team members feel supported and engaged, they will try new things without the fear of failure. Ultimately, leaders make decisions. Leaders are also often the ones who have to make decisions based on the best data they have at that time – not necessarily the perfect data set.
I think about leadership less like being a Lone Wolf charging forward on their own and more as an experienced individual who will coach, enable and mentor their team to get better and achieve more.
How do you lead your own team?
While at PwC, I was lucky to have been mentored by a few strong leaders. They showed me the importance of deliberateness as is relates to managing and coaching people. I try to spend time with my team members supporting them to accomplish their work. I am always open to questions from my team – they can rely on me for coaching and mentoring. I think it’s important for team members to understand the greater objectives of projects and have sufficient data to get their work done. I try to set them up for success by providing them clear direction and spending time with them explaining objectives and answering their questions.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about working for a high-growth tech start-up?
People often think that technology companies are all about beer, ping pong tables and free snacks. While the environments of these companies are often fun and more casual, they are highly ambitious and hardworking cultures. It’s not just a party. The companies that I work with are growing extremely fast – these fast paced and high energy environments are unique. The pace and dynamic nature can be overwhelming for some. For the right person, this kind of environment can provide a lot of energy for somebody to achieve big goals. Many also don’t realize that each role at a growing technology company is very high impact. Each team member makes a difference and likely interacts with senior stakeholders and customers daily. Each team member contributes a lot of value to the company’s results and accomplishments.
What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead in the marketplace?
A few things come to mind. First, there are no shortcuts. You need to work hard and put in the effort, full stop. Second, make sure to find mentors and learn from others who have more experience. As well, be open to mentoring and coaching more junior professionals and students. Lastly, focus on building meaningful high quality relationships. Our “social media” society makes us think that we need a lot of Facebook friends, Instagram followers, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, etc. but building relationships is about quality, not only quantity. Going into this stage of my career, I’ve realized the importance of nurturing authentic, deep and real relationships.