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Steve Singh
Concur CEO Steve Singh at the Technology Alliance annual luncheon

At the end of the day, it’s all about culture.

That was the message from Concur CEO Steve Singh, who spoke today at the Technology Alliance’s annual State of Technology Luncheon in downtown Seattle.

Singh laid out some of the ingredients that led to Concur’s success, highlighted by its blockbuster $8.3 billion sale to SAP last September.

Tom Alberg, left, interviews Steve Singh at the Technology Alliance annual luncheon.
Tom Alberg, left, interviews Steve Singh at the Technology Alliance annual luncheon.

“You can only succeed through culture,” said Singh, adding that culture is defined by how your company operates on its very best day.

The key, he said, is to have many “best days.”

Culture, he added, is what carries you through on “really rough days.”

And Concur, despite its enormous recent success, had plenty of those bad days. One of those hit several years ago when the maker of travel and entertainment expense management software made the decision to switch to a software-as-a-service platform, delaying profits.

Wall Street was not impressed, and the stock of Concur tumbled from $60 per share to 28 cents.

“That was a character building moment,” said Singh to laughs from the crowd.

He said the company had to embrace a long-term perspective at that moment, and figure out a way to make the shift to the new cloud-based world. Huge shifts happened between April of 2000 and September 2000 as Concur underwent that transformation, including changes in personnel and products.

“The only reason why I was in the job is because nobody else wanted the job,” said Singh. “The reason you win is because you are able to make the really hard decisions.”

Getting through those dark times made the company stronger, he said.

Those were a few of the remarks in a wide-ranging discussion, moderated by Madrona Venture Group co-founder Tom Alberg.

Singh also took a couple swipes at the political landscape in Washington state, especially as it relates to education. Earlier at the event, the Technology Alliance presented statistics about the health of the education system in Washington state, slides that Singh referred to as “depressing.”

He said pumping more funding into the state’s educational system is a “no brainer.”

Singh, who relocated to the Seattle area more than 20 years ago in part to raise his family in a more natural setting, also stressed the importance of investing in the community.

“I don’t want to be Silicon Valley. I want to be Seattle,” said Singh, adding that the community needs to work hard to retain the characteristics that define the area.

And one of the areas where Seattle could improve: Singh said that the region needs “more risk takers.”

“I would argue that it is not a capital problem. If you have good ideas and are willing to work hard at it, I’d say that money will find you. I’d say we need more risk takers here in the state of Washington. There is an amazing pool of talent — and I am not advocating to quit your job. What I am saying is that there is an amazing pool of talent with great ideas. Take a risk. Go after it. And, if you really work at the opportunity, money will find you. The value of a lot of private companies is so high these days, it is a reflection of the fact that there is more money than is needed.”

Related: A capital gains tax in Washington state? This VC and tech CEO say heck no

Previously on GeekWire: Study: Washington state ranks first in STEM jobs, but 42nd in on-time high school graduation rates


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