Presidential Point of View--With Michael Halberstam

As President of your organization what does an average day look like?

My average day begins by logging on to the office from home at around 6:15 AM. I respond to clients, work on bids, set up meetings for the day and look at reports. I also check on the sports stories and box score for the previous day.

While I have items on my calendar for each day there are issues that are business related, such as financial, strategic, industry and legal issues, to deal with. Typically, I will meet with our COO daily and touch based 2-3 times a week with our HR director. I also get reports from, and communicate regularly with, each of our office locations around the world.

What was the best business decision you ever made?

This is tough to answer. I think there were three decisions that have helped ISA grow. First, around 1984, that I was only going to hire and work with individuals whose orientation to quality and work ethic mirrored my own. This has resulted in over 20 people who have been with ISA over 15 years. They have been outstanding to work with and ensure our leadership position in the data collection industry.

Second, was a decision I made in 1983 to do bilingual, multicultural data collection. In the intervening years we have conducted projects in 67 languages. It has been a fantastic learning experience. I have been introduced to many interesting cultures through the years and met some incredibly dedicated and fascinating people. As of today over 25% of our work is done in languages other than English crossing all modes of data collection.

Third, was our decision to invest in diversifying beyond just CATI data collection. In 1990 we added tabulation and coding. In 1995 we added IVR. In 1997 we purchased the assets of a qualitative company today known as Qualitative Insights. We did our first Web based survey in 1999. In 2005 we purchased the assets of Call-Us Info in Canada and the Opinion One software suite. Earlier this year we signed an agreement with Telemundo to manage their new focus group and interviewing facility at Universal City Walk in Hollywood, CA. Our current mix of work is 57% CATI with the rest a combination of IVR, Web, focus groups, in-person and tabulation/coding. We are always talking to other companies about different opportunities.

As a business leader how do you measure success?

We measure success against our strategic and financial goals for the year as well as a set of internal performance metrics. These are somewhat fluid. We also continually look at how our clients and competitors are doing. Finally, we have a customer satisfaction survey that goes out via the Web, after each project. Each month we look at these scores, analyze the results and respond/act accordingly.

Are there certain qualities that you look for in people you are hiring?

I normally look for several things. What experiences do they have? Are they friendly? Is this someone is want to interact with on a regular basis? Is this someone who can learn how we do things? Are they committed to high quality? I will typically talk and meet with a senior level candidate four times, under different circumstances (Lunch, in the office, dinner over the phone) before making a decision. Senior level candidates will also be required to meet with our COO and perhaps another partner.

Who do you admire the most in the research community?

I've always admired Howard Gershowitz. There are several other people who I've met over the years who have, through hard work, moved up to very senior level positions. I find this very admirable. I also admire quite a few of the folks here at ISA who started as data collectors and are now in highly responsible positions.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I don't think I have a formal leadership style. I do my best to help motivate our team, help set direction, provide strategic direction and resolve conflicts. I am good at delegating authority and allowing others to lead.

Please list 3 words that describe yourself

Nothing comes to mind.

What inspired you to get into the market research industry?

I don't believe I was really inspired. It just worked out that way. I was an interviewer for Suburban Associates beginning in 1978. I liked talking to people and found the job fun and very educational. While I had not formal training in research or business I seemed to have an affinity for the industry. As l moved up through the ranks I sound I like what I was learning. I especially like the people and clients I was dealing with. Everyone seemed helpful and determine to do things in the right manner. Almost thirty years later I'm still in the business.

How do you motivate your employees?

Many are motivated by a paycheck but others are motivated by a pat on the back or a few words of encouragement. Of course, we always use monetary motivation especially for the AE's team. Based on our examination of the industry and our competitors we feel we pay above the industry norm. Another thing that helps is our openness with the staff. We share financial and strategic information with them on a monthly basis which allows them to see the results of their work. Their idea and participation are extremely helpful.

What do you do for fun when you aren't working?

Softball, playing with my 5 1/2 year old daughter, memorabilia collecting, comic books. There are also lists of things around the house that need to be done. I also like to read.

<< Back