A fine balance

1 September 2005 Judy Vezmar

Stuart Crainer talks to Judy Vezmar of LexisNexis, and tries to discover the secret to her success. Since she became CEO of Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2001, LexisNexis has emerged as a leading worldwide brand.

What business are you in?

Primarily, it is providing information to clients, and my clients are professionals in the legal industry. When we talk about information we're talking about information organised so that people can get answers quickly. The rest of my market is business professionals in the corporate world looking for news and company information worldwide and in their local countries.

How is the market changing? Is the demand for speed really shaping the market?

"It's about taking our global technology platform worldwide and then adapting it to local markets."

There have been a lot of changes in the five years since I have been here. Probably the most prevalent is the change in the need to find fast and comprehensive answers to questions. There are so many sources of information for people. We can spend our lives surfing the net and never find what we really need.

What will be the chief areas for growth in the next few years?

There are two main areas from my perspective. One would be the expansion of offerings within the current markets we operate in. The other would be expansion into new geographical markets.

Which in particular?

We are looking at expansion into the African market. We are also looking at the markets towards Russia, where there is growth, incredible demand for electronic and online services and opportunity. And there are various markets across Europe where we have the ability to become the leading provider.

Your job title covers Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Isn't that a rather old-fashioned view of the world?

I don't bundle them together. I look at each country, and I look at them from several vantage points. So, for example, we will build business strategy within a country. But then we have this tremendous advantage which is about leveraging the assets of a global company and having capabilities and expertise across the globe. I can then marry the two, which allows us to find a lot of efficiencies and synergies across country borders and leverage things that are global in nature. It's about taking our global technology platform worldwide and then adapting it to local markets.

The LexisNexis brand was virtually unknown in Europe a few years ago.

Yes, when I arrived five years ago, we were still a loose federation of states. Every country had its own brand. There was no real connection. Now there is such momentum building across the world.

There is a global local balance.

Exactly. That's our strategy really. In every country, what we are doing is building the very best so that we have the very best of the local content, whether it's on the news and business side or on the legal side, and at the same time we're leveraging our global assets to make legal information accessible. We are supporting the whole globalisation of legal practice.

You were previously with Xerox and started work as a sales rep after university. How did this experience help you?

Having sales and marketing in my background has served me well in my career. It gives me strong experience to draw on when it comes to market strategy. The entire concept of how you go to market with what you're selling is so fundamental.

"LexisNexis has emerged as a leading brand."

Having walked in the shoes of a sales rep and managed sales organisations, you understand what sales reps deal with on a day-to-day basis. You can empathise and anticipate very well, which is critical when you are thinking of how you can get something you create into the hands of someone who is going to pay for it.

We've invested heavily in building a world-class sales and marketing team. My experience is valuable in this. When you're on the ground dealing with customers, it gives you a proper ear for the customer, so that you can hear what they're saying, you feel comfortable with them and have first-hand knowledge of the kind of relationship with a customer that leads to long-term loyalty.

Does it help that you are not a lawyer?

I am in a company with thousands of lawyers in it. My whole background is in business, marketing and technology, and the company needed someone with that background able to leverage the talent across the group. We have some of the best legal minds in the world. What I bring to the table is, hopefully, business judgement and an ability to build the organisation for longevity.

What attracted you to the industry, after spending so long at Xerox?

I didn't think much about leaving Xerox, and then I came to work in Europe. I loved working here and working across borders. Also, this job was about the transformation of a company to make it global. To be global, the company needed to develop a new way of thinking, so that it's not just a local publishing house. That was exciting and enticing. I was intrigued by the change in the industry, and I thought if I could make it work, it would also be extremely exciting. I looked at it as a unique opportunity to keep learning by doing something new.

How would you measure success for yourself and the company?

Obviously, achieving the usual financial measurements. But I also think about growing our market share in every country, retaining our clients in every country and, perhaps even more importantly, building long-standing relationships with clients that last years and years. All that adds up to success for me.

And then there's brand recognition – I get such a charge from that. From a business perspective, if we get all of those things right, I will be extremely excited and delighted. At a personal level, I am highly driven to deliver on business promises.

Is there a limit to how effective you can be?

It's a good question for any CEO. This is a job that pulls you in many different directions. It is filled with pressures. You can only be effective as long as you are really passionate and enthusiastic. I believe that I bring something to the business that wouldn't be there without me. When that changes, a CEO better move.

"We've invested heavily in building a world-class sales and marketing team."

How has the job changed in your tenure?

You have to have a vision, a sense of what you're shooting for. I think that we are having success, and when you have success, it pushes you in a positive way to become even more successful.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I got feedback from my own team about my core skills and style. What came out of it was that, with my background, getting results and getting into the details is definitely in my nature. On the strategic side, I love the idea of a blank piece of paper and asking what our long-term goal is and how we are going to get there. That's my style.

How do you keep your team together?

It's a daily job. It's a bit about understanding what makes individuals tick. We have found that the country leaders in particular thrive on developing the business. People are motivated by success.

How do you manage your time?

I am not a person who spends time sitting in their office. It is a fairly heavy travel schedule. I might be in my office one day a week.

What business problems keep you awake at night?

The fact that we are ahead of our competitors keeps me thinking about how we sustain that lead. The second thing is the people side. Are we managing our talent? We are making big bets on where the market is going, so I worry about whether the market is heading that way.