You don't need to stay in your box. I encourage people to build the future they want.
About the series
I have always been interested in the stories of individuals. An avid reader of biographies, listener of Ted Talks, and scourer of Wikipedia pages, I love learning about how people have gotten to where they are and what it is that makes them tick. In this blog series I speak with Savanta’s leaders to figure out how they’ve shaped the unique culture at Savanta, what it is that makes them tick and, hopefully, to glean some pearls of wisdom which we can all incorporate into our professional lives.
My third interview is with Vin DeRobertis, CEO of the Americas at Savanta. Having played a pivotal role in establishing the company in the Americas, Vin now oversees its operations and is responsible for driving growth and scaling the organisation. Dedicated to fostering a culture of autonomy and innovation, Vin encourages colleagues of all levels to take part in shaping the company’s direction.
Cameron: What do you do at Savanta?
Vin: I’m the CEO of the Americas at Savanta. I was pretty much the first employee on the ground here! My personal responsibilities are less client facing than they used to be. My job is to make sure the business runs smoothly – that there’s no gunk in the gears -, to enable my teams to execute successful research projects, to build and scale the organisation, and to manage the relationship and expectations of our parent company, Next 15.
Cameron: Can you tell me a little bit about your path to becoming CEO of the Americas? How have you gotten to where you are?
Vin: When I graduated from college, I worked in hospitality and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I was working every night and weekend doing something that wasn’t fulfilling me. So, I started a career in market research! I bounced around, got a couple of jobs and just focused on growing and learning. I really developed my career with a company called Research Now, now known as Dynata. I worked there for 11 years and had a couple of global roles. I was then approached by MIG – Savanta’s previous incarnation – to help them get off the ground in America. I initially got cold feet and thought ‘I might not be ready just yet’ but then decided to bet on myself. I started in September of 2017 and now we’re here. From being employee number 1 to having over 140 people working for us in the Americas.
Cameron: Is there a project you’ve worked on that stands out as being the one you’re most proud of?
Vin: Back when I was doing research for the healthcare industry, we won a project with a new client who wanted to research the lifestyle needs of patients with a very rare ailment so that they could better serve them. Only 30,000 people in the US had it. So, not only did this research demand the utmost sensitivity, empathy, and skill, but it also posed challenges from an operational point of view. How do we recruit respondents with such a rare condition? We really had to think on our feet and ended up partnering with a medical foundation to help us with recruitment. The client was wowed by the research and our adaptability, and we now do regular work for them.
Cameron: What energizes you at work?
Vin: Oh, the people. Hands down. I’m passionate about giving young people their first chance in the world of work. Hiring and fostering young talented people and witnessing their development gives me great joy. Sometimes people get their first job here – they grow, and they’re here for 10 years; sometimes for three; other times it’s not a fit and they’re here for just one year. But there’s nothing wrong with that. They gave something a shot and still brought a lot to the table. One thing that everyone who works here has in common is that they’re super likeable. Everyone checks that box.
Cameron: What’s a skill you’re currently working on?
Vin: Acquisitions are a part of our DNA. And as we acquire firms, we want to bring the best of their culture into our firm, and we want to bring the best of our culture into theirs. Technically, we might be the company that’s acquiring, but it’s not ‘our way or the highway’. There are some things that we, Savanta, might do better than them, and there are definitely things that they do better than us. The skill I’m constantly working on is figuring out what those strengths are and making sure the best people are in the right seats.
Cameron: Tell me about a mistake you’ve made in your career and what you’ve learned from it?
Vin: I made a business decision in my last job to invest in building a research panel in a country which ultimately wasn’t suitable. Basically, we had a US Medical Panel which was generating a lot of revenue, and I thought it would be a good idea to emulate it in Canada. One crucial thing I overlooked, however, was that there are far, far fewer healthcare specialists in Canada. So, the panel turned out not to be effective at all. I hurried to build something based on what I perceived to be customer demand, but it was not a very good business case. It was short-sighted and it cost a lot of money. The lesson I learnt was that you really must take the time to flesh out a business model before going in all guns blazing.
Cameron: If you could give your 25-year-old self a piece of advice, what would that be?
Vin: The first thing I’d say is ‘you’re not going to believe where you are at 47’. The second thing I’d say is ‘go to sleep earlier and eat more healthily’. These habits are like the tide that lifts all boats. You have more energy, more focus, more clarity of thought, and can perform at a higher level. Health is wealth.
Cameron: What is it that makes Savanta such a special place to work?
Vin: I think people have a lot of autonomy here. If you have a good idea and you want to go for it, the company’s happy to support you. I think the best ideas come from the people that are actually on the ground doing the work. These days, I’m not a player as much as I am a coach, and if you see an opportunity, speak up. You don’t need to stay in your box. I encourage people to build the future they want, and it’s our job as leaders, to keep the good people here as long as we can.