Six days after graduating from college, Boyd Harter landed in Heathrow airport in London with a small suitcase and a few dollars in his pocket. He had no place to go, no job, and no immediate plans. “In those situations, you just find out how to make things happen,” he reminisces now. “No matter where you are, there is always somebody who knows how it works, and you just have to find that person.
“It wasn’t long before I discovered that there was a whole infrastructure in place there to support student workers who came in for summer jobs. I tapped into that network. I ended up being one of twelve people packed into a row house of international students from all over the world. I found a job and made friends with people from all over the world.” For Boyd, it wasn’t just a summer to remember; it was a lesson in risk-taking to remember. Now the Executive Vice President, CFO, and co-owner of Guident, a consulting firm that specializes in the use of technology to help clients in the Washington metro area better manage their mission, his life is a calculated sequence of risk and reward, flecked with once-in-a-lifetime experiences that only belong to those who dare to forge a path all their own.
Guident has made quite a name for itself in recent years, setting itself apart as an expert in business intelligence, data warehousing, predictive analytics, traditional systems engineering, and application development. Whether they’re helping a client handle supply chain management, finances, work management, or something else, Boyd and his team help them deliver on their mission. They take data in its raw form and package it into an output that makes sense, looking for trends to identify causation and providing their clients useful, actionable information. In essence, they create meaning out of madness.
In 2000, Boyd was employed by Price Waterhouse. He was very content there and believed he would spend his entire career at Price, even after Guident made a big push to bring him over to its team in 1999. In 2000, however, Boyd’s first child was born, and he realized his current lifestyle would not allow him to be the father he wanted to be. “I was all over the place. I was working from five cities in five days and managing multiple large projects within the utility and energy industry,” he recalls. “When my son was born in June of 2000, I almost missed his delivery, and I realized it wasn’t the life I wanted to lead.”
With that, Boyd began seriously considering a transition. After accepting a position at Guident, he left Price Waterhouse and took several months off to travel up and down the East Coast with his wife and newborn. Boyd officially started at Guident in January of 2001. He thought his time there would simply be a temporary step—a catalyst to leave a company he loved. Yet now, twelve years later, he remains an integral part of the Guident team.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, however. The company went from around $2 million in revenue when Boyd joined to $1 million after the Tech Bubble burst in 2002. During his first year, he had been charged with heading up the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) division. After the collapse, the company’s investment in the high cost, long duration ERP implementations dried up. As a result, Boyd established the Business Intelligence division at Guident, and it remains the core of the business today.
Before long, large business intelligence projects at Nextel and Fannie Mae resulted in quickly quadrupling revenues for the firm. Guident then invested the profits back into the business intelligence practice, instigating tremendous growth that has allowed their revenues to reach around $55 million today.
Despite its wildfire success, Guident has never been bottom-line focused. Rather, its emphasis is on company culture, even as their staff topped 200 employees and 50 subcontractors. “Our leadership team is very much aligned on the fact that Guident, is a means to an end,” Boyd points out. “We don’t live to work; we work to live. I’ve got young kids and a family, and my wife and I are extremely wrapped up in their activities, whether it’s coaching soccer or helping with Boy Scouts. We also make a point to do a lot of traveling to help our kids experience the world first-hand. We try to give them more than just a picture in a book—we want them to be there and experience it themselves, which gives them more perspective on what they’re learning. This balance is embodied in the personality of the company, and encouraging this work-life balance in Guident employees is one of my highest priorities.”
Company culture isn’t the only thing that Guident’s management team sees eye-to-eye on. Boyd and his two co-owners, Dan Ackerman and Teddy Matheu, all have a strong drive toward entrepreneurialism in their blood, and as a result, there is no hierarchy among the ownership. They remain equal owners in the company, and each one brings their own unique backgrounds, passions, and skill sets to Guident. Dan, for example, boasts a highly seasoned technical understanding of the industry, while Teddy excels at cultivating relationships.
Boyd, on the other hand, has a background in finance, accounting, and IT, which gives him a good sense of how to transform a strategy into reality. “Every decision that we make must be cost-justified,” he affirms. “The checks and balances among the three of us work out really well. We don’t make decisions on a whim. Change comes slowly, with the three of us needing to justify our choices to the each other. It can be infuriating, but at the end of the day, I think it’s a great practice.”
Boyd was born and raised for the first nine weeks of his life in Evanston, Illinois, as his father finished up PhD work at Northwestern University. The family then moved to Boulder, Colorado and five years later to San Francisco, California. It was still a growing city at that time, and Boyd remembers it as a fantastic place to grow up until the family relocated across the country to Northern Virginia when he was in fifth grade.
Boyd’s first job came in junior high, when a friend wanted to get rid of his paper route. “I didn’t know that it was a hot commodity at the time, but I really wanted to deliver that afternoon edition of the Washington Star,” Boyd recalls with a laugh. He acquired the route through a trade, added a slew of customers, and grew the route quite a bit, and he can still remember that adrenaline rush of winning over new customers for the first time.
“Several years later, I sold it to a neighborhood kid and made quite a premium,” he continues. “That’s when my eyes really opened up, realizing that the real payoff was not the incremental day-to-day revenue that came from adding new customers. It instead came with selling the route, which had become more profitable as a whole. I learned to invest back in one’s company, because if you can delay that payoff, you’ll benefit exponentially. That was my first accidental lesson in entrepreneurship, and the flame was lit.”
Boyd also learned a strong work ethic from his father, who was an executive of Fannie Mae. His father essentially came from nothing, working hard to change the course of his life and provide a better experience for his family. “He taught my sister and me to make sure that we were striving to give the next generation a better quality of life,” he remembers. “There were strong currents of integrity, pride, and responsibility woven in to the way my parents carried themselves, and that made a strong impression on us.”
Boyd later attended the University of Virginia, where he was an accounting and finance major, and then rejected an array of job offers to remain for graduate school to earn his Masters. Subsequently, he accepted a position at Price Waterhouse on the consulting side of the firm, where he met his wife. “I knew she was the one for me when we were on a bike ride one day and I said I wanted to step off the traditional path, leave my job, and backpack around the world,” he recalls. “For a split second she thought I was crazy, but very quickly she jumped on board. Six months later, we had saved every penny so we could resign from our jobs and spend a year traveling around the globe. We had saved up $25,000, and we were going to make that last as long as we could.”
Both of their employers begged them to take a leave of absence instead of resigning, so with jobs to return to later, the young couple traveled around the world for a year, beginning in Turkey and ending in Hong Kong after visiting 25 countries, including Syria, India, and Nepal. Later, they visited Croatia shortly after the Yugoslav forces had retreated. “My wife and I went strolling in, and the hotels were dirt cheap, and we loved it,” Boyd details. “There are two different kinds of people: people who have more money than time, and people who have more time than money. It’s the people who have more time than money who are genuinely the happiest. It’s not even close. We live in a consumer-driven society where money is extremely important, but it’s important to escape it and achieve that different perspective.”
Echoing his brazen trip to London after graduating from college, Boyd’s later escapades are far from out of character, and that same adventurous spirit defines his professional life just as it does his personal life. The popular route out of UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce was public accounting, but Boyd went his own route. “I’ve always been a contrarian,” he affirms. “I don’t just step to the side a little bit, I try to step way out there, putting myself in situations that test me. I’m not afraid to take risks, even risks that may appear reckless to others. I believe this makes me a better employer and better leader. I’m very conservative financially, and I have a very educated approach to the risks I take. It’s that combination of being analytical and being brave that creates success.”
In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Boyd stresses the importance of balance in all things—whether it’s work/life or confidence/humility. “Unintended consequences are the root of all evil, so try to analyze all possible outcomes and make sure that you’re comfortable living with whatever the consequences might be,” he urges. “You have to be unshakably confident, but never arrogant. Always educate yourself, but know that you’re going into any situation with naivety. Embrace that—you’re there to learn first-hand, not from secondary sources. And remember that life is long, so don’t be a short-term thinker. You’ll have a lot of pressure to live for the day, and that mentality has its time and place, but thinking for the long-term is the most important thing you can do.”
Beyond this, Boyd lives by advice that he received from Mammy, his grandmother, who told him not to take life too fast. “She used to tell me not to climb the ladder too quickly, or I’d miss certain experiences,” he explains. “That’s why I’m constantly giving myself what I call the Rocking Chair Test—when I’m eighty years old and sitting on the front porch in my rocking chair, looking back on my life, will I regret this decision or won’t I? I like a world with little grey. Once I decide, I don’t want to go back. Life is easy when you follow a no-regret path.” For some, this no-regret path is not the road well traveled, or even the road less traveled. For Boyd, it’s the road no one has traveled yet—a road all his own.