Five Minutes with T. Russell Shields
Image by Matthew Gilson
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
That I have made a lot of money for many people who have been loyal employees and supporters for a long time, and who are in the position now of retiring or having retired on nest eggs that will allow them to live the rest of their lives very, very well.
What has been your most humbling experience?
The most difficult thing in building up businesses is finding money to meet payroll. To do that, you have to do what the people who have money want, then adapt what you do to their desires and interests.
What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
Obviously, what I knew later. It was 15 years before we branched out from the basic software business to do cellular billing. Along the way, we missed one very key opportunity with Time Life. We were involved in the early days of people doing TV ads to sell something, and had we known what we learned later, we would have started the business then—the back-office service and call center businesses to support the people on TV who were telling you to call this number and order something.
What GSB course — or faculty member — still affects the way you do business?
[Accounting professor] Nicholas Dopuch, who drilled into my head that poor cost allocation can lead to bad business decisions.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Finding money. It doesn’t change. There’s always a major effort to raise capital to support the evolution and expansions of the business. I have never experienced raising money as easy. But anybody who is an investor will look at an opportunity and say, “OK, where’s the market? How are you going to meet that market? What’s the competition?” And 99 percent of the people who I talk to find some risk in at least one of those areas and say that they are not interested in investing in this particular opportunity. Less than one percent of the people I’ve talked to about money actually make an investment, and that hasn’t changed in 40 years.
What’s the best part of your job?
Working with our customers to be able to deliver on the new and innovative things that they’re trying to do in their businesses—and that we have committed to do on our part to make sure it succeeds.
If you had to choose another line of work, what would it be?
I have no idea, really. The only alternative I had 40 years ago was to become a professional poker player. Had I known that poker was going to be a big TV hit, I might have made a different choice. —P.H