26 Jan

Our 20th Anniversary: Reflecting back

It seems like yesterday when I started Line of Sight…how quickly 20 years have gone! As I sit here and reflect, I can’t help but think “wow do I have a lot to be thankful for!” From the people with whom I crossed paths early on and came with me on this journey, to those who joined in partnership later I am so thankful.

How it all began.

When I was working for Optum I was constantly fighting the push and pull of staying with the security of a large, dynamic organization or jumping off full time into my own gig. During this time, I had several former colleagues and contacts requesting my consultation on various market intelligence projects. Most notable, and when I really got serious about hanging out my shingle, was the frequent requests from Rick E, a former colleague at Deluxe who had moved to another company as CFO. His new company was losing deals they had previously won, and he needed help setting up the capability to objectively monitor and analyze the company’s external environment to make better strategic decisions.

The opportunity to partner with past colleagues and a breadth of great companies was really enticing. But most important, my wife Linda was on board. Without her support and good job with a financial services firm and an excellent health insurance plan, Line of Sight would have never happened. (Which speaks to our antiquated employer-based health care system, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself). 

Everything was aligning! Even Paul K, my manager at Optum, reluctantly but kindly supported me when I ultimately decided to make the jump.

The name.

It came together one early morning on a walk with my dog Pita, a black and white spotted German Shorthair Pointer with amazing energy who kept me in shape and cleared my mind during long walks. On this particular walk I recalled a moment from a few years earlier, where I had been invited to participate in a process innovation project for Deluxe. A small team went offsite to dream up ways to improve a critical sales process. The amazing group facilitator, Joe P, had used the phrase “line of sight” so often in his conversation and instructions to us, that it stuck with me. One process step must always have “line of sight” to the next, he would say. The process should be designed so that the people involved would always have “line of sight” to its purpose and objectives. On that late winter morning, the phrase came back into my head, and after some quick research, that was that and Line of Sight Group was born.

The product.

Early on, the focal point of our offering was a market intelligence software. This was early in the development of cloud computing, but I wanted nothing to do with on-premises applications. Paul E, a former Cray Computer guy, was my guru and introduced me to IT people who could make it happen. Selling a cloud solution to large corporations in the early 2000s was not easy. It was new and raised many concerns for the IT folks, but the business leaders saw the many advantages and helped to push those early sales through.

The service side of our business doing market/competitive/industry intelligence and analysis was also growing and would eventually overtake the software side. I needed help!

The team.

Jennifer Loehr, a trained journalist, came on board early on and has developed into a strong project manager, leading our longest running client engagement. She celebrates 15 years with Line of Sight this year.

Sara Bartholomew joined shortly after. Sara and I had worked together in a market research/corporate strategy group at Deluxe several years earlier and my call to her was timely as she said, “my kids are getting older, and I need something to do!” She brought journalism and MBA degrees and 15 years later she is the voice of reason that keeps us on keel.

With Jen and Sara as anchors, we enlisted several people over the years.

Jennifer Waffensmith had strong experience in mystery shopping and leveraged that experience with the ability to fearlessly interview almost any subject matter expert. After five years of working with our clients, one client calls her “an amazing sleuth.”

Erin Andersland joined us from Target Corp. five years ago and leveraged her MLIS degree and corporate research experience to lead several ongoing client programs and is our ‘go-to’ for hard-to-find secondary research.

Kristi Dale brought her journalism degree, marketing communications and medical journal editing experience to lead several of our health care programs for the last five years.

Teresa Muckala was a long-time friend, having co-managed the local SCIP chapter with me for several years. She also brought a journalism degree and rich experience in medical devices and health care and celebrates four years with Line of Sight Group this year.

(In case you are counting, that is a combined total of 69 years of service to our clients, including me, not counting previous or related experience.)

Wayne Lund joined us as CFO through a referral from Roy O. Roy is the former CEO of a mid-sized organization who graciously acts as a mentor for me over quarterly breakfasts and was referred by Paul E (see above). Our healthy balance sheet is due to Wayne’s oversight and guidance. I worked with Kim Geiser at Optum and am grateful that she agreed to lead our marketing efforts. Several others including Keisha, Sonal, Vivian, Jane and others step in as needed. Still others have joined us and since moved on to other opportunities but have had such a positive impact on our business.

Partnerships with other research organizations have also been an important part of Line of Sight. Doug at the Hedlund Group helps us when clients need help turning the insights we deliver into executable strategy steps. Christen B and David E worked with us to transition our clients to the Intelligence2day market intelligence platform when the opportunity presented itself to provide more features and value to our clients.        

Our growth and gratitude.

I had learned early on in my career from Karen K, my boss when I was with the Deluxe Sales force, to never burn bridges. Besides Deluxe and UnitedHealth/Optum, I had also worked at Jostens doing similar work in market research/competitive intelligence/strategy, and those relationships were vital to getting the business off the ground. From there we grew mainly through referrals and word of mouth. Bill P, former Optum CEO, graciously made several introductions. Cynthia B connected us with several business leaders. Others brought us along with them when they transitioned to new employers. Through the years, our clients, some of whom are among the most respected brands in the world, have trusted us with their deepest vulnerabilities and some of their most sensitive and strategic challenges. And they have given us the opportunity to do very interesting and creative work, and partner with them to solve their challenges. But most importantly it is the individuals, the amazing people within the organizations who have made it all worthwhile.

In the end, while we have in place the right skills, processes, tools and culture to be successful, 20 years in business with Line of Sight is about people – the people who have influenced me and leant their advice, those who have worked with me to serve our clients or with whom I’ve partnered, and those who have trusted us with their business. For all of them, and many not mentioned here, I am truly grateful.