The Learning House Discusses Mentorship, the Louisville Tech Community and the Changing Role of Tech Leaders - comSpark Podcast
Justin Klutka - Louisville Tech Power Player Honoree
Senior Vice President of Technology
The Learning House
Director, Sales Strategy and Development
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Senior Vice President of Technology for The Learning House, Justin Klutka, discusses mentorship, the Louisville tech community and the changing role of tech leaders.
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MP: We're here today with Justin Klutka, who's the Senior Vice President of Technology at The Learning House. Learning House is an organization based in Louisville with about 500 employees. My name is Mike Pratt and I'm with Round Tower and I'll be your guest moderator today. Let's get started. Justin, you've been in leadership for around 10 years. At what point in your career did you decide that you wanted to be a tech leader?
JK: I think it became very clear to me that I wanted to be a technology leader when I found that not only did I have a passion for things like coding and building systems, but I cared a lot about how the people involved in those bigger projects were able to complete their daily work. And so, I started to find ways to become more of a person leader, a project leader, and then ultimately found my way into senior leadership.
MP: Did you have a mentor earlier in, in your career?
JK: Oh, yes. I was very fortunate to have many mentors. I wasn't shy about seeking them out and I still have several of those mentors to this day.
MP: When did you realize that you created a big break for yourself?
JK: I think for me it was when senior leaders started to look at me in the room when problems were being discussed. So, when the next big project or the next big initiative was discussed, my name became top of mind for them and I started to get more nods to lead those projects.
MP: Have you seen your role change as a leader in your organization?
JK: Very much. I think that, like any technology leader, I had to become more of a business person. And by that I mean I had to deeply understand our business model. I had to understand, in my industry, things like marketing and student acquisition and student retention. I certainly couldn't get by with just understanding the, you know, the cool technology, so to speak. I had to understand how they mapped to the operational things that we do.
MP: And what are the key outcomes that you look to achieve in your role?
JK: For us it's interesting because my role – we don't generate revenue, but we enable the groups that generate revenue. And so, obviously, that's an easy one to measure whether those groups are performing or not, but more importantly, it's the voice of the customer for me. It's if my internal or external stakeholders are telling us that the services and technology that we are providing is helping them achieve their KPIs.
MP: What is the best attribute that you believe you bring to your organization?
JK: Well, I like to bring a broad view of any business problem. I think that that allows me to help provide a council to my various peers in their various roles. And so I think for me, it's not just being somebody they look at to answer the question of, you know, which architectures or vendors should we be using? It's how are we going to achieve this business goal? And I've not been shy about participating in those activities. And I think that's a unique attribute that I bring.
MP: What are your top projects in 2018 and in what kind of order of relevance?
JK: Well, you know, a month ago if you'd asked me the question, they would have been a little bit different, but, you know, we were recently acquired by John Wiley and Sons and that will become a key focus point for us. It will be integrating their existing education services business with ours and trying to make one plus one equal three in this acquisition setting. You know, in addition to that as a top project, it's the topics like you would expect like retiring a few of our legacy systems that's become more and more important as well as I'm continuing to migrate onto digital platforms, cloud based platforms, so that we can scale.
MP: So, what advice would you give to an aspiring CIO or senior technology leader?
JK: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I think mentors are so incredibly important. That's one of the key things that helped unlock my career. I would also tell anybody aspiring to grow in an IT leadership position to just deeply understand their business and how their business achieves their goals, because this isn't just about programming and systems and software. It’s, at the end of the day, about how the business is going to be profitable and achieve their goals.
MP: So, before the Wiley acquisition, you had a set of priorities and they quickly changed because of that, but you were talking about just cloud and retirement of old systems. Were those some of your top ones going into it before?
JK: Absolutely. You know, prior to the acquisition we had, I had launched a fairly large crowd cloud migration strategy and that was to get us into systems that frankly would be easier to scale, more cost effective to scale, more resilient when it comes to a load and things of that nature. I also brought in a major ERP Initiative and that was to help Learning House go from what had been a very small business to a midsized business and be able to automate process and enable process improvement in a very systemized way. So, those were key initiatives and they don't really change, they now take on an integration slant and they need to be part of the larger considerations of the Wiley acquisition.
MP: Well, let's change a little bit here to community. What's the best part of working in Louisville and what are the biggest challenges of working in Louisville to you?
JK: You know, so the best part of working in Louisville I think is just the ability, you know, proximity is great, you know, traffic is so much better than other major markets, you know. Sure, it can be an issue on some mornings, but, you know, it doesn't- it pales in comparisons to other major markets. So, what I think that allows us to have is a friendlier, close knit technology community here that does seem to be growing and establishing more and more organizations to bring people from different companies together. I've been invited to sessions with fellow leaders from UPS, Humana, Young, Papa John's, etc. and I think that cross collaboration probably doesn't take place quite as much in major markets as it does in a place like Louisville. The downside is, you know, we don't have the population of some of these other major markets, so it can be really, really tough when we need to grow on a people front.
MP: What kind of things do you feel the local market needs to take to the next level and become a larger tech hub?
JK: I think being able to attract additional businesses is going to help. I view what's going on with us as a major success story. You know, a large 5,000 person global organization now taking root here in Louisville is a pretty big deal. And I think where Louisville can continue to take businesses like the Learning House and help them grow and succeed to ultimately be acquired by major players can make all the difference, to be honest.
MP: So, I know this may change with the recent acquisition, but how would you want to improve your organization over the next three years in and how do you see that with now the merger or the joining of the two organizations?
JK: It will be a focus on a center of excellence in certain technologies. I think AI and machine learning, you know, we're about to hit the next wave of adoption in those technologies and frankly we've been able to, we've been fortunate to start to work in those areas and pioneer a few services with those technologies. So, I think what I hope for is to allow. I'm learning how to provide those services into the larger Wiley organization.
MP: Well, thank you and thanks for the time. This is Mike Pratt and Justin Klutka. Thank you very much. To learn more about us, visit Comspark.tech. Goodbye, until next time.
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