Interview with Sean Butler, Advantech North America

1. How would you describe yourself in three words?

Principled. Competitive. Loyal.

2. Who or what has shaped who you are today?

There have been many people and events that have shaped me both personally and professionally. During my formative years, my mother had a major influence and was always positive, supportive and provided me with an abundance of unconditional love. She helped establish the foundation of who I am today. As I created and nurtured my own family, my wife, Lisa, and our two beautiful daughters, Alex and Natasha, are now the personal influences shaping who I am today.

Early in my professional career, I was fortunate to work at several successful privately held companies. The owners of these companies were smart, demanding and entrepreneurial. As a result, not only did they teach me many aspects of running a business; I also inherited their entrepreneurial spirit, which has proven instrumental in my career.

I have been at Advantech for the past 15 years, which is roughly half of my professional career. The person that I can point out as being instrumental in shaping me professionally is Advantech North America’s general manager, Ween Niu. I have learned, and continue to learn, business values and life lessons from Ween, who I view as both a mentor and role model.

Lastly, I believe that shaping oneself is an ongoing process and I continue to work hard to be the very best version of myself that I can be.

3. Can you share your career path up until this point in your life?

Right after college, I started my career as a computer operator at a large payroll company; however, based on positive comments I was receiving regarding my personality, I soon realized that I was better suited for a career in sales. As a result, I left that position and started my first sales job in 1990. Since then, I have held sales, sales management and ownership positions at companies that offered computer peripherals, food packaging equipment, building materials and more. Then one day, many years ago, I answered an employment ad on Monster for a company named Advantech, and the rest is history.

4. What’s the most important risk you took in your career and why?

Although I had a secure, well-paying position in the mid-1990s, I left that position and started my own business. It was an important risk because of the business experience I gained. As a small business, I had to secure financing, manage cash flow and set the direction for the company. In addition, I was able to gain valuable insight/experience into managing and understanding different departments including payables, receivables and logistics. Most importantly, a by-product of owning my own business is that I met my future wife, Lisa, and we have been happily married for 20+ years. This was certainly an example of big risk and big reward!

5. What has been one of your greatest career accomplishments at Advantech?

Any career accomplishments that I have had at Advantech have been due, in large part, to the great support I have received from the talented individuals that I work with every day. A specific accomplishment I’m very proud of is what I, along with my team, accomplished in the Canadian market. When I started at Advantech, I was the sole Canadian employee and the region was generating roughly $2 million a year, which at that time was less than one percent of Advantech’s total revenue in North America. Fast forward to today, Canada now has six employees, and is continuing to grow; we have established a Canadian office and the region is projected to generate roughly $50 million in revenue in 2021, which is about 10% of Advantech North America’s total revenue. There is a great foundation in Canada, which will propel the country to additional success and increased growth with my Advantech team!

6. What is Advantech University? How has it benefited your team and other sales teams?

Advantech is extremely diverse and offers a myriad of solutions and services that benefit a multitude of markets. It takes time to learn all the aspects of what Advantech can offer and to understand both our value proposition and capacity to mitigate risk. The genesis of the university was to streamline that learning curve. If we could find a way to reduce the learning curve, employees would be more equipped and knowledgeable to contribute sooner and achieve more quickly. This benefits the customer, employee and Advantech.

Advantech University is a platform for employees, from all departments, to share their experience and expertise with their colleagues for the good of the entire organization. The mission of the university is to create a transformative educational experience that is empowering, collaborative and fun. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all participants learn and develop the sales skills that will allow them to best serve our valued customers.

I believe every team has benefited from the Advantech University through impactful courses on prospecting, negotiation, value proposition and more. In our learning community, the courses we teach help prepare employees to face the day-to-day demands of an ever-changing and connected business world.

7. What is your management style? How has it evolved as you’ve gained more experience throughout your career?

I have a combination of two management styles – a pace-setting management style that I use with my entire team and a democratic management style for my leadership team.

Typically, a pace-setting management style means you are managing from the front of the pack. It involves providing instructions and establishing a work pace. With motivation as a focal point of this management style, leaders need to ensure that the team is motivated enough to match the pace set.

Regarding a democratic management style, I work closely with my management team because I believe in strength in numbers. My focus is to encourage ideas, recommendations and potential solutions in order to help each other. As the leader, I do retain the right to make the final decision; however, prior to any final decisions, I take into account the important feedback I have received from my management team.

As I have gained more experience, my management style has changed, and I’m confident that it will continue to grow and evolve. For instance, I have made a concerted effort to swap my management style with a leadership style. This means I do less managing and more leading: people “follow” leaders, while they “work” for managers.

High-level leaders set a vision, articulate that vision, and empower the team to realize that vision. Effective leaders need to have the ability to show empathy. These empathetic leaders focus on the individual as a whole, not just their output. They ask regularly for employee feedback in order to create a safe environment that encourages people to speak up, ask for help, admit to a mistake or share an idea. An important part of a leader’s role is to ensure that employees know that both their leader and organization care about them.

A strong leader will focus less on what they are doing and more on who they are being.

8. How would you describe the most important contributions of a manager/leader in the workplace?

Business leaders contribute immensely to the bridging of gaps between a corporation and its employees, supporting employees to reach their full potential, and increasing customer loyalty.

In many organizations when things tend to break, it is in the middle between corporate leadership and employees due to gaps in expectation, direction, and vision. Management’s important contribution is to bridge these gaps. They need to communicate corporate and employee expectations and ensure both parties are aligned and moving toward the same goal.

Additionally, it’s essential to ensure employees reach their fullest potential. This not only benefits the employee but the company as well, as it increases overall productivity and positive results. Finally, it’s important to improve customer relationships and loyalty. In today’s business world, the line between winning and losing is razor thin; competition is fierce; and creating trust and loyalty with valued customers is paramount.

9. What are some key successes your team has achieved within this past year? Over your entire tenure at Advantech?

Given where we are amid the current pandemic, any key successes or achievements are not specific to my team, as the success we have has been a collaborative effort amongst every Advantech team. Advantech employees are resilient, professional and determined – which has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. Every Advantech employee understands that our customers rely on them and they have gone above and beyond to ensure customer business operations have not been disrupted.

10. What piece of advice would you give to new or future employees at Advantech?

Advantech is an exceptional company that provides everyone with equal and great opportunities to fulfill any professional aspirations that they might have. My advice is to embrace these opportunities. Advantech epitomizes the saying “you get what you give,” so the more you put into Advantech, the more you will get out of it. The recipe for success is to take the time to get to develop meaningful internal relationships, have a thirst to learn, and to serve each customer.

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