Mar 11, 2008
Entrepreneurial Spirit:Gabriel Schwartzman
Part One: Schwartzman Captures the “Brilliancy Prize” for Making His Move from Chess to Output Management
Born in Bucharest, Romania---where he lived until 1994 when he moved to the United States---Gabriel Schwartzman dedicated a good portion of his youth to the refined sport of chess. “My dad began teaching me the game at the tender age of two, and at four and a half I was already playing in my first competition,” he says.
Throughout his school years, Schwartzman enhanced his game-playing skills, becoming a master chess player. By the time he was 17 years old, he achieved the status of International Grandmaster, which is the highest title a chess player can attain (other than World Champion) by the World Chess Federation. At the time, he was the youngest person in the world to hold that title.
As an entrepreneur, Schwartzman’s first business role was certainly overseeing his chess career. “I acted sort of as my own manager, so I remember being a young child negotiating terms of my participation with organizers of chess tournaments,” he recalls. “My parents were probably not too thrilled about my negotiation skills, as I didn’t always focus on things that mattered to them, and instead included items I cared about, such as ice creams and Disney comics. Thankfully, I got better at it with age.”
Today, Schwartzman gets the “Brilliancy Prize” for making his move from chess to output management. Like the prize presented at some chess tournaments for the best brilliancy played in a tournament, Schwartzman gets kudos for his journey from chess champion to majority owner and CEO of Barr Systems.
As the company’s chief, Schwartzman guides the Barr Systems team as it designs, manufactures, markets and supports high-performance data communications and output management products. Its software and hardware products provide enterprise-wide printing and connectivity solutions to organizations ranging from Fortune 1,000 corporations to small businesses.
Reflecting on early years
While growing up in Romania, Schwartzman experienced communism, and he liked absolutely nothing about it. “There was, of course, the poverty, the secret police, the constant fear,” he shares. “Perhaps the thing I disliked the most was the complete absence of entrepreneurship. One of the benefits of my chess career was the ability to travel abroad. Most Romanians did not have this luxury, but the government allowed it for me because of the public relations benefits associated with the press coverage I was getting in various countries.”
For Schwartzman, traveling for chess in his early years helped to develop his views and goals. “Even as a child, I was able to quickly realize the importance of private ownership of enterprises. My childhood dream was therefore less about ‘running’ a company, and more about controlling my own destiny.”
The budding entrepreneur learned quite a few things about business during his years of chess. Scalability was his first lesson. “For most of my chess career, I was selling my services as an individual,” he says. “My income depended on how many tournaments I won, how many articles I wrote, and how many special appearances I could arrange. While that was great, in the absence of cloning there was an obvious limit to what I could achieve. That’s when I decided that my ultimate goal was to build products that can be sold to a great number of customers.”
However, prior to his transition from chess to output, in 1996, Schwartzman started the world’s first online chess academy. “Those were still the relatively early days of the Internet, and I found the experience absolutely fascinating,” he says. “I just could not believe that I was giving lessons to people from over 20 countries. I was also impressed with what an equalizer the Internet was. Here I was---one man with a computer---and I could sell my services without a distribution network, advertising or any significant expenses, yet reap the benefits of the platform’s scalability.”
Around that same time, Schwartzman started working with World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov and his team on an online joint venture with IBM. “We were trying to build the ultimate chess portal, and as you perhaps recall, those were the days when every portal was considered a gold mine,” he says. “Our plans were really good, and at least until the dot-com bust a few years later, we would have done very well. Unfortunately, IBM and Kasparov had a falling out over his match against Deep Blue, so the entire venture fell through in the fall of 1997.”
Schwartzman’s experience with his chess portal also taught him another valuable business lesson: Effort is not the only ingredient to success. “Growing up, I always thought that the harder I worked, the more success I would have. This episode taught me that sometimes, if not always, interpersonal relationships can matter a lot more than the right numbers or the extent of the efforts,” he explains.
While many factors contributed to his success, Schwartzman says his dad was a big role model. “He has a very entrepreneurial nature to him, but unfortunately, in a communist country, there were not many legal ways to express it. Nevertheless, he made the best of it, and I have no doubt that I have him to thank for my own entrepreneurial spirit.”
As an entrepreneur and majority owner of Barr Systems, Schwartzman finds many rewards. “I enjoy being a leader, and I see entrepreneurship as the ultimate exercise in leadership,” he says. “I can also say that there is nothing I hate more than a routine job, and entrepreneurship happens to have the least routine of any job I know. Every day is different, and often every hour is different. As far as all the perks that entrepreneurs supposedly have, well…they sound a lot better on paper than in reality. Being the boss has its benefits, but ultimately the job comes with a lot of responsibilities and worries.”
What advice would Schwartzman give an aspiring entrepreneur? His primary recommendation is to have a lot of passion for one’s chosen field. “As you know, the vast majority of entrepreneurs fail. The odds are tough, and the workload is even tougher. Every company problem is also the entrepreneur’s problem. Without the passion, it is impossible to expect success. Passion is what keeps you going, particularly when the going gets tough.”
While Schwartzman has passion, he admires two attributes, which he cares about when it comes to prospective business partners: intelligence and integrity. “Both are very important, and as I see it, both are required for a successful relationship.”
He offers this advice to other professionals and entrepreneurs: Surround yourself with great people. “No matter how smart you might be, the success of the company depends a lot more on what all the employees are doing, than what you are doing,” says Schwartzman. “Great people can save you from the bad decisions you will be making, and it is inevitable that you will make some. Also, don’t be afraid to hire overqualified folks. They might be overqualified today, but they will prove particularly well qualified as your business expands.”
Watch for part two of this series on Gabriel Schwartzman, and see how the numbers don’t lie for this finance-educated leader as Barr Systems adds up to one great output management company.
To learn more about Barr Systems >>>>.
Visit Barr Systems at AIIM and ON DEMAND, booth No. 1431.
Part Two: The Numbers Don’t Lie for Finance-Educated Leader Schwartzman---Barr Systems Adds Up to One Great Output Management Company
This year, Barr Systems reaches an exciting milestone; the company celebrates its 30-year anniversary. Founded in 1978, Barr Systems designs, manufactures, markets and supports high-performance data communications and output management products. Its software and hardware products provide enterprise-wide printing and connectivity solutions to organizations ranging from Fortune 1,000 corporations to small businesses.
The company is headquartered in Gainesville, Fla., where Gabriel Schwartzman, majority owner and CEO, and the Barr Systems team serve an international customer-base that has installed more than 50,000 Barr products.
Looking back at the success of Barr Systems, Schwartzman remembers when he first interviewed with the company a little over 10 years ago. The interview was for a management consulting position.
“I remember being impressed with everything I learned during the interview process,” he recalls. “The company’s campus and working environment was amazing. I also felt very comfortable with the values promoted within the company. I just felt like I would fit in very well, and I guess I was right.”
Undoubtedly, Barr Systems was also impressed with Schwartzman’s credentials. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Florida, with minors in economics and mass communications---“Two areas that I was curious about,” he says. The 4.0 GPA with which he graduated is one of his proudest accomplishments. “Speaking of pride,” he adds, “how about them Gators? These last two years have been great for avid Gator sport lovers, as our basketball and football teams exceeded every expectation.”
Schwartzman’s second degree came from the Wharton School of Business, where he graduated with a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance. He was a Palmer Scholar, which means he graduated in the top five percent of his class. “Folks have asked me why finance, since I have not worked in that field at all. The answer lies in my love for numbers,” he shares. “I was far from being a math wiz, but I liked it enough to want it in my curriculum, and finance was the area of business that had the most math.”
After taking on his first role at Barr Systems, Schwartzman was quickly promoted to various management positions, including chief operating officer. In that role, he spent a fair amount of time talking to Barr Systems’ customers. “What I learned is that there are plenty of unmet needs in the output management space,” he says. “I was and am a firm believer in the concept that all it takes to be successful is to deliver a high quality, appropriately priced product that addresses customers’ burning needs.”
In 2006, Schwartzman purchased a majority stake in Barr Systems’ output management business. During the first few months, it was a whirlwind of activity. “Besides dealing with the legal and structural issues associated with the change in control, I spent most of my time working with the new product development team.” He adds: “Leading a company is not that hard. Leading it well is the real accomplishment.”
Today, Schwartzman plans to take Barr Systems to even greater heights. ”I am very excited about what the future holds for us. We have spent a lot of time talking to our customers, and I feel like we have a good idea of their pain points and needs when it comes to output management,” he says. “The new line of products that we are announcing this spring came about as a direct result of this customer research. I see us developing into a company that can thrive independently for many years to come.”
Connectivity to output management
When he first took over ownership from Barr Systems Founder Tony Barr, Schwartzman’s goal was to change the way the company was perceived in the market. “For 30 years, we have been known as a connectivity company,” says Schwartzman. “We have sold over 50,000 hardware and software solutions used as mainframe RJE/NJE stations and production print servers. For the next 30 years, I am hoping we will be known as an output management company.”
Indeed, the message is circulating as Barr Systems and Schwartzman reach their goal of making it easier for corporations to manage their output infrastructure and document distribution. “For us, this obviously means doing a lot more than just connecting to mainframes and driving production printers. With the upcoming release of our new Barr EOM platform, we are taking a huge step towards this goal,” says Schwartzman.
In the meantime, Schwartzman continues making a concerted effort to continue running the company according to its founder’s values. “There is a lot to be admired in the way he treated customers and employees, and I am trying to maintain the same approach. Our great reputation in the industry is a direct result of the culture he instilled at our company.”
Watch for part three of this series on Gabriel Schwartzman, and learn how Barr Systems is building on three key strengths---technology, people and reputation.
To learn more about Barr Systems >>>>.
Part Three: Building Barr on Three Key Strengths---Technology, People and Reputation
As an industry leader and CEO of Barr Systems, Gabriel Schwartzman keeps a keen eye on the challenges facing today’s document software industry.
”Let me pick what I see as the biggest challenge: over-worked IT departments,” he says. “As technology is evolving, companies are being asked to do more, but they are rarely given the human resources needed. This all started during the tech slowdown of 2001, and I really hope it doesn’t get any worse in today’s tough economic environment.”
At Barr Systems, Schwartzman leads the company as it designs, manufactures, markets and supports high-performance data communications and output management products. The company’s software and hardware products provide enterprise-wide printing and connectivity solutions to organizations ranging from Fortune 1,000 corporations to small businesses.
”We are only successful when our products are installed easily and run well, explains Schwartzman. “Unfortunately, this becomes a very difficult proposition in the case of over-worked, under-manned IT departments, which also don’t have sufficient budgeting for professional services. The net result is failed implementation projects, which in turn can cause firms to become weary of other software purchases.”
Three key strengths for success
Nonetheless, Barr Systems is a company with many strengths, ready to help businesses succeed with their output management. “Today we have three main strengths: technology, people and reputation,” says Schwartzman. “Our technology comes from developing in this space for three decades. We have seen it all, and our newest products are built using the most modern development platforms.
”As far as people, we have been blessed with an unbelievable average employee tenure. I am very proud of the loyalty shown by our employees and the collective knowledge that has been accumulated in this way.
”As far as reputation, we are very fortunate to have customers think about us the way they do. I hope we can continue to live up to their expectations.”
According to Schwartzman these strengths are critical to help businesses in today’s marketplace. “Customers are dealing with the challenge of a constantly growing number of output devices and document workflows. What they are striving for is an integrated platform they can use to manage not just all the devices, but also the flow of documents from a variety of sources to a variety of destinations,” he says. “They are looking for security, accountability, automation, and ease of use. We feel very good about how Barr EOM addresses all of these areas.”
Schwartzman reveals the philosophy behind the development of Barr’s new platform---how it maximizes the number of sources where documents can be received from, provides advanced management of the destinations they can be sent to, and offers a sophisticated visual workflow development tool for what happens on the way. “Couple all this with multiple intuitive user interfaces, and you get a true output management platform,” he explains.
Moving with the times
Does Schwartzman see more or less opportunity in the industry today than when he began? “Hard to say,” he says. “There were a ton of opportunities 10 years ago, and there are still plenty today. Obviously, there are differences in the types of opportunities.”
For Barr Systems, 10 years ago they still sold lots of products used almost exclusively for connectivity. Printers, PCs, mainframes were still not particularly conversant with each other, and Barr’s products could solve those issues. Today, things are very different. “With the exception of legacy equipment, the technology has advanced to the point where every device can talk comfortably over IP,” says Schwartzman. “Our sales have therefore gone from being about connecting devices, to being about managing the broader infrastructure tied to document output. Needless to say, we don’t see these needs decreasing anytime soon.”
And while the industry has changed, little has changed at Barr since Schwartzman became the proprietor. “Most of our policies stayed the same, and employees were very familiar with my management styles from my COO days,” he offers. “I do believe in the ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broken’ philosophy, so I have stayed away from making changes just for the sake of changing.”
Challenges and opportunities
Of course, there were some gaps to fill and welcome challenges to overcome when Schwartzman took over in 2006. For a company of Barr’s size, launching a new flagship product is definitely a big challenge. “In the almost two years that have passed since I became CEO, I would guess that at least 65 percent of my time has been spent on tasks related to the development of Barr EOM. Fortunately, it is also one the most fun work-related activities I can imagine, so I have not minded it one bit.”
When he became CEO, one of Schwartzman’s primary goals was to continue keeping Barr’s existing customers satisfied and release a new product within two years. “I think we achieved the first goal, and are making the second happen just as this profile is being published.”
So achieving Schwartzman’s goal of launching a new product is about to be a reality. “Introducing our new flagship product, Barr EOM, is going to undoubtedly be our biggest challenge---and opportunity---this year,” confides Schwartzman. “As you can imagine, a ton of work has gone into developing this new solution, so we are very eager to see how it is received by customers.” Barr EOM goes well beyond the company’s traditional datacenter market, which means they expect a fair amount of challenges in penetrating markets where they are not very well-known right now.
”To me, growth is the biggest challenge that a company and its CEO faces,” says Schwartzman “If the introduction of Barr EOM is as successful as I am hoping it is, I fully expect us to have to add staff at a relatively rapid clip. Finding good people is always hard, and preserving the values and culture of a company throughout this process can be tricky too.”
Another foreseeable challenge is guiding this new product through its next versions. “Output management is a very diverse industry, with a lot of variance between what customers do. As the product begins to be adopted, I fully expect to get back a long list of enhancement request from customers, says Schwartzman. “Prioritizing these will be a key task for us in the coming months and years.”
Give and take
Certainly, entrepreneurship takes a lot of hours, and for Schwartzman that sometimes means 12-hour days are commonplace. “Rewarding or not, too much work does get to you sooner or later,” he admits. “Perhaps even tougher is the fact that it is hard to ever completely ‘turn off.’ No matter how much you try, the brain finds a way to go back to thinking about bothersome issues.”
Being the boss sounds like a glamorous job, but Schwartzman candidly shares that there are days when he gets exhausted and frustrated, longing for a job where he can go home after eight hours and not think about work for one more second. “Fortunately, those days are few and far between,” he says.
But there’s not much of his success journey that Schwartzman would change. “I am pleased to say that I don’t have any regrets. I am pretty certain this will change over the coming years, as I will find plenty of things that in hindsight should have been done differently.”
To manage the stress of growing and operating a business, this executive turns to Gator sports and golf as his principal methods of relaxation. “I don’t really get to play the latter more than once a week, but when I do, it definitely takes my mind off everything else. Thankfully, living in Florida allows me to play year-round,” says Schwartzman.
Good books are also a favorite pastime. He recently read---or more accurately, listened to---“Age of Turbulence” by Alan Greenspan. “It’s a good read and I would certainly recommend it.”
His other key to managing stress is getting a good night’s sleep. “If I make the mistake of starting to think about work after I lie down, it can be many hours before I fall asleep. I try really hard not to think about anything work related when it is time to sleep.”
But it’s no rest for the weary. At only 31, Schwartzman can’t even begin to think about retirement. “If I were to venture a guess, I would say that there will be a lot of golfing in my retirement years,” says Schwartzman. “And traveling. I have always enjoyed traveling, so I’m sure I will take advantage of unlimited vacation time to go visit some intriguing places.”
Overall, this ambitious business leader has fulfilled his dream to run a company and make it successful. “I achieved the first part of the dream two years ago. Now I am working really hard on the second part. I am very blessed to have the kind of employees that Barr Systems currently has.”
To learn more about Barr Systems >>>>.