Patrick Thean – CEO of Rhythm Systems

Be willing to question your initial premise. Collect data about how your product or service is actually doing. We are all emotional about our products and services, so collect data and face brutal facts. Then based on insight from that data observed, make any adjustments needed to succeed.

Patrick Thean is a thought leader in strategic business execution and a successful serial entrepreneur who has started and exited multiple companies. As Founder and CEO of Metasys, he grew Metasys to a ranking of 151 on the Inc. 500 list.

He is best known for helping companies accelerate their growth by focusing on great execution. He is exceptional at getting executive teams and their departments focused, aligned, accountable, and executing as a team to achieve their company objectives. His clients experience breakthroughs using this approach and tools that result in drama-free, accelerated growth. These tools are also part of the curriculum for the Entrepreneur Organization’s world-renowned Entrepreneurs Master’s Program held at MIT, where Patrick served as Program Cochair for seven years. He also chairs a similar program in Malaysia: “Taipan: The Making of Asian Giants.”

Currently a Co-founder and CEO of Rhythm Systems (formerly Gazelles Systems), Patrick is the creator of Rhythm Software. Patrick received his Masters of Engineering and Bachelors of Science in electrical engineering from Cornell University. He was named an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for North Carolina in 1996.

Patrick enjoys digital photography. Happily married for twenty- three years, he is the proud father of two daughters: one who loves dance and the other gymnastics. Patrick supports Samaritan’s Feet, a Christian charity focused on putting ten million pairs of shoes on the feet of ten million children around the world in ten years.

Where did the idea for Rhythm Systems come from?

Companies struggle to get on the same page. They fail because of poor execution even though they have the desire and the ideas to become great. Rhythm Systems was started to help entrepreneurs and company leaders execute well so that they can achieve their dreams and change the world.

I was stressed running an award winning company that was ranked 151 on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing privately held companies when I realized that as we grew larger and more powerful, we also grew more complex and fragile. Coming up with the “Think, Plan and Do” rhythms helped me execute and work through the complexity. These rhythms helped me to remove the fragility and enabled us to grow strong and achieve our dreams. My co-founder and I started Rhythm Systems to help companies do just that – grow strong, achieve their dreams, and go from good companies to great companies.

What does your typical day look like?

I have two types of days:
ONE: I spend 30% of my time with clients, working hand-in-hand with them to develop their strategies and come up with strong execution plans. When I have such opportunities, I am completely immersed in their world and I help them visualize success and develop plans to think through their strategies as well as to execute them. Then we come up with ways to think through contingencies and what actions to take if a “Plan B” is required to succeed.

TWO: My other types of days are when I wake up and have the opportunity to lead my company, Rhythm Systems. I begin with a 30 minute habit to reflect, prioritize and attack my day with an attitude of gratefulness. I then work through my priorities, one at a time. I try to take breaks every 45 minutes to refresh and recharge. When I complete my priorities, my day is done. Anything I accomplish beyond my list of priorities I look at as achieving my stretch goals for the day. My priorities typically consist of spending time with team members, to assist and coach them to achieve their goals and priorities, and improving our method to help companies achieve their dreams and goals.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas come from observing and watching how companies succeed as well as fail, then coming up with ideas to solve problems that allow for more success. We live in a P2P world – a People To People world. Many leaders forget that. For a company to succeed and achieve their dreams, it takes people executing well and in alignment. People have to be able to achieve both their own dreams as well as the company’s dreams.

My ideas come from observing people and companies, and searching for solutions and answers to problems they encounter. I am constantly reminded by the late Steve Jobs that to invent, we must think about latent needs, that customers will not help us with great advancements, only incremental improvements. We need both. We need to dream of curve-jumping ideas as well as improve our existing products and services incrementally to suit our customers’ needs more and more.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Wearables. Wearable technology is a huge trend with seemingly endless opportunities. Possibilities for life, health, business… the list goes on.

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

Habit of Adjustment. Keeping my goal clearly in mind, then being able to face brutal facts about whether we are succeeding or off track. If we are off track, I gather my team to think about what adjustment we need to make to get back on track. By adapting with purposeful adjustments, I achieve my goals with less effort and stress, being both effective and efficient.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The hardest job I had was when I was drafted into the Singapore Armed Forces. Every male served 2.5 years when I was growing up in Singapore. It was especially hard to be a recruit after graduating from Cornell University with an Electrical Engineering degree. But I learned hard work, endurance and how to lead. Going through Officer Candidate School was nine months of grueling training, but I learned to lead by example. I learned to not ask my team to do things that I would not be willing to do myself.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

This is my fourth business so I have started again, a few times over. What I learned by doing things differently is that people and core values are the most important things. Culture is key to building a great company. At Rhythm Systems, we have put culture above all. Even if we found a unique talent that did not jive well with our current team, we would pass on the talent.

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

Be willing to question your initial premise. Collect data about how your product or service is actually doing. We are all emotional about our products and services, so collect data and face brutal facts. Then based on insight from that data observed, make any adjustments needed to succeed.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Building things that are really useful, that are necessary. In good times, people pay for things they need (must haves) as well as things they want (nice to haves). In tough times people only pay for things they must have and will not have the luxury to pay for things that are nice to have. I have always focused on building products and services that are “Must Haves” versus “Nice to haves”.

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

I have learned from many failures. The toughest one was building a product that failed to sell because it was for a different target buyer. My first company was a transportation logistics software company. We built an information systems tools that we tried to sell. However, our clients were VPs of transportation and logistics, and we could not get to the IT managers. We recognized that those IT tools were really not winning moves for us, and chose to sunset those products and focus 100% on our transportation logistics products, leading to a successful company and subsequent sale of the company.

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

Create an exchange for charity – allow people to post what they need and what they have to give away. Like an eBay for charity and people who want to help.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I love Marvel comics, especially Spiderman. And I think what Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told him is a wonderful quote and idea to live by: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Dropbox and Evernote. These two web software services let me to take my work with me pretty much everywhere I go on my Mac, iPad and iPhone. Evernote is especially useful for taking notes on everything and filing them easily, making all my notes accessible to be no matter where I am. Dropbox enables our team to share files across the company without any IT infrastructure.

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

It’s an old classic – The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard. Most entrepreneurs do not know how to manage people. The One Minute Manager is a quick and simple read that might be helpful.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

As entrepreneurs go, I think Guy Kawasaki has great practical advice. He is also very strong on the use of social media.

The customer experience is very important. John Dijulius has strong practical teachings on how to make price a non-issue by delivering awesome customer experiences. Here is John’s blog:

It is hard to have tough and difficult conversations, but also necessary if we want to work well as a team. For difficult conversations, I like the book Crucial Conversations.