Interview with Gene Kathol: Thought Leader and Financial Services Veteran

As a follow-on post to our Thought Leadership 101 blog, we’ve asked Gene Kathol, a respected financial services veteran, to discuss how companies can utilize participation in industry standards activities to increase their visibility and overall market stature. During his 33 year career at First Data, Gene Kathol became one of its most tenured and knowledgeable leaders – and was the company’s representative to industry standards groups both within the United States and internationally, most recently having served as Chairman of both ISO/TC68 and ASC X9, Financial Services.

Gene offers an in the trenches perspective on thought leadership in action with valuable insights on how companies can leverage participation in standard bodies to elevate their company’s profile.

Attain Marketing: From your perspective, why does a company like First Data believe standards participation is important?

Kathol: Using a hockey term, standards participation allows a company to “skate to where the puck will be”. While industry secrets are not divulged during standards development; industry trends, industry-wide developments, foreign developments, and related or adjacent industry developments are often discussed during the development of standards. Knowing where the market or industry will be in the future allows your company to stay viable and reinvent yourself, rather than having your competition reinvent the products you used to provide.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the primary benefits that companies gain by participating in standards groups?

Kathol: First, it is important that your clients’ needs and requirements are included within the industry standards that define your industry. Exceptions and variances to most any product increase production or marketing costs. Second, participation allows you to represent the needs and requirements of your company’s products. In addition to the negative impacts of increases in production or marketing costs by being “out of standard”, there are positive market advantages to be leveraged in the areas of purchasing, development, production, employment, marketing, and sales. The videotape industry comes to mind…Beta was a higher quality and more reliable product, but VHS became the industry standard…and Beta tapes were relegated to the Smithsonian.

Attain Marketing: In your opinion how does participation in the standards bodies demonstrate “thought leadership”?

Kathol: If you’re declaring your company to be an industry leader, you need to act like it. Participation in standards is the right thing to do AND your customers will recognize you for it.

Attain Marketing: What is one of the most unexpected benefits companies can gain through participation in standards work?

Kathol: Companies that get involved in standards work have the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the best people in the industry and their most influential peers. You never know what opportunity will present itself at the next meeting…maybe you will meet that talented employee you’ve been searching for, forge a productive partnership or earn a new customer.

With all of the buzz today about social networking, everyone is re-thinking the value of their connections. While the verdict is still out for many on how Internet networking may or may not help companies successfully connect with influencers, participation in offline industry forums like standards bodies offers a tried and true form of networking. Whether you are a start up company or the industry guerilla these forums provide a level playing field that can help reinforce your position as a thought leader and industry influencer.

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