The gold standard.
It’s the kind of product and experience that Brad Powell, President and CEO of Axiaware, strives to deliver to his clients on a daily basis, yet he never tires of hearing those customers refer to his company as such. “When I get that kind of feedback, or when my clients say that Axiaware helped them double their revenue, it just lights my fire,” he says. “Whatever room I happen to walk into, I always aim to leave it a little better when I walk out. When it comes to my business, this means helping companies build long-term partnerships based on real value. That’s what the gold standard means to me.”
Launched at the outset of 2005, Axiaware is a software consulting firm serving financial institutions and other relationship-oriented industries. “The word axia means value. We’re a smart boutique software company that delivers real business value, not just the cheapest code on the block,” Brad affirms. He and his team excel at building online systems that are intuitive and user-friendly while still complying with the many rules and regulations characterizing the terrain of the financial industry. “We know how to bridge those two worlds together,” he adds.
Axiaware also specializes in building internal systems—anything that affects the customer experience in some way, either directly via the internet or indirectly via a customer service representative. Auto loan applications, mortgage applications, and financial transfer systems are among the many projects that Brad and his team have delivered, and their ideal range of client—at least for now— includes big financial institutions, mid-sized regional banks, and credit unions.
What is it specifically about Axiaware that has earned it the reputation that makes Brad so proud? At the root of any gold standard is a set of gold values adhered to with iron-willed fidelity—something Brad has naturally developed over time and across all spheres of his life, both personally and professionally. “After running a company for many years now, and after the experience of being a father, I’ve realized how important it is to be specific, articulate, and intentional about your values and what you stand for, and being true to them,” he affirms. “I definitely had those values in me when I was younger, but I didn’t recognize the need for clarity. The importance of living with intention is one of those things I’ve learned over time.”
Born in a suburb of Houston, Texas, Brad spent most of his school days in the “smart kid” classes but maintained his closest friendships with kids in other classes, which lent him a uniquely balanced character and breadth of perspective. He remembers his childhood as being generally positive except for the divorce of his parents when he was in second grade. Both parents worked, and when he would come home from school to an empty house, he quickly learned the value of self-sufficiency. “It really led me to rely on myself instead of others, which has been both a blessing and a curse as a CEO,” he says. “My wife grew up in similar circumstances, and it’s interesting that we are now adamant about our kids being self-sufficient and not relying on us too much.”
An annual nationwide event known as the Academic Decathlon was a particularly pivotal event through Brad’s youth, and during his junior year, his team won second place for the entire nation. The following year, the team was faced with a similar opportunity when Brad was charged with writing an essay for part of the competition. Unfortunately, the piece ended up crashing and burning, causing his team to lose the competition. “It was a battle scar—one of those things that taught me you just have to get back up and keep going,” Brad remembers. “Now, every time I’m in a bad spot, I remember what I’ve accomplished since that experience and am reminded that I’m doing fine. The thing that I didn’t learn from that, thankfully, was to give up on risk taking. Sometimes you just have to take the risk and accept the consequences, whatever they may be. That experience taught me how to do that.”
Growing up in such close proximity to NASA, young Brad had always wanted to be an astronaut, but after the Challenger explosion, he began considering his other options. With a strong innate gift for science and math and a set of accountant parents, he always thought he’d pursue a career in a related field, but in high school he began getting involved in international relations instead. This interest led him to enroll at Georgetown University, one of the top schools for diplomacy studies. His perspective was further broadened by the range of ideas he was exposed to through the school’s curriculum, but ultimately found himself drifting away from foreign affairs and toward the analytical fields his brain seemed so innately wired for.
After graduating from college, Brad accepted a job with Arthur Andersen in 1994. Despite his auditing and accounting genes, however, it was the consulting side of the company that offered him a position, and it was the consulting slant in his character that was cultivated. His boss at that time proved to be one of his greatest influences, allowing him to take a lot of chances and do a lot of things others wouldn’t allow a young college graduate to engage in. As a result, he grew significantly and cultivated the very customer-driven mentality that is such a cornerstone of his philosophy today.
While at Arthur Andersen, Brad performed economic financial analyses and economic damages in litigation cases, and as part of that, his clients were widely distributed geographically. To address this reality, the company was among the first to pilot a new software application called Lotus Notes, and having always been very computer savvy, Brad was given the opportunity to work with a client on the software, ultimately building a forerunner of the internet. He became deeply engrossed in the project, and in 1997, he and a colleague decided to leave the firm to start their own company.
Brad’s partner had actually left Arthur Andersen to work for Freddie Mac and had been in charge of the same technology platform. Before long, he had emailed Brad about a system that a company had sold to Freddie Mac for $50,000. The software was horrible, and the two entrepreneurs guessed they could have spent a day or two building something far superior.
“At that time, we were thinking mainly about dollars and opportunity,” Brad acknowledges. “Axiaware today is still somewhat concerned with those things, but over time, I’ve realized that what I’m really in this for is my passion for creating an organization and taking it to the next level. I want to build an enterprise designed to win. That’s the internal mentality. It’s about building a team of really high quality, talented people who are passionate about what they do, and about what they do for the clients. It’s not about me and my image anymore; it’s about what the organization is doing. It all comes back to that value, and to living and operating with intention in all that we do.”
Ultimately, the venture was a success, allowing Brad to acquire a number of great clients and hone his skills as he focused on several different technologies, including software development, support, and infrastructure. After seven years, however, he decided it was time to split the business down the middle and set off on his own. With several key employees and clients, he rebranded his business as JX2 and began focusing exclusively on software development. “We’ve realized over time that we’re very good at certain things, and having had a lot of experience in the financial services sector, we wanted to take advantage of that knowledge store,“ Brad expounds. “That’s what we do really well, and that’s where we have solid credentials.” With the company’s narrowing specialization and new, more refined identity in mind, Brad initiated another rebranding in 2011, and thus, Axiaware took the form it maintains today.
“Developing and focusing Axiaware was a different but coordinated process, becoming more intentional and specific about what we stood for,” he recalls. “We’re about giving our clients something they don’t have—a connection to their customers, a new way to be present to them, or a faster way to get things done. In this economy, everything has to be quicker, faster, better.” Because its vision is so client-focused, Axiaware addresses each client’s specific needs and desires differently, but generally speaking, each situation falls into the same pattern: clients need Brad and his team to bail them out of something, and they need it done quickly. Thus, Brad and his team are dedicated to delivering that needed value, and fast.
Today, Brad credits his success not to any one decision he’s made over the past several decades, but instead to a mindset that has, like his commitment to living with intention, developed over time. “The organization and our success is really not about policies, procedures or code, it’s about having the best people involved,” he explains. “As a CEO, success has been about recognizing that you may have first sparked the organization, but that it’s now about everyone else, and not you. Indeed, this is turning out to be our breakout year, and the fruition of this knowledge over many years is the crucial component that’s allowed us to take it to the next level.”
In taking Axiaware to that next level, however, Brad is careful not to neglect his highest priority: his family. Trying to be a good CEO, father, and husband all at the same time isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge he refuses to fall short of overcoming. “I’ve got three incredible kids now, and it’s important to me that I’m always helping them become better leaders and better people, sharing with them what I’ve learned and helping them get to a better place faster,” says Brad. “I want to pass on to them the value of living with intention so that they, too, can make the greatest impact possible.” At the same time, Brad’s company continues to grow and to depend on him for his leadership now more than ever. As the world continues to get more complex in this manner, maintaining that work/life balance is something he remains vigilant of at all times.
It was certainly easier to maintain this balance when he held leadership positions in his earlier years and there were fewer variables to contend with. As a leader in the band or during his academic competitions, Brad was a very control-oriented person, always feeling most comfortable when he felt the reigns firmly within his grasp. “I always wanted to make sure things were done the right way,” he explains. “One of the biggest leadership challenges over the years has been letting go of those reigns, and I’ve evolved to be able to do that. When my instincts tell me to take the reins back, I can moderate that and accommodate it to what’s reasonable.” Thus, finding people who expect the same value and outcome that he does has been key in allowing him to hand over complete responsibility and authority.
In fact, Brad would emphasize to any young entrepreneur entering the business world today that creating a strong company stems directly from knowing how to work with the right people the right way. “You’ll find that the success you garner through life in both the personal and professional spheres is not so much about what you know and how you use it, but more so about your leadership skills and how you relate to other people,” he confirms. “If you don’t have the relational or leadership side, your efforts will tend to ring hollow and empty after a while. Being able to relate to other human beings is key; that’s why my North Star is to have a positive impact on the people in my life. When I’m doing that, I’m happy.” Living with intention in this manner means living one’s values each and every day, and in doing so, creating something—a company, a family, a life—that’s truly worthwhile.