Tag Archives: Leadership

‘Better ways of working driven by COVID-19’ by SMF Perses Sethna  

Sainsbury Management Fellow, Perses Sethna- Director of Business Change Services at PRT Partners: Perses is a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering & Technology, SMF and INSEAD MBA. He has held change leadership positions throughout his career at BT plc, Dixons Carphone Group and most recently his own business change consultancy PRT Partners Ltd.

He believes that mindful application of technology is the route to human progress, and that this requires above all the right conversations to be created between people across diverse business and technology functions in organisations.

In this article he reflects on the opportunity to accelerate the pace of such conversations, in response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many years, we have heard that digital technologies can enable people to work and live in far more flexible and efficient ways. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the pace of this realisation, crashing through traditional barriers to change in the working environment.

Many people have been unable to work together in the same physical location, and miss the deeper level of social interaction. However, they are also appreciating the many benefits that new ways of working from home, enabled by digital technology, can bring.

Few people are missing the time and energy expended in commuting and travel to meetings just because ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’.

Huge benefits have been seen all over the world in pollution reduction and improvements to our environment in a relatively short time. This shows the enormous long-term benefits that are possible, if we prepare for life and work beyond lockdown in a mindful and flexible way.

Simply returning to exactly ‘the way things were’ is not going to be an option.

In his well-regarded article “The Hammer and the Dance” (note 1) consultant and author Tomas Pueyo advocated a response to COVID-19 that authorities around the world have since taken. The first phase is aggressive action including population lockdowns (the Hammer); the second is a much longer period of vigilance including selective action to target local spikes of infection (the Dance).

A key feature of this approach is that during the second phase, responsibility for decision-making and action will increasingly pass from Governments to organisations and individuals.

So, are we ready for ‘the dance’?
Being ready for a long period of selective action means that organisations will, above all, require flexibility to adapt their ways of working quickly and often as circumstances change. For example, organisations re-opening their offices to employees may need to switch back to only online working in specific locations during local outbreaks of infection.

In most cases, the technology has been readily available for some time to enable such flexible ways of working, at least for office-based people in organisations. But we have often simply chosen not to use it. Why? Organisations have a unique opportunity to ask themselves this and other key questions brought to the surface by the pandemic. By considering these questions, they can design more effective ways of working, tailored to their own specific needs and culture, for years to come.

Flexible working

  • Why do we insist on seeing our staff in the office all day every day? Are we set up to manage performance as measured by outputs and results, rather than simply monitoring time spent in the office?
  •  Would our office-based people be more or less productive if allowed to structure their own time to work in the office, at home or elsewhere? Would this improve work-life balance? How could we avoid negative impacts such as reduced downtime for employees?
  • New disciplines will evolve with flexible working, such as more regular but shorter progress calls, shared dashboards of progress against team goals, automated task tracking against agreed deadlines and so on. How can we build these potentially threatening routines in a collaborative and trusted way, to increase the motivation and effectiveness of our teams?
  • How can our people in business functions be fully involved in the design of processes and technology to achieve the benefits of flexible working and other ‘digital transformations’?

Collaboration

  • How can we extend flexible working technology to break down boundaries between tribes and silos, and to create multidisciplinary teams across locations?
  • How can cross-functional workshops be mobilised online to work through inter-departmental problems, to implement the fixes using joint action plans?
  • How can we use more digital ways of working to reduce departmental politics?

The office and the environment

  • How can our offices be re-purposed to become the Hubs of the new flexible way of working?
  • How can most of our office space be turned over to socially-distanced collaboration (formal or informal meeting areas) rather than individual desks- since individual work can be done as effectively at home?
  • How much of our office space can be released? What would be the savings in property and travel costs?
  • How can we maximise changes that benefit the environment, such as reduced commuting?

Flexible resourcing

  • How can we optimise our blend of permanent and specialist temporary resources, so that we maximise our flexibility to respond to changing requirements?
  • How can we bring in temporary skills for short, specific pieces of work, with payment against agreed outcomes rather than day rates? How can we ensure that this approach complies with IR35 legislation?
  • How can we work with our Consulting partners to update the ‘land and expand’ business model into higher value, short-duration interventions focused on increasing the capability of our own organisation?
  • How can we use temporary expertise to help our employees create new ways of working that are tailored to the unique needs and culture of our own organisation?

Before the COVID-19 crisis, businesses globally were set to spend $7.1 Trillion over the next four years on the use of digital technology to improve their operations (note 2). Many such transformations have failed in the past (note 3), and the new environment will make success even more challenging.

Therefore, it is especially important that these questions are discussed by leadership teams to prepare for the ‘new normal’, fully engaging their people and their technology, business change and resourcing partners.

Coming soon: Look out for video interviews with the people creating better ways of working for the new normal.  These will be posted on the video page on this website from July 2020.  

Notes & sources

  1. Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance. What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time. Tomas Pueyo https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56
  2. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2020 Predictions https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US45569118
  3. Unlocking success in digital transformations. McKinsey&Company https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/unlocking-success-in-digital-transformations

How 4 professional engineers used an MBA to change their careers

The MBA is a highly desired qualification by both young professionals and employers.  Not only does an MBA equip the student with a wealth of business and leadership skills, it  shows clear signs of an individual’s focus and ambition as well as an adventurous spirit – leaving a secure job to study for an MBA requires not only funds but courage.

MBAs benefit individuals, employers, and the economy. Although it is essential to hone skills in specialist areas, businesses are keen on hiring MBA graduates because they have a deeper understanding of a range of business practices that enable them to be more strategic and agile in their thinking and problem solving.

The MBA opens new career opportunities, helps students to gain better insight into their motivations and goals, and connects them with inspiring professionals who can support their career ambitions long term.  Taking an MBA is a major financial commitment and because of their prestige, the cost of attending the top international schools is high.  Consequently many students seek scholarships to support their studies.  For over 30 years, the Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) scholarships have been awarded to professional engineers who have clear leadership potential.   Today, there are 365 SMFs who, collectively, have been awarded £11 million in scholarships to enable them to acquire skills that help UK businesses succeed and the economy growth.

In this blog we introduce four Sainsbury Management Fellows who have used their MBA skills and experiences to steer their careers in new and exciting directions.

Engineering a Finance Career in Green Energy:  SMF Chris Gifford, Senior Risk Consultant, Chief Credit Officer, Vancity Community Investment Bank, Canada

After gaining his engineering degree at Oxford University, SMF Chris Gifford started his fulltime career in the power generation sector. He worked throughout the UK and internationally helping to operate and maintain the control and instrumentation systems of fossil-fuelled power stations.  He progressed into a commercial role, analysing the financial performance of the power stations, which gave him a deeper understanding of business and a desire to pursue his career in a business direction.

Chris decided that he wanted to work in the cutting-edge transition from fossil-fuel to green technology in a business and finance capacity, but he realised that he needed additional business skills to secure a top-level position in a leading company.  Because of his engineering background, prospective employers tended to pigeon-hole him as a techie. Chris knew that gaining an MBA would enhance his skills and make him more marketable.  The MBA, which he undertook at INSEAD, provided not only the vital business skills needed for a career shift, but accelerated an improvement in his interpersonal and leadership skills.

Today, Chris is the Senior Risk Consultant, Chief Credit Officer at Vancity Community Investment Bank in  Ontario, Canada where he uses his combined engineering and business skills to assess the viability and robustness of complex renewable energy proposals from businesses seeking finance, eliminating the need for the bank to use external professionals to carry out additional assessments.  In addition to identifying potential problems, Chris recommends improvements and efficiencies that allow important renewable energy projects to be funded.

Chris’ engineering background is a major asset in his role.  He explained: “My engineering skills are typically applied to evaluate whether businesses trying to access financing have fully understood the complexities for themselves.  There is a bias for optimism and sometimes blind spots when it comes to risk assessment; I provide an objective and pragmatic view on how likely a project is to succeed.”

Switching from a Technical to Management Role:  SMF Dere Ogbe, Shell Corporate Strategy and Portfolio Consultant, UK

SMF Dere Ogbe was appointed Senior Strategy and Portfolio Consultant at Shell after graduating from London Business School with an SMF-sponsored MBA.   He credits his MBA for galvanising his career in this new direction and says he now has the ability to lead both technical and commercial strategy projects.

Before taking his MBA, Dere was a Senior Operations Excellence Engineer at BP Exploration. This was a technical role which involved implementing best practices to drive continuous improvement across joint ventures in Europe, Middle East, and North Africa. This involved cascading business decisions into technical requirements and this gave Dere an insight into how commercial choices drive project design and operational requirements.  This awareness, coupled with the knowledge from courses such as Managing Engineering Projects, sparked his interest in business management.

Dere sites a number of ways that the MBA has helped to transform his career: “It has given me the necessary financial, strategic, and commercial skills to quickly analyse problems and propose possible solutions. The programme also enhanced my data analytical and leadership skills. Also, I feel very comfortable leading a wider range of people with different technical and commercial expertise.  With these additional skills, I can jump into projects and get up to speed quickly.  The part of my job I especially love is the challenge of thinking on my feet, rapidly uncovering the critical factors and, with the team, creating a roadmap to solve the problem.  The MBA has had a transformative effect on my career and leadership skills.” 

Billy Comes to Life Through Engineering and Business Talent: SMF Rob Deering, CEO, Billy, Australia

Before business school, SMF Rob Deeming gained a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Nottingham. After graduation, he spent five years as a consultant at Bain & Company where he developed practical skills such as problem-solving and collaborative working.  This role gave him the time and freedom to decide what he wanted to do longer term.  He said: “It was an incredible place to start a career. The level of learning, skills development and personal support available in consulting is second-to-none.”

Rob took his MBA at Harvard and says that it gave him both personal and professional perspective: “It opened my eyes to new career pathways, in particular, those which combined his engineering and business skills.”  Since graduating, Rob has lived in both New York and Sydney where he has built several tech-driven businesses, including three start-ups.

The most recent entrepreneurial venture is a technology company, Billy, which addresses the fundamental challenges of caring for seniors, while allowing them to remain in their own homes as independently as possible, on their own terms. Billy uses a series of Internet of Things sensors to identify patterns of behavioural routine for seniors, and shares this information through an app, in real time, with family members and professional carers. Billy can read all the activities of daily living using smart analytics to determine patterns in routine and identify changes before they result in medical emergency.

The future is exciting for both Rob and the company; Billy is growing in size and reputation and is now in 1,000 homes across Australia and the USA. Initial feedback shows that customer confidence is high and there has been a reduction in hospitalisations in the households where Billy is installed.

Winning an SMF scholarship enabled Rob to undertake his prestigious MBA, which gave him the skills to follow his entrepreneurial dreams.

Engineers with Business Skills Transform UK Industry: SMF Ian Peerless, Operations Director, ExRobotics, UK

SMF Ian Peerless and ExRobotics Colleagues

Ian Peerless’ route to an engineering career began at the University of Southampton, where he graduated with a First in Civil Engineering, after which he spent a year with British Leyland in a mechanical engineering role.  The hydrocarbon industry in the North Sea was booming and he was keen to move into that sector, so gained a Petroleum Engineering Masters at Heriot-Watt University and shortly after graduating joined Shell as a Petroleum Engineer and enjoyed an international career for five years.

However, he reached a ‘crunch point’ in his career, as is often the case with young engineers.  At this point there is a choice; to work up through the ranks of a company as a pure engineer or to diversify and move upwards in a different direction.  Ian chose the latter. His interest in business management led him to the MBA, with a scholarship from SMF to attend IMD in Switzerland.

The MBA gave Ian the credibility required to step into a management role; a role that would otherwise been out of his reach. He was one of the first engineers to benefit from the SMF scholarship programme, and proved that having engineers in management roles throughout industrial companies is extremely valuable.

After the MBA he joined British Steel, where he gained a wealth of management experience. He worked in Business Development, Sales, Operations, and finished as the number two in the Business Strategy department reporting to the main board.   After 15 years with British Steel, Ian was enticed back to Shell, where he was a key member of an internal consultancy group.  He travelled the world advising, coaching and facilitating leadership teams on project management and contract strategy.   When that project was completed, he set up an independent consultancy, IPKA where he continued to perform a similar role to the Shell position, but with different oil and gas companies.

In 2010, Ian took on a Shell contract to develop an oilfield robot. He gained extensive knowledge of this specialist robotic niche which led him to form ExRobotics, a company that is tackling the problem of oil and gas operators being sent into hazardous, harsh, and remote locations. The robots can be permanently stationed at those locations, removing people from harm’s way as well as cutting costs and reducing lost production.

Summing up the benefits of the MBA, Ian said: “The MBA gave me skills that I still use in my work. In particular, the ability to understand a business, its markets, its competitive position, and to turn that into an action plan for success.  Furthermore, the MBA made me understand that if you combine the strengths of individuals and create a motivated team, wonderful things happen. The MBA not only changed the direction of my career it also changed my industry.  The combination of my life before the MBA (technical) has been combined with my life after the MBA (management) to create ExRobotics.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

What is an MBA? – by EIBF President David Falzani MBE     

Benefits of Studying for an MBA

The MBA has been around since 1908 when the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration was established in the USA. Across the world today, the MBA is the watchword for business career success, and prospective students are spoilt for choice as to where and how they study – from the world-leading schools like Harvard and London Business School (which was the first UK business school) to virtual online schools, from full-time courses to part time study.

MBA programmes prepare professionals for senior management roles in business.  Typically, MBAs are taken by those who have already been working for several years, but that’s not always the case.  Some people go straight from their first university degree to study for an MBA degree and this is the beauty of the business school offering; there are options to suit everyone.  This includes MBAs at premium business schools, like LBS or Harvard, and, for want of a better term, ‘mainstream’ business schools.  Courses are available either full-time (30-60 hours per week) or part-time (one or two days per week) and there are Executive MBA programmes for senior corporate executives and managers who study whilst working, and sometimes their study is partially or fully funded by the employer.

Requirements to Study an MBA
To study for an MBA, you will usually require an undergraduate degree.  Most MBAs require a 2:1 or above, but there are some that will accept 2:2 degrees so long as they are paired with an exceptional application and a set of relevant skills and experiences.  Some work experience is generally required; this being the case most MBA students are between the ages of 27 and 30. One important entry criterion to meet, particularly for top schools, is the GMAT exam score. The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, is designed to test your abilities across a wide range of areas. A good score will often facilitate entry into leading schools, and each school’s GMAT averages are widely published.

Benefits of an MBA
MBAs expose students to many areas of business including accounting, finance, marketing, people management and leadership skills, and full-time courses do so in an intensive, immersive way that challenges and stretches students’ perspectives and thinking.  The MBA experience often pushes candidates hard – the speed and sheer amount of work faced is sometimes described as a re-wiring of candidates’ brains, such that they can think critically and quickly analyse information, filtering out what is important from the irrelevant. The skills taught in an MBA programme enable you to read, assess, structure and plan rapidly; skills that will enable you to find innovative ways of dealing with big problems.  An MBA graduate also gains an up to date and razor-sharp ‘tool kit’ to apply to any business challenge. These aspects are some of the reasons why the MBA has become so highly regarded by employers.

People from all walks of life want to gain an MBA qualification in order to improve their understanding of business and to accelerate their career.  Developing your business skills is not only good for your personal and career growth, but it is also good for companies and organisations and essential for the economy – enhanced knowledge and skills leads to better solutions to problems which can increase productivity, as well as transform products and services that affect people’s lives.

If you are at that pivotal point in your career where you want to learn more about business and the decision-making processes, it’s important to know that as valuable as the MBA is, the programme is not a final destination, it’s very much the start of a longer journey.  In an MBA you will be introduced to many facets of business and gain a foundation that enables you to confidently delve deeper into areas of interest across a range of subjects as you need to.  Because of this solid framework, when you are back in the world of work, it will be easier to go deeper into subjects that are needed in your job. You will be able to understand business issues and explore them at a level you were unable to do before your MBA.

A Wealth of Choice of Business Schools
Every year thousands of professionals start their search for the right business school for them.  At the top of the MBA tree are the premium schools – these are equivalent to Ivy League ranked universities, which often have long histories, coveted brands, outstanding facilities and attract the best staff and candidates.  The institution’s brand, the quality of faculty and quality of student admissions are all perpetuated by each other, creating an institution designed to offer the very best environment for business education.

Gaining a qualification from a top international business school will open new opportunities.  However, their prestige and resources mean they command high fees – some can be as much as 10 times more expensive than mainstream business schools.  On the upside, their brands add considerable value to the graduates’ own personal brand, giving them an additional asset when they go back into the job market.

There is fierce competition to secure a place at the top business schools – because their brands are so revered.  Unsurprisingly, these schools are often 7 to 10 times over-subscribed for places, so getting-in requires some real work.  Candidates must be very driven and highly organised to maximise their chances. Having access to the necessary funds also helps – some will seek assistance with fees by applying for a scholarship (eg through charities) to supplement their private financing arrangements.  Many candidates have a risk profile that allows them to take on loans, confident that their future income growth will resolve any debt soon afterwards.

There are many fantastic mainstream business schools that do not cost the earth.  More and more, universities are developing high-quality MBA programmes.  Excellent business education is on offer but, being newer into the MBA market, these do not have the same historical pedigree and reputation enjoyed by their premium counterparts.

While those who attend the mainstream business schools may not come away with quite such a prestigious brand to append to their own, they receive a rounded business education (perhaps with less of the heightened level of induced stress that the premium schools engender into their programmes) and can use their new skills to further their career goals.

The Enduring Power of the Alumni
Apart from the new skills propelling your career prospects and salary (it’s not uncommon for business school graduates to double their pre-MBA salary), there is a huge ‘hidden’ benefit.  During the MBA, students develop a network of peers that become long-term associates and lifelong friends.  The business school Alumni is a powerful asset – because of their shared experience, members will reach out to each other when they need help or advice at any stage in their business career, whether that’s as a senior-level employee or as an entrepreneur.

MBA – A Cause for Celebration!
The tremendous success of the MBA is a cause for celebration: the diversity of schools (some offering campuses in several countries as part of the curriculum), programmes and study timetables allow many people to attain business education in a way that suits their ambitions and circumstances.  The timescale over which one can study an MBA has transformed access – there are full-time courses that run from nine to 21 months depending on the school, and part-time learning up to five years. Schools can be physical or virtual.  And, there are prices to fit almost all budgets.

It’s come a long way since its origins in 1908, adapting and evolving to meet the market needs. Accessible, flexible and current – today’s MBA is a truly wonderful platform to boost business education.

If you are an engineer considering an MBA, visit or scholarship page for details on how to apply for a £50,000 award.

 

What next for the sharing economy? – SMF President, David Falzani

While conventional markets and brands were under financial siege by the recession, the concurrent development of a global, data-driven, mobile infrastructure provided an answer to the strife: the sharing economy. Billed as a radical new, ‘alternative’ socio-economic system based on the values of ‘sharing’ and ‘collaboration’, the sharing economy seemed like a fluid, big-picture response – one which some commentators have described in utopian terms since.

Benita Matofska, of The People Who Share, defines the sharing economy as, “A socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical, and intellectual resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade, and consumption of goods and services by different people and organisations.” It is, in other words, a new, ‘alternative’ market which “Embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart” – a ‘hybrid economy’ enabling different forms of value exchange using shared physical or human assets. Matofska points to the ‘gig economy’, social media, peer-to-peer (P2P) trade and exchange, upcycling and recycling, as examples of economic sharing in action.

At the core of the sharing economy is the principle of people renting things they need from each other, The Economist argues, “The big change is the availability of more data, which allows physical assets to be disaggregated and consumed as services.” Apps and data, therefore, act as conduits for people to get in touch with one another and share what they need within this economy. Technology has reduced transaction costs, making the sharing of assets cheaper and easier than ever – or so the story goes.

The Economist is right in noting the significant disruptive effects of the sharing economy, which seem only to be increasing as these P2P markets develop. The consumer peer-to-peer rental market alone is worth around $26 billion. However, in their bid to market the sharing economy as a collaborative, user-first way of delivering services and products, the major players that make the sharing economy possible, and by claiming to be merely middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, large corporations like AirBnB and Uber understate their own involvement and responsibility for the sustainable development of the sharing economy.

This has impacts not just on ‘conventional’ rental markets but gives way to a whole host of regulatory and workers’ rights issues. Bike couriers for Deliveroo, said to be paid a mere £4 per delivery, receive no hourly rate from the company. This has led to spontaneous strikes and collective action from their drivers, followed by an aggressive response by the corporation. The adverse effects of AirBnB on local rental markets is well-documented, particularly in small cities such as Reykjavík, Iceland, which, in the context of a massive tourism boom, has seen a huge increase in rents and property values as a result of the sharing economy and has reportedly led to a major housing shortage in the capital.

As we get swept up in the excitement of this new means of meeting demand, we are arguably losing sight of the important question that must be asked of the sharing economy: what is being shared, and for whose benefit? Uber and AirBnB may claim to be middlemen for ‘independent contractors’, but they take huge amounts of commission from their contractors and have even been described as, “Giant corporations pursuing monopoly power.” They have not just disrupted the markets and the profit margins of their competitors, but it could be said that their desertion of responsibility has, in some ways, led to the disruption of the lives of the people who work with them by escaping regulation and giving them only precarious ‘access’ to work, rather than solid, reliable jobs. As the sharing economy develops and brands consolidate their grip on markets, its once seemingly-liberatory potential seems to be surpassed by many of the problems facing the ‘old’ ways of doing things. As the casual workers that make the sharing economy possible become increasingly organised, the sharing economy must reckon with its responsibilities and duty of care to contractors and consumers. The regulatory battles they already face with cities such as New York and Los Angeles will set the stage for what’s to come in this regard.

This is not to say that the sharing economy requires more regulation. It is the lack of broad state regulation which has generated many of its advances and entrepreneurial development, after all. What the major players in the sharing economy must do is to put their money where their mouth is and open up their brands as well as their services. That means sharing not just some more of the wealth (revenue at AirBnB increased by 80% during 2016), but the infrastructure and technology that makes the sharing economy possible.

Some have argued this should take the form of open brand APIs. The sea change in the relationship between producers, marketer, and consumers has turned brands into ‘platforms’, ‘ecosystems’, and the collaborative nature of this relationship and the role of consumer participation makes the possibilities for scaling different aspects of the sharing economy endless. For the sharing economy to prosper and grow, it requires the active participation and input of the people doing the sharing. By making their processes and insights open-source in a genuinely transparent developmental dialogue, a true sharing economy might finally emerge. By placing the locus of organisational power in the hands of a few small, closed-off and increasingly powerful companies, the sharing economy risks lapsing into the same old patterns that made conventional corporate culture no longer able to compete or meet the demands of consumers as efficiently.

The battles around regulation and consumer and worker rights are not mere teething problems –they will determine the shape of what’s to come. The cooperative nature of the sharing economy comes from the technology, and it is the technology which must change to be more inclusive and open to innovation in order to meet the sharing economy’s increasingly unstable demands on local economies and workers.

Would uSwitch your chief executive?

Would you switch your CEO2Tired of paying over-the-top rates for poor service, bad communication, and a total lack of market strategy? It might be time to switch—your chief executive, that is.

Today, thanks to ‘switching’ providers like uSwitch or comparethemarket, consumers have more power than ever when it comes to comparing and selecting utility or insurance providers. All it takes are a few clicks through these streamlined services to find, and switch to, a better deal.

If only such a service existed for selecting better chief executives. CEOs wield such a large amount of responsibility that a bad CEO could damage, if not devastate, your company in every conceivable way – even permanently, as the recent case of Phillip Green and BHS attests.

By looking at common shortcomings CEOs often face and ‘comparing the market’, so to speak, this article will hopefully outline some of the areas in which chief executives can improve.

A self-critical approach
As Ben Horowitz points out, there’s no one else to blame when you’re CEO – chief executives are ultimately responsible for every major decision within the organisation. The blame for a bad hire or a failed initiative will ultimately find its way back to chief executives as they are the ones who OK such decisions.

For this reason, better CEOs need to take a generally more self-critical approach to their position and their relationship with the company. Firstly, this should manifest in an ability to recognise one’s own weaknesses. If a chief executive is unwilling to admit that they can sometimes lack communication skills, or that their excess of ego is having a negative effect on the company, then this demonstrates stubbornness. If you ask a prospective new CEO what their greatest weakness is and their answer does not pertain to an actual weakness (e.g. “I am too detail-oriented” or “I am too friendly”), it can be a red flag for someone who has not faced up to their own limitations and is not focused on self-improvement.

This can become fatal to a company in times of strife, and this vital self-critical approach must be evident in a chief executive’s actions. If, for example, the organisation is feeling the financial squeeze and the CEO is still accepting large bonuses at the company’s expense, then this demonstrates a lack of critical reflection and a detachment from their responsibility to employees and stakeholders.

Goal-oriented strategic thinking
Companies inevitably run into a myriad of obstacles over their lifespan, and as both a figurehead and leader in practice, it is down to the chief executive to ensure the organisation weathers the storm.

No matter what industry you’re involved in, there will doubtless come a time when your company will be presented with a near-fatal obstacle or challenge. Getting bogged down in the details of these obstacles or allowing them to dominate you psychologically can make you lose sight of the path ahead. This calls for strategic, long-term thinking, rather than short-termism.

Chief executives need to be conscious of the many shifting trends in their industry and conduct a risk assessment of how these might change the landscape in which the organisation is operating in the future. This means understanding the historically unique consumer trends and new technologies emerging as potential opportunities with a place in long-term strategy, but it also requires an ability and willingness to determine which of these trends will have a contingent impact on the company’s vision and which of them are simply short-term fads. Put simply, good chief executives need to have a clear head, balancing risk against short-term challenges in order to retain a clear long-term vision and strategy for the company. Those who are susceptible to getting sucked in by the minutiae of short-term issues simply don’t cut the mustard.

Social responsibility
Does your CEO actively involve themselves in the community of the company, or are they rather more aloof? Do they skip staff parties, charity fundraisers, and local business gatherings? It could be a sign that they feel little affinity with their colleagues or immediate business community, and therefore lack a sense of social responsibility.

“People of my generation of leadership have fundamentally failed, in that corporate private sector has not delivered its contribution to society over the last 10 years,” argues Ronan Dunne, O2’s chief executive. Generating revenue for shareholders and stakeholders alike is obviously a priority for most businesses, but it’s important to remember that business people are part of a social contract with wider society. After all, it’s the community of consumers, producers, and other businesses that every successful organisation owes their success to.

CEOs need to take active, intentional action to not only exhibit but cement the company’s social responsibilities. Ask: how does their sense of social responsibility manifest? Boondoggle initiatives won’t cut it—they need to produce concrete results. O2’s Think Big scheme is a great example of a company getting social responsibility right, offering grants of up to £10,000 to young innovators looking to provide new and creative solutions to environmental problems. Does your CEO put their money where their mouth is? If not, it might be time for a switch!

Can unicorn startups thrive whilst ignoring regulation?

a worker asks for a transition to a patch on a piggy bank, but receives only a tease

The world of tech startups is peppered with stories of overconfident, brilliant entrepreneurs who disrupt the way business is done in traditional sectors, transforming consumer behaviour and challenging current legislative frameworks, often with detrimental outcomes to their business as in the landmark Uber employment rights case.

High profile tech innovators are sometimes branded arrogant “jerks” who try to by-pass national regulations in order to achieve success. But is the fair? Is arrogance a prerequisite to achieving a major shift in consumer economic behaviour? The new Sainsbury Management Fellows Business Survey asked business leaders/entrepreneurs for their views on the behaviour of Unicorns (billion dollar valued start-ups), with some divergent views.

Arrogant or just determined? Divided opinion
Sixty-seven of the 150 opted-in panellists took part in the survey and 37.5% agreed that Unicorns in the sharing economy are arrogant in their compliance with regulation and interestingly, over 51% of all respondents said that a degree of arrogance is actually required for new technology startups in traditional markets to beat incumbents and grow.

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question `1

Echoing similar views among the 51% of respondents, David Bell, an engineering graduate on Rolls-Royce’s development programme said, “In order to gain advantage in the sharing economy Unicorn startups had to exploit loopholes and gaps in existing rules to rapidly develop market share before regulators can act to prevent these unforeseen practices. While no specific company was put in the spotlight, Bell said that some of the tactics include ignoring regulator warnings, claiming new technology’s exemption from old rules, asking customers to lobby on their behalf, and asking for forgiveness and paying penalties after their market position has already been established.”

Arrogance of Start ups Survey Question 2

On the flip side, just over 42% of all panellists stated that arrogance is not a prerequisite for success and startups are misunderstood and the public should not “confuse arrogance with self-confidence.” In this group’s view, such startups are simply pushing boundaries, testing new models and finding new ways of competing with incumbents.”

No place for arrogance in business
Successful serial entrepreneur Chris Martin, CEO of ADC Therapeutics SA said, “There is no room for arrogance in business – startup or not. Some Unicorns I have worked with were best in class and so may have been perceived as arrogant when they were just very, very good.”

Sinead O’Sullivan, an MBA candidate at Harvard, an aerospace engineer and entrepreneur stated that it is vital that not all startups are painted “with the ‘arrogance’ brush.” Some tech startups are being led by millennials who can appear overconfident.”

While some startups can be arrogant, most aren’t. Some simply operate with supreme “self-confidence and dogged single-mindedness,” said Phil Strong, CEO at Zymbit.

The role of arrogance in business
Asked to name a company that behaves arrogantly, unprompted 18% of respondents named seven companies, with Uber taking pole position. The others were Prowler, Theranos, Avery Dennison, Airbnb, Tesla, and Dyson.

Led by CEO Travis Kalanick, Uber develops markets and operates the mobile app which provides on-demand taxi service, connecting passengers to cab drivers at much lower costs than other services. While many deem Kalanick to be a brilliant entrepreneur and legendary CEO, he is also generally perceived to operate in an arrogant way. While this arrogance is seen by some as negative, the trait is said to be rampant in Silicon Valley, with investors rewarding supposedly callous tactics with tons of capital. The view of the Uber leadership is that it consistently acts as if the company is above the law and the ethical norm.

Sinead O’Sullivan reinforced this point saying, “While misplaced confidence can be damaging to the reputation of a company, this behaviour is encouraged by “the way the whole venture capital game works.”

Demonstrating polarity of views, one entrepreneur, Nimesh Thakrar, CEO of Banneya gave Uber kudos for changing “the status quo of how we are currently operating in that [taxi] space”, and that policies and regulations “need to change and be reflective of the modern world we live in.” However, another young entrepreneur Farid Singh argued that the way Uber has gone about doing things has become “similar to dumping free inventory” and that while “regular taxi services run out of cash and have to shut down, they [Uber] start squeezing the drivers and raising their prices”. He believes that these practices have created an “unchecked monopoly”.

Airbnb, the world’s fourth largest startup is criticised for its supposed arrogance by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). The AHLA launched several campaigns to counter Airbnb’s so-called hypocrisy and to fight for “the need to curb illegal hotels and ensure a level playing field”. As one panellist stated, startups are not always good just because they’re new, claiming that “Airbnb has damaged B&B markets.”

In the final analysis…
While some of the SMF panellists deemed Unicorn startups as arrogant, others see this arrogance as merely a change in the way business and business owners are pacing themselves. Startup owners and operators are seen as bold movers and shakers who “challenge incumbents” and are in the business of “exploring new ways of solving old problems” said one panellist. The leaders of Unicorn startups are seen as new types of entrepreneurs who emphasise the need “to strive for survival and reproduction.”

Some respondents felt that the term “arrogance” is “emotionally charged” and has “strong negative overtones” and that society should be acknowledging their achievements; focusing on how these companies are pushing boundaries, testing new models, creating change and improving services for consumers.

Sainsbury Management Fellow and venture capitalist, James Raby argued that subverting regulation can be catastrophic for long term success. “Some startups regard regulation as the enemy. Because entrepreneurs are bringing new technology to the market, they think it is a protective shield from regulation. The standard response is to disavow regulation, yet everything that’s old is not necessarily bad. Startups should embrace regulation if they are serious about long-term success. They need to recognise that to work in real markets they must cooperate in a regulated market, as I’m sure the manufacturers of driverless cars will realise.

This means startups need to employ people who understand regulatory frameworks and the detail of how they apply in different markets and cultures. Without this depth of understanding, companies side-stepping regulation will be challenged and regulation will catch up with them.”

As SMF implores startups to re-think their approach to regulation, perhaps there is also a need for the regulators to improve their understanding of technology and be quicker at managing technology shifts.

photo (c) nuvolanevicata

Leading in a Crisis Part 2: Taking Action – David Falzani, SMF President

Image for Crisis Blog part 2 iStock_000023007074_Medium

If a crisis hits your company, clear thinking and decisive leadership is essential take your team through the ensuing storm.

As you’ll have read in our previous blog post on this topic, preparation is vital to ensuring that your organisation can deal with a crisis effectively. With a thorough risk assessment and management strategy in place, you’ll already have a good idea of how a crisis would impact your operations, and a plan deal with the issues. So, when that crisis hits, what’s next?

Face the music
When crisis hits, your first instinct might be to cover your own back. Self-preservation is a natural reaction in circumstances like these, but unfortunately, that’s not going to get you nor your organisation out of the woods. Before anything else, you may need to swallow some hard truths.

These might include your own role in the crisis – if you’re leading your company, then you no doubt exert a large influence on how the crisis affects your organisation and any solutions to it. You should consider yourself as one of the first figures who needs to make sacrifices if any tough choices need to be made.

After that, it’s important to develop a consensus on the causes of the crisis. This is vital, as no long-term solutions can really be implemented unless you know what the underlying problems really are.

Transparency is vital here. Quick fixes and concealment are not a way out, and will only exacerbate the crisis and make things worse.

All hands on deck
As we previously discussed, any risk management strategies should be communicated transparently and openly with your organisation’s stakeholders; and ultimately to the public as the media will inevitably report on the crisis.

Crisis can create a lot of uncertainty and fear among stakeholders, but particularly employees who will be worrying about their job security. If you didn’t involve them in risk management before the crisis hit, as is the ideal, now is the time to do exactly that.

First of all, your employees need certain reassurances. If redundancies have been deemed necessary because of the situation (for example, if an economic crisis requires cost-saving measures to be made), then this needs to be a part of your crisis consultations with the
other members of your organisation. The potential impacts of any planned changes must be outlined in full – in particular, if redundancies will be necessary or if there is any possibilities for employee redeployment.

As a crisis will affect your whole organisation, it is vital that you involve the whole organisation in the dialogue aimed at resolving it. Consultations should take place with employees and, if present, unions. Giving employees clarity and reassurances about the
situation will make your organisation more likely to weather the storm. There’s been more than one company that’s hit a survivable crisis but found it lost a key portion of its top talent, perhaps those who find it easiest to get a new job, through a lack of clear consultation.

Furthermore, as crises often call for new, creative ways of thinking and problem-solving, a
company-wide dialogue could potentially produce new solutions and answers at an uncertain time. These cannot be implemented without the help of staff.

Fight your way out
Think of a crisis not just as a disaster, but an opportunity for change. A crisis might actually empower you to make important changes to the company – changes that may have stalled in the past, but can now be implemented in the name of crisis management.

Indeed, many companies saw the 2008 financial crash as a business opportunity. Take Dan Simon’s piece in Forbes, How to turn a financial crisis into a business opportunity: “During this turbulent period we managed to grow the company into a major player in financial PR and open successful offices in New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Sydney.”

Calmer Waters
Keeping a level head and turning the tables to your advantage can help the organisation emerge from the crisis not only intact, but more successful and efficient than before.

Click to read part 1 of Leading in a Crisis.

 

Are Leaders Born or Bred?

Are Leaders Born or Bred Fish Stock_000015329479Large

Whether leaders are born or made is a question that has fascinated political, economic and business minds for centuries. Traditionally, leaders were considered to be born possessing the innate skills necessary to successfully lead others.

Since then, our mode of thinking has come a long way. It’s important to remember that leadership is not always formally hierarchical, and leaders often emerge even if they do not have the title of manager or director – a leader may be someone taking the helm on a project with colleagues.  Leadership involves a certain level of innate ability, such as vision, charisma and interpersonal skills, but it also involves hard work to acquire the technical skills and knowledge needed to succeed within any given industry.

You only have to look at the business world to see that the best leaders successfully maintain this fine balance. We all know the radical success stories – self-made leaders of industry such as James Dyson and Richard Branson who started from nothing and built successful empires through a combination of their innate skills set, vision and hard work. But there is a vast number of largely untold stories of successful business leaders who have come to dominate in their chosen fields by using their combined technical and interpersonal skills to lead teams that excel.

Interpersonal skills
The power of interpersonal skills cannot be understated.  Take the example of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott character in The Office. Scott is said to have received many awards during his time as a salesman, and it is made clear throughout the series that he is a very skilled salesman with in-depth knowledge of the market he is working within. But in his role as manager he is utterly inept, committing all sorts of social faux pas and constantly alienating his staff.  Despite all his skill as a salesman, he lacks interpersonal skills; he is a poor leader.

What we can learn from this is that no amount of business acumen and textbook management theory is ever going to be useful if you cannot develop strong interpersonal skills and adapt your management style to get the best out of individual members of the team.  Remember that in management, getting to grips with the financial side of the business is only a small aspect of your job as a leader. It is people you are managing, not products.

You need to earn respect, which means being a good listener, and letting your employees know that they are being heard whilst also giving them all the information they need to do a good job.  You need to inspire your team and build strong, professional relationships without condescension or over familiarity.  You need not only to get your objectives and requirements across to your colleagues, but also have them accepted as legitimate.  This involves forming and sharing a coherent vision of where you want the business to be in the future – something that can only be achieved with mutual respect and genuine collaboration.

Learn from Others
Strong interpersonal skills can be developed in part by paying close attention to what you and others observe about other leaders. You can learn from others, good and bad, from studying other employees and leaders.

This does not mean merely copying all of the ideas, behaviours and attitudes of other leaders.  It means to critically observe what it is that makes them good at what they do, cherry-picking the best ideas and putting them into practice in a way that is unique to you. One way leaders have traditionally gone about developing is through mentoring [link to mentoring infographic], which provides invaluable lessons and insights from senior people who are leading successful businesses.

There are also thousands of books on leadership, ranging from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to Kouzes et al’s The Truth about Leadership. It’s worth reading widely: don’t just restrict yourself to the business section of the bookstore.  Books alone of course, can not provide you everything you need, but by mixing different sources of learning, your leadership skills and knowledge will grow.

Awareness
Ultimately, your ability to learn leadership skills boils down to your level of self-awareness. You need to have a clear, objective idea of how you are perceived based on the attitudes and responses of your colleagues and staff.  This not only involves listening, but also explicitly asking for feedback from those around you and taking a step back from your own involvement in something to see your place in the bigger picture.  If you know the business and learn the social skills of a leader for yourself, you may be on your way to developing yourself into a great leader.

Royal Academy of Engineering & SMF – Engineering Business Leaders

Group shot with DF - 0197

Speaking at a networking reception hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering for Sainsbury Management Fellows, President, David Falzani (second from left), said:”I‘d like to thank the Royal Academy, not least for hosting this event today, but also for its continued and essential support of the Sainsbury Management Fellows scheme, including the promotion of the bursary and the selection process for choosing new SMFs.

We in turn have also continued our activities in supporting the Royal Academy: as selectors and then mentors for the Engineering Leadership Awards, in supporting the ELA annual events, and the Executive Engineers event.

At our Annual Dinner last May I asked why is it so important to have engineers and scientists gaining top MBAs and business qualifications?

I’d like to take this opportunity to repeat my answer, that the business world has shifted. The third great revolution of modern man, the information revolution, has transformed every aspect of life and business.

What counts for business success today is not who you know, nor even what you know, but today the maxim for success would perhaps be, how quickly can you learn. Today, all companies are technology companies in some respect, and all information is instantly out of date.

What’s crucially important is the ability to harness this flux of technology and information in the business context in order to maximise chances of success.

Within this interface of technology and money no one can be more at home than the engineer with a deep business understanding. This idea lies at the heart of the SMF Scheme.

The SMF scheme was created almost 30 years ago to get more senior executives with engineering qualifications at the top of organisations. Today, the scheme has 300 Fellows, each with a first class engineering background, and an MBA from a top international business school.

Many fellows are helping further develop some of the UK’s largest corporations, whilst many others have gone on to create high growth technology companies worth over £500m.

As an organisation, and a group of like-minded individuals, we remain keen to continue to support the Royal Academy, and perhaps become involved with emerging initiatives such as its Enterprise Hub and other areas of mutual value.

Finally, I would like to ask our Fellows here this evening to consider how they can become involved in current and future activities of the scheme, and also with our fund raising activities. We remain keen to add a few more volunteers to our fundraising campaign team.

In closing, I hope this evening proves to be a success, and an example of working in a closer partnership with the Royal Academy.

“I‘d like to thank the Royal Academy, not least for hosting this event today, but also for its continued and essential support of the Sainsbury Management Fellows scheme, including the promotion of the bursary and the selection process for choosing new SMFs.

“We in turn have also continued our activities in supporting the Royal Academy: as selectors and then mentors for the Engineering Leadership Awards, in supporting the ELA annual events, and the Executive Engineers event.

“At our Annual Dinner last May I asked why is it so important to have engineers and scientists gaining top MBAs and business qualifications?

“I’d like to take this opportunity to repeat my answer, that the business world has shifted. The third great revolution of modern man, the information revolution, has transformed every aspect of life and business.

“What counts for business success today is not who you know, nor even what you know, but today the maxim for success would perhaps be, how quickly can you learn. Today, all companies are technology companies in some respect, and all information is instantly out of date.

“What’s crucially important is the ability to harness this flux of technology and information in the business context in order to maximise chances of success.

“Within this interface of technology and money no one can be more at home than the engineer with a deep business understanding. This idea lies at the heart of the SMF Scheme.

“The SMF scheme was created almost 30 years ago to get more senior executives with engineering qualifications at the top of organisations. Today, the scheme has 300 Fellows, each with a first class engineering background, and an MBA from a top international business school.

“Many fellows are helping further develop some of the UK’s largest corporations, whilst many others have gone on to create high growth technology companies worth over £500m.

“As an organisation, and a group of like-minded individuals, we remain keen to continue to support the Royal Academy, and perhaps become involved with emerging initiatives such as its Enterprise Hub and other areas of mutual value. Finally, I would like to ask our Fellows here this evening to consider how they can become involved in current and future activities of the scheme, and also with our fund raising activities. We remain keen to add a few more volunteers to our fundraising campaign team.

“In closing, I hope this evening proves to be a success, and an example of working in a closer partnership with the Royal Academy.”