CEO Spotlight: Kat Liendgens

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Last Updated: Jul 27, 2023 11:00 AM

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This July, we celebrated our CEO, Kat Liendgens's 14th year with Hannon Hill.  

We decided to provide insights on how Kat rose from Professional Services Manager to CEO of a leading higher-ed CMS company in the nation and how she continues to raise the bar the get the most out of herself and the people in her charge.  

Can you share a little bit about your journey to becoming the CEO of Hannon Hill? What were some pivotal moments along the way?

I had been in various leadership roles in the tech space for a while before Hannon Hill, including Associate Dean of IT and IT Manager.

My previous organization was looking for a new CMS, which is how I stumbled upon Hannon Hill, and it turned out that one of my previous colleagues also worked there.

After hearing from him about the company's culture, values, approach to customer service, and amazing products, I became a huge fan. I started applying to open positions there, as the company seemed exactly right for me.

I trusted that Hannon Hill's leadership team would reward good work no matter my role. I started as the Professional Services Manager, and after about a year and a half, I was promoted to COO and, six months after that, to CEO, a role I've had for twelve years now.

Who were some of your most influential mentors or role models throughout your career, and what did you learn from them?

Many people have influenced me in different ways. Fortunately, I have a fantastic network of peers with whom I frequently exchange ideas and stories.

I've always admired David Cummings, Hannon Hill's founder, his unwavering dedication to developing a positive and supportive company culture, and his no-drama demeanor.

My favorite thought leader concerning leadership is Cy Wakeman. Her reality-based leadership concepts are outstanding!

Did you know that, on average, we spend two and a half hours in "drama?"

Wakeman delivers a compelling framework for going from drama to a high-functioning, results-producing, and happier team.

Some of the ideas around reality-based leadership include:

  • Always assume good intentions, and don't make any other assumptions. Only focus on what you know for sure. Everything else is a story you're telling yourself, most of which is not true.
  • Think about how we can instead of why we can't.
  • Work with the willing. 

Cy Wakeman was kind enought to congradulate Kat on her 14th work anniversary. Check it out

What were the most significant challenges you faced on your path to becoming CEO? How did you overcome these challenges?

I never set out to become a CEO, so whenever I encountered challenges, I didn’t consider them challenges on my path to becoming CEO. 

They were just challenges - including being in another country, overcoming language barriers and cultural differences, or even working in a male-dominated field.

But I’ve also been very lucky.

Although I don’t always succeed at it, it’s always best to focus on your attitude and the work you put in instead of expecting external circumstances to work out perfectly to succeed.

The perfect environment does not exist, and it’s far more effective to put on a pair of shoes than to expect every surface you walk on to be smooth and clean. 

In your opinion, what qualities are essential for a successful CEO in today's digital landscape?

You must always stay informed, not just regarding technology trends.

So many things factor into your strategy - the economy, legislation, world events, higher education, pandemics, you name it. 

Staying informed is crucial.

In addition to staying on top of these, successful leaders look beyond their industry and get ideas from other verticals and cultures.

Continuing to invest in your own personal and professional development is, of course, a must. I heard the average CEO reads about 60 books annually, which makes sense for most leaders. 

Similarly to being in the know about current events and upcoming trends, you need to know your customers and stay close to them. We’re so grateful for being able to serve so many higher education institutions, as they do such amazing work. 

In order to be the best possible partner for our clients, you have to know them inside out.

We share customer stories and news all the time. There’s no such thing as oversharing when it comes to your customers. I also reach out personally to all customers and have one-on-one meetings with them, and it’s worth every minute I spend learning about their goals and challenges.

Focus on what you can control, and do all you can to help others do the same. It’s the only way to foster a positive culture of accountability and resilience, which are needed when changes happen so quickly, and course corrections are often needed.

Of course, it starts with oneself - personal and professional growth cannot be delegated, regardless of your role. 

How do you see Hannon Hill's role in the ever-evolving field of web content management systems? What unique value does your company provide?

We provide amazing customer service and set the bar higher than most companies in our space.

We’re also exceptionally thoughtful and intentional about our product roadmap. Not once have we added a flashy feature because it demos well.

We communicate with our customers and prospects constantly to understand their goals and needs, and we do a lot of research on our own to anticipate those needs and have the desired functionality ready when our customers need it.

Our web personalization engine is an excellent example of this. We started developing it many years ago, when most of our customer base, higher education, wasn’t entertaining the idea yet, and frankly, neither was our competition.

As a leader, how do you ensure Hannon Hill stays innovative and ahead of the curve in this rapidly changing industry?

Most of our team members are customer-facing in some way, including me. I enjoy meeting with our clients to learn what they’re struggling with and want to achieve.

The more deeply you know your clients, the better equipped you are to help them.

As I mentioned, you can’t just add a slew of new features because you saw something about a specific feature in an RFP.

We have a very thoughtful and sophisticated process to identify which functionality will majorly impact our customers’ success. 

This also involves massive research into industry trends, marketing trends, and emerging technologies. 

Can you tell us about a decision or strategy you're particularly proud of implementing at Hannon Hill?

I can think of a few. Going from an on-prem-only model to our Cascade Cloud offering was a big milestone for us, and it completely transformed our business. We also underwent a full UI overhaul when we rolled out the Cascade 8 series.

Having Clive, our web personalization platform, ready for prime time so early on was also a big win for us.

Regarding the team, I am proud that we’re always trying to find the right person for the right role, including moving someone from one department to another or hiring career changers with the right aptitude and attitude for a specific role. 

How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it evolved over your tenure at Hannon Hill? 

It’s still evolving, as it should be.

I try to balance the unilateral approach of reality-based leadership with an individualized approach because different individuals need different things - and the way that someone prefers to be led isn’t always the way that benefits them or the company the most.

My goal in leadership is to help everyone become optimally resilient, develop a strong locus of control, embrace accountability, and ditch assumptions in favor of reality. 

I still have a lot to learn, and am a work in progress.

What do you do to foster a positive and productive corporate culture at Hannon Hill?

We discuss our company values frequently and make them part of check-ins and performance reviews with team members.

We’re not shy about giving credit and praising others publicly, including providing Bonusly points. We also have company meetings revolving around company culture. 

For example, a few weeks ago, we discussed a very compelling video on why venting was detrimental to individuals and companies.

We have a library of resources available to everyone, and we also develop our own materials, such as a communications playbook.

Most importantly, we strive to enable individuals to self-reflect and concentrate on what they can do to help. 

All of this is a work in progress, too. 

Looking forward, what are some of your goals for Hannon Hill and yourself professionally? How do you plan to achieve them? 

We strive to be the best company to work with, to work for, and to be an example for other companies by showing that you can be wildly successful by doing right by your employees and customers. 

I look forward to developing the next generation of content management systems. One lofty goal here is to eliminate the need for a website search bar, but that’s all I’ll say for now.

A perpetual goal is to provide maximum fulfillment and professional growth for all our team members.

Interested in learning more about our company and how we can help you elevate your content management strategy?

Complete the form below and schedule a discovery call today.

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Chris Rapozo
Marketing Specialist


Company Culture