Sean O’Leary never really slows down.
He’s always assessing the risk for his business, taking client meetings and he even takes calls on walks around the block (less this summer, he noted, because of the heat).
He is rarely in his office because he’s out and about trying to improve the business he’s building, EdjAnalytics. One of his employees, with whom he works closely, said he’s not an open-door CEO so much as an “out-of-office CEO” — but that’s a good thing.
He co-founded EdjAnalytics, a predictive data-analytics firm based in Louisville, in 2013 to analyze data for companies to use in a variety of ways. It focuses on helping them make better decisions with that data, whether that’s on hiring a better-fitting employee, not sending a patient home too early after surgery or calling a better play in a Super Bowl game.
O’Leary, one of our three Forty Under 40 Hall of Fame honorees, sits down most Friday afternoons and looks back at the week to mentally grade his performance. O’Leary said he boils his job down to two criteria, against which he measures his success.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got two very simple things that I look at as a CEO,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure we all understand where we’re headed — investors, employees, the media. The other thing is to make sure that we all have the resources to do our jobs really well.”
So when he’s in those reflection sessions, he checks to see if he accomplished those two items.
“I go back through my calendar and I say, ‘Did you do everything that you could this week to help the business?” he said. “If I’m not doing something that relates to those two things, then I shouldn’t be doing it.”
Since EdjAnalytics was founded, it has more than tripled its workforce.
A lot of the growth has come through acquisitions, and through the expansion of the sports business, which was launched last year. EdjSports helps NFL coaches make better calls, based on big data that the company collects. That way, a decision isn’t an emotional call, but rather informed by how a team performs and what an opponent is most likely to do.
“Teams often don’t understand the value of certain decisions at certain points of the game,” O’Leary said in an interview earlier this year. “And we’re all about that.”
O’Leary, a member of the 2002 Forty Under 40 class, said there are a few specific skills that have helped him through the years.
“I’m good at selling the dream. And that helps with investors, that helps recruiting. I think people get excited about things I get excited about,” O’Leary said. “I’m not someone who’s just going to be a carnival barker. If I don’t believe it, I cannot sell it. I can’t.
“So if you believe that I’m credible, when I do act that way, people are more apt to believe it. I think — I hope — that people believe that I really am trying to do what’s best for them. I think about people a lot. I like the relationships and they matter to me.”
He said that last year set the stage for big growth in the next few years, specifically with EdjSports and EdjHealth, which works with health care companies to predict outcomes and use data to better serve patients.
He said Edj still has a lot of growth and opportunity in the future, and he hopes that next year some of that comes by way of acquisitions. But he’s also working to raise capital to grow the sports business piece of the company.
For the Forty Under 40 class of 2018, he has a few pieces of advice:
“Take some time to enjoy the recognition, but you’ve got to keep going. Things are changing fast. To stay relevant and to stay interesting, you’ve got to keep learning,” he said. “This acknowledgment is awesome, it’s cool, but you’re not even halfway done with your career yet, so keep at it.”
Also, he said, take advantage of the Louisville business community, which is very open and helpful compared to others. Ask for that coffee meeting or the advice of somebody in a higher position.
“Louisville is very accessible and that’s a unique characteristic of ours. When I reach out to people here in town, I typically get a response. It may not be at the pace I want it to be, but people will respond,” he said. “When I reach out to people outside of Louisville, it always amazes me when they just won’t respond. It always frustrates and perplexes me because I’m just not used to that here.”
O’Leary said the has reached out to people who have helped him throughout his career as an entrepreneur, first building Genscape Inc. with partner Sterling Lapinski, which sold in 2006, and then Edj. That’s why he makes sure to take as many of those coffee chat meetings as he can. Maybe too many, he joked.
“It’s a part of the culture we have in Louisville,” he said.
O’Leary answered a few more of our questions:
What technology has had the biggest impact on your business?
Who do you turn to for business advice?
My board of directors and other peers in the community.
If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
Martha Ford, owner of the Detroit Lions. It’s my hometown team and they haven’t won a championship in 61 years.
What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
Listening better, being comfortable making decisions with less than perfect information and valuing everyone on the team.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
If you can’t find someone to buy it, you don’t have a product. It seems pretty obvious, but the world is full of people who are convinced that everyone else just “doesn’t get it.”
Why do you have the career you have?
I like building things and then solving problems. I also like leading teams of high-performing people.
What career advice would you give a 25-year-old?
Spend this time learning what you don’t want to do. Don’t get frustrated if you haven’t figured it all out yet.
What’s been your smartest business move?
Taking the horrible terms we were given for our A-round [funding] with Genscape. While difficult, we would have likely gone out of business before we had a chance to build a great company.
When and how do you do your best work?
In the mornings after a workout. I like some alone time when I get to the office just to get my day (and mind) organized.
Night owl or early bird?
Definitely an early bird.
Title: CEO, EdjAnalytics
Hometown: Armada, Mich.
Career history: Co-founder and CEO, EdjAnalytics, 2013-current; founding partner, GoNow LLC, 2006-current; co-founder and CEO, Genscape Inc., 2000-11 (and board member 2000-15)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance and economics, University of Michigan, 1987-91; IMBA, University of Louisville, 2004-05
Family: Wife, Anne, and three children
Hobbies: Running, bike riding, golf, travel