Alan Trefler: from a game of chess to a successful businessman


From chess to a life of success
“You need to be able to learn from losing and even to learn from your mistakes when you win. Chess is a very transparent game. It’s fully disclosed at all moments, and it’s not enough to either win or lose. It’s whether you’ve earned it.” Said Alan Trefler, CEO of software company Pegasystems.
The Boston-based Trefler in 1975 tied, at the age of 19, for first place in the World Open chess tournament in New York with grandmaster Pal Benko. When it came to building Pegasystems, which he founded in 1983, Trefler turned to chess.
Trefler learned from his first job as a teenager, he worked in the family business. His father survived World War Two in Europe (moving from Poland to the United States) and created his family business, Trefler’s, which restored art and important objects. they were taking things that people value that have been damaged and restoring them.
Trefler said, “I learned restoration, but, as I grew older, I had the chance to interact with customers. You can think you’ve done as good a job as you want, but what really matters is if the customer thinks you did a good job”.
When he was a sophomore in college, he won co-champion of the World Open chess tournament. It was a very unlikely thing. He was rated 114th at the start of the tournament. His prize was $2,250. He still have a picture of that check as it was by far the biggest check he’d ever seen. He said, “I really, really wanted to buy this incredible calculator on sale. I came within inches of spending $240, and I hesitated”.
Trefler added, “ the next year when you suddenly could get a way better one for $20, I felt really smart”. He considered that he “learned that timing and choosing when to invest your money is important”.
In his first computer science job out of college, he was hired on a Wednesday, flying to meet with a major New York bank with his boss on Thursday, where he was introduced as the leader of the project that he then learned was six months late. That was his second day.
On the third day, his boss had a conflict and didn’t show up, so it was him and 18 customers. Trefler indicates that, “sometimes you need not make excuses and to tell people, sorry we’re not going to make the deadline, but I’m here to do the best we can. And it worked out”.
In addition Alan Trefler has mentioned that there are three basic lessons to learn from chess game. “The first is pattern recognition, look at the pieces on the board, the control of the different squares. What I recognize will clue me in on what the strategic approach should be”. He said.
And he continued, “next is the “If, Then, Else” stage. Deep analysis of: If I do this, what do I anticipate as a countermeasure, and what will I then do?”
It’s really mapping out the sequences of alternatives: If you’re looking at buying a company or investing in a particular area, you’re thinking of what moves you can make but also what your competition might do. And what’s holistically happening in the ecosystem that can affect you.
Trefler advice that, “before you make your move, you want to step back and ask the question, ‘Did I miss something obvious?’
It’s really dangerous in chess and in life to get wrapped up in an analytical vector and you forget that there’s something that you might stumble into at the end. This is a very healthy framework for decision-making