Interview: Matti Kon, CEO of InfoTech
Matti Kon, CEO of InfoTech, was born in Austria and moved to Israel with his family as a youth. He served in the Airborne Division of the Israel Defense Forces for five years and was honorably discharged with the rank of Captain.
Following his military service and the start of his technology career in Israel, Mr. Kon moved to the United States in 1986, settling in New York, becoming a U.S. citizen and earning his degree in Economics and Management Information Systems. In 1988 Mr. Kon joined the internal audit group at AIG on Wall Street. A true entrepreneur at heart, Mr. Kon left his career on Wall Street after four years to found a series of businesses, of which InfoTech is at the forefront. Mr. Kon has worked tirelessly to grow InfoTech over the years, and was especially dedicated to the opening of InfoTech offices in places such as Montana and North Dakota, offering employment opportunities to IT professionals in their hometowns, allowing them to stay with their families and in the places they grew up in and being able to contribute to the local community without the need to relocate to large metropolitan areas in order to fulfill their technology career. This venture supports his core philosophy of the importance of keeping high level technology jobs in the United States instead of off-shoring them to other countries.
Today, under Mr. Kon’s leadership, InfoTech, which is headquartered in midtown Manhattan, with satellite offices throughout the U.S., is an Industry leader providing system products and IT services to hundreds of major companies, corporations and government agencies in the United States. Some of InfoTech’s key clients include the U.S. DoD (Department of Defense), U.S. Navy, Raytheon Missile Systems, and many others. In the private sector, key clients include major Wall Street firms such as Wells Fargo, UBS, Raymond James, ISI, Morgan Stanley, JWT and many others. InfoTech’s client base reaches beyond the U.S. with clients in countries such as England, Israel, Australia, and other European countries.
- InfoTech’s client lists reads like a who’s who in the private and public sectors. Building up a client list of hundreds of major businesses and government agencies, as your company has done, takes a strong value proposition. What is InfoTech’s secret sauce?
There are many factors to building a successful company with a top client list, as we have here at InfoTech. If I have to capture the answer in defining a “secret sauce,” I would say that it is the company culture we have here at InfoTech. It is a culture that first and foremost treats people with respect and dignity as members of the InfoTech family. It is a culture of excellence, where there is an internal pride and competition between professionals at InfoTech. The pride in providing state-of-the-art products to our clients, and the competition is in the productive process of people trying to produce better products than their peers, whether on an individual basis or on a group basis. This culture manifests itself not only to the people but to the products that they produce and the productive and “get it done“ mentality that they radiate both internally and to our clients. I believe that InfoTech’s clients detect the work ethic and hard culture of work at InfoTech, where we always try to exceed our client’s expectations.
- It isn’t all that uncommon to see businesses pursue corporate profitability at the expense of the best interests of the employee base. Yet, InfoTech has been recognized as one of the 10 best companies to work for and one of the top five companies to intern at? How do you strike the right balance so that both InfoTech and its workers benefit?
Businesses always benefit when you treat your employees like family. We spend so much of our lives with each other, why would I not create an environment where employees want to come to work and feel comfortable presenting new ideas and taking on new initiatives. One of my favorite things we do at InfoTech are the company “think tank” sessions. The entire company gathers, from receptionist to top management, and we talk about technology, new ideas, current events, history. There is great synergy. Not every time, but there have been times when new products are born during these sessions and then we go develop them and take them to market. If you had a group of skilled doctors or professors in one office, would you not gather them together and brainstorm? Share stories? It is the same here. We have a group of leading technologist, it’s a pleasure to get them together and pick their brains.
- It goes without saying that there are many threats on the security front that businesses need to be mindful of, but are there certain cyber security issues that are particularly troubling?
Without getting too ominous, I will say that as a country, we are still not thinking on a wide enough scale yet. What I worry about is our electrical grid being compromised, our water supply being compromised, the potential acts of war by other countries, and so on. Unfortunately the public still lives in some sort of an euphoria when it comes to understanding that the true risk of cyber attach is worse by far than any military attack on the U.S.
- How can companies go about building a corporate culture that values awareness on the cyber security front? And who should be responsible for spearheading this effort?
This really depends on the size of the company and the setup. For example, at larger companies the CTO is responsible for spearheading the cyber security front unless the company outsources their IT department. Many of our larger clients in the financial industry outsource their entire IT infrastructure and desktop support to InfoTech. We not only spread the awareness of threats to our clients, we protect them as well. One of the top things we try to educate our clients and prospects on is employee awareness. More often than not a virus that can attack the entire server and destroy crucial company files is downloaded by an employee that doesn’t know they are accidently opening an infected file.
- While no two days in the IT field are the same, what sorts of tasks might you perform over the course of any given day as president/CEO of InfoTech?
As a president and CEO of a growing technology company, the concern has always been to make sure that we stay relevant, provide top of the line technology to our clients and have a strong company message. In order to ensure that we don’t fall out of the race, or better, make sure stay on top of it. Some of the tasks I perform on daily basis are:
Strategizing – Strategizing is an on-going process of forming the company’s strategy in accordance with the various company goals. Making the plans for achieving a goal, just as you do in the military is imperative for success and check and balances.
Communications – Staying in touch with the world that surrounds us, that which defines the InfoTech universe, which means:
- Staying in touch with clients and their ever-changing needs.
- Staying in touch with new technologies and making sure we implement them wherever we can as well as promote them to our prospects and existing clients.
- Keeping close relationship with our workforce making sure people are happy at their job, people are working on technologies which they enjoy and which at the same time, are beneficial to our clients.
Operations – Working closely with InfoTech’s Operation’s group to ensure that all administrative operations and finance issues are addressed and being taken care of.
Business Development – Spreading our company message, and building more and more projects and clients for the company.
- What do you like most about your job, and what do you like least?
The thing I like most about my job is interaction with the people. Whether those are InfoTech employees, managers, clients, prospects, or partners. I always enjoy the process of interacting with people and working together towards mutual goals. The thing I like least about my job is when you have to let go off people. It is never a pleasant task and people rarely take it well. It is one of the necessary evils of business, but for me personally, the least enjoyable.
- Are companies and government agencies as willing to spend what they have to in order to get the system products and IT services they need? Or might it take some convincing on your part so that they see the bigger picture?
The reality is that technology and business are now completely intertwined. They really cannot be separated and most decision makers know this. We don’t really have to convince anybody of the necessity of technology anymore, instead we are able to show other corporations and government agencies the many advancements and benefits of utilizing technology systems. We show how our systems can cut costs, save time, improve procedures and then they make their decisions based on what works best for their budgets.
- From 1980 to 1985, you served as captain in the Israel Defense Forces. Are there skills that you acquired and honed during this period that help you to perform effectively at InfoTech? Please explain.
The answer is absolutely yes. The military service had a lot of impact on my life from multiple aspects. I participated in the 1982 war where Israel conquered Lebanon and spent almost three full years in and out of Lebanon during the conflict. I have acquired my management skills as a young officer during the war, the need to make tough decisions and the consequences of not making them timely. During those years, I have learned the principal of “can do” at any price. The mindset in the military was always that everything can be done and that “can’t do” is the cousin of “don’t want.” This is an Israeli military slang to express the concept that the only thing that cannot be done is what you really don’t want to do. I also had the opportunity to learn what it means to “guide people” which is a phrase I prefer by far over “manage people.” Especially in special forces which were part of the airborne units, which comprises entirely of voluntary units where people put themselves through a lot of stress and physical abuse willingly on their own accord and they do it gladly. Such highly motivated crowd is much more open-minded to change their approach and way of thinking if properly convinced that the change is necessary.
- Your company specifically opens up satellite offices in rural locations across the U.S. so that young professionals who don’t fancy packing up and moving to the big city can ply their trades in their hometowns. What’s the reasoning behind such a policy?
Corporations miss a lot of great talent because they are unwilling to compromise on location. I have always been in search of great talent and good people and I know that that exists everywhere, not just in Silicon Valley or New York.
- What advice would you give to a college or university student who wants to pursue a career in the IT space after graduating?
There is such a high demand for technology professionals, so it’s a great field to join. I would say to perfect your craft and never stop learning and advancing yourself. Technology is constantly evolving, so it is crucial to stay current with all the latest advancements. My top employees are constantly getting certified and recertified, taking courses, learning new technologies – it gives them the edge. Never stop being curious, never stop loving what you do and always, always stay with the times and keep reinventing yourself.