Alan Trefler

Be patient. It takes time and persistence to build something of value that’s sustainable over time.


Visionary leader, technology change-agent, innovative philanthropist, and trusted adviser to global business executives.

Alan’s unique technology vision and relentless focus on customer success is changing the way leading global enterprises engage with customers. His life’s work has been to design software that writes software and that business people can evolve to manage the constant disruption and change in today’s customer-centric economy. Alan’s book, Build for Change, describes a new generation of customers with unprecedented power to make or break brands and changes businesses must embrace to succeed.

Alan founded Pega and has built the company into a $890 million provider of customer engagement and digital process automation solutions with 4,700+ employees in 30 global offices.

After earning a Master rating as co-champion of the 1975 World Open Chess Championship, Alan combined his interest in technology with his expertise in chess to teach computers how to play chess – ideas that later formed the genesis of Pegasystems.

Alan frequently presents to global business and technology audiences and has consulted extensively in the use of advanced technology and customer engagement. In 2017, he was appointed to the World Economic Forum’s IT Steering Committee. He has been featured in Global Media including Barron’s, the BBC, Les Echos, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. He has spoken about and consulted extensively in the use of advanced technologies and the future of software, and is inventor of numerous patents for Pega’s distinctive architecture.

Alan holds a degree with distinction in Economics and Computer Science from Dartmouth College, where he was a winner of the John G. Kemeny prize in computing. A staunch education advocate, Alan and wife Pam established the Trefler Foundation in 1996 to improve educational outcomes.

Where did the idea for Pega come from?

After college I worked as a systems integrator. We went through a process that included writing big specs, building functional and technical decomposition and dataflow diagrams, and typing cryptic words into text files to compile. I thought we were working too hard to get something that looked good for a machine rather than making the machine smart enough to make sense to business people. So, I started a software company to solve that problem. Now business people can design applications using visual models that generate code for them.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There’s no such thing as a typical day for me. I might spend one day in an 8-hour internal planning meeting and another with clients or prospects. I’m able to be productive by focusing on goals.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By describing the outcomes. If I can explain how an idea will positively impact clients, staff, partners, etc., people are more likely to get behind it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

AI that lets software write software – it means you don’t have to be an expert coder to create exciting and useful applications and that business people can have unprecedented control of how they use technology and serve customers.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Thinking two or three steps ahead. It’s a habit I learned playing chess. Every year at our annual event I play a simultaneous game against 20 clients, which takes immense concentration.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be patient. It takes time and persistence to build something of value that’s sustainable over time.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I have the best dogs in the world. Correction, my wife agrees.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Constantly test ideas and look for vulnerabilities.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Making our clients’ success our top priority. If we build our products and our company with that in mind, it drives success.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My early choices for advisers and my board were too academic – I believe that academic excellence is fine… but you really need guidance from people who have “done it.”

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Edible chess pieces. There could be lots of different flavors, you’d eat what you captured, and you would have to replace them after every game – a recurring revenue model.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought a new high-end ping pong paddle. I took up ping pong a few years ago – it’s fun, keeps me moving, and thinking about the next move – similar to my approach to business. I now see how a good paddle can make me a better player.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We recently stood up a new capability that allows me to see how active any of our clients and partners are in implementing Pega projects – how many people are active, how many people are certified in our software, taking courses, etc. Before I meet with any client or partner, I take a look so I have a good sense of their activity and effectiveness.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – it’s a quick, engaging read that outlines the pitfalls many teams experience as they evolve. For any growing business, it’s important to understand the causes of organizational politics that get in the way of success and cause teams to fail to perform to their fullest.

What is your favorite quote?

“The more you say, the less people remember.” Francois Fenelon

Key Learnings:

• Building a sustainable business from the ground up takes vision, patience, and persistence.

• Focusing on your clients’ success is the only thing that will keep you grounded.

• A successful entrepreneur should always be thinking two to three steps ahead and focusing on the outcomes they want to see.

• Choosing teammates, advisers, partners, and investors needs real diligence and discipline.