Speaker Spotlight: Stephen Pappas

Today we're talking with Stephen Pappas,

Head of North American Operations & Senior Vice President at Panviva.

Steve has built a career transforming customer experiences. By taking a 360-degree view of the customer, Steve makes sure each employee has the actionable knowledge necessary to make better decisions and serve customers in a way that increases loyalty, referrals, sales and satisfaction.

In his role with Panviva, the omnichannel knowledge cloud company, Steve consults with hundreds of companies annually on their CX strategies. Industry associations, publications, and Fortune 500 companies invite him to speak and write about CX best practices in healthcare, finance, utilities, insurance and telecommunications.

A successful entrepreneur in his own right, Steve has built and sold six companies. Each company has held to the mantra of “the customer is at the center of the universe.” When he is not driving CX strategy, Steve plays the guitar and mentors young entrepreneurs. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and sons.

We spoke to Stephen about his experience in leadership and how he builds teams to encourage diversity of thought in his own organization.

What is your favorite leadership quote?

I have so many quotes that are not from famous people but from people I admired growing up and that have molded me into the businessperson I am today – my family. I had a father who was an investor in a lot of businesses and he had a mantra that was “Always exceed your customers expectations.”  I had an uncle who owned about 45 food trucks and concessions that used to go to fairs and festivals in the Northeast and Florida in the Southeast.  My dad died when I was young, so my uncle was my next business influencer and probably my biggest.  I learned some old world ways of operating from him.  He was the type of guy who would say “Shake someone’s hand, look them straight in the eye and over deliver what you promise.” Similar thoughts and both very powerful to me.  

I have started six start-ups and in all six I carried those words and those attitudes with me and they have serviced me very well.  I also had a first cousin – he was oldest first cousin and I was the youngest first cousin.   It was funny, we were the same personality – he was in California and I am here – but people would always confuse us because our voice, our mannerisms, and our intonations were just alike.  He was not really a businessperson but he did documentaries for ABC and was a member of the Academy of Arts & Sciences. Prior to and after the wars in Vietnam and Korea, he set up English-speaking radio stations in those areas, especially for the armed forces.  He also set up stations here in the US.  He was not a business person but he used to tell me this one thing all the time,

“You can always find something to relate to every person on earth.” 

Even if I am in a restaurant or on a plane, I chat with everyone.  It is true; you can find something to relate to every person.  

What attracted you to your current industry and role?

I have been in technology most of my adult life.  I got my degree in Management Information Science and got my business degree.  I got in software development right from the beginning.  I have not worked for a lot of companies – I have had start ups – but you can tell from my background that I look for a home.  

A few things are key for me. 

  • A -- I need to be challenged all the time. 

  • B -- I am a creator at heart and have an entrepreneurial spirit so I would much rather be building and creating something rather than managing it.  Others can manage the spreadsheet after but I am the idea guy and like to come up with new things.  

  • C -- It is a respect level.  I look for companies that are known to respect all of their employees and get the best out of their employees.  If those all come together you will see I will be there for a long time. 

I always challenge boards to get rid of me when I am no longer the right person.  In fact I joke with them that I keep an empty box at the ready if a time comes that I am not doing the job to the best that they can get.   So putting the underlying technology aside for a moment, it is really those three things and if I can see them and grow with them, that is what attracts me.  It is much more the make up of the company and the philosophy coming from the top.

What is the most important thing you have learned that has been critical to your career s