The Conversation: ACL Services boss Laurie Schultz knows fraud when she sees it

ACL Services president and CEO Laurie Schultz discusses the moose on the table, the Gran Torino in the parkade—and how to catch bad guys with auditing software

Credit: Tanya Goehring

ACL Services president and CEO Laurie Schultz discusses the moose on the table, the Gran Torino in the parkade—and how to catch bad guys with auditing software

There have been three stages to tech veteran Laurie Schultz’s career: product management, general management and now, at ACL, change management. After starting off as a product manager with Telus Corp., where she learned how to balance the economics of technology, she moved into general management, running 13 different profit-and-loss software businesses and managing functions from support and R&D to sales and marketing. In 2011, Schultz took over the reins of ACL from then-CEO Harald Will, whose father Hartmut (Hart) J. Will developed audit command language (ACL) software as a professor in the accounting division of UBC’s faculty of commerce in the early 1970s. Harald and Hart Will launched ACL as a commercial product in 1986. Now the Vancouver-based company has 14,000 customers in 140 countries around the world.

In a nutshell, what does ACL do?

We help stop and/or eliminate fraud, operational waste and corruption. We interrogate massive volumes of data to discover the things that are off. For example, one organization discovered 80 employees on payroll that didn’t exist. We have something we call continuous monitoring. You can automate controls around things that should happen and shouldn’t happen—for example, somebody is submitting really off travel and expense claims. If you have a continuous monitoring program around that, you can spot something when it comes in that’s way out of left field. That’s the best way to safeguard and prevent. Maybe 10 per cent of our customers do that. A lot of them do it ad hoc, which is after something’s already happened, and then it’s like this massive haystack.

Your role at ACL is change management. What needed to change?

Like many companies that get to this point of size and age, you can stop growing at the pace you want. You can get locked into certain patterns of behaviours, maybe selling the same kinds of solutions to the same kinds of customers at the same kinds of business models so you get a bit trapped in your own success. For us the catalyst was how do you unleash that? How do you restart this business? How do we get back to some of that entrepreneurial DNA that Harald and Hart had at the beginning? For the better part of the last five years, we’ve been in this kind of re-startup mode.

What sort of changes have you made?

I’ll give you three really big ones. The first one is talent. Over the last five years, we’ve spent an enormous amount of time growing the talent pool at ACL, and 90 per cent of people at ACL today are new to their role—about 75 per cent are new to ACL, and the remaining 15 per cent have a new role. We’re really excited about the growing technology talent pool in Vancouver and B.C., and there’s been a huge emphasis on just surrounding that with a culture that people want to be part of, our new facility being an example. The second one is an enormous investment in technology. We’ve increased our R&D, our product investment, by 243 per cent. We acquired a cloud-based company, and we are disrupting our category based on a new way of delivering our solution. The third thing is business model. We moved to a subscription model—we converted 90 per cent of our business in one year to subscription, which in software land was fairly enormous and also quite fast.

What’s with all the moose? The office has moose everywhere, from a statue to wall motifs and plush toys.

We “put the moose on the table,” which is like the elephant in the corner of the room. It’s about extreme transparency in being able to talk about good stuff and uncomfortable stuff. So there’s moose all over this place. “Put the moose on the table”—we say it all the time. It’s a huge, huge, huge part of our culture. This whole building is all about open. Everybody’s opinion matters equally, and everybody’s little piece of real estate matters equally, so we’re all in an open environment.

The company car is a 1972 Gran Torino painted ACL purple. How did that come about?

It’s kind of about attitude. It’s kind of about comeback. It’s kind of unexpected. So if you see this big, monstrous 1972 Gran Torino driving down the street, that’s ours. Employees just rent it out: take it to church, go get some groceries, pick up their kids at the airport. It’s become this really great part of our culture. We’re all proud as hell about that car. In fact, we’re actually hiring people because of that car right now. It’s hilarious to see, but it’s unpretentious, it’s big and purple, and it’s this cool little symbol of the transformation that we’ve made as a startup. Just as we’ve breathed new life into this car, this company feels like a fresh, brand new place.

In 2015 you and other ACL executives rappelled down a 30-storey building dressed as superheroes. What inspired you to do that?

We had a bet with our sales organization that if they hit a certain target, they could throw their leaders off a 30-storey building—and well, they hit their numbers. It was really quite terrifying. I’m so glad we did it. As a leader it’s about facing what you don’t know and making promises you don’t know how to keep and then spending every living moment living up to your word. So rappelling down that building as Spider-Man was a pretty cool way to feel close to employees and also celebrate a great accomplishment by doing something that is pretty much completely ridiculous.



The Women’s Executive Network named Laurie Schultz one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016