Forbes Entrepreneur Interview: Alex Tsigutkin, Founder And CEO, AxiomSL
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Alex Tsigutkin, Founder and CEO, AxiomSL, a data and technology firm trying to make sense of the extremely complex world of financial regulation. Like me, Alex emigrated to the U.S. and started a business here. I talked to him about entrepreneurship, the American Dream and building a business in one of the most complex industries around:
Dan Simon: Financial regulations are extremely complex, so what drove you to start a technology firm focusing on addressing this area of the industry?
Alex Tsigutkin: The entry into the regulatory arena was a result of the evolution of the capital markets landscape and our clients’ needs. We founded the company in 1991 on a two premises: (1) financial institutions need to integrate data and access information easily and efficiently to achieve robust analytical and data management capabilities and (2) regulations constantly evolve so financial firms need to adapt to the changes quickly without writing extensive programing code. At that time regulations were quite simple, however, financial institutions were focused on implementing risk management oversight. We realized the same data management and integration technology infrastructure we built for finance could also be applied to enterprise risk management. This is the point where we embarked on the development of high end analytics risk systems.
Leading up to and then following financial crisis, new complex regulations came into existence that required firms to now incorporate vast and granular data, advanced calculations, stress testing, and other market information into the regulatory reporting process. In short, it became very intense. Think about it like Lego – we have many different pieces that were put together over time and built upon each other to continue to meet the needs of our clients and the marketplace. Our company’s solutions grew in complexity and sophistication in line with the industry demands. We continue along this same path today as global buy- and sell-side firms are balancing an increasingly complex mix of requirements between the risk management, finance, and financial control. Overall, it’s been quite a journey that’s brought us here.
Simon: Do you find as an entrepreneur, that you enjoy the challenge of the industry being complex with regulations always changing?
Tsigutkin: Absolutely! Challenge is what keeps us involved and it’s very exciting for us. There were challenges in risk management, challenges in data storage and integration and now, the challenge lies in the fact that everything is moving very fast. So it’s exciting to provide financial institutions with the solutions to their problems.
Simon: How did you get global?
Tsigutkin: The whole idea of building a global company was always a dream, but the path to becoming a global company took a little bit of time and several events that led us to where we are today. When I was in college, I remember when a friend of mine and I were walking around the neighborhood and we would talk about what where we would see ourselves in the future. And my friend was an accounting major and told me “I think I’m going to grow up to be a partner in a big accounting firm, what about you?” I responded firmly stating, “I’m going to create my own global software company!” There was not much thought in saying that at the time in terms of what type of business but I guess it is evident that the seed was always there.
Simon: Did you face any unique challenges when you came over to the United States? How influential was your family throughout your career as you chased your American Dream?
Tsigutkin: Coming to the United States, my family truly believed in the American Dream. Because it’s just natural to, right? For me, the number one challenge was the language, especially as a 17 year old young man attending school in a new country. My parents were very instrumental, especially my mother. She was the one who said “you have to go to college,” even when we were struggling financially. There were times where I felt it was important to help my family and again, my mother said “no, this is not your path, you go to school”. And that’s what helped me to trust that there is an achievable American Dream for those who work toward it. In reality, people who experience challenges, think more about solutions. So for me the solutions from those challenges were to become an entrepreneur and start my own company, which was my end goal.
Simon: As a global firm, how did you work to build unified goals and bring everyone together and see the same vision?
Tsigutkin: It’s a process. First, my partners and I had to come to an agreement on what the vision for the firm was and ensure we were on the same page to become advocates for this message while leading the company. We followed this process when branching out into Europe and then APAC and the reason AxiomSL has been so successful as a global firm is that as the CEO, I’ve learned to trust my management team and let go of ownership within every decision. I realized that I didn’t have to make every decision and there was a reason we hired different regional managers where their expertise was needed. When expanding a company, you want everyone to buy in to the goal and believe in it the same way you do as a founder, so in the end it’s actually about letting go and empowering people.
Simon: What do you enjoy most about your role?
Tsigutkin: The most rewarding part of my job is when I can see all employees, not just the management team, have a clear understanding of our mission and what AxiomSL is doing. It took us time to get there, but I think we have reached a point where the company is well structured and there’s unity across the organization.
Simon: With offices around the world, theoretically you could be working around the clock. Do you think it’s important to find a healthy work-life balance? How have you integrated this practice into your firm’s culture?
Tsigutkin: I trust the partners who run the individual regions and depend on the management team to instill this. It is important to have a healthy balance or else you can get burnt out very quickly. Amongst the management team, it would be unrealistic to think that we agree on every decision but we all have the same goal in mind, which is what makes us trust each other – even when we do disagree! We understand the global picture, of being a global company and the individual requirements on the ground, this is key to any management team that has a variety of regional leaders participating in company-wide decisions. And there are big differences between Europe, Asia, and the Americas – in principal it’s all technology, it’s all people, it’s all solutions – but the way business is done across all those regions is very different. They play different roles, employees work for us in different parts of the world and they are very different and cultures are different. But everyone feels part of the bigger team.
Simon: Did you have a mentor when you first started your career?
Tsigutkin: Yes, yes of course. My mentor was a friend of mine at my first job, Alex Yevsikov. He inspired me to first become an entrepreneur.
Simon: Do you find that important and try to instill that entrepreneurship and mentorship into your firm?
Tsigutkin: Absolutely! Becoming an influential mentor actually requires a certain mentality and we emphasize the need to empower new young talent to succeed at our firm. And we have over the years, found some very bright, talented people who started as interns and in relatively short term reached very senior management roles, influencing the next generation of AxiomSL employees. You can’t get a better success story in terms of motivating talent than this, in my opinion.
Credit: Forbes Entrepreneur Interview[spacer]