CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Mark Gerson: Chairman and CEO of the Gerson Lehrman Group
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Mark Gerson, Chairman, and CEO of the Gerson Lehrman Group, the world’s leading knowledge services provider, facilitating customized research by deploying the world’s best experts to meet their client’s specialized needs.
A graduate of Williams College and Yale Law School, Mark is also the author of several books and numerous articles and essays. His work has been published by the Free Press, Addison Wesley and Madison Books, and in newspapers and magazines including The New Republic, Reader's Digest, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Mark currently serves on the boards of the American Friends of the IDC, Manhattan Institute, Student Sponsor Partnership, Yale Chai Society, and Imentor.
Q: Mark, considering your busy schedule, we are most fortunate to have you do this interview. Thank you!
A: It is my pleasure, Stephen – thank you.
Q: You co-founded the Gerson Lehrman Group in 1998. Can you share its history? What prompted you to form the group? What are your vision, mission, and goals?
A: Alexander Saint-Amand, Thomas Lehrman and I co-founded the company when he recognized some significant inefficiencies in the communication and sharing of business knowledge. All manner of businesspeople (corporate trainees, fund managers, venture capitalists, management consultants, investment bankers), need to get up to speed quickly regarding companies, industries, sectors, technologies, regulations. In the dynamic economy that we inhabit, these needs arise frequently and their fulfillment is important for people to make the right business decisions.
Q: You have a remarkable board of directors and management team. Can you comment?
A: Thank you. We are deeply fortunate to have a team of people with great integrity and intelligence – who believe deeply in our commercial mission, and are eager to work hard to help carry it out. And we are equally fortunate to have the guidance of a group of directors and other investors who are always willing to provide us with wisdom, advice and introductions.
Q: Where do you see yourself and the group in the future?
A: We think that we have created the world’s first, by far, leading business knowledge exchange – and are excited to go to work every day to think of new ways that we can build on it and then execute. We see an enormous amount of growth among both institutional investors and corporations domestically and globally, and look forward to growing this into the massive enterprise we are all convinced that it will be.
Q: With more than 100,000 of the world’s experts, how do you manage the logistics?
A: It is very complicated and intricate – so much so that some people in the company refer to us as a “knowledge logistics company.” Because we invented the business model, we have had to create all of the requisite technology and systems on a proprietary basis ourselves in house. They constantly develop based upon the learnings we garner from the hundreds of thousands of projects we facilitate and help to create an insurmountable competitive advantage for us.
Q: Your coverage includes: Healthcare & Biomedical; Technology, Media, & Telecom; Energy & Industrials; Consumer Goods & Services; Financial & Business Services; Legal, Economic & Regulatory Affairs; and Accounting. In which sector do you see the most and the least activity?
A: Around two years ago, we made the strategic decision to cover every industry as well as we cover any industry. It was bold and ambitious at the time, but we were confident that the systems and processes we developed for the exchange of business knowledge were relevant to every industry. And it has worked – we see a lot of activity in each industry, often with the most growth from the industries we have launched the most recently.
Q: Will you be adding additional sectors in the future and what would be your reasons for adding these new areas?
A: We now cover every industry, and will consistently build them out domestically and internationally so that we can continue to connect our clients with the most appropriate people to answer their questions in the right forum.
Q: You are in a good position to predict the winners and losers in the medium and long term. What/who would they be?
A: Our company doesn’t make predictions – we don’t provide product recommendations, nor do we offer buy/sell recommendations. We just connect our clients with the best experts who can educate them on business topics.
Q: What lessons have you learned since 1998?
A: We have learned a tremendous amount and one of the most enjoyable aspects of our jobs is that we continue to do so every day. Fundamentally, we learned that all manner of businesspeople constantly have a variety of business subjects on which they need to be educated – and that the platform that we’ve developed can provide it for them with stunning effectiveness and efficiency. We are fortunate to have a customer base that is deeply invested in our success, and consequently our customers provide us with most (if not all!) of the new ideas that we turn into products and services.
Q: Let us turn this interview around. If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask and what would be your responses?
A: Q1: How do you deliver your services?
Q2: Where do you have offices?
Q3: How do you distinguish yourself from traditional research companies – particularly those serving investors, the investment banks?