When you hear about Joe Terry's beginnings - a successful football career that took him from Amador High to Cal State Hayward to a brief stint in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks - it is easy to wonder why he did not simply stay in the game as a coach. His answer is simple: while he may not have pursued a path in pigskin, his position as president and CEO of Corporate Visions still allows him to be a coach.
"I'm running an organization of a bunch of talented players, where every day is about tweaking the levers and finding those motivation points in each person, and aligning each person with their passion and what they're the best in the world at," he explains. "That takes a coaching skill, you know? You've got to really be able to understand people to be able to leverage their strengths."
The point, he says, goes beyond success in business. "When people are in a position where they're leveraging their strengths, where they're doing something that they're passionate about - I'm talking about individuals now - they feel like they're accomplishing their goals, and that's a fulfilling life, both personally and professionally," he says. "It's fulfilling for me to do that in this role. My job is to organize those people, as the leader of this company, and put them in a position to win."
There is no question that Terry started out as a winner on the football field. "I had a great career at Cal State, up there on the hill, enough to get noticed to have a short stint where if you Google it, I'm an actual NFL alumnus because I was in three games and got some NFL checks," he says. "I was blessed and grateful to be able to get a shot and actually make it for a very short time, but once that was over, it was over. You're 22 years old, you've got to move on, so I went back to school and finished my education."
He started out in commercial real estate before switching industries to Pacific Medical, then a Hacienda startup. After five years of exponential growth he left as chief operating officer, moving on to a startup software company that was part of ProBusiness, another Hacienda firm (since purchased by ADP). After joining a San Francisco startup which became a fatality of the dot com bust, he returned to Pleasanton and Hacienda by taking a position with PeopleSoft. After another switch and five years with Kronos as vice president of worldwide sales, he eventually joined Corporate Visions - then based in Incline Village - in early 2008.
"I commuted back and forth for a little while but as the company grew, I began to build the headquarters in Pleasanton," he says. "We've continued to grow over the years and we're doubling our space in March in this same building. We've made Pleasanton the focal point because of the talent. This is an area where you can really build upon with the talent pool that's in the valley here, a lot of talent, and we just felt like this would be the place we'd put our stake in the ground and call it our corporate office."
Corporate Visions provided Terry with his first opportunity as president and CEO, which has enabled him to achieve a longstanding goal.
"Through my own experiences in athletics, I have always been extremely interested in human performance and human development, and how people achieve results and accomplish goals. That morphed into 'how can I leverage my passion for this in the business world,' and I thought the best thing I could do was one day to be able to lead and grow a company of people - and leverage the skills and the knowledge that I've attained over the years - because I really believe in the human spirit and I believe that anything is possible. I thought, if you could build a company of people who believed in that same idea, that anything is possible, that you can achieve anything you want; that would be a company that would be unstoppable."
His approach has found fertile ground at Corporate Visions. "We're in the business of working with companies to develop their message, a message that's impactful and that's differentiated. We're in the business of taking that message and then helping them to create content - sales tools, collateral, content that goes onto their web site, content that goes into their social media campaigns, into their demand creation campaign, into their sales tools," he explains, "and then training all those people who speak to the customer how to deliver that message at every point in the customer conversation. All that has to be consistent and all of that has to be aligned. Companies are relying on us to be the best in the world at what we do, so we can go in and extract from them the greatness that they're doing and help them create that message and then train their people how to deliver that. We have world class intellectual property and processes to help companies extract this great message that they have that lives within them - they just don't know it yet."
Corporate Visions is finding an audience among some of the most widely known companies on Earth, including Oracle, Google, Wells Fargo, and GE. "The best companies in the world come to us when they have a challenge around how they differentiate themselves in the marketplace," Terry says. "They're being commoditized in the marketplace, either through their solutions, their offering, through competition, or through a change in the marketplace where they're sounding similar and they're not able to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. That's why they call us."
While his football days are behind him, he has found another athletic pursuit in recent years: the Iron Man Triathlon, an event that combines a 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 miles on a bicycle, and running a marathon. The grueling nature of the event and the preparation necessary to succeed has provided Terry with another venue for self-discovery.
"It's a long day, it's a long day, and a lot of (stuff) happens that one day. You literally want to quit like 14 or 15 times. You're like, 'I'm done. This is stupid,'" he says. "And not only that, but you have people around you that are quitting - you have people that are walking, you have people that stop. And so what happens in your brain is your brain says, 'it's OK - look, there are other people who think this is really hard.' The beauty of training for an Iron Man and not only completing but actually competing in an Iron Man - not just trying to survive, but becoming competitive - is that it encapsulates all of the things that you go through in business and in life, all in one day.
"So you have this big build up of training, and you've got to be very disciplined and you have to wake up and do it every day, whether you want to or not, because if you don't there's no way you can complete the race that's out however many months in the future. The same is true in life. You've got to get up and do some things every single day and you've got to complete them in order to accomplish the things you want to complete in life or in business... The amazing thing you learn in that process is that you can get through it. The amazing thing you learn in that process is that it's a journey. It's not just about where you are right now because it only lasts for a small period of time. When you apply that in business, you can recognize the challenges you go through and you go, OK - I've been here before, I know I can get through this. I know on the other side of this is fulfillment, growth, success, whatever you want to call it, if you continue to do the right things the right way."
It is that commitment to one's personal values, he believes, that ultimately provides a way through difficulties. "What's interesting that I learned about this is that your brain actually starts to develop grit and courage, to be able to withstand these down cycles," he says. "The same thing happens whether you're a husband, a wife, a mother, a daughter, your kids, your personal life, your professional life - no matter how great your life is, not everything is great all the time, and it really teaches you that if you're doing the right things for the right reasons, really looking yourself in the mirror, that you can get through this. It's a learning that I've transitioned to my company from myself and it's a learning that I've transitioned to the people in my company, that when we hit challenging times, we're going to get through this and here are all the reasons we're going to get through this: we're doing the right things for the right reasons."
This approach has also shown itself to be a remarkable team-building tool, Terry says. "As the company goes through it, the employees learn to trust that process, to know that we're going to go from point A to point B over the next five years, but it's not going to be a straight line, up and to the right. We're going to hit some high times and we're going to hit some challenging times, so let's know that now - but if we're doing the right things for the right reasons, we get through it. So each time the employees as a team get through those challenging times and then has some success on the other end of that, they too learn this concept, so the next time the downturn comes, or that challenging time comes within their own department - within their own life - within the company - they know, hey, this is tough, I don't like being in this situation, but I know if I stay strong, do the right things, get up everyday and continue to stay true to my value system, that on the other side it's going to be OK, whether it's personal or professional.
"So it comes full circle and I really am a coach, and that's what I'm doing every day with our employees and our company: teaching them to be successful in the good times as well as the challenging times."
That is an approach which will win a lot of points whether it is used on a playing field or in a board room.
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