Lior Arussy – Founder & CEO, Strativity Group

One of the world’s leading authorities on customer experience, Lior Arussy is an experienced change practitioner, success accelerator, corporate culture expert, and founder of design and transformation firm Strativity Group. Called “a triple threat of transformation” by co-founder and founding editor of Fast Company William Taylor, Arussy is a unique, critical, global voice helping people worldwide achieve ultimate success.

Prior to founding Strativity Group, Arussy spent his career in executive positions at companies like Hewlett-Packard. With an understanding that traditional change management is not working, Arussy has worked with many of the world’s top brands including Mercedes-Benz, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Thomson Reuters, HSBC, E.ON, FedEx, SAP, University of Pennsylvania, and Johnson & Johnson, among others, to recognize that the key to truly driving change for success is in putting employees at the center of transformation efforts. His methodology enabled Mercedes Benz to take the #1 position in customer satisfaction in just two years. Another client, a European logistics corporation, leaped from 3% annual organic growth to 44% annual organic growth in just two years.

The recipient of the 2015 SmartCEO Circle of Excellence Award, Arussy was also presented the 2015 “Influential Leaders” award by CRM Magazine and named the #2 Top Global Guru in Customer Service by Global Gurus. Consulting Magazine also named Strativity “A Small Jewel” in 2017 and one of the fastest-growing for the past three years. Strativity has the additional distinction of being named to the Inc. 5000 Honor Roll, reserved for firms who have been named to the Inc. 5000 list for five or more consecutive years.

In addition to his work with Strativity, Arussy is the author of seven books including the forthcoming Next is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change – Building a Business that Thrives into the Future (May 2018, Simon & Schuster), and his self-published Exceptionalize It! (2015), which has sold over 30,000 copies to-date. Arussy has written over 250 articles for publications around the world, including the Harvard Business Review, and multitude of magazines and media outlets have cited his work, including MSNBC, CNBC, Bloomberg TV, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, CRM Magazine, Smart CEO Magazine, and Inc.

Arussy completed his undergraduate degree at Case Western Reserve University and received his MBA from Weatherhead School of Management. He resides in New Jersey with his wife and five children. When he’s not sampling fine chocolates or collecting Swiss watches, he enjoys exploring new cultures—2.6 million miles on United so far.

How did the concept for Strativity come about?
Following years as a technology executive, I noticed a trend in which my clients failed to maximize the value of their technology investment. One of those clients put it succinctly, “Even a fool with a tool is still a fool.” It was my “Aha!” moment. They focus too much on technology and very little on organizational readiness for delivering the strategy they purchased the technology for. The world needed a way to activate strategies and do that in a effective and fast fashion. That was the nucleus of the company’s formation.

How was the first year in business?
Horrible. It was a rude awakening. I saw many of the people I counted on, due to my original relationships with them while being a powerful executive, evaporate. My first idea was a complete failure and I needed to scrape myself from the floor and start again. More humble and realistic.

What was your marketing strategy?
The strategy was twofold. The first one element was lead through opinion. Have a point of view. Do not go there with a blank piece of paper. Define your viewpoint and share it through maximum channels. At the time, I was providing articles to many magazines around the world. Free, great content in exchange for exposure. This followed by books and seeking opportunities to share the vision.

The second element was template. In consulting, you want to show the clients that your knowledge is packaged and they do not pay for your learning. I productized our offering to make them more accessible.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the first two years, we were in design and development mode. Following that, the pace of growth picked up quite significantly and we were experiencing three digits annual growth up until the 2009 recession. After we overcame the recession when many of our competitors didn’t survive, we continued with a double-digit growth pace, more mature, and better managed.

How do you define success?
Clients who come back for more, or when they move to another company, we are their first or second call. It is the ultimate success.

Additionally, employees who see value in what they do and find purpose in their work, that is success.

Lastly, when our clients’ customers share the excitement and appreciate the value delivered. At a cancer treatment center we designed, patients tattooed the logo on their body in appreciation for the exceptional experience they have received. It was an experience we designed and deployed. It was pretty cool. That’s success!

What is the key to success?
1) Be clear about what you want to achieve
2) Select your customers carefully. You can’t afford having bad ones
3) Support your employees and give them wings to fly
4) Do not pursue growth for growth’s sake
5) Create something to be proud of and be proud of it

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
The hardest thing to develop is a trusted brand. It simply takes time and many proof points to get there. Don’t ever underestimate it, and don’t ever think that your first handful of clients is a brand.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Always do the human thing first.”

“Culture eat strategy for breakfast.”

“The right customer is always right. The wrong customer belongs to the competitors.”

“Don’t argue with the customer charge for it (and if they are not willing to pay for it, think again).”

“At the end of the day, focus on the emotional aspect of the issue and the power you do have.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Too many books to cite!

To Heal a Fractured World by Jonathan Sacks
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
January 30, 2009. When we started in 2009, we had enough bookings to sustain us for the year. By January 30, 90% of them were cancelled. Now what?

I decided to keep all the employees and just lower salaries and find ways to survive. It was dark as hell and scary. Some employees told me, “I know that if you fire us you have better chances of survival.” It was painful. I did the human thing first. Overall, it worked out, but it took many sleepless nights and endless days to get there.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The success stories that clients share with us about how our work transformed them. We have a privilege to be there with people and organizations during tough times. When they emerge victorious and proud, it is rewarding.

I had a client who asked me once “Why didn’t you fire us? We were so difficult” and I responded “I guess I had more belief in you that you had in yourself.”That is what sustains in me the belief in our clients and their people combined with in depth experience and expertise on how to help them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be there for the long run. Factor in that you will fail. We all do. Develop mechanisms to get up fast. Failure is not personal, although it does feel that way sometimes.