Over the course of his career, Vance Checketts has found six words to live by as a leader: Be humble. Value diversity. Be brave.
Humility means knowing when to say, “I don’t know” and recognizing that the best ideas come from other people, Checketts explains. He values diversity because “surrounding myself with people who are diverse and high-performing, and recognizing their brilliance, has paid dividends for me.”
Bravery means taking risks. “But still have a Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C, in case A doesn’t work out,” he says. “I call this my desire to find a way to say yes, even if it’s a qualified yes.”
Checketts recently said yes to a new leadership opportunity. In August 2018, he became chief operating officer at DSCO, a technology developer in Lehi, Utah. Its inventory networking platform helps companies see, share, and sell inventory from any source. Checketts recently filled IL in on his career, his goals in the new job, and his leadership philosophy.
IL: You work at the intersection of information technology and supply chain management. What led you there?
My first job was shipping and receiving at WordPerfect Corp., back in the days when a software company shipped its product on 3.5-inch floppy disks with printed manuals. I eventually moved into a management position and kept that role after Novell acquired WordPerfect in 1994. When Novell started planning to implement the Oracle enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, and asked for someone to serve on that project as the supply chain expert, I put up my hand. Some years later, Oracle recruited me to help build its supply chain management application. I guess I did a fair job of giving them input as a customer.
IL: Have you tackled any unusual assignments over your career?
At Oracle, I had helped build a product called Oracle Exchange. One day before I was scheduled to go to Beijing to help sell this product to a customer, I slipped on some ice while mountain biking and hurt my leg. It was painful, but I didn’t have time to go to the hospital. I just got on the plane. When I got home, I went to the doctor and found out I had a fracture. Oracle gave me an award for that act of endurance.
IL: As the new COO at DSCO, what’s at the top of your agenda?
My first initiatives have been getting to know the rest of the team, our customers, and our partners. But I also plan to focus on a huge opportunity I see for DSCO. Its technology has been used effectively for drop shipping and for moving inventory internally within a company. But there’s also a big opportunity to use the data to generate business intelligence so companies can understand and optimize their business and trading partner relationships.
IL: What are the biggest challenges facing DSCO’s customers?
It’s the same thing that has always been challenging—the basics of supply chain management, which means getting your house in order with visibility, communications, and integration. Today, there are more tools, more partners, a faster pace, and fewer dollars to go around.
IL: How would you describe your leadership style?
There’s a saying: ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’ I like that a lot. You don’t hire smart people so you can tell them what to do; you hire them so they can tell you what needs to be done. You build a team, motivate them, teach them what’s out there, what is possible, and then let them go achieve that. I also believe that smart, happy, and engaged teams get great customer engagement, loyalty, and satisfaction, even when a product or service isn’t perfect.
IL: How do you keep a team of smart people happy and engaged?
Challenges keep smart and happy people engaged, and there are plenty of those at a fast-growing technology company. We do other things as well, such as paying for people to learn new skills. We call it ‘Loot for Learning.’ Someone here just went through a course to become a master naturalist. We do things like that to make sure our teams realize that we value the whole person.
IL: How do you spend your time in the course of a typical week?
I hold a one-on-one conversation with each member of my team every week, or at least every two weeks. I also hold regular meetings with the functional groups—the sales, product, and support teams. You’ll also find me on the phone with prospects and customers.
IL: Have you had a mentor?
I don’t like that term. I like to talk about the vast network of diverse people with whom I interact regularly. Sometimes I feel like I’m ‘mentoring’ them, and then on the next interaction I feel like they’re ‘mentoring’ me. You can learn something from anyone. My little grandson ‘mentors’ me by reminding me of what’s important in life.
IL: What makes you excited to get out of bed and go to work?
Being involved with important projects and big customers who have huge aspirations and move billions of dollars around the supply chain. These are supply chains that we all interact with as consumers. I get excited when I see the rubber hitting the road in a material way, where DSCO impacts those supply chains.
IL: If you could give one piece of advice to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?
Slow down and enjoy the journey. When I was 20, I was so anxious to get to the next big milestone. Then, when I got there, I would ask, ‘What’s the next milestone?’ The journey can be just as valuable and rewarding as accomplishing your goals.
IL: What community organizations are you involved in?
I’m involved in Junior Achievement of Utah, the Women Tech Council, and Intermountain Healthcare. Also, I currently chair the board of the STEM Action Center, which is part of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
IL: How else do you spend your time outside of work?
I love doing anything that takes me out into nature, especially mountain biking, hiking, trail running, snowshoeing, backpacking, and skiing. My relationships with family and friends are also extremely important to me.
The Shipping Assignment That Started it All
Vance Checketts was managing shipping and receiving at WordPerfect Corp., a leader in word processing software at the time. One day, as the company conducted a technology upgrade, he was asked to dispose of several old personal computers. These were 1980s machines, incorporating Intel’s 80286 and 80386 processors. To WordPerfect, they were surplus, but to Checketts they posed an exciting opportunity.
“I asked if I could have one for myself,” he recalls. “They said, ‘You can have a couple.’ I remember taking these little 286 computers home and feeling for the first time that I had a computer to play with. Not ‘play’ like on an Atari game system, but ‘play’ as in trying to learn how a computer works.”