Indeed, one of the requirements for success is commitment. Combine this with honesty, and you can never go wrong with your goals. Managing partner of SMB Networks, LLC Peter Verlezza talks with Alicia Couri about this leadership style centered on open communication, focusing more on positivity, and how he faced his shortcomings to become a better key player in his own team. Peter also discusses the dangers of cybercrime and the dark web, his concept of Touching People In Appropriate Ways, and some thoughts about his work as a part-time comedian.
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Leading In Technology With Peter Verlezza
On this episode with me is Peter Verlezza. Let me tell you about Peter because we’re going to have a lot of fun. He is the Managing Partner of SMB Networks, LLC, a technology services company in Connecticut. He is the author of three books. Hassle Free IT MD: The Ultimate Medical Practice Guide For Finding A Professional, Competent, Honest, Considerate, On-Time, Fairly-Priced And Dependable Computer and the two Amazon bestselling books, The Tech Multiplier and The Business Owners Essential Guide to IT & All Things Digital. He was one of the executive producers and appeared in the full-length documentary titled Cyber Crime, It’s Not a Question of If. It’s a Question of When. His company made the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in the United States and I am so excited to have Peter Verlezza. Thank you for joining me.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you. I was looking forward to this.
The first question I ask all my guests is, what is your leadership philosophy, Peter?
It boils down to our core values. It’s interwoven with our core values. Trust is a big one. If somebody makes a commitment, I want them to keep the commitment from me and from the people that I surround myself with. We have a whatever it takes attitude. I used to have a positive environment. I was told once by a person that it’s not a healthy thing because not everyone can be positive all the time. That person is dead to me now, but I embraced it.
What I didn’t mention in your bio is you’re a part-time comedian.
I am a part-time comedian. I probably will never make money doing it because I’m not that good, but I like to laugh and make people laugh. Rather than a positive, I don’t want negativity or drama because that brings everybody down. Team-oriented, our organization, although it has hierarchy looks pretty flat. There’s an open environment. Everybody can talk to anyone about anything and that’s how I am.
How long did it take you to get to that awareness that’s how you want to lead?
It took some time and it wasn’t by accident. It was by need. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and you keep yielding the same result, to continue means you’re insane. You have to change something. Not seeing other styles work led me to doing the things that felt comfortable and was the way that I am in regular life anyway. That’s pushed them down.
We alluded to that having to grow into this. What would you say was the biggest pitfall in your leadership journey?
Probably not a two-way open and honest communication. Trust is a big deal. The only way to be able to trust someone is to have two-way open and honest communication.
Is there a specific incident or anything that happened that you were like, “This needs to change?”
I was working in Manhattan. I had this account executive that worked for me who his grandmother died seventeen times. Every time he was late or every time there was an issue, it’s somebody died. It was his grandmother mostly. I’m like, “How many grandmothers do you have?” That was one of those incidents that you have to address the situation up close and personal. This isn’t working. You aren’t being truthful and trustworthy with me and we have to address it. There are a lot of incidents like that but it’s handling it the way that I did or was, wasn’t working. The other important thing is to surround yourself with people who are of a common mind.
We’re working with people all the time. People are the greatest expense and resource of an organization. As leaders, it’s important to get to know who you’re working with. How do you foster that relationship to understand people’s blind spots, how to lead them, how to manage them? How do you do that?
That’s a good question and it led me down a couple of places. We have a pretty open environment. We regularly communicate. Every morning at 7:59, because 7:59 is real-time. 8:00, people think that there’s a five-minute window on either side of it. It’s like, “Let’s have a meeting at 8:00 and somebody shows up at 8:03.” It’s close to 8:00. 7:59 is a time. I’m loose about a lot of things and there are other things that I’m not loose about.
That’s one of them, 7:59?Trust is a big deal. The only way to be able to trust someone is to have two-way open and honest communication. Click To Tweet
We do our daily huddle and you go around the room. You want to hear from everyone. A win, gratitude and props out to someone. I want to start on a positive note. One of the other things that we’re doing or trying to get to is where people’s heads are at.
Especially in this environment that we’re in right now.
I’ve been doing this for years. For me, now it’s even more important, but it’s always been important. I don’t want to find out on Tuesday that someone’s been out of the game for a couple of days because I have not been mindful. I didn’t pass them in the hall. We didn’t have any communication. Our daily gatherings are managing by walking around our weekly meetings and trying to get everybody into the same place so that we know who’s where and what they’re doing.
Do you have one-on-ones with people all throughout the week or is it that morning huddle that everybody comes together and that’s where you get a sense of where everyone is?
One-on-ones don’t happen weekly. They probably happen on a less frequent basis for some of the people. There are others that we do have daily communication and meeting with. I shouldn’t say on an as-needed basis, but a regularly scheduled, just not as frequent.
It’s important to us as the leader of an organization, especially one as successful as yours, where you are in that Inc. 5000 fastest growing company category. It’s important to have your finger on the pulse of the people that you’re managing. Was the Inc. 5000 on your radar? Was that a plan or was that something that you were like, “We can probably qualify for this?” How did that all come together?
By itself, it was not on the radar. I am quite a bit older than you are. The expression, “It’s all downhill from here,” is something that sounds easy and positive because you’re at the top of the hill and you’re going down. Is it all uphill from here or is it all downhill from here? I guess it’s your perspective. It’s above par and below par. Years ago, July of 2017 and this is my story over the past few years, I made a conscious decision to take what was a lifestyle business and move it to something more significant and substantive. I say significant and substantive because back then if I were to get hit by a bus, the business was going to struggle. I’m at the point. I touch everything in appropriate ways. This was my realization. I’m on a cruise. We’re in the Pacific Ocean. It is payroll day. I get an email that it’s payroll and I’m the only one who can approve payroll at that time but I couldn’t get on the internet to approve payroll. I did it the following day in port. It was fine. I thought we needed three days. It was only two days. The point is that I had a realization that I was the bottleneck.
At that point, I decided that I was going to do what was necessary to make it such that there was no one person including myself that held the keys to the castle that if we lost those keys, we had a problem. At that point, I did what I’ll call is getting back to basics. I looked at lots of different things. I went back to the basics of building a business. First of all, quantifying what your target market is, developing your unique selling proposition, determining what your core values are, visiting with your existing clients and all the basics. We grew in that 2.5 years by 142%.
I love that because you became self-aware and took responsibility for the fact that you were holding the company back and that is a brave look at your own leadership because you’re saying, “In order to scale this and for this to grow, I have to be the leader and step back and allow other people to the lead.” I love that awareness that you had to make that shift.
I’d love to say that there was some magic, but there wasn’t.
It’s like basketball. They say, “We always have to get to the fundamentals.” I forgot what the coach’s name, but he would start every training camp with the fundamentals. We start, “This is how you dribble the ball.” People are like, “We’re professionals. We know how it is.” He says, “No. We’re going back to the basics. We’ve got to start with the fundamentals.”
It’s getting back to basics and once you have the basics down, interestingly enough, when you get into the routine, it sets you free.
I love that you said routine because my next question is, what’s the day in the life of Peter Verlezza?
It’s scary. I happen to be sitting in a building that we’re renovating.
I am sequestered. I’m in the basement, but they put the final coat of polyurethane on the floors. I got poly high going on here. I’m going to go into detox or something. A day in my life starts early.
What is early? Early for you and early for me are two different things.
It starts with 5:00.
I know many leaders, executives and CEOs start their day at 5:00 AM.
It’s no alarm.
The body gets up at 5:00 and you start.
Once my eyes open, my feet have to touch the ground, then I have to go. I have to drink a pot of French press coffee. I’m doing busy work at that point in time. I’m doing some reading. If there’s anything I want to do on social media.
This is your time to prep for the day ahead.
Things that I could do in the dark and in the quiet, literally from the couch. I get out, get to the office early-ish. I prep for the day and for my meeting. I mentor a lot of people.
The 7:59 meeting.
That 7:59 is a big deal. Routine sets you free.
I did an interview. He was talking about his calendar and everything is scheduled. Is that the same for you?
I’m probably not as good as I could or should be, but if I don’t make an appointment with myself, chances are that thing slides. I hear myself saying, “I don’t have time to.” What I mean is this wasn’t important enough and I didn’t make the time for it. That’s everything. That is marketing activities. That is our meeting. That is a quarterly business review with a client. It’s whatever it happens to be and that’s playing pickleball or doing whatever else you do.
I’ve never played pickleball. What is pickleball?
Imagine a tennis court that’s small. A pickleball court would fit side to side in a tennis court. There’s a net, it’s a wiffle-like ball. You use a paddle. It is less strain and stress on the body. People such as myself who don’t want to play tennis play pickleball and run up and down. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports. It has been around for a bunch of years. I try to play a couple or three times a week and I get excited.Opening up yourself to others – and even to yourself – is an important first step towards success. Click To Tweet
That’s good. You are staying active and keeping that energy up.
Let’s talk about, if you don’t mind.
I was going to segue there. I was going to talk about Touching In Appropriate Ways.
Let’s talk about that. A bunch of years ago, I was at a conference. Dr. Nido Qubein, who is the President of High Point University, talked about how to differentiate yourself and how to connect with your audience and the kinds of things that you could do that are different, unique and do set you apart. The differentiators, being unique and being able to identify it. I focused on this Touching People In Appropriate Ways concept. What it means is there’s no physical touching involved in my TPIAW world. I’m not going to make the joke that I made at Carolines’ back in January because we’re too close to the election.
It’s Carolines Comedy Club, for those of you who don’t know what that was.
That was my first attempt at comedy. It went pretty well. I enjoyed it.
Your notes on the barf bag. That was cool.
I thought the Marshall on the airplane was going to shoot me or something. He was like, “What are you writing over there on your barf bag? You’ve got a ransom note? You’ve got people’s names on it.” Touching People in Appropriate Ways, it’s first identifying who your audience is. For SMB Networks, our audience primarily, although we provide technology support for all different kinds of businesses, our primary focus is private community-based medical practices. The person that runs a private community-based medical practice that we do business with is someone that identifies as a medical practice administrator, manager or executive.
First, you identify your audience, and we did medical and our avatar is this practice administrator. The second thing you do is come up with ways to connect with them that are appropriate for that avatar. For instance, use social media. Our medical practice executives typically are not on LinkedIn. They are on Facebook. We know that our avatar is a certain age range and a certain sex. Being aware and mindful of who it is that you want to connect to and how it is that you want to connect with them is important. They have to be appropriate.
The third part of Touching People in Appropriate Ways is how to communicate with them in ways that are appropriate. For instance, electronic newsletters. We do hard copy newsletters. I’ve been doing them for years. We send out about 500 a month. When asking my community if they would like us to go electronic, they’re like, “No, don’t do that. I don’t care about the trees.” I asked the question, “Why wouldn’t you want an electronic newsletter?” I can share the hard copy around the office. I can see the articles and the shiny new gadget of the month but more importantly, I can take it home with me and I could read it while I’m having a cup of coffee. That is an appropriate touch for my audience that I didn’t make up. It’s being mindful, being aware, being connected and hearing what someone wants.
Another appropriate touch, we were doing up until this pandemic thing, we were doing seminars on a regular basis. These were seminars that were delivering a message to our audience that they wanted. They were not thinly veiled sales pitches. Our audience wants to be educated. They don’t want to know what technology is going to do for them there. A lot of the stuff that we think they’re interested in, they aren’t. What do you do? You ask them. They tell you what they want to be educated with. We know that they want to be inspired and humored. We put meetings together that will bring the people together that are giving them what it is that they want, not what it is that we want to deliver. What it does though is it sets us up with expert status for that community because we brought them content that they wanted and not content we wanted to deliver.
Ask the questions.
Listen to the answers. Don’t wait for your next time to speak, ask the question, listen to what the person is saying and put it into your equation. People will tell you what they want if you simply listen to what they say. Sometimes it’s not in the words, sometimes it’s in the nuance. Sometimes it’s in the nonverbal communication, but you have to have that mindset. I did a podcast and it’s been on hold for a while.
I’ve reignited the fire.
I believe that you’re going to be a guest on TPIAW. The podcast started out as explaining the whole concept of it. After the first three episodes, I began to interview people to ask them what an appropriate touch in their business or profession. Some examples are if I were a pediatrician who is talking to kids about, for instance, not smoking or whatever it happens to be. If that doctor, if that pediatrician comes into the room and smells of smoke, the message is gone. You’re incongruent. It’s inappropriate. It doesn’t fit. Knowing who your audience is, being able to connect to them and with them in ways that are meaningful and substantive is what the whole TPIAW is about.
It’s on iTunes. The previous episodes, correct?
If you want to listen to some of those. There is somewhere out there on YouTube, his Carolines Comedy Club performance.
If you look on YouTube, it’s called Peter Verlezza CEO. A professional comedian and I connected up and he brought this group of seven of us together to do something called the CEO and Entrepreneurs’ Stand-up Challenge. That’s what it was called. It’s introducing humor to everyday life and the things that you do.
With that positive attitude, you throw in humor there, you keep people smiling, working, having fun and enjoying life.
They don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s what we’re trying. We all got together. It’s about six weeks. Each of us puts a fifteen-minute set together which doesn’t sound a lot of time until you have to do it and then it’s like an eternity. The final exam was you’ve got to do your set at Carolines Comedy Club in New York City. It was crazy. I wanted to burst waiting to be introduced, but I got up there and you’re talking about real-life experiences that you turn into humorous and funny stories. It was a blast. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it. There may be another time.
You got some laughs.
Most of them were paid laughs. I met people outside and I said, “Here’s $20. Come inside and laugh at anything I say.”
Those were those people because there was stuff you were saying and they were laughing uncontrollably.
“Don’t laugh when he says my name though.” It’s not appropriate. I do try to do things that make us as an organization stick out.
It’s like the movie, doing the documentary.
The documentary we did and we’ve got a second one coming up. We’re filming at my office. The documentary is to set us apart. In a sea of sameness to set us apart. It is on Amazon Prime. It’s called Cyber Crime. It’s free. It’s me and nine of my peers talking about who we are and what we do. It started out as being more a sales and marketing piece and people gravitated to it. It has been viewed millions of minutes. We don’t have the exact numbers. Number two is going to be a bit more substantive. We’re going to talk about the dark web. The movie title will be Cyber Crime: The Dark Web Uncovered. There’s lots of stuff going on that people have not paid attention.
Here in Connecticut, we have a parkway. It’s called the Merritt Parkway or the Wilbur Cross Parkway. It was built I don’t know exactly when. In the ‘20s or ‘30s, whenever. It’s a four-lane, two in each direction, scenic road that goes across the state. The entrance ramps are almost at a 90-degree angle to the entrance and there’s a stop sign at the entrance ramp. Some aren’t 90-degrees, but many of them do not have any way of accelerating. Back when the Merritt Parkway was built, cars went 25 and 30 miles an hour. “Pull up to a stop sign and you can get onto the Merritt Parkway.” Now cars that are going 65 miles an hour on the parkway, you can’t get on.
Now they’ve had to redo the entrance ramps to facilitate the changes that have come since. It’s the same thing when it comes to cybercrime and cybersecurity. What was then isn’t now and if you don’t do something to protect yourself, you’re going to have an issue. Sixty percent of the searches that we do on the dark web, for instance, yield some information about an individual, a username, a password, an address and a phone number. That’s a lot. We share too much on social media. We are set using the same usernames and passwords everywhere. It’s mindfulness. Movie two will have a little bit more of that.
It’s how to protect yourself on that. I was going to talk about that the laws aren’t moving fast enough either to protect you.Being self-aware is a vital recipe for being a good leader and a team player too. Click To Tweet
You do have to take personal responsibility.
People put stuff out there. I may have, I don’t know, but I try not to.
People say to me. I had to change things up a little bit. We didn’t talk about an alter ego, but we talked about the comedy thing. I have this alter ego. I speak on cybercrime pretty regularly or did. My last time was at Florida Atlantic University in Boca. I found that I was getting ho-hum reactions to the message, not the messenger. Facebook, “I know. My passwords, no one’s ever going to guess my password.” I thought I have to change things up a little bit and I came up with this alter ego character. His name is Sergei.
I’ve seen Sergei on the video.
Sergei is from Berzerkistan and he is a cybercriminal. He says that he’s a successful cybercriminal and he lives in a villa in Berzerkistan. He has all of your information and most of it, you shared with him. He didn’t even have to go and get it. He has your name, your address, the school you went to, your children’s names and your grandchildren’s names. Your high school, your mascot, your bank, where you work, your spouse’s name and when you got married and all that you shared with him. Let’s take that a bit further. I do a presentation for a medical association and the executive director, I asked if I could get a bit close to the edge with my presentation. She said, “That’s cool.” Unfortunately, she was the one that I got to the edge. It was uncomfortable.
It wasn’t open at that point.
I’ll tell you what I did. It’s simple. I went online and I searched for her name and the city that she lived in and I got all sorts of information. At the meeting, I am going through my slides. The slide comes up as a picture of the house that she lives in. I got it from Zillow. Here’s the house that she lived in. Here’s the year that she moved in. Here’s her maiden name. These are bullet points. Here’s her husband’s name. Here are her children’s names. She went to Penn State and she’s the president of the alumni association. I put that we were at this medical meeting on this particular day. It was at the Delray Beach Golf Club.
I put all these details down. As soon as the picture came up, she stood up. I said, “Is this anybody’s house?” I knew whose house it was. This is a message that I’m trying to get across. Here’s all this information. All I did was research for her name and her city and things came up, LinkedIn, Facebook, every place that you could imagine, the website for the organization she worked for. I said, “You’re the president of the alumni association from Penn State back when?” Here’s how I would use this information. I see that you’re at a meeting from noon until 2:00 at the Delray Beach Golf Club. I see your daughter got married three weeks ago.
I see all this information. I call your office and I say, “This is Peter. I’m on the alumni association with this person. We’re supposed to get an email out yesterday to our members. I didn’t get her the information.” I am schmoozing my way with your secretary, not to send me any information, but simply for her to take that I have. In it, there’s a link that goes to a website that looks exactly like the Penn State Alumni Association Fundraising Night. With a bit of luck and I know that you’re not available because you’re at the meeting that we are in right now. I’m calling at 12:15. Maybe I’ll get her to do something that she wouldn’t under normal circumstances do because I told her we were at the wedding two weeks ago, it was a beautiful wedding and your daughter so-and-so and your grandchildren. That’s how the information gets used.
You embedded a link that scrapes everything out of your computer when you go in there.
You send the email out to the alumni association and everybody is making donations to a bogus organization. Being mindful, being aware and asking the questions.
They’re using our ability to trust and being nice against us.
That’s the social engineering part of it.
We’ve been conditioned to be nice. We’ve been conditioned to be polite and it’s being used against us for nefarious ways. Something I learned that is important about cybersecurity was to lie when you have all those security questions. It’s like, “He says you have to tell the truth.”
When you start to do surveys on Facebook and you’re answering questions like, “What was the color of your first car?” They’re all security questions. Stay away.
People automatically assume because I’m always in red that red is my favorite color, but it’s not.
It’s another piece of information that Sergei will use.
Nobody knows what my favorite color is. They can keep guessing.
I’m going to check on the dark web.
Go check on the dark web and let me know if you find my favorite color. Peter, this has been phenomenal. You gave a lot of nuggets in leadership, as well as what you do as an expert in cybersecurity. I wanted to ask where your level of confidence comes from. Is it being Italian and being from New York? Am I stereotyping you?
Stereotyping and profiling, there’s a reason people don’t like it. It’s too accurate sometimes. That’s a good question. I don’t know that I have an answer to it. It’s not always been this or this way. I think maybe I became more comfortable with who I am.
That’s a great answer that as you grow into it, you become more comfortable with who you are.
I’m not going to say I don’t care what people think because that wouldn’t be true. I know better than the people who are thinking whatever they’re thinking.
I want to remind all those leaders out there to be bold, be brave and step into your own leadership with audacious confidence. Until next time.
- SMB Networks, LLC
- Hassle Free IT MD: The Ultimate Medical Practice Guide For Finding A Professional, Competent, Honest, Considerate, On-Time, Fairly-Priced And Dependable Computer
- The Tech Multiplier
- The Business Owners Essential Guide to IT & All Things Digital
- TPIAW – Touching People In Appropriate Ways
- iTunes – Touching People In Appropriate Ways
- Cyber Crime
- Peter Verlezza CEO – YouTube video
About Peter Verlezza
First, there are a LOT of IT companies out there to choose from.
Number 2: Their web sites can be vague and confusing, full of technical terms and a laundry list of things they do. And none of that really tells you if they can help YOU in YOUR specific situation.
And Three: They ALL say they’ll take good care of you, give you peace of mind, and proactively support your network.
Some will even offer you a really cheap price just to win your business, but then do a really poor job (costing you twice as much in the end.)
So how do you know who you can really trust to do a great job without overcharging you or recommending services and solutions that aren’t right for YOUR business or practice.
For the past 8 years, I have made it my personal mission to give medical practices, businesses and non-profit organizations a network that works the way it’s supposed to — with a 100% money-back guarantee! Our mission is simple, we strive to build long term committed relationships with raving fans. We will do whatever it takes to accomplish that end.
My purpose is to help you make the most informed decision possible, so you end up working with a company that helps solve your problems and accomplishes what you want – in a timeframe, manner, and budget that’s right for you.
Please feel free to reach out to me via Linked In or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Specialties: wide area networks, IP telephony, data security, managed IT services, Hassle-Free IT services, managed internet, backup and disaster recovery