How my Executive MBA recharged my career

The past 28 months have been the most stressful and exhilarating period of my professional and personal life. In that time, we sold Enguage to Publicis Group, I embarked on an Executive MBA (at Georgia State University), while also merging Engauge and Moxie, and then became the CEO of BLiNQ Media (formally part of Gannett Ventures), and finally, took an extended sabbatical with my family. Yes that’s a boat load over a short period of time.

Looking back, the decisions to take so much on (i.e. new roles while doing an EMBA) prepared me for a C-level role more than I could have ever imagined. I’d like to think I did pretty well as an entrepreneur and team player with my first company, Spunlogic, and then later with Enguage, but in fairness I was extremely lucky to also have some tremendous partners to share the risk, rewards, hardship, and decisions with. I didn’t lead on my own, but rather as part of a tight group of friends that worked extremely well together for the most part of 15 years until I went out on my own in August 2013 when we sold Enguage to Publicis Groupe.

Ironically, my plan after Enguage was to take some time off (18 months), embark on my Executive MBA and welcome our second child to the world (plenty of time to study and help with Family, so I thought). That all turned up-side-down when I decided to stay on with Publicis and help with the merger of Engauge and Moxie. This was also the same day I started my domestic residency (School puts you up at the Intercontinental Hotel for 4 days of intense sessions to see who can survive) for my EMBA.

I can honestly say at that moment (Aug 2013) I had doubts on what type of leader I might be without my old co-founder and partners to support me and whether I could survive grad school in-general. My domestic residency was nothing short of a wake up call to my hunger to lead, inspire, and motivate a team. I can’t stress the confidence I gained on my domestic EMBA residency to do this on my own; it truly opened my eyes to what more I could do and how I could confidently stand on my own as a leader.

I found that leadership comes very naturally to me, as did confidence in laying-out a plan-of-attack for a team and seeing it through with conviction. But most importantly, I could bring a team together with different strengths/weaknesses and get the most out of them as a collective. This is what you’d expect from a leader, but along the way of Spunlogic and Engauge, I forgot what this felt like to do on my own and the excitement of leading the troops from the front.

In truth I was also hesitant to work for someone I didn’t know or hadn’t co-founded a business with, but thanks to the show of confidence from my then CEO, Suzy Deering at Moxie (Publicis Groupe), I was empowered to assemble a team and lead the charge for the merger of Enguage and Moxie (over 600+ people). It felt good to head-up that team as well as work with a largely new leadership team I was unfamiliar with. This further gave me confidence that I could do more and for the first time I wanted the #1 seat, CEO. Several months later I become the CEO of BLiNQ Media and absolutely loved every moment of the experience even though it was short lived due to a corporate spin-off of the publicly held holding company a year later. However, in that time, my initial experience at my EMBA residency of leadership aspirations and ability were reenforced. I thrived in the role, learnt how to assemble a new team from the ground up and provide a clear vision/plan to attack and win, and had an extremely positive experience working for Vikram Sharma who oversaw my business unit within Gannett Ventures and whom, like Suzy, gave me the freedom to lead and inspire a team on my own.

So 28 months since I started this transformation in my career from co-founder/partner to a C-level executive within a publicly traded company, I can truly say my EMBA experience helped me realize and awaken my leadership aspirations and confidence to tackle any C-level role within a public or private company. I’m a better executive and leader from it, and the experience with Publicis Group and Gannett Ventures have only strengthened my abilities to work with a new and much larger team than I originally co-founded. On to the next adventure, whatever that might be!

Goodbye Promenade Building

Yesterday was my last day as CEO of BLiNQ as we moved forward with the merger of PointRoll, Shoplocal, and BLiNQ Media. I fully support this move as I believe it will make all three companies much stronger in the market place as a combined company and properly leveraging the strong content and data assets owned by Gannett. At the same time, it was hard to make the decision to part ways with the people at BLiNQ and G/O Digital; I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of them, and I’ll miss working with them and wish them all the very best as the units come together in the coming months.

I was originally hired into BLiNQ to access the business, re-stabilize the unit, and determine a new vision for the company in a post acquisition era. I’ll leave it to my peers in the industry and to Gannett to determine if I accomplished my objectives.  From my stand-point, I’m extremely proud of what my team was able to accomplish in less than a year; what’s most gratifying to me is that the product strategies and vertical focused pivot I put in place at BLiNQ will be used as the blueprint of the new combined company.

Reflecting back, what’s amazing is that I’ve been at the Promenade building in Midtown, Atlanta since 2004.  First we moved Spunlogic into the 17th floor (from Zonolite Road), then sold Spunlogic (2008) which become Engauge and moved up to the 22nd floor (2010), then sold Engauge to become Moxie (2013) still on the 22nd floor (2015 Razorfish moved into the 22nd floor, space looks great Patricia Camden-Peterson), and lastly, I moved down to the 12th floor as the new CEO of BLiNQ Media (2014). That’s 11 years of great memories and experiences I just said goodbye to.

So what’s next for me? No idea yet, but what I do know is that I’d like to take a little time off. The last 19 months has been pretty crazy for me. Selling Engauge, helping integrate Engauge into Moxie, undertaking an Executive MBA and finishing it a few months ago with an awesome international residency in Vietnam and Thailand, moving from Publicis and taking on the BLiNQ role as CEO, having our second child (who is awesome), and generally traveling a lot and missing out on family time. Wow, pretty crazy when I think back.

Before I jump into the next work adventure, Tovah and I will be heading to the beach for a few weeks and then we are planning an RV trip across the US, Pacific NW, through British Columbia, Yukon, and Alberta. Yes, you read it right, an RV, and no, I’ve never been in an RV before. As we plan more I’ll write about it, but that’s the plan for now.

My first few weeks as CEO of BLiNQ Media

On May 12th 2014 I started a new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media, and 18 days later I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made to take this role. I feel incredibly privileged to be leading a group of very talented BLiNQers who have welcomed me into their family.

The past few weeks have been fun, and I’d like to share some highlights.

HelloRajMy first day started off with opening remarks to the company. Hopefully I made a few folks laugh and I gave everyone insight into who I am, what my leadership philosophy looks like, and what they could expect from me. I also felt it was important for them to know right off the bat what I expect from them. I  introduced them to a feedback report called 15five that I put in place to gain insight each week from our folks and I can tell you, it’s been very insightful to listen to our people and understand the wins, frustrations, and ideas that come from the hard working group of folks, spread across the country.

Outside of conducting some 1-1’s (still have a lot more to do), I also got exposed to the core products, future products, team structures, tools, financials, HR + Recruiting, and more. What you’d typically expect. I can tell you, BLiNQ has some exciting things in the oven I can’t wait to share soon, but more importantly we have some incredible solutions today and a group of talented professionals using our tools to deliver incredible results for our clients.

Over the last few weeks I also had group breakfasts, lunches and drinks with the majority of the staff in Atlanta and New York. I had a blast getting to know folks and hopefully they got to know me as well. I learned some interesting things.

  • We have 5+ competitive fencers. One of them was a Junior Olympic fencer. What other company has that many fencers, really? 4 of them were on the same group lunch table and didn’t know that about each other. Amazing.
  • We have a lot of talented musicians, folks who love to travel, folks who love to dance, folks who love to act.
  • One of the guys in Atlanta is actually from Atlanta, in-fact his family have been here since the 1800’s.
  • One of the ladies was Wonder Women at Six flags, not saying who.
  • Our engineers are bad-ass in so many ways. A lot have creative outlets, crazy good at math, and ridiculous at ping pong.
  • We have someone who played professional poker in Vegas at a very young age, made a good amount of cash and put it into a 401k. Actually, that’s not true, he did make a lot of money, but no idea if he actually put it into a 401k, that’s something I might do. Not… Maybe a BMW i8 and a “round the world ticket” again 😉
  • One of our new team members in the Chicago office got engaged last weekend. Congrats!
  • Everyone loves dogs, some more than others.
  • Everyone has a unique background, with a different journey that has brought them to BLiNQ.

What’s amazing about BLiNQ is that you don’t realize how great these people are and the potential this company has, unless you are in the company. From the outside, the perception is so different and I’m here to change that! Yes BLiNQ has had some hard times (and some great times), but the past is behind us and ahead of us we need to be fearless and forge a new future.

I invite the staff of BLiNQ, their family and fiends, our trusted clients and partners, and supports to come on a new journey with me and to discover a new BLiNQ.

Thank you,
Raj Choudhury
CEO – BLiNQ Media

Bittersweet goodbye – Spunlogic – Engauge – Moxie

Today (May 9th 2014) was my last day at the agency I co-founded nearly 16 years ago (November 1998); it was bittersweet and difficult to leave my work-home.

After 15 years and 6 months with the “same” agency (Spunlogic, Engauge, Moxie), it’s time for me to explore a new chapter in my life/career.  I’ve loved the agency from the day I co-founded Spunlogic (from a backpackers hostel in Toronto, Canada) with my college roommate, Jeff Hilimire. It’s part of who I am, in my DNA, and it will always be in my heart.

On May 12th 2014 (this coming Monday), I embark upon my new adventure as CEO of BLiNQ Media in Atlanta. I’m truly excited for this next chapter and will continue to write of my experiences. Nonetheless, for tonight, nostalgia compels me to formally bid farewell and share some of my favorite memories from a wonderful career in an agency I created.

In no particular order, I’d like to say goodbye to the following.

  • Goodbye “Beer cart Fridays,”-  probably my biggest contribution to the agency :-). I may need to implement this in my new space.
  • RIP Netsuite, OpenAir, and Central Desktop – The almost perfect agency systems I put in place with the hard work of some amazing folks at the agency (Dave Burke, Mark Unrein, Jenn Leahy, Jenni McDonough, Victor Wise, John McElroy) and our vendors (especially Mark Fordham from Central Desktop, Carolyn Turley and David Sussa from Netsuite Openair).
  • Adios Suite 2200 at Promenade, the crown of my career, and a space I hope inspired our people to thrive and enjoy the work space. Special thanks to Gensler (Erin Greer ), HITT (Erik Kandler), and JLL (Mike Dolan) and Collier (Brenden Welch) for making the space speak for itself.
  • My red chair and desk that I’ve had for 10 years, I know Kelly Ruggles (best Office Manager ever) will find a good home for them (and not throw them away!).
  • Fun crazy trips like the Spun Cruises (the entire agency on a ship together, you can only imagine…), Tennessee leadership trip (moon bow experience and everyone getting drunk on the bus), and some of the more interesting executive retreats (I’ll say no more).
  • I think I was good at was throwing parties and the more control I had of the budget the bigger the party:-) Halloween parties, Casio/Speak easy holiday parties, Paris on Ponce, etc.

Above all, the hardest goodbye was to the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years. I wish all my friends success in their careers and personal lives and hope we cross professional paths again. Thank you for teaching me, evolving with me, laughing with me, and forgiving my bad spelling and grammar. By being the best you can be, you’ve brought out the best in me.