2008/02/27

Breakfast with NAVTEQ's CEO in Chicago


Judson Green, the CEO of NAVTEQ, gave a fantastic presentation on 26 February 2008 about his business background and some insight into the culture of NAVTEQ and where they're headed now that they've been acquired by Nokia.

His presentation was given on the 66th floor of Chicago's Sears Tower to a large group consisting mostly of young business professionals during an event called "Breakfast With NAVTEQ's CEO." The event was hosted and organized by World Business Chicago and the Young Professionals of Chicago.

TECHcocktail included a blurb about the event in one of their periodic emails that I'm subscribed to. I'm highly interested in NAVTEQ and what GPS and LBS (location-based services) hold for the future, especially in terms of innovation and start-ups that will be proliferating in the LBS arena over the next few years. The convergence of enjoyable web surfing on cell phone-size devices, e.g. the iPhone, and ubiquitous GPS devices will inevitably lead to useful, interesting and invasive applications that consumers, companies and government agencies will quickly learn to love and wonder how they got along without them. I wanted to meet the CEO of NAVTEQ, hear what he had to say and maybe meet a few other entrepreneurial or tech types with an interest in topics related to NAVTEQ.

Judson Green is one of the most entertaining and straightforward business speakers I've heard. He's not a technology person, but is rather a business person who happens to run a technology company that's positioned to make a huge impact over the next five to ten years. Because of his business background and focus, the presentation didn't get deep into the technology issues. Instead Judson explained how he got from starting to learn piano at the age of 3 1/2 to being in top management in Disney, including being in charge of starting up Disneyland Resort, Paris, sometimes referred to as EuroDisney. When he decided to leave Disney, he had a number of opportunities. Because he believed in the potential market for GPS devices and services, and because he knew he could build an effective team to turn around a sound but poorly-managed company, he accepted the job of CEO for NAVTEQ in 2000 when it was losing $50+ million per year. One of the things Judson did after joining NAVTEQ was bring the company from Silicon Valley to Chicago. He felt the business costs and the cost of living were sufficient incentive to leave the entrepreneurial tech center of the world. Being centered in Chicago also makes it easier for NAVTEQ not to have too strong of a European focus or Asian focus, which he thought being located on one of the US coasts would lead to. Judson thinks the Midwest USA is a great place for tech companies to locate and sees great things ahead for the tech economy in this area.

In 2005, Judson led NAVTEQ through a $2 million IPO. The company is currently in the process of being acquired by Nokia. Since Nokia is the leading cell phone manufacturer in the world, and has chosen to not focus on the US market, NAVTEQ will have some great opportunities to be a leader in the GPS/LBS markets in Europe, Asia and other places where the cell phone is the primary means of accessing the internet. This will enable and force them to develop mapping services that might not otherwise happen if they were primarily focused on the US and were a US public company.

One aspect of NAVTEQ I didn't fully understand prior to Judson's presentation is their focus on location-based content, rather than location-based services. The company's goal is to provide as much accurate mapping information as possible. It is then the job of NAVTEQ's customers to organize, manipulate, mash up and present that data to consumers.

It will be cool if we can put together an opportunity for some of the enthusiastic tech people from NAVTEQ to participate in Wisconsin geek events such as a Milwaukee Tech Cafe or BarCampMilwaukee. We'll have to do some networking with people or companies who either supply mapping data to NAVTEQ or are direct customers. Because NAVTEQ is a business-t0-business company, they likely participate less in public events like a Tech Cafe than a company like Adobe or Amazon is, but if the right people are involved, it should be interesting and worthwhile to NAVTEQ to let some of their tech people participate in the event.

In addition to hearing Judson at the breakfast, I had the opportunity to meet Jason Fried of 37Signals. He sounded open to the idea of having one or two people from 37Signals participate in a Tech Cafe or barcamp in Wisconsin, so I'll follow up with him on that. Maybe we can get someone from his company to participate in the Amazon Tech Cafe currently planned for 03 Apr 2008, since Jeff Bezos is an investor in 37Signals and Jason appears to like Amazon Web Services.

I also talked with Kye-Anne Wilborn at the breakfast, a vice president for the National Black MBA Association. The association's national headquarters are in Chicago, and Kye-Anne said they might be interested in collaborating on tech or entrepreneurial events in Wisconsin that would be of interest to the NBMBAA.

Judson is a director for both Dreamworks Animation and Harley-Davidson and loves playing jazz piano whenever possible. If we can arrange for an event involving something fun and interesting with one or more of those three topics, perhaps he can be convinced to spend some time in Wisconsin...

P.S. -- If you're passionate about GPS, GIS, location-based content and other areas potentially of interest to NAVTEQ, you may want to contact them about a career with this company that has a fantastic growth and development period ahead of it. It was mentioned at the meeting that they expect to be hiring a significant number of new people in 2008. If Judson fills the NAVTEQ management ranks with people who have the same desire and apparent skill to enable passionate and skilled people to do great things with technology, this would be one fun place to work!
*****

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