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Leader thrives in the face of challenges

Sue Newhouse:
Leader thrives in the face of challenges

Sue Newhouse does not fail once she sets a goal. She may make a few mistakes along the way, but she delivers.
Shortly after graduating from college in 1979, the 42-year-old Penfield resident decided she wanted to do two things in life: run a company and go to Hawaii.
This year, Newhouse achieved her second goal-a trip to Hawaii. She accomplished the first objective six years ago, when she and partner James Raub,vice president and chief technology officer, started Axiom Corp.
The company began modestly, with three employees working in a room over Raub’s garage in Honeoye Falls.
Newhouse’s refusal to quit and insistence on sticking with her vision have served Axiom well. Today she is president of the firm, which specializes in software consulting, Web and software development, and network engineering. The Henrietta company employs 55.
Axiom, which saw its sales increase nearly 50 percent in 1999, ranked No. 56 on the 1999 Rochester Top 100 list of fastest-growing private companies, sponsored by the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc. and KPMG LLP.
The company ranks 13th on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of software developers, based on the number of local software engineers.
Newhouse declined to disclose company profits, but Axiom generated some $4.9 million in revenues during 1999. The company had some $3.3 million in revenues in 1998, and anticipates $6 million for 2000.
Newhouse credits her parents’ support as the turning point in her life.
“I had parents who always said (we are) going to trust you every day, every minute, until you prove us wrong. That encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and what I believe in,” she says. “My family is stellar.”
That background affects Newhouse’s life today.
“I am a person who if you tell me I can’t do something, I will do it,” she says.
Newhouse was a member of a team that won an Eastman Kodak Co. Quality 1 Award in 1989 while working for TAD Resources International Inc.
“My boss said he was impressed, but I would never get another one. So I went out and got another Quality 1 Award the next year,” she says.
She also has accomplished a goal she set for Axiom-becoming one of 35 Microsoft (Corp.) Certified Solution Partners in New York.
“That’s a hard one to reach,” she says. “In order to become a partner, someone else has to drop off the list.”
Newhouse ranks obtaining that certification and guiding a thriving and growing business for five years as her biggest successes.
“There is no quitting for me,” she says. “When I go into something I never think of failure as an option. I put my whole self into it.”
Robert Tobin, president and CEO of Tobin & Associates Inc., says his former employee and current competitor is best known in the industry for her enthusiasm and her vision.
“I’ve known her about 15 years and she worked for us for about a year. She had a vision about what she wanted to do and what kind of company she wanted to run-I think it’s turned out that way,” Tobin says.
Newhouse worked for Tobin & Associates as a senior marketing representative in 1992 and 1993. Before that, she worked as branch manager for the TAD Data Services division of TAD Technical Services in Rochester. She previously had worked as a marketing representative for TAD.
Newhouse aims to combine her willingness to admit mistakes and fix them with her golden-rule-based management philosophy “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. A lot of people say it, but I (try to) do it,” she says.
She maintains an open door policy, so employees can feel free to discuss problems or concerns, and makes sure the correct person handles those issues. She views her main responsibilities as supporting employees while providing the firm’s vision.
Tobin describes Newhouse’s management style as open and straightforward.
“Everything is on the table,” he says.
Axiom operates in a team-oriented culture that encourages employees to express their ideas, Newhouse says. She makes sure to listen and has faith in their abilities.
For example, the company is working to set up an advisory board, an idea that came from new corporate controller Edward Hanchett. Newhouse also is considering setting up a board of directors on the suggestion of employees.
“One reason my partner and I started Axiom was I wanted to use a lot of the ideas I had that were rejected by previous employers,” Newhouse says.
For instance, two previous employers rejected her idea of doing software and Web development work for clients from the software company’s home office, rather than placing contract people at clients’ sites.
“It is working very well for us at Axiom,” she says.
Newhouse also has learned from those previous negative experiences.
“My favorite part of the job is seeing people that come in be allowed to grow and be creative and successful,” she says.
Raub says his partner’s management style works well because of the type of employees working at Axiom.
“Our people are very self-motivated and professional. We don’t have to micromanage employees. We are team-oriented,” he says.
Newhouse plays a strong role in molding Axiom into a professional team.
“In the industry, she is known for finding the right person for the right job, and not making inappropriate assignments,” Raub says.
Newhouse wants Axiom to grow, but she has no intention of sacrificing the company’s ability to do its job well just for the sake of growth. Axiom plans to hire more employees at some point, and the company employs a recruiter.
“The most important thing is not the number of people, but doing the job,” she says.
Raub says Newhouse’s insistence on keeping tight control of expenses has helped keep his desire to produce the best product at any price in check. Working together has helped the partners move closer to the other’s point of view.
“She is a very strong and very committed person of high integrity,” Raub says.
His partner also has a large network of businesspeople for Axiom to work with, he says. He has worked with Newhouse since 1994 and known her since 1992.
Newhouse, who always has wanted to be a salesperson, emphasizes a need to combine aggressive sales with integrity.
She recalls an encounter with a woman who tried to sell her a retirement plan for Axiom employees. Newhouse signed with the plan based on information given to her by the salesperson, only to later discover that the woman had embellished the product in her pitch.
Newhouse ultimately decided to drop the retirement plan.
Raub says the two founders have tried to instill honesty and integrity as core values of the company.
“I believe the hallmark of our business is integrity. There are many ways to get business; we would rather tell the truth,”he says.
Tobin ranks Newhouse’s sales skills as her strongest point, followed by her people skills and ability to develop relationships.
She also possesses seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm.
“Everyone who knows me calls me a workaholic,” Newhouse says.
She may love the work, but the long hours can get tiring. Newhouse lists her top challenge as a shortage of time.
“The company is growing by leaps and bounds, and I travel all over the country as a result,” she says. “I still do sales, and I must be there for clients. With only 24 hours in the day, I usually run out of time.”
Her off-work hours are spent with her husband, Gregory, and stepchildren Bryan, 21, and Nicole, 14.
Newhouse has learned some valuable lessons about running a company from her stepson.
Bryan is developmentally disabled. He graduated from Fairport High School this summer, and was on the school’s track team. He also has been heavily involved in county and state Special Olympics programs.
“It has helped me learn that just having 10 fingers and 10 toes makes me more fortunate than 50 percent of the people on earth,” Newhouse says.
Her experiences with her stepson have helped her develop a thicker skin and deal with tough situations.
The major charity Axiom is involved with is Heritage Christian Home Foundation Inc. in East Rochester, which specializes in helping developmentally disabled people. Bryan works for the foundation at its Springdale Farms operation in Spencerport.
Newhouse considers faith to be important-faith in her employees and in things working out in the end.
“I believe a big part of the reason we are successful is that God blesses us every day. Something always happens to convince us we chose the right way to go,” she says.
Newhouse recalls some 15 years ago working with a woman who would have been perfect to help Axiom enter a new line of products. Newhouse immediately thought of contacting her.
“Unfortunately, we had lost touch with each other,” she says.
Then, a month ago, an insurance agent called to say he knew a programmer who was looking for a job.
“I called (the programmer) in, and it turned out to be the brother of the woman I was looking for. I was able to get hold of her in Phoenix, and we are now doing work for a client in Arizona,” she says.
Despite her faith, Newhouse is frustrated by some parts of the business. Her least favorite aspects of her job are those items she has no control over, such as the government constantly changing laws dealing with small business and taxes.
Newhouse considers NetSetGo Inc. her company’s major competition in Web development. She identifies Vanteon as the most significant rival in Internet work, and Tobin & Associates the major challenger in software consulting.
She says customers tell her what differentiates Axiom from the competition is that the firm sells Axiom’s capabilities, not what a specific employee can do. Customers are confident the job will get done, she adds.
Newhouse stays current in the industry by listening to the competition and reading articles written about what they are doing and where they are heading.
Reading also is a passion for Newhouse in her spare time, as are travel and downhill skiing.
“I love Mary Higgins Clark murder mysteries,” she says. “I think it’s because I like to try and solve the mysteries as I go.”

7/21/00

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