Brookline High School graduate and chess master Alan Trefler founded Pegasystems Inc. in 1983 when he was 27 years old. Today, the company is one of a handful of publicly held software companies in the Boston area worth more than $1 billion. The likes of PayPal, Cisco Systems, and Phillips use Pegasystems’ customer relations management software. Trefler, 58, put some of his business advice in a new book, “Build for Change,” to help companies prepare for the coming age of tech-savvy consumers who are more demanding than ever.
1Joining the club of chief executives who have penned business books, Trefler explores the effect that an emerging group of consumers reared on social media will have on traditional companies.
“There’s been a big change that people haven’t fully seen, which is the transition from the Millennial generation to these new kids who, if they don't like what they see, they actually go out and try to actively kill companies. Now, with the advent of Twitter and Facebook, you’ve got people who almost think it’s their mission to bring their discontent fully into the fore.”
2His term for this nascent generation of consumers with high standards and an eagerness to speak out and complain on social media is Generation D.
“The D stands for devouring things. They either love stuff and they want more and more of it. Or they demonize things and they really want to trash it. That’s unlike anything we’ve seen in past decades. Their comfort with technology makes it so they can do that with a scale, speed, and impact that is unprecedented.”
3Trefler reached chess stardom when he became cochampion of the 1975 World Open Chess Championship. That experience looms large in the way he approaches business.
“In chess you recognize the pattern to get a feel for the position. A lot of providing good service is really about pattern recognition. With technology today, you cannot just understand one or two aspects about a customer. You can understand a whole collection of aspects which can make you better positioned to make them a better offer.”
4Growing up in Brookline, Trefler worked at his father’s furniture restoration business, Trefler & Sons Antique Restoring. It’s there where he learned some of the essentials of delivering good customer service, Trefler said.
“The lessons I drew from that were what it’s like to be in an entrepreneurial environment, what it’s like to be in the service business, and what it’s like to bootstrap something. The cool thing about that business was that you were constantly engaged with the public.”
5In the technology business where it’s common to seek venture capital funding, Pegasystems didn’t. Trefler believes that an over-reliance on venture capital can be harmful to the local tech ecosystem.
“One of the problems with venture capital culture is that it puts a clock on businesses. Typically, VC-funded businesses need to go public or be purchased in five to seven years. That doesn’t give companies the chance to grow and mature. It’s a much more transactional culture, and I think that’s pretty lousy for establishing sustainable businesses that are going to fuel the next generation of growth.”
6Trefler, who owns 52 percent of the shares of Pegasystems, is reported to be billionaire
“The things that I value aren’t really tied to lists of wealth. The important thing that my stock ownership has enabled Pega to do is to maintain a level of independence. We were listed by Forbes as one of the 100 most trustworthy companies. That’s a list that I’m much more interested in than any financial accomplishment list.”
7His latest passion: Ping-Pong. Lately, he’s been taking lessons from the Ping-Pong coach at MIT.
“I’ve discovered that everything I knew about Ping-Pong from my fraternity basement was wrong. I view it almost as a physical manifestation of speed chess. It’s also terrific exercise.”