An Interview with Founder and CEO Ron Mester
This week, Power Almanac celebrates one decade in business. Over that time, Founder and CEO Ron Mester has grown the company to become the premier provider of contact information for senior local government officials.
In celebration of Power Almanac’s 10th birthday, we asked Ron 10 questions about the local government market and his experience building the business.
Ron Mester was a math guy until he took Mr. Peterson’s extraordinary 11th grade U.S. history class. Suddenly, government and politics came alive. He majored in political science at UC Berkeley, and as a Wharton MBA student, Ron won a fellowship for public sector leadership and scholarship. Internships with the City of Berkeley and the City of Philadelphia unleashed his interest in local government.
Twenty years later, in 2011, Ron launched Power Almanac.
1. What’s one word that best describes Power Almanac?
I hope that the one word is integrity. Our customers need to trust that our data is extremely accurate, and trust that we’ll help them get the most value from that data. The governments from which we collect information must also be convinced of our integrity so they’re comfortable sharing. Without integrity, everything we build will disintegrate.
2. What is one innovation at Power Almanac you hope to see come to fruition over the next year or two?
While integrity is critical, it’s not enough. We have to keep innovating, and we have a ton of ideas! One innovation I really want to see us perfect is targeting. Our subscribers want to reach very particular local government decision makers. Decision makers who have specific needs for the kinds of products and services our customers have to offer. It’s one thing to aggregate a robust collection of accurate contact information, but it’s an entirely different thing to empower our subscribers to target exactly who they want to reach. We’ve gotten pretty good at it with our role intelligence, but I want to aim for perfection.
3. What do you think is the most critical challenge for the contact industry moving forward?
The key challenge is to shift away from just gathering contacts into a list, and move towards infusing contact information with business intelligence. For example, we’re not just focused on gathering names and emails, we want to know each contact’s ROLE in that government, what each local government official’s responsibilities are. That alone infuses the contact with critical business intelligence. Another way to infuse contacts with business intelligence is to make it easy for those contacts to be connected with other sources of information, such as Census Bureau data about local governments. Like any business, the contact industry must keep increasing the value it delivers, and infusing business intelligence is a powerful way to do just that.
4. What’s been the most gratifying about this journey?
In the last 10 years, I’ve been able to witness that the people who service local governments – the providers of local government goods and service – really care about doing the right thing. That is to say, they’re not just focused on growing their business, or being hardcore salespeople. They’re determined to share valuable information with specific local governments, in order for those governments to then strengthen communities. They’re creating content that’s going to genuinely help local government officials make better decisions and add value to their citizens’ lives.
5. What implications do you see AI, smart technology, and/or data automation having on local government?
All of the new technology – artificial intelligence, data science, and so on – that’s increasingly being used in the private sector is now being applied to local government. It’s fantastic. And much has been written and said about the value these technologies will bring to communities. But something I think a lot about, but haven’t seen much written, is the impact these new technologies will have on local governments’ organization structure, processes, and skill sets. For example, these technologies will dramatically change the way and degree to which various government departments work together, possibly leading to entirely new government functions all together. Innovative new technologies will force governments to create innovative new structures and processes, which in turn will lead to a demand for new types of skills.
6. What long-term impacts of the pandemic will local government policy experience? (Healthcare, city-living/remote work, school systems, infrastructure)
There’s no doubt that city, county, and township governments will be managing budgetary implications for a long time, and helping citizens overcome fears. But ultimately, I’m an optimist. I believe local governments, and their citizens, will be proud of what’s been accomplished under enormously challenging circumstances. And that this pride in local governments’ extraordinary response to the pandemic will give governments, and the citizens they serve, increased confidence to do more to serve their communities. I’m not talking about governments taking over what businesses or other organizations do. I mean governments serving their unique role in doing things for the broader community that only governments are in a position to do.
7. If you could be one senior-level local government role that Power Almanac covers today, what would you pick?
It would have to be the top appointed executive, or what many cities refer to as the City Manager. While all the roles have a positive impact on citizens lives, the City Manager is like the orchestra conductor, bringing it all together. And in today’s world, bringing it all together is so important. For me, exploring how different functions and departments in the city can creatively work together to address critical citizen issues is incredibly exciting. On top of that, my perspective of what separates great cities, counties, and townships from those that aren’t operating as well aren’t the brilliant ideas. It’s the execution of those brilliant ideas. The implementation. And that’s ultimately the City Manager’s job. I’d love to apply the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the last 20 years as a CEO of several companies to the challenges of being a City Manager.
8. What is the best and the worst part of being a CEO?
One thing is for sure: being the CEO of a private sector company is a hundred times easier than being the City Manager, or even a department head, of any city, county, or township government. When you’re leading a local government, the complexity of interests you need to balance is much greater than when leading a private sector company. Having said that, I enjoy being a company CEO because, much like a City Manager, you make things happen. Especially in a small or mid-sized company, you can make decisions with your colleagues and then quickly execute. And to be honest, it’s hard to complain about any aspect of being a CEO. Every job has difficult aspects, but a CEO has more available paths to address the hard parts of the job without the need to rely on others to resolve them. There are some days where I want to complain, but I don’t think it’s really fair.
9. What is your approach to making big-picture decisions?
My approach is generally dream big, but make sure it’s actionable now. In other words, while Big Picture often means long term, in my view it’s useless if I can’t translate that big picture into what we’re going to work on tomorrow to make that happen.
Plus, I always consider the impact of time investment just as much as financial investment. In many ways, time is a scarcer resource and a tougher one to manage. If the wrong decisions are made, enormous amounts of time can be thrown away, which in many cases can be much more damaging than losing money.
10. What can I find you doing on a Saturday afternoon?
There’s nothing as good as a Saturday afternoon nap. I might squeeze in a sports game, or a nice walk, but otherwise, I love reading. My favorite two genres are very different from each other. The first is ridiculous fiction where the hero saves the world. I already know how the book will end, and I love it anyway. The other genre is American history– especially presidential biographies. I recently finished a biography of Millard Fillmore. I’m sure not too many people can say that.