As the interim Chief Operating Officer for VC3, you might think that Derek Woolf advanced his career through a progression of technical positions. After all, he’s responsible for the operations of a technology company that has a North American footprint that extends through 32 states in the US, along with eight Canadian provinces. Derek’s first job in the IT industry, however, was making collection calls while he was still a college student majoring in accounting.
At the time, Derek was a student at the University of La Verne, just 15 miles from the Rancho Cucamonga offices of Accent Computer Solutions, which is now a VC3 company. He took on the responsibility of collecting overdue payments from clients when he was introduced to Accent’s founder, Marty Kaufman, through one of his instructors.
Collection Calls Viewed as Relationship Opportunities
Taking on the task of collections can be intimidating, especially for a young student still in college, but Derek viewed it as an opportunity to build relationships.
“I saw my job as a way to have a relationship or even develop friendships with our customers,” said Derek. “There are frustrations that come with people not calling you back or ignoring you or making promises that they don’t keep, but it’s a lot harder for people to break a promise when you have a relationship with them.”
Career Path Led to Finance and IT Strategy
As the years progressed, so did his career at Accent. Derek made his way from collections clerk to accounting manager to controller. He also started meeting with clients as their strategic advisor, exponentially increasing his understanding of business technology as he worked alongside the technical staff, including George, who led Accent’s service team.
“I had a good time sitting next to George, and we’d be in a little whiteboard session with him telling me how this works and that works,” explained Derek. “We would be figuring something out, and I might say, ‘What if we did this?’ and he’d look at me. Then he’d tell me that it was a good idea, but I wasn’t supposed to know this stuff.”
Opportunities to Play a Bigger Role
Derek was good at finance and accounting and had a firm grasp of IT concepts and how to create IT strategy, but he discovered that his real satisfaction came from being able to take a vision and help deliver it.
So, in 2005 Derek and Marty decided that Derek would run operations and Marty would run sales. As they shook hands to seal the deal, Derek felt like he suddenly had the opportunity to play a bigger part in growing the company. Now that Accent is part of VC3, Derek feels like he has the same type of opportunity in front of him.
“I’m invigorated because everything with VC3 is on a much grander scale with expanded opportunity,” said Derek. “And the other thing is that I love the people I have worked with, so now that opportunity to develop relationships with like-minded people has increased exponentially. Suddenly I have 500 people that I get to grow with and who are headed in the same direction as me.”
Carrying Out Business Objectives
At VC3, Derek is responsible for all company operations with the exception of finance, HR, sales, and marketing. His objective is to make sure that the processes and procedures that are used to deliver services to clients are consistent, efficient, and best in class, and that the operational team is in line with VC3’s business strategy.
“In my role, I make sure that all the teams are aligned, whether internal or external facing; that we believe in the mission; and that we’re moving forward together in an organized and efficient manner that leads us to accomplish the goals set before us,” said Derek.
To do this, he acts as a conduit between the leadership team and the rest of operations. He translates objectives to the operational teams and makes sure that everyone understands them and can play their part in executing the strategy.
What this looks like on a day-to-day basis is that Derek is constantly working with the directors of the departments involved with service delivery. He has a lot of one-to-one meetings with members of his team to help them get the answers they need so they can move their objectives forward.
“In order for us to be successful in the operations team, we have to serve as one. We need to constantly look for opportunities to evolve and improve,” said Derek. “We need to recognize that every interaction, whether it’s with a client, vendor, partner or each other, is an opportunity to deliver above expectations.”
Enduring Value of Relationships
All of these activities fall in line with VC3’s core values which are similar to the values that have guided Accent for years. That’s not surprising since both companies viewed cultural alignment as an essential indicator of successful integration of their organizations into one.
At the end of the day, it’s still relationships that are at the core of Derek’s approach to his work, and that’s not so different from what guided him along 23 years ago when he was making collection calls.
Derek sums up his philosophy like this, “Everyone thinks that a company is a big shell, but it’s all of us. And for me, success is about watching these people grow and seeing what we can accomplish together. That’s what inspires me.”