Leading the Path to Innovation with a Clear Conscience

Steve Faberman walks a tightrope between Progress Software’s innovative nature and making sure things are done right

Steve Faberman has no intention or interest in impeding his Progress Software colleagues’ path to innovation; he just wants to make sure they’re doing things the right way. While Faberman is the chief legal officer and chief compliance officer, he’d prefer to think of himself as the company’s conscience.“If you remember ‘The Flintstones,’ the Great Gazoo who sat on Fred’s shoulder, that’s me,” Faberman says. “What I try to do at the company is make sure we do the right thing that is not just focused on legal or risk aspects, but also in terms of how we deal with our shareholders, partners, customers, and employees. I view that as an important part of the role that I play.”

Steve Faberman, Progress Software
Steve Faberman, Progress Software

Progress Software Corporation is a global software company that simplifies the development, deployment, and management of business applications on-premise or on any cloud, platform, and device with minimal IT complexity and low total-cost ownership. More than 400,000 customers around the world run on Progress OpenEdge-based applications and more than 1,400 independent software vendors (ISVs) globally are powered by Progress. Progress also has a developer community that includes more than 1.8 million developers.

“Progress has built software that has helped people,” Faberman says. “OpenEdge allows people, particularly partners of ours, to build what we call ‘systems of record.’ So, things like ERP [enterprise resource planning] and HR systems, we’re the ‘internal plumbing’ of their systems. It’s always been reliable, very dependable, and it helps businesses operate in ways that may not be visible but are still important.”

Going forward, Progress is looking to make the systems it provides to clients more visible by modernizing its applications to be more digitally focused. Technology is becoming more cloud- and mobile-based, so Progress wants to ensure that IT is the most up-to-date for its customers.

“Over the years, we’ve expanded our offerings,” Faberman says. “And we’re helping customers go from having systems that are the ‘internal plumbing’ to really good experiences with their customers that are more up front and more visible, with technologies to help build mobile and web-based apps, data connectivity solutions as well as digital experience and content management platforms for a more personalized customer experience.”

With multiple roles comes many challenges, some of which are presented to Faberman on almost a daily basis. For example, Progress, like many other software companies, has as a culture of openness and innovation. That’s a great culture for most businesses, but for a software company, a culture of openness must be somewhat contained because it’s entrusted with so many of its clients’ private and sensitive information. That is where Faberman’s “Great Gazoo” act comes into play.

“I think now we really have to balance being transparent and innovative while also staying secure, because security is such a huge issue,” he says. “I think software companies are always going to tip the balance toward innovation. It’s something we really have to take seriously and perhaps tip the balance in the other direction. It’s not something the company goes toward easily. It’s a transition.”

Another challenge Faberman and his team face is overcoming the temptation to produce information quickly and instead make sure it’s correct. Faberman recalls practicing law before e-mail, when there was more time to contemplate issues and determine a course of action to resolve them.

That’s far cry from today, when almost immediate responses are expected. “Now, it seems everything has to be responded to in fifteen seconds, and it puts a lot strain on the organization because generally when you ask people to make a quick decision, it’s not always the best or right one,” Faberman says. “I think attorneys are tasked as the gatekeepers and know that coming up with the answer fast is not as valuable as coming up with the right answer. We often need to take a step back to slow the process, accordingly. I think we should all try to tip the balance in favor of something that takes ten minutes longer because we have to come up with the right answer—that’s the way it’s got to be to ensure success.”

The challenges are tough, but there is plenty for Faberman to like about his position. For starters, it allows him to contribute to Progress at a high level. He also has an opportunity to put his thumbprint on the company’s culture when he keeps a watchful eye on its innovative efforts to make sure it is doing things in line with overall strategy.

On the company culture side of leadership, Faberman has worked hard to make sure his team sees all colleagues as business partners rather than adversaries. That’s not always easy at times, as attorneys can been seen as the ones trying to impede creative and innovative work, but Faberman asks his team to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, taking into consideration market and competitive pressures, before snapping to judgment.

“You have to relate to the objectives of the other person,” Faberman says. “If you can’t, then you are never going to be able to be seen as somebody who is helping that person or client achieve his or her objectives. I think the only way we are a successful company is if we’re all rolling in the same direction.”

Serving as a large company’s conscience is no small or easy task. Sure, one could read a stack of business how-to books to get an idea of how to deal with the ebbs and flows that come with the job, but Faberman has another suggestion: laugh.

“One of the most important attributes you can have in this position is a sense of humor,” he says. “I think if you take yourself too seriously, you will not be successful either internally with the people you interact with, but also in terms of maintaining your sanity.”

And Faberman would like to think he has a good sense of humor. “I don’t know if everybody on the team among my colleagues would agree with that,” he says. “But that’s an important thing that people need to never lose sight of.”