Jon Ziglar | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

The Experience of Jon Ziglar

By Robert Green

By education and experience Jon Ziglar is a “no spin” executive who believes that there are no shortcuts to success. Ziglar’s motto of “just do the work” has propelled him to heights of responsibility and leadership in his career. “Acceptance that you have to do the work is the beginning of accomplishment,” says Ziglar, “and that goes to whatever endeavor you’re talking about, whether leading a business, building relationships or training for a competition.  Some people, and companies, think they can get around it and rely on natural talent or other people to put in the effort on their behalf - which I’ve never seen work over the long term.”

Ziglar was born in Washington, DC to an attorney father and computer science mother.  His father spent most of his career going back and forth between investment banking and government service. Mr. Ziglar began by clerking for Justice Blackmon at the Supreme Court and ended his public service as the last Commissioner of the Immigration & Naturalization Service during and after 9/11. In addition, he served as Assistant Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan, Sergeant-at-Arms of the US Senate and CEO of biometrics technology company, CrossMatch. “My father always kept it interesting and pushed himself to excel at whatever he was engaged in, which was often far afield from his roots as a lawyer.”  Despite spending his youth surrounded by business and politics, Ziglar was at first primarily interested in art.

“I thought I would end up at the Rhode Island School of Design or Parsons,” he says, “but when I was accepted into Princeton I felt that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.” It proved to be a defining experience. “I had never been surrounded by so many gifted and driven people.  It was there that I started to realize that I needed to elevate my own game if I was going to keep up.”  It was at Princeton that Ziglar began to form his “just do the work” philosophy.  “We had a great social life, but everyone was always working too. People just didn’t let either one slip, whereas at that age, given different surroundings, I’d likely have slacked off.  It had a huge impact on me knowing that there was always someone out there working harder.  It pushes you.”  

Ziglar played rugby at Princeton, starting all four years, and built close relationships there that continue to this day.  “I have a great group of friends, all of whom have gone on to do incredible things in various fields.”  Ziglar’s circle from Princeton stay very close and act as sounding boards for each other, particularly when it comes to personal and professional challenges they are facing.  Ziglar also remains involved in the Princeton Alumni Association, known as one of the most active university alumni groups.    Ziglar applies his “do the work” philosophy in his personal life as well.  In addition to being a competitive triathlete in the mid 90s,  Ziglar spent four years as a professional adventure racer.  Adventure, or expedition, racing involves non stop, multi-day, multi-disciplinary races of distances up to 400 miles.  Races include orienteering, running, trekking, mountain-biking, kayaking, mountaineering and rappelling in teams of four across remote terrain.

Longer races can go up to eight or ten days in which the top teams will sleep on average 30 minutes in a 24 hour period for the duration.  “We were never the biggest, strongest or fastest team out there, so people often underestimated us.”  That was, in the beginning.  “We had great success because we were more focused and disciplined in the way we trained and raced.  We trained for every scenario and we knew each one of our strengths and weaknesses.  Also, we never wasted time on the course and we kept our heads so that we didn’t make mistakes.  Hiking the wrong direction for four hours before you realize you’re off track can put even the best team in last place.”   Ziglar’s Princeton alumni team, Tiger Adventure, was the youngest to finish the sport’s biggest event, the Eco Challenge, held in Patagonia Argentina in 1999 and also won its division in the 1998 Beast of the East, the US championship for the sport at the time.  

After college, Ziglar started a career in investment banking which took him to Charlotte, Dallas, New York and ultimately San Francisco, as he put it “helping other people raise money to run businesses and do things they loved.”  In 1999, he decided that he wanted to be on the other side, and left banking for an internet start-up.

“It was 1999 in the Bay Area, and there was nothing more exciting than jumping into this unbelievable new mainstream medium called the Internet.”  Ziglar went to an early stage company, AllAdvantage, the first “infomediary” which married consumer behavioral data with delivery of content. The company tracked the online surfing behavior of its members (12 million at its peak), and combined that data with demographic and other information to deliver targeted marketing via online banner adds.  “We could deliver a J. Crew banner ad offer for 25% off men’s pants at the local store, to a member that was 25 years old, male and living in a specific zip code, all while he was browsing on the Banana Republic website.  Though maybe common place now, that was groundbreaking in 1999 and very powerful for advertisers.”  

When he began at AllAdvantage, they only had 25 people working on card tables, but soon raised over $150 million in VC funding and grew to 800 employees in multiple countries.  As Vice President of Development, Ziglar’s job was to identify new revenue opportunities and business adjacencies, building them out and operationalizing them.  He built a new business named the Advantage Network, which allowed AllAdvantage to leverage its large sales force to sell for multiple companies, driving incremental revenue to the company.  Underpinning this business was a cutting edge targeted advertising delivery engine which the Company developed.  Within a year of beginning the business, the Advantage Network was driving in excess of $10 million in revenue on an annualized basis. AllAdvantage had filed to go public just as the internet advertising market fell apart effectively freezing out new IPOs and ultimately causing the company to sell itself off.

Ziglar then moved to webMethods, a public company, in the B2B and enterprise  application integration space.  At webMethods, Ziglar was tasked with building out its network of small to mid-sized software partners, and ultimately was responsible for managing the company’s partnership with JD Edwards, re-negotiating a global OEM software license and sales partnership agreement with the company.  “That was a year-long negotiation which involved every aspect of combining two businesses, from IP protection and technology development and support, to customer care, sales coordination, engagement and compensation, all on a global scale.”  Ziglar realized at this point that he had a knack for managing large complex issues within the context of various parties’ goals and objectives, and moreover that he enjoyed that aspect of his work immensely.

He nevertheless felt that if he was ever going to go back to school that he needed to either do it then or not at all.  “All through the 90s, there was too much opportunity to justify pulling out of the workplace.  By the time 2001 rolled around and the internet bubble had burst, you knew you wouldn’t be missing much.”   After leaning toward an MBA he finally opted to attend law school at Emory.  He had spent four years in banking and another four working in companies and felt he’d already seen much of what business school would teach.  “Law was something I couldn’t learn on the job, and moreover, was a very specific skill set which during the downturn, was quite attractive.”  Ziglar chose Emory because of its new joint program with Georgia Tech (the TiGER program) focused on technology commercialization. Besides being very relevant for his business dealings, Ziglar’s legal training prepared him well for the type of large organizational and strategic challenges he would face later in his career.  “A legal education teaches you to identify the key issues within a large and complex problem, compartmentalize those and deal with each in sequence.  As I look at solving challenges within companies, or helping to define the right strategic path, this discipline has been critical in avoiding being sidetracked by the minutia or frozen by all the permutations, focusing instead on getting directionally correct, moving forward, and making adjustments from there.”

After graduating Emory Law in 2005, Ziglar went to Raymond James, once again as an investment banker, to help start-up the new Business Services Group which was focused on technology enabled businesses – primarily in the payments, human capital and BPO verticals.  It was here that Ziglar found payments and human capital management were industries which both fascinated and excited him “because they sit at the nexus of business and the consumer.  In each industry adoption is required on both the business and user (consumer) sides for any innovation to succeed.”  

Three years later he was hired by Stuart Harvey, CEO of one of his clients, Elavon.  Ziglar had the title of Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning & Enterprise Development and his initial mandate was to focus primarily on international mergers & acquisitions as well as crafting the strategic vision of the company to ensure it was relevant three, five and ten year in the future. One of the first things he identified was the need for a strong product function to drive direction.  He pulled together Elavon’s product group, which had previously been managed across disparate groups and geographic silos within the organization, into a single, global group that reported to him. “This was highly successful,” says Ziglar, “because it helped us avoid mistakes, like building similar products in two regions.  It also helped us to focus on the products that were most profitable or growing, while de-emphasizing those that were not driving our business currently or in the future.  Just taking this type of ‘noise’ out of an organization that distracts from the larger goal has a huge impact.” During his tenure at Elavon, the company expanded by purchasing the Diners Club Merchant Portfolio for Europe – with 80,000 merchants – and entering the markets of Mexico and Brazil. In addition, it pushed forward into the gateway space through acquisition and the development of its next generation gateway product, FuseBox.  Ziglar is proud of the team’s work at Elavon and the way in which the company weathered the financial storm that hit in 2008.  “The downturn forced us to face head-on the core areas of weakness in our business model, such as reliance on same store sales growth.  We focused on building a company that was far more resistant to macro economic cycles through diversification of revenue sources.”  The Company’s management undertook quarterly strategic planning sessions, rethinking its model in many ways and closely monitoring how the business was evolving.  The result was that Elavon succeeded in driving bottom line growth through the downturn.

In 2011 Ziglar moved to Ceridian where Stuart Harvey had become CEO the previous year. Aside from knowing that he worked well with Harvey, he saw Ceridian as a great opportunity. “Being a private company was a plus. We could make some bold moves without as much quarter over quarter pressure. Also, we are large enough to have a big impact on the marketplace but still small enough to be nimble.” Long known as one of the leading payroll processors, Ziglar believes that Ceridian’s future rests on being much more than that. “We are in the human capital management business,” said Ziglar, “and we immediately made moves to become more relevant in that space.”

In February of 2011, Ceridian bought 20% of dayforce corporation, a Toronto based workforce management provider with a cutting edge platform, to fill a gap it saw in its human capital management offering. Ceridian white labeled the dayforce product and set the goal of signing 150 customers on the product in the first year. They signed 500, and had over 200 live in the first 12 months. “We quickly saw that dayforce was going to be extraordinarily  successful, and moreover, that their technology provided the ideal platform on which to deliver a global, end-to-end human capital management solution.”  Ceridian quickly set about negotiating to purchase the remaining 80% that it did not own, closing the transaction in April 2012.  Ceridian officially introduced Dayforce HCM to the market in Q2 of 2012 and is extending the platform to offer payroll and benefits to complement the existing workforce management, core HR and Self Service.  The company intends to continue to roll-out additional capabilities as it evolves.  “Dayforce HCM has been a huge success and the validation we have received from the market, both customers and industry analysts, has been overwhelming.  We are doing something truly different with Dayforce HCM by delivering not an integrated set of products, but a single solution that serves our customers across the HCM continuum.  By doing this, we can remove many of the steps and friction inherent in the HR, benefits and payroll processes to make administrators and employees more productive.”  The company has been recognized by multiple industry sources for its technology leadership, including recently receiving the Techtonic Award for having the best technology in workforce management as well as overall HCM platform. “We are moving from being a service bureau company to a technology innovation leader,” said Ziglar. “We believe that, combined with great customer service which is in our DNA from our founding as a payroll outsourcer in 1932, positions us for huge success.”

Ziglar sees Ceridian as now being in the process of “taking it to a new level” and getting a new look from clients and investors. Long known for payroll processing, the company is also a substantial player in payments. Through their Comdata and Stored Value Solutions businesses, Ceridian is a leader in the fleet card and prepaid gift card markets.  In the payments area, Ziglar sees the company doing much more in the future, particularly in the e-payment space, replacing traditional checks with electronic transactions via one-time ‘virtual credit cards’.  The application for this is vast, cutting across, retail, manufacturing and healthcare, to name a few.

They are also making significant strides in the payroll card and general purpose reloadable segments driving distribution through Ceridian’s payroll customers as a primary channel.  “The distribution synergies between these businesses have been tremendous.”

Ziglar is excited about Ceridian and the role he plays there. As Chief Strategy Officer he works with all the business line leaders looking for gaps and areas of significant opportunity for the Company. In addition, he oversees corporate development, including mergers and acquisitions as well as major joint ventures and partnerships.  Recently, he took over responsibility for the Company’s International Payroll Services business, which provides managed payroll services to customers on a global basis through both Ceridian’s existing payroll platforms as well as a network of partners in over 50 countries and growing.  “IPS is a critical business for us as our customers increasingly want to consolidate their payroll providers globally.  We need to be where our customers are, and IPS is that first line to deliver a consistent, global payroll experience.”  The business is also critical as Ceridian looks to expand its direct presence outside its core markets of the US, Canada and the UK through its Dayforce HCM platform.  Ziglar lives in Buckhead with his wife Christy, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.  They have been married eleven years and are the proud parents of five year old boy and girl twins.  They are actively involved in the community and members of Northside Methodist Church.

Secrets to Success:

  1. Do the work.  This applies to everything in life, but particularly on the job.  Get your hands dirty in the details of not just what the business does, but how it does it, both technically and operationally. You have to invest the time.
  2. “You can have everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” – a quote from Ziglar’s great-uncle, Zig Ziglar.

  3. Figure out what makes you most productive.  For me it is getting myself grounded and ready for the day by exercising and reading every morning.  No matter what I have going on or when I went to bed the night before, I get up early to work out and get myself centered.  It makes all the hours to follow in the day twice as productive and therefore more than worth the investment.


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