013 – Ted Kwartler – Emotional Intelligence in Action

Director of Customer Success - DataRobot

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Ted Kwartler has worked across the spectrum of corporate America – from an iconic dot com success, to a hundred year old financial institution, to his current role in a VC funded start up.

Ted also happens to be someone who embodies the essence of Emotional Intelligence.

Listen in as someone with a gift for personal reflection and awareness of others talks about his leadership philosophy, the lessons he’s learned, his terrible mistakes and his hopes for the future in this episode of the Team Guru Podcast.

Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

Ted’s title is Director of Customer Success. He says it reflects the growing understanding that successful businesses place the needs of their customers at the centre of everything they do.

Start Up

Culture is key – the demanding nature of a Start Up means that people often self-select out of the organisation – and that is healthy.

Bald Hairy Aggressive Goal – usually in a Start Up is all about the money that can be made. That’s a feature of a VC backed project – because it’s simply an investment for them.

Ted’s management philosophy has been based on treating people with integrity and respect. In the Start Up environment that philosophy has been challenged.

The show Silicon Valley is eerily close to the reality of the Start Up scene.

It’s difficult for a VC Start Up to be truly customer focussed because it is usually working on a four-year investment return cycle.



The goal of Amazon is not based on money – it is to serve the customer. Ted feels that wen you subscribe to something grander, it’s easier to work hard and be motivated towards the goal.

Amazon have a narrative based culture. For example, to share their leadership tenants, they share them through stories. They don’t just say, ‘these are our leadership tenants.’

Amateur leaders and managers just tell – ‘We’re going to be customer focussed.’

Amazon believes that owners of a business will care about its success, therefore everyone, at all levels, who works there has shares in the company.

Ted has tried to incorporate story-telling into his own leadership practices.

Narratives are better than dictation.

Amazon is very long-term focussed.

Ted is not a fan of Amazon’s 10% rule – where to bottom 10% of performers are automatically put on performance management. Ted sees that as a failure of the company, not of the individuals. Amazon argues that the bar is always rising in the organisation and the bottom 10% are not keeping up.

Ted saw the benefit of implementing any activity or process – like choosing a caricature – that encouraged employees to talk and get to know each other.

Ted made a commitment as a manager to never miss a one-on-one meeting with his team members – because if you do it undermines the integrity and respect you have as a leader.

Amazon’s email heavy culture made it tempting for managers to be focussed on their screen. That motivated Ted to be very conscious about being ‘present’ with the person he was speaking to.


Tip: Ted writes the things that are important to him as a leader – like being present – on the inside of his note book. They remind him day to day of what’s important to him as a leader, and then when he finishes the notebook and gets a new one he re-writes them. The act of writing them again acts as a kind of re-commitment ceremony.

Check out Ted’s article – Why Working at Amazon Doesn’t Suck


Liberty Mutual

Believes in risk mitigation.

A very slow moving, 100 year old company. It has had success by being slow and ignoring management trends.

But the down-side to that is that it can take a long time to make changes.

Liberty challenged Ted’s leadership beliefs:

  • His commitment to one-on-ones – because there were so many meetings and people were very comfortable requesting meetings. It pushed him to adopt a different approach – wait for them to request a one-on-one
  • As opposed to Amazon, where their motto was to launch early and iterate often, Liberty seemed to have meetings in which they’d talked about what they would discuss in the next meeting. Ted had to learn to be more patient in gaining collaboration

At Liberty Ted learned the value of giving people freedom – trusting his direct reports to deliver the work. Trust the experts to do their job. Actively work to not slow the process down.

Micromanagement slows things down and deflates the confidence of team members. It is founded in the insecurity of the leader.

A lesson he learned at Amazon and took to Liberty was the value of celebration – ‘There’s no limit to what a group can do if no one cares who takes credit for it’.


Rookie Management Errors

Being scared to manage, or lead, people who happen to be older than you. Ted needed to develop the confidence and backbone to realise that it was his job to provide direction and feedback, and not be intimidated by his older, more experienced subordinates.

Thinking that if he was friends with the people on his team they would do what needed to be done. What happened was that people actually did the opposite – and started minimising their output. He learned that it was important to celebrate the top performers and hold the bottom performers to account.


Across the Spectrum

After his experience across the spread of the American Corporate scene – fast moving Start Up, hundred year old financial institution and dot com success – Ted is a firm believer in culture – getting the right people in the right culture. Someone can be a success in one culture and not suited to another.

It’s import that people select into a culture that aligns with who they are.

Ted believes in giving his passions away for free – it will eventually pay dividends.


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