60 Seconds with Gary Swart ’83
Gary Swart ’83 wants to change the way you work.
Swart is CEO of oDesk, the world's largest online workplace. He believes that
online work will soon become as commonplace as e-commerce. “The pain of traditional
hiring is acute,” he says. “Companies are struggling to find good talent; it’s the
single biggest lever they have. Everyone is trying to do more with less, and even
if they could afford great talent, they often can’t find it within commuting distance
of their office.”
But with online work, it doesn’t matter where the worker — or the office — is
located. “The Internet makes it possible for people to find work all over the world,
not just within commuting distance,” Swart says. “It also allows companies to hire
the best talent in the world, almost instantly. As a result, the online work market
has seen explosive growth, and oDesk has been able to lead that growth.”
Swart has always wanted to be out at the edge of the growth curve. When he graduated
with his business degree, he went into manufacturing, buying and selling precision
metal products. But the industry was shrinking, and the technology sector was clearly
booming, so Swart moved to Silicon Valley and took a job with Pure Software (started
by Reed Hastings, who went on to create a little company called Netflix).
Pure Software grew quickly and went public in 1995. It eventually became part
of IBM through a series of mergers and acquisitions, which, Swart says, changed
the company dynamic considerably. “I went from being employee number 30 to employee
number 130,000,” he said. “In such a big company, it’s hard to influence the direction
the ship is taking. I realized I was happiest in a startup environment.”
He went on to search for the next big thing, and landed at software startup Intellibank.
The product was a “really cool idea,” but the company didn’t take off. While raising
money for IntelliBank, however, Swart came across oDesk. He was smitten with the
idea of matching companies to contractors through the Internet.
“Not only is my work making an impact, but oDesk is making an impact on the world,”
said Swart. “Workers can get paid what they’re worth in a global economy, and small
businesses can have a level playing field with bigger companies by tapping into
a global talent pool.”
Swart credits the entrepreneurial spirit and competitive environment at the University
of Maryland — particularly at his fraternity — for inspiring his passion for innovation.
“There hasn’t been a day or week that I haven’t leveraged something I learned in
college,” he said.
Now he is happy to have the opportunity to give back. “I’m excited about helping
the Dingman Center,” said Swart. “The mid-Atlantic region should have as strong
an entrepreneurial ecosystem as Silicon Valley. I want to help promote and support