The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Marketing Executive of the Year (Public Company) finalist Brian Chidester, who’s head of worldwide industry strategy for public sector at OpenText. Here, he talks career turning points, taking professional risks, career advice and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
To be effective, you need a deep understanding of the market and industry. This entails getting to the know the industry in such detail that you can truly speak to the challenges, what has changed and how the industry needs to grow.
You also need to understand your own organization and its offerings in the same detail, especially how products and services can be applied to solve future problems.
At OpenText, I’ve entrenched myself in our global public sector work and built a thought leadership platform within the organization. I now regularly speak at events, serve as a source for media, publish content in all different outlets, manage relationships with analysts, meet with customers and act as a consultant on client and sales projects. This is not typical of a traditional marketing function, but it is where I see the role going in the future and I am passionate about helping other marketers take that next step.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
When I entered the workforce, I had an idea of what the responsibilities of a marketer entailed. In my mind, it was a stovepipe industry, and it didn’t matter as much what you were marketing because very similar tactics applied each time.
Fortunately, I had a mentor that helped me understand that it was important to not just be someone marketing a product or service, but to be an expert who understands what exactly you are marketing and why it matters.
It’s one of those things that may seem obvious or intuitive for some people, but it really shaped how I approach my job. I’m now obsessed with understanding my customer, the products I am marketing and most importantly, how I can help governments around the world evolve in their digital transformation journey. Because the ultimate beneficiary is the citizen.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
I am primarily focused on improving citizen interactions with government and making that experience equitable. Everyone is continuously interacting with the government. Some of these experiences may be digital and “cutting edge,” but many are not.
What’s more, some factors — like where you live, your income or your mobility — make the experiences citizens have with the government radically different from others.
For example, during the pandemic, some students lacked the financial resources to afford a computer or at-home Wi-Fi connectivity — both of which were needed to learn remotely. Similarly, rural citizens may not have reliable access to broadband to apply for government services online. Younger citizens may be able to drive to a government office, while an elderly one may not.
Everyone — not just some — benefits when the government provides a satisfying, efficient and equitable digital experience. At OpenText, I work with global government leaders to effectively solve their challenges with solutions that are scalable, stable and sustainable, and help remove data silos that can inhibit citizens’ digital experience.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
First of all, this is something I am really fanatical about. I enjoy helping to shape the next generation of government marketers and industry leaders by participating in the Government Marketing University’s mentor and protégé program. Every year, I mentor a government marketer to help them understand the nuances that exist within the government space.
In partnership with Government Marketing University, I also host the podcast, “The Government Huddle with Brian Chidester.” The show aims to help sales and marketing professionals better understand the industry’s challenges so they can appropriately align their strategies and messaging in a way that is solution oriented.
Lastly, I am a board member for the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. Since joining the board, I’ve served as a guest lecturer and mentored students interested in working at the intersection of business and government.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
The biggest professional risk I’ve taken has been adding the global public sector remit to my responsibilities at OpenText. Previously, I had been exclusively focused on the U.S. However, the global role has required me to get to know the public sector challenges and needs of regions around the world. There was a big learning curve and I had to rely on others to learn local nuances. However, with high risk comes high rewards.
Gaining this global perspective of the public sector industry has given me a new perspective that I can bring back to the U.S. I am also able to connect the dots between public sector trends at play around the world and incorporate that into OpenText’s marketing and industry product strategy.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
A previous manager once told me: “There’s swim lanes, but it’s all water.” I took that expression as a green light to make my role my own. You can evolve your responsibilities beyond what was in the original job description to other areas of interest and make greater contributions to the organization.
I would tell others not to be afraid to get involved in an area where you want to be involved. The more ways you can get a seat at a new table, the more opportunity you’ll have to be impactful and build your reputation within the organization.
For example, I’ve taken on compliance measures, especially when it comes to the cloud. I was a member of the internal team that has brought OpenText its FedRAMP accreditation in the U.S., and I continue to lead teams working on compliance issues that allow us to support governments in areas all over the globe.