Executives Unpacked Episode 35: Lessons in Management with Rob Malcom

On the Executives Unpacked Podcast, we have the opportunity to sit down with some of the most remarkable leaders and thinkers in the tech space. On Episode 35, we had the pleasure of speaking with Rob Malcolm, the General Manager of the Ad Tech Business Unit at Imagine Communications, about his career as a leader of innovation among communications technologies providers. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation: 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

Most of the hard lessons that I’ve learned in my career, at some point, somebody did pull me aside and tell me, ‘You should really not do this,” or “Really think about that.” But, in most aspects of life, I think you have to learn the hard way. 

I’ll give you an example of one particular area that I’ve struggled with in my career. I’ve always been a very hard worker, somebody who had a very strong work ethic, somebody who would work much longer than I needed to or than I should have for my own benefit. On numerous occasions my bosses or leaders would pull me aside and say, “Rob, you do realise that you don’t need to work as hard as you are, right? 80% of the results are going to be caused by 20% of your effort. You really need to pick your battles and understand what’s going to make a real difference rather than trying to solve every problem.” 

I’m much better at that now. That advice has made a difference in my career, even if it was subconscious. I’m at a point now where it’s in my DNA, so I still work incredibly hard, but it’s more about focusing on the things that will make a real difference. That understanding has taken 20 years of learning to reach.

What is the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

There are two things that stand out in my life that made a big impression on me. My father always used to say, “It doesn’t matter what you do when you grow up, you just have to be the best in the world at it.” I always thought that was interesting – and kind of strange – but I understand what he means by that now. Being the best in the world at something has incredible value and brings a lot of rewards, and to some degree I have aspired to it. 

The other thing that happened to me very early on in my career – it was my first job in fact, when I was 16 years old – the manager at the time got really frustrated because I asked him a really stupid question about solving a particular problem. He lost it and said, “Can you just show some initiative?” The message was, ‘Don’t ask me stupid questions, just figure it out yourself’. That was a real tipping point for me, and to some degree has shaped my career ever since. You need that willingness to show initiative rather than being told what to do, go and figure it out, and bring a solution to the table.

Can you identify a single thread that’s run throughout your career and led to your success?

Yeah, definitely. What many younger people forget is that senior leaders don’t know how to solve all the problems. In many cases, they are apprehensive about the future and how to make the numbers. We struggle with impostor syndrome. Leaders are not immune to those types of challenges. The single biggest gift that you can give as a young person to a leader is to genuinely want to help them, genuinely try to be part of a team, genuinely want the team and the company to succeed. 

I’ve always had that innate desire to do whatever it took, whether that’s innovate, be creative, etc, to succeed. That put me in really good stead with my superiors when I was younger, and as a consequence, I was ultimately given more responsibility, which led to more responsibility. On the flip side, I hear young people say, “That’s not in my job description”, or want to have a nine-to-five job, and that’s perfectly fine for some people, but for me, if you want to develop your career, learn as much as you possibly can. The first step is a genuine desire to be part of the team and to help everybody win. 

What bit of advice do you always give to somebody else?

The last bit of advice I would give, particularly to younger managers, is to be honest with your direct reports about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you think they could do better. That’s a real gift to them. You should do that as much as you possibly can. Real-time feedback about performance is absolutely critical. 

One of the things that I run into, particularly with my younger teams, is that they struggled to performance manage, and to manage people out of their teams or organisations. I always tell them, “If you don’t have a great team, you will not be able to achieve what you need to achieve”. That doesn’t mean that you have to be rude or cruel or anything other than completely empathic and human, but at the end of the day, the world is a big place, and people will naturally find the place where they ultimately thrive. If they’re not thriving in your team, then it’s a problem for you, and it’s a problem for them. As long as you deal with it in a compassionate way, it can be good for everybody involved. 

To hear more from Rob, tune into Episode 35 of Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 34: Questioning Your Position with Josh Marks

On Episode 34 of the Executives Unpacked podcast we were joined by Josh Marks, the CEO of Anuvu, to talk about his incredible career in the satellite industry and the advice he’s learned from it. During his career, Josh has previously held senior C-level positions such as CEO, CFO and Director. Growing up Josh was a young entrepreneur dealing Apple computers to local businesses, while he harboured a dream of becoming a pilot. 

What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson throughout my career has been the importance of watching the details of your operation from the customer’s perspective. Are the services you’re delivering really meeting the customer’s underlying expectations? Are you listening too much to your engineering hype? Do you really understand what the end user requires? That perspective is critically important. 

One of our colleagues at Anuvu likes to say that organisations in our space tend to think too much about ‘engineering out’ as opposed to ‘customer in’, which is a lesson that I think we all took very personally. We recognised that our advantage was being a company that leased infrastructure that could pivot very quickly to new technologies, so we could stay ahead of those customer expectations in a way that other companies in the connectivity and space couldn’t. Companies that have decade-long investments in very large satellites just couldn’t adapt fast enough. If you look at what makes a company successful, and therefore its executives successful, it’s an understanding of your end market and working backwards to create a technology that people need. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

When I look at the degree to which I have balanced loyalty and tenure at specific companies against the ability to jump to different industries, there’s a balance that is both positive and negative. It creates an opportunity to really learn about certain businesses over extended periods of time. The one piece of advice that I would like to have heard earlier is ‘always be thinking about the macro environment and whether the time that you invest in a company is the best use of your time and your investors’ time’. 

I would have benefited from hearing that assessing whether your time has been best spent on a yearly basis is important so that you don’t stall out. There are certainly times when I thought ‘We need to be moving in a different direction faster. We need to go after some of the underlying challenges in the business that are caused by the rapid pace of change and technology. We can’t just follow the pace that our competitors are setting in the market.’ I think that advice is essential for any leader, particularly at the C-level.

What is the best bit of career advice you’ve been given?

Often, there are a couple of tidbits of knowledge that apply just as much to my personal life as to business that I actually heard from my father, and I bring across the companies that I run every day. One of those is diplomacy. “Diplomacy is the art of letting them have your way” implies that you need to be persuasive in what you do every day, and you need to make it look seamless. That’s a skill that you only develop really by having an EQ to start with, but then developing it over time. Leadership is not about just demand execution. It’s about persuasion, so you have to pull as much as you push. 

The second is “He who hesitates is lost.” That piece of advice is just critical. When you look at what’s happening in the space industry today for example, there is no halfway ground between LEO and GEO in satellite orbits, we are at the cusp of a technology change, which is the same as the move that our communications industry made 25 years ago from dial-up to fibre. There is no halfway house, you must go all in. Any company that doesn’t make that pivot may not be out of business today, but I guarantee you that they will be out of business in five years. 

The last one, which I always take with a dose of humour, is “Never pass a men’s room.” It’s a metaphor for life on the road and always taking care of yourself first, but I think it also applies to business. If you have an opportunity to relieve some stress in the business by taking action, take it. Don’t try to bet 100% all of the time because your parlays aren’t going to work all the time. Having a measured approach and knowing when to take some chips off the table is critical. 

I think those three pieces of advice, which I got from my family and have applied to my career, are good lessons and foundations for others who are thinking about the cadence of managing companies at the scale.

What has consistently kept you up at night?

Once you’ve been an entrepreneur in a company that is scaling, nothing will keep you up more than making payroll because it literally governs your life in terms of working capital. It’s an exceptionally good discipline to bootstrap companies and not be too reliant on venture capital in those early stages because it keeps you focused on what’s important. The highest priority you’ve got is what’s right for your employees. As you know, we as an industry have had to adjust to a much higher cost of capital in today’s interest rate environment as a result of inflation. 

What should keep you awake at night is the question of whether you’re moving fast enough to face your competitors. Moving at speed while optimising your people, processes and products is hard, particularly when you’ve got a higher cost of capital or when you’ve got legacy customers and infrastructure that you’re trying to serve. You’ve got business models you need to deliver. There’s a freedom that comes with the incredibly quick innovation that those companies drive because of the disruption that they cause. 

Has there been a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

I think that industries are tough. They have very fast-paced innovation, so putting yourself in a position to succeed and advance is as much luck as anything. It’s your ability to take the shots and put yourself in a position to score that makes a difference, but there is a degree of chance to it. You just have to make sure that you shoot often enough that you can get the score that you need. So as I look at my career, one of the things that I see very clearly is that because I’ve taken a chance in new industries and effectively had to start from scratch, I haven’t been afraid to step out into new markets and apply the lessons that I learned to new areas. 

Success looks like being able to persuade financial backers and teams or recruits that you understand what’s required and can execute against that. Most people would agree that what separates the winners and losers in these spaces is a little bit of technology, a little bit of market knowledge, a little bit of customer deep depth, and a lot of luck. It’s also about being in the right place at the right time. 

What one bit of advice do you always give to others?

I think as you look at your career, don’t be afraid to jump industries. Don’t be afraid to follow what you want to do in life as opposed to what you feel you have to do. It’s a struggle as you get further in your career because you only get so much time in life. I think you have to ask yourself the question every day, ‘Is what I’m doing now the best thing that I can be doing to make myself happy, to serve my customers and team to make money right as a company?’ Asking that question in a much more disciplined way and thinking about it in the context of where you want to be in 5-10 years is something that is easy to forget, but it’s very important. 

To hear more from Josh, tune into Episode 34 of Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 33: Do It Afraid with Lynn Dohm

Our latest featured executive on the Executives Unpacked podcast was Lynn Dohm, an Executive Director of Women In CyberSecurity. She joined us to talk about her experiences of working in the cybersecurity sector, including the people challenges that are facing the industry, as well as topics such as gender diversity and leadership. Here are the highlights of the conversation: 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Accepting the process and knowing that sometimes you’re speeding up the process, and sometimes, you have to slow down and take a step back. You can only be as good as your willingness to listen. I have been extremely mindful of knowing that there’s an ebb and flow to leadership. Navigation is one of my biggest lessons because being a type A personality, I’m always solutions-focused and action-orientated. We want to move things forward. Our role as leaders is to mobilise our community initiatives and efforts and make an impact in the workforce, but sometimes you need to kick back and listen. That’s a leadership moment itself. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to accept the process and not be rigid-minded or have preconceived ideas of what should be happening right now because sometimes, you just have to lean in.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

I wish I were told that even if a space or conversation is uncomfortable, to dive in anyway. One of the things that really transformed my career was when someone that’s very dear to me said, ‘Do it afraid’. That’s what I say to so many people, because you have to step into the space of ‘I don’t know what’s happening here in my career, and I don’t know what this is going to be, but I’m brave enough to step into this space and let my voice be heard’. Accepting that uncomfortable situation is the best way to move on from it. 

What is the best bit of career advice you have been given?

What’s helped me is that if I’m able to have a speaking engagement, whether it’s on a podcast, workshop, or keynote presentation, if I’m able to inspire or empower someone, then that’s a job well done. Sometimes we take on this responsibility of changing it all at once, which seems like an unachievable task, but if you narrow it down to someone believing in you, trusting yourself, and being authentic and genuine, if you’re making an impact in one person’s life, you are moving the movement forward in a very positive way. That’s how I step into each and every day.

What sort of things keep you awake at night?

The critical workforce shortage and the demands on the actual workforce itself. There’s so much data out there, and studies that show that already even existing cybersecurity teams are short-staffed. Reducing the high burnout rate is really critical. There’s lots of work that needs to be done in this space, and our nonprofit is working towards that, as are many others, but this can’t be slow-moving anymore. There has to be a multi-organisation approach of everyone taking responsibility and investment in building up the workforce, which isn’t happening now. These challenges are only going to get bigger. 

Can you identify a single thread throughout your career that’s led to your success?

When I reflect back, I took no career move for granted. I was always extremely grateful to be in the place I was, and my connections were always really important to me. It’s interesting to me how our paths cross again. Individuals who mentored me 15 years ago will be invited to present with me. The individuals who helped me launch into my career and believed in me so many years ago are now my peers and colleagues, and we’re working together in this space. Even as that has happened to me, it’s happened to others that have been impacted by me. They’ve received scholarships to come to the business conferences and it has changed their lives and advanced their careers. I never burned any bridges when I moved into a different career, I brought all the people from my past role with me. I built a community.

What’s one piece of advice that you’d give to somebody that’s entering the industry?

Change is going to happen. Accept that things are always going to evolve, and you’ll always be problem-solving. There are always going to be new challenges. Reduce any barriers that you might have on yourself with a rigid mind, and continue to have that curiosity that brought you into cybersecurity to begin with. Be more open and fluid. Knowing the challenges of being in the cybersecurity workforce and changing with them is really important.

To hear more from Lynn, tune into Episode 33 of Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 32: Do What You Love with Chris Castaldo

On Episode 32 of Executives Unpacked we had the pleasure of talking to Chris Castaldo, the CISO at Crossbeam and author of Start-Up Secure. He’s also an advisor and board member with numerous organisations, and has a rich background in cybersecurity, having built many organisations himself. We discussed the secrets to his successful career, including his biggest lessons and best advice. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

It took me a long time to really uncover and really understand that building cybersecurity is not just building technical controls. You’re building something for an end user somewhere, whether it’s a customer, a co worker, or your executive team, you’re providing a service to the business in some fashion. Or, if you’re at a cybersecurity company, you’re providing security services to your customers. Learning that really took a long time to understand. You’re just one piece in a very big puzzle that really needs to be managed as a team. And it’s like any team sport; you can’t go it alone. You can’t throw the ball and run for a touchdown. You can’t pitch the ball and hit it at the same time. There’s a lot of different pieces. At the end of the day, we’re building something for someone else, not ourselves.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

Some stuff is learned through experience. Someone can tell you how to do something, but until you’re doing it, you won’t really understand. There are some things you just don’t get from a book. Also, when you love doing something, it’s very easy to find time to do that thing. 

What is the best bit of career advice that you have ever been given?

One that sticks with me throughout the years, has always been ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission’. That really goes into the startup mindset. I really enjoy working in startups or with startup founders, because you’re trying to break the mould, not just do the same thing over again. To do that, you have to take risks. You’re either bootstrapping self funding, or you’re putting yourself out there, trying to get funding from a VC or friends and family. All these risks add up, hopefully to a success. 

What type of things keep you awake at night?

Honestly there’s nothing that really keeps me up at night, right. Part of our role as risk managers is making sure that all the risks are accounted for – except for the unknown unknowns of course, those will always exist. If you’re looking at cyber security from a true risk management perspective, there shouldn’t really be anything keeping you up at night. You’ve either accepted the risks or you’ve managed them in some way. Even the unknown unknowns should be accepted, because you know that those will be there. Most people in cyber security know that there’s going to be zero days, it’s just a matter of fact, so you can build your programme around that and I think get a relatively healthy night of sleep.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I think it’s persistence. You have to be persistent to achieve your goal. It’s the same with a startup founder – you can’t just throw in the towel at the first bump you hit, right? Maybe it’s a go to market motion failure. Maybe it’s a product failure. When it happens, you’re gonna pivot the entire company, pick a different product and adapt. That’s really what sets folks apart in their careers. If you’re driven enough, you can always find a way. 

What’s one bit of advice that you’d give to somebody entering the industry?

Listen to the business and ask them as many questions as you can. Ask each of the stakeholders what they care about and what’s important to them, because that will make building your cyber security programme that much easier. Really being in tune with your peers is absolutely critical.

To hear more from Chris, tune into Episode 32 of the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 31: Valuing Sales Skills with Paolo Cuttorelli 

On Episode 31 of Executives Unpacked we were joined by Paolo Cuttorelli, who is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for APAC and EMEA for Evergent, one of the world’s leading providers of subscription and partner management solutions. Paulo has over 20 years of experience in digital technology, with a range of roles under his belt. He joined us to share some more insights on his fascinating career, as well as the advice he’s picked up along the way. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt during your career? 

I’ve learned the most about speaking to customers and managing people. The one thing I’ve learned in both cases is that you really can’t change people. That isn’t to say you can’t persuade them or convince them or cajole them into doing things – but ultimately you need to accept that people are who they are and they have their own distinct personalities. Whether that’s a colleague or a partner or a customer, you have to work with them to create scenarios that are mutually acceptable for everyone. 

As people we spend a lot of time living in our own heads and thinking about how the world is treating us and what this person said or what happened to us. The truth is that everyone’s having that internal dialogue with themselves, so you need to empathise and listen closely to people’s experiences. That’s what I aspire to do. That includes asking a lot of questions and trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you can understand them. Everyone has a deep desire to be heard and to feel understood. So you can’t change people, but you can try to see life in other people’s shoes.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

Lots of things! I’m still learning things now that I think ‘I probably should have known that sooner’. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been working for so long that I should know everything by now. But that’s the beauty of it; you keep learning. That’s what keeps the job interesting. 

Overall, I really wish that I learned how to sell earlier. Sales is something that I’ve been doing for about 17 years, but it’s only part of my role. I do a lot of everything, from account management to risk mitigation and general management activities. The process of selling is something we put a lot of emphasis on internally, because you have to know how to have conversations with customers. Within those you have to figure out if there’s a problem that we can solve or if we’re just pushing a product on them, because that’s not what we want to do. If they have problems that we can solve they will become a long term customer because we’ll be doing something valuable for them. 

So in that sense the selling aspect of my role has taught me a lot about human nature, which gave me tools that I wish I’d had earlier on in my career. I’m not saying I wish I started my career as a salesperson – I’m super grateful for the fact that I started off in the delivery function as a project manager. Earlier in my career I was very dismissive of salespeople, because I thought they were just chasing money. For some salespeople that is the case, but I don’t think that’s what drives me or my team. We’re genuinely looking to solve problems and to create value for people. That’s what I wish I understood sooner.

What are some of the things that have constantly kept you awake at night?

I sleep pretty well, but I’ve always stressed about things. Over the course of my career I’ve tried to use that fear or worry to propel me forward and not let them act as a countervailing force in my life, because if you let it suffocate you, you’re not going to get anywhere. You can use these emotions as a headwind or a tailwind. Something I’ve had to learn, particularly over the past 5 to 10 years, is that these are all perfectly normal feelings. We all have these responsibilities as we progress through life, so you have to be able to harness the stresses that come with them to push yourself forward instead of having them pull you back.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success? 

For me it always comes back to the value of hard work. There really is no substitute for hard work. I don’t think I’m the smoothest talking guy, or the best salesperson, but I do think I’m a very hard worker. We’re in a very complex space, so we can’t get by through force of personality. You’ve got to put in the hours, you have to have grit. You have to put your head down and get on with it. Even if you encounter a rough patch, even if there’s something that happens that holds you back, you have to keep your chin up as well. 

One of our core values is ‘be optimistic’, because being optimistic is more powerful than you would think. If your head swims in negative thoughts it’s just going to hold you back in life. The most successful people I’ve known were always looking ahead, glass half full kind of people, so that’s what we’re cultivating in our company culture so that we can deliver as much value to our customers and investors as possible. 

What one bit of advice do you always give other people? 

Embrace the unknown. It’s easy to get stressed out about not knowing what’s coming next. You have no idea which challenges and opportunities are awaiting you on your journey, so you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to be very aware of your environment too. Surround yourself with the right people and look out for the right opportunities. Keep an open mind, travel, find a mentor and don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help just in case they say no. If someone says no to me, that’s fine. You’d be surprised by who’s willing to help you if you just ask. Try to position yourself for success as much as possible.

To hear more from Paolo, tune into Episode 31 of Executives Unpacked here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 30: Simply Dream, Then Try with Gianna Driver

On Episode 30 of the Executives Unpacked podcast we sat down with Gianna Driver, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Exabeam, to talk about her experience in the HR industry. Her role covers everything from strategy, people processes and EDI to creating and driving corporate cultures. She brings a wealth of experience in executive human resource management, and has worked for a variety of companies in both private and public global companies. Growing up Gianna wanted to be a paediatric neurosurgeon, her biggest extravagance is travel and negativity is her pet peeve. Read on to hear her insights! 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned over the course of your career?

There’s a quote that says, “If you could do anything in the world, without fear of failure, that’s what you should do.” That’s one of many lessons that I’ve learned, because I think that the younger version of me was often making fear-induced decisions. As I’ve journeyed, I’ve learned that there’s a lot of greatness out there that can be accomplished if we let ourselves simply dream and then try.

What’s the best bit of advice someone’s given you? 

There’s another quote that says, “It’s not about being right, it’s about getting it right.” I think that that applies to life, but especially to leadership, because a lot of leaders love to lead from the front. I think a more sustainable and frankly more innovative and effective long term approach is to lead by empowering others. That means letting go of this binary idea of right vs wrong, but creating a dynamic of getting it right together.

What common thread has contributed to your career’s rapid progression and success?

I think there’s been a confluence of a lot of different things. When you don’t know any better, you just strive for it, and your ignorance allows the norms of society to no longer be limiting. Out here in Silicon Valley, that was a beautiful byproduct of the tech world and the environment here, because in the early 2000s you’d have CEOs who were 22 year old kids at the head of multimillion dollar enterprises. I cut my teeth in an environment that wasn’t limited by time or fear or tenure, and that’s where I go back to. If you can allow yourself to think expansively and not be constrained by societal norms, then you can really flourish and achieve a lot in a relatively short amount of time. 

I also like to think that I worked really hard and was able to rise rather quickly because of that. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

I’m a big quote person. The first one that comes to mind touches on what we talked about, which is that ‘the fear of failure has killed more dreams than failure ever will’. I do think about that a lot. Another one is that the happiest animal alive is a goldfish because it has a three second memory – and the takeaway is to get on with it, to not allow negative emotions and thoughts and feelings and stuff to stick with you. We’re allowed to make mistakes and to have kerfuffles and things like that. 

To learn more about Gianna’s career and her insights from the cyber security industry, tune into Episode 30 of Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 29: Balancing Education and Experience with Valerie Lyons

On Episode 29 of the Executives Unpacked podcast we had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Valerie Lyons, the COO at BH Consulting. Valerie is an accomplished and driven Cyber Security and privacy expert who was included in the top 100 Women in Cyber Security within Europe list. She has led an impressive career that spans over 30 years, including stints at global organisations such as IBM, KPMG, and ABB. Valerie was also awarded a PhD in information privacy for her research into privacy as a CSR. With such an impressive professional history, we were excited to unpack Valerie’s advice and insights.


What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

The key lesson for me would be that it’s not always what you think it is. In other words, maybe you didn’t get a promotion or particular achievement that you wanted, but it’s often not for the reason you imagine, it’s often because of something else that you’re not aware of. 

Another big lesson I’ve learned is that when you’re on a leadership journey, you should focus on developing yourself. I can achieve everything I want just by developing myself as opposed to looking around and saying ‘what’s wrong with the outside world?’.

What do you wish you had been told earlier in your career?

I was told early on that the most important thing is education, but I think experience is equally as important. My father had an incredible love for education and he imparted that to us. He felt that education was the solution to all problems because it would open doors. I followed that philosophy throughout my life because I believed in constant development and education. Since then I’ve learned that you actually need experience, because education doesn’t tell you what to do in a crisis like a data breach. How to stay calm is not in the books, you only learn that through personal experience. You only learn through the bad stuff. 

We have this debate going on in our industry about what’s more important, education or experience? It’s actually a combination of both. Education provides a prospective employer a quick and easy way to evaluate applicants, whereas experience tells candidates whether or not they can do the job. With my PhD, I didn’t do it to progress my career or to open doors like I did with my Masters, I decided to do the PhD because I was passionate about the subject. It was fulfilling for me and I enjoyed the experience. There are a variety of benefits to both education and experience. 

What is the best piece of career advice that you’ve been given?

I was once told that you should never miss an opportunity to shut off. That was a great piece of advice. Another piece of advice I was given many years ago was to never miss an opportunity when it shows up. Another one was bullet points. It takes me a long time to finish a sentence (which comes from my extraversion), but I worked for a man who used to say “Bullet points, Valerie”, and that reminder helps me distil things into an elevator pitch. That’s great when I’m talking to a board, because that’s a skill. When I started out I rarely got an opportunity to talk to the board. It was only when I became the Head of Information Risk at KPC that I got that opportunity, but I hadn’t learned the skill yet. I have to make an extra effort to go to bullet points, whereas I know others who have a natural brevity. That was a big lesson for me. 

What types of things keep you awake at night?

Finding people keeps me awake at night, because I’m responsible for that. It’s not just finding people, it’s keeping them too, because when you’re in a really buoyant market protection is 120%. Employment in cybersecurity is not far off that. A lot of employers offer incredible opportunities and remuneration packages which I’m trying to compete with. We try to compete with them on a cultural level. Our culture is very family first, it’s very much based on the CEO’s own perspectives. We just won the Best Places to Work Award, which was great for us. It does keep me awake though, because my biggest challenge is trying to maintain that culture. I don’t want attrition. I’d rather not recruit. So figuring out how to keep our people is what keeps me up at night. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I think there probably is, and it starts with my parents. Take a look at his background and the Ireland he grew up in. My mother was the assistant to the Irish Ambassador in Spain, that’s where they met. When she got married to him, she was given her P45 because there was a law in Ireland that said, if you were working for the public sector and you got married, you had to give up your job. That was the end of it. My mother was a very intelligent woman, she was fully educated, fluent in Spanish and was living abroad. They were all incredible things to do back then, but then she went on to bring up three kids, and it did not do her mental health any good at all. My father saw that and always told us to be able to stand on our own two feet – don’t depend on a man. He wasn’t anti-men, he just believed that you are responsible for getting out there and making your own money and believing that you are equal to any man. 

At 16 he wouldn’t let me learn how to type. All the girls in my school were learning how to use a typewriter and I wasn’t allowed because he said that where he worked at Bolton’s there was a thing called a typing pool, which would be 20 women typing up what the men had instructed. He said that most of the women in that typing pool were far too intelligent to just be reading instructions. He said, ‘I don’t want you in a typing pool. When somebody asks you how to type I want you to be able to say, “I don’t know how”, but I want you to be educated.’ 

I didn’t understand why it was important until I was 22. I was working in a company and I was computerising their order system. I had a degree from Trinity College, so I was qualified, and this guy came up and asked me to type up a report. I said, ‘No, I don’t know how to type. I do know how to convert an order entry system’. I was empowered to tell somebody about my skills and refuse to spend my time just typing things up. I know very well that I’m as good as anybody else. I can achieve like anybody else. It’s never been about wanting to be in a man’s world or anything like that. I want to be independent. I want to be able to make my way in this world with my own career. 

What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give to others in your industry? 

Learn project management. If you want to commit to privacy, you’re always going to be project managing, and so do PMP and be able to do your job properly. Be the best. Project management is one of the key skills that I’m looking for. You’re going to be working for a number of different clients, and you will need to manage projects for several different clients at once, so being good at that will be invaluable. 

To learn more about Valerie’s exceptional experiences, listen to Episode 29 of Executives Unpacked here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 28: Embracing Relativity with Samer Halawi

The insights that our executive guests share on Executives Unpacked are always a great listen. Episode 28’s guest was no exception. We were joined by Samer Halawi, the CEO of AALTO HAPS, an Airbus subsidiary that’s developing high altitude technology at a stratospheric level. Simon is a seasoned telecom executive with over 30 years’ of success in building and transforming global companies. Here’s a round-up of his insights and advice:

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

It’s all about the team. If you want to achieve anything big in the corporate world, you have to have the right team. It’s critical to assemble an A+ performance team very quickly, whether it’s a transformation job, a startup or an ongoing concern. Despite that, there are a number of traps that people fall into when they’re building their team. One is not having enough diversity on the team. Every kind of diversity is incredibly important, whether you’re thinking of gender orientation, culture, background, etc. Having a good mix brings a lot of energy and capability and complementarity of skills. The other trap is taking too long to make some changes. If you want to achieve big things, you really need to be decisive and ensure that you have people who are well incentivized to do big things, and do it quickly.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

As you mature professionally and you gain more experience, you become more and more aware that perception is just as important as facts. When you’re younger, you’re more by the book and black and white, and you focus so much on the facts, and you forget the perception. I wish I had been better alerted to the fact that perception is just as important as facts sooner. 

What is the best bit of career advice you have ever been given?

One of my bosses told me that there’s no right or wrong, there’s only my version of right or wrong. It’s all relative. When you’re insisting that something is wrong, you have to open up your mind a little bit and understand that different people have different perspectives. You get things done by understanding that and navigating situations with that awareness rather than trying to force your perspectives on everyone else. 

What keeps you awake at night?

We’re a new industry, and because we’re working with something that elaborate, we’re working not just on technology or regulations. We’re working on certification, the commercial aspects, financial aspects, shareholding aspects, board aspects… This isn’t a one track project – there are 17 different tracks, each of which is significant. I’m ensuring that they all fit together, that we can deliver the service that we’re promising. 

Making sure that our people are engaged and aligned keeps me up too. We need to give them a promising future. People in environmental startups work hard, they work with passion and they believe in what they’re doing. I want to make sure that they come out of this feeling proud of what they’ve achieved, with an incredible CV and the economical benefits of being here and doing this. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

Something that resonates with me is the belief that if you’re willing to put in the work, anything is possible. I don’t believe in free lunch or entitlement – I believe that you have to earn everything and lead by example. That means a lot of focus, a lot of hard work, and a lot of perseverance. Earning my place is the common thread that I can recognise in my own career for sure. 

What would be the one piece of advice that you would give to someone entering the industry?

My advice is mainly to investors who are looking to come into the industry; do your due diligence. Don’t just focus on perception, go for the facts on this one. Drill deeper, because you want to put your investment in projects that make sense and have a strong foundation. There are big new tech companies who’ve decided ‘We want to do a service like this and launch an aircraft or a balloon’, but it’s not easy to build an aircraft. It takes years of really strong engineering and certification work, and not everyone can do that. One thing that I would be careful of is proper technical due diligence, and ensuring that there’s an alignment between the economics and the technology. Some projects have really good technology that works, but then the price doesn’t work for that market that they’re trying to serve. I see quite a bit of this misalignment. 

To learn more about Samer as an executive, tune into Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 27: Finding Alternative Learning Paths with Matt Tirman

On Episode 27 of Executives Unpacked we were joined by Matt Tirman. Matt is the CCO of Satellogic, a company that is revolutionising access to geospatial data for the benefit of global decision making. Matt is very well known within the industry and has more than 17 years of experience in growing global technology and service companies across the public sector and commercial markets. We asked him about his biggest lessons and best advice, so read on to learn more about this exciting executive!

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Be kind to people in a corporate setting. Whether that’s your partners, colleagues or customers, a little kindness goes a long way. One of your previous guests, the CCO of Pixel, stressed the need for empathy and I really liked that answer. Kindness and empathy absolutely will carry the company. You can have a great strategic hire that knows the industry and technology inside-out, but if they’re a cultural train wreck it’s not worth it. 

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career?

The first thing is to stay away from status or title hunting or moving to make a quick buck. Some of the worst decisions I’ve made in my career have been taking a job that promises a little bit more money or seniority. I overlooked other facets of the role such as cultural fit, what’s going to help you grow, where you can make a contribution and feel good about your role. They’re much more important in the long run. With grit and determination, things like money and titles will come.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve been given?

Don’t get an MBA. I came very close to doing a part-time MBA in 2007, but then I had an opportunity to join a startup as employee number one. My mentor and boss at the time said “Join us here. It will be a salary cut and a different way of life, but I promise you that within nine months you’ll have an MBA worthy experience.” It was 100% the truth. I’m not saying that will be the case for everyone, but there’s a lot that you can learn on the job in a small company without going into a horrendous debt for an MBA.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

I used to be a chronic worrier and I didn’t sleep very well. That was probably mixed with my own anxiety around having younger kids at the time. Around the time of the pandemic I started taking my health a lot more seriously, working out and being a lot more mindful. I was taking care of myself, which I used to think was a selfish act. Looking back on it, it was incredibly selfish of me not to take care of myself because it impacted my family and employer. Now I sleep relatively well, I get my five and a half to six hours. 

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that’s led to your continued success?

For me it’s a couple of things. I had kids and got married very young. I probably would not be the focussed individual that I am today without having the family support that drives me to do well. It’s also the people that I work with. There’s a couple of folks that I’ve worked with over the past 10 years who I tend to bring on as advisors, colleagues or employees. Without a doubt that’s led to some success. If they’re still working with me after that long, perhaps we’re collectively doing something right.

What would be the one piece of advice that you’d give to others? 

My one piece of advice would be geared more toward younger professionals. Remote work in your early 20s sounds like a fantastic way to strike that work-life balance. However – and this is just the plain reality – getting face to face time with your colleagues and your boss really does matter. It’ll transform your career, so take any chance you get to be in person early on in your career.

To learn more about the man behind these insights, tune into Episode 27 of Executives Unpacked here.

Executives Unpacked Episode 26: No Limits with Keith Zubchevich

When it comes to your career, the sky’s the limit. On Episode 26 of Executives Unpacked we spoke to Keith Zubchevich, the President and CEO at Conviva, about his insights from a career in the tech industry. Keith has been through plenty of growth, IPOs and acquisitions, giving him unique insights into the development of the content and media sector. Read on to learn more about this fascinating leader. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible. When you come into a corporate job, you tend to think that there are all these rules, limits, lanes and parameters, but when you really start to get involved in different projects, you’ll look back and realise there were never any limits on what you could do. The only parameters that exist are the ones you put on yourself. The biggest lesson is to always think bigger, broader and at a higher level, because there really is no limit to what you can do in your career.

What do you wish someone had told you sooner?

I’ve always been really inquisitive. I was fascinated by corporate America. I never really took a job to just have a job, I always looked at my job as being a part of a company. My mentality was that I work for a company, I don’t do a job, therefore I always wanted to know more. I’ve benefited from not having things that I look back on and wish I had learned sooner. I don’t think I waited to be told because I was a bit impetuous, and I just tried to do it all.

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve been given over the years?

There’s no one way to do anything. There is no blueprint in life. I think there’s always value in the mindset that there’s a better, faster, cheaper, more efficient way to do something, because that’s what pushes you. More importantly though, in any company I’ve been in, I really appreciated cultures that said ‘Don’t ever be afraid to try something’. I’ve been the beneficiary of cultures like that. We actually make it a core value that we should always learn and try to find new things. I always say that if you have that mentality, you’re going to be successful.

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night?

I have this philosophy that if my day-time brain can deal with anything, my night-time brain can deal with anything too. What keeps me up at night is thinking of all the possibilities that can go wrong. The majority of things that keep you up at night probably wouldn’t stress you out during the day. I always say that the biggest competitor you’ll ever face is the voice in your own head. There is nothing that will be more restrictive, more competitive, or more adversarial to your success than that voice in your own head. And that voice comes out at night, right? It’s when you have your guards down, and that little voice starts running around saying ‘Oh man, there’s 50 things that can go wrong here!’ 

What I do is get up and force myself to wake up my logical brain and think about what I’m worried about. I spend five minutes closing it off in my head. When those things hit, wake up, stand up, walk around the house for a minute and just logically think ‘It’s not that big a deal. You got this’. The biggest problem is how to perceive problems with your logical brain versus the illogical brain that can run amok in the middle of the night. I call it the monkey brain, because it’s like a monkey banging on the keyboard in my head.

Can you identify a single thread that has consistently led to success?

I’m always competitive. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. No matter what you choose to do, do it the best you can. I also have a ‘No Limits’ mentality. Like I said before, always look for that new and innovative way to do something. When you do that, doors open much faster. 

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people?

I always tell my people that there’s nothing you can break that I can’t fix. You’ll be much better off making bold decisions than you will being afraid. 

To learn more about the man behind the CEO title, tune into Episode 26 of Executives Unpacked here

Executives Unpacked Episode 25: Learn From Your Failures with Keith Buckley

The aim of Executives Unpacked is to pass important lessons from leading executives to our listeners. On Episode 25 we were joined by Keith Buckley, the CEO at Xytech Systems, which is the leading provider of end to end media operations for the world’s premier Media and Broadcast entities. Keith shared his biggest lessons and best advice, as well as some of his secrets for success. Read on to learn more about this inspirational executive. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson has to be what I learned from my biggest failure. Back when I was in a startup business, we had a great concept – we were a mobile software company that was primarily focused on enabling people to carry their personal health records on their mobile phone, and then syncing that to electronic health record systems which were launching. We had to write the code from the beginning and deal with mobile phone carriers around the world. I say it was a failure because we actually sold the technology for a reasonable return, but we were never able to fully connect the dots. 

We had investors that said, ‘If you can get a long term contract with one of the largest carriers in the US, we will fund you,’ and that same carrier said ‘If you can prove to us that you have funding we will sign the contract.’ For about six months I bashed my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get everybody to do this together. That experience taught me the lesson of how to make sure all the pieces line up properly relative to the capital structure of a business so that you can be successful. That was a huge lesson. 

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career?

Let me tell you one thing that I learned early in my career, and then I’ll flip it back over. I was in my first sales job and my parents were super supportive. I wanted to get into sales to make my way to the executive level and be a CEO. I was going to my first trade show, which was NAB in 1989. I’m four days into my job. I called my father and I said, ‘What do I do here?’ He said, ‘Keep your shoes shined. You’re about to get bombarded with people who want to potentially buy from you, people that you can build relationships with, people that can help you out in your future career. The least you can do is look nice.’ I did it and it worked. 

The flip side of that which I wish I had known earlier was we were at a very big show. Our booth was right next to one of the main entrances, and I wish someone would have told me that there were going to be that many people thrust upon me because of where we were. That’s how the world of trade shows actually works. I wish they would have told me that sooner. 

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

I worked for a gentleman named Peter Marshall way back when, and he said something to me when we were in Hong Kong on a business trip that’s stuck with me. We were doing long days with tons of meetings and he said ‘Just remember Keith, when you hit this point of the day, in the late afternoon or early evening, there’s nothing like that first sip of scotch.’ He could have told me all of the things I did wrong during the day with sales presentations or with corporate meetings or partners or anything else, but no, he told me that when you hit this point in the day, it’s time to chill, relax, and get on with your life.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

The main thing that keeps me up at night is figuring out how to leverage all of our skill sets and address the requirements that our customers are giving us. If you think about how media is created today, compared to five years ago, the pace of change in the way media is produced requires a lot from a company like us. We’re really having to stay ahead of that curve from a technology perspective. Dave White, our Chief Product Officer is constantly looking for ways to make our product and platform work while addressing those changing needs. I also don’t want to disappoint anybody. We have a lot of great customers and a lot of great logos, and I’m busy making sure that we don’t miss out on those opportunities to do a bang up job for those customers.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to this success?

Grit and growth is what drives every successful business. With a focus on growth, you start to backfill everything else that needs to happen within the company. You can point your whole company at that Northstar which is the growth number and then say, ‘Hey, team, how do we get there?’ We’re not on about cutting costs, we’re thinking about ‘How do we grow’. As long as you have that growth mindset, and you can make investments that are intelligent, you’ll succeed. A lot of people get a little bit out of whack and say ‘Here’s a really cool idea. Let’s go develop it.’ It could be the coolest idea in the world, but if it’s not going to help your company grow, you’re going to run out of cash and you’re going to crash and burn. We focus on what we’re going to invest in that’s going to help us grow the company.

What advice would you give to somebody entering the industry?

Don’t stop learning. You spent the first 18-24 years of your life learning how to learn and developing this ability to be a sponge. How do you take that and leverage that and continue to learn and apply things to your life? The guys at Google went to school, they learned how to write code, but what they did with their lives had nothing to do with school, it had everything to do with learning what was going on around them and making the biggest impact in their business. Open your eyes, learn, and leverage your abilities to create something new.

To learn more about the man behind this advice, tune into Episode 25 of the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 24: Maintaining Discipline with Niklas Brambring

On Episode 24 of the Executives Unpacked podcast we had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Niklas Brambring, who is the CEO at Zattoo. The company is pioneering in the world of TV streaming, bringing an independent platform to the space. Niklas is a qualified lawyer with a PhD in Law from the University of Cologne, as well as an MBA from INSEAD. We learned all about his biggest lessons and best advice. Read on to find out what they are!

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Something I learned the most from is the transition from being an individual contributor to the leader of a team. There was a situation when we wanted to pitch something to our board of directors and shareholders, and I prepared a presentation to pitch our idea. I did that draft, and spent hours thinking about it and crafting it, but the group’s feedback was brutal. Comments were pouring in like ‘That doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand that. This doesn’t convey the message. You’re missing this mumbo jumbo.’ That obviously felt terrible, because we as humans have this crocodile brain that’s 400 million years old, and if somebody criticises you the croc brain will tell you ‘Danger!’, so you naturally get defensive. 

What you get to realise over time is that it’s not your job to be the best at making a presentation, and it’s not even your job to come up with great ideas yourself. Your job is to make sure that you have a good pitch, business plan, revenues and ideas that make your users happy. It doesn’t matter whether they originate from you or from somebody else. I took that feedback, redid the presentation, and realised that it was much better than the one before. Fortunately, my colleagues agreed.  That represents a lot of what leadership is, and it was a big ‘aha’ moment for me.

What do you wish someone had told you earlier in your career?

Looking back, I wish I could have realised that finance wasn’t for me. I never really developed a passion for it, and that’s entirely my fault for not saying ‘Hey, I want to do TV and Media because that’s what I’m interested in.’ There aren’t so many projects in that area, and nobody’s waiting for you as a junior associate coming in, and nobody’s paying you for just being a brilliant student. There are problems at hand and you need to tackle them head on, and be all in with it, because then you get so much more out of it. That took me some time to realise.

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

I had a mentor and I asked him to meet with me once a month to help me, especially in my early days as a CEO. The meetings usually went along the lines of me taking problems in and saying, ‘Here’s my problem, this is what I would do. What do you think?’ In most cases he would say, ‘That sounds plausible.’ That was very helpful, because at least I knew my plan was not completely stupid. In some cases he would say ‘Look at a similar situation, this is what I did.’ Sometimes it was similar to what I would have done, but sometimes it was very different. I don’t remember one time when he said, ‘Don’t do that, that will be bad.’ 

Every situation is different and every team is different, so every leadership style is a bit different. That’s very important. When people ask for advice, I say that my input is from a subjective perspective, and what’s good and valuable is to get different perspectives and then see what works for you with all of that context.

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night?

Things around personal relationships are what stresses me out the most. If I see numbers going down I can be very rational about that, but when it comes to personal relationships, I’m a lot more flustered. The first years of the startup we went through a phase where everything’s like, ‘Okay, do we still exist in two years?’ That has an impact, because I was worried about ‘What do I tell my colleagues?’ We had to lay off two thirds of the company in 2008/2009, and that was the hardest time for me. 

When you hire someone who’s a great person but doesn’t fit in the company, for many leaders, that is the hardest part. A crucial part of leadership is being honest with yourself and with the other person. When you’re straight upfront and communicate clearly, it gets easier. In the end, one of the most important things is having a great team that works together well, so you have to be able to facilitate that. 

Can you identify one thread that has run through your career that’s led to success?

Be 100% in with whatever you’re doing. Something I learned when I left school was having constant discipline and not giving up. That doesn’t mean working 80 hour weeks, but it’s having the discipline to do your job and continue with it, whatever happens. Often the only difference between the company that goes insolvent and the company that is very successful is that when they had a super hard time they pushed through. I think that in the end it’s discipline that has led to the success in my career.

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people?

Take any advice – including mine – not as a ‘to do’ but as input for your own decision.

To learn more about Niklas and the work he’s doing at Zattoo, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 23: Discover the Power of Persistence with Sofia Regojo

On Executives Unpacked, we dive into the stories of inspiring leaders who shape the business world. In Episode 23, we had the opportunity to speak with Sofia Regojo, CRO at Verimatrix. With over two decades of experience in senior commercial roles and 15 years in the video industry, Sofia has an impressive track record in content security. She shared some valuable insights from her journey so far. 

What is the biggest lesson that you think you’ve learned during your career?

There’s nothing that you can do without working hard. If you decide to do something, do it the right way the first time, because if you do it the wrong way or if you don’t pay enough attention to what you’re doing, you need to repeat what you’re doing, which is a waste of your time and the people around you. 

I was taught from a very young age, and it comes from the way I was brought up by my mother. I’ve always tried to do it. There have been a lot of times in my career when I needed to rush to do something, because I kept leaving it until the end of the day and didn’t feel like doing it. When I finally did it, because the deadline was arriving, it didn’t turn out as you would like it to turn out. It’s those moments when I think, ‘If I would have done it properly, the results would have been much, much better.’ 

What do you wish someone had told you earlier?

Knowing your numbers is absolutely key. I’m a numbers person now, but when I was younger, I was not. I didn’t pay enough attention to them for quite some time. So if someone would have told me earlier, you need to master your numbers, that would have helped me a lot. 

The other thing that I would have liked someone to tell me, which I’ve only learned later is that the amount of work you have is self imposed. It does not matter which level of the organisation you are. For a long time, I thought that I had a lot of work because my boss wanted me to work very hard, or I had to get results. As time went by, I realised that actually it’s totally self imposed. 

Another thing is rest. Take your time. Recovery time is important.

What would you say is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Less is more. I think it’s very good advice. I was told this many years ago, when I tried to do a lot of things. I just wanted to do too many things. I had a lot of work with my kids as well. At the time, my boss made me do less, which I hated, of course. But at the same time, it was absolutely a lesson, because as he told me, ‘If you do less, it will become more. So allow yourself to do less.’ 

When you’re in a conversation, and you’re in trouble, if you don’t know exactly what to say, stop. Give yourself a moment, some silence. It gives you time to think about what you want to say and report on that. It’s a super powerful tool that not that many people use, and they should, because it really helps the flow of the conversation.

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night during your career?

I used to be kept awake for many things. I wanted to make my numbers work. When I had people’s topics to resolve, things like ‘how do you build a team that is happy?’ you have to have everything in place. I used to have a lot of sleepless nights, and I had to resolve that because you cannot just live without sleeping. I decided many years ago that I don’t read emails from 9pm onwards, so I can disconnect from whatever has happened during the day. I avoid emails because if not, then I keep on thinking about it. 

What keeps me awake as well is whenever I think that I could have done better. Those are the things that stick in my mind, regardless of reading emails. I’ll be thinking “This was not okay, so how do I turn it in a way that is okay, how do I make it good?” Sometimes it’s good for me, but most of the time it’s good for the team and good for the company. 

Is there one single thread that you can identify that has a certainly led to your success over the years? 

Persistency. I would say that I’m very persistent. I won’t give up. I don’t let challenges or difficulties put me down. I’m super optimistic. I’m super positive. Even when I have challenges ahead of me, I always turn it into opportunities.

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people?

Always have fun.

To learn more about Sofia’s life and work, tune into Episode 23 of the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 22: Acting with Integrity with Adam Nightingale

Episode 22 of Executives Unpacked was a great conversation with Adam Nightingale, the CCO at 3 Screen Solutions. Adam’s career has taken him across the video and streaming industry, with a wealth of experience at a senior level. 3SS is a world leader in helping content houses provide their customers with best in class video platforms, giving him valuable insights into the way that the video streaming industry is heading. Read on to get to know this incredible executive!

What is the biggest lesson that you think you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson is to trust your instincts, because very often, you’re surrounded by smart, opinionated people with well-reasoned opinions, and it’s easy to get lost in that. I would urge anyone to never be afraid to voice their own opinions. Don’t be swayed by someone with a big mouth and no ears. Trust what you believe to be right and true – you’re often not far wrong. Even if you are wrong, at least you acted with integrity and followed what you believed to be right.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career?

Don’t be afraid to speak up. I had a guy on my team in one particular company, and he was good at being outspoken, but he had annoyed a lot of people because of it. His parting words to me when he left were ‘Are you honestly representing the interests of your team with the board? Do you need to fight for your team? Go in for the fight every time.’ In my next company, I did exactly that – I represented the interests of the team. 

What I failed to understand is that every company is different. What works in one company may or may not work in another. Some companies are very open to new ideas and other companies are very resistant to them. It’s easy to take one bit of advice that’s absolutely solid and apply it in the wrong circumstances. I learned that the hard way. 

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night?

Sales is a weird career choice to take in some ways. Even if you assume that you win one in three deals, that means two thirds of your time is wasted. That’s terrible. Who would willingly get into that kind of environment? 

In sales, the leads you bring in are what keeps the company going. You have this sense of responsibility to win interesting deals. It’s mainly about making sure there’s money and margin to fund growth, but it’s also got to be interesting for everybody else to do. If a company is full of 100 individual people with different personalities and ambitions and interests, they’ll all want to push the boundaries of the technology they work with. That keeps me up too. 

Is there a single thread that has run through your career that has led to your successes?

It’s probably being curious and interested in what I’m doing. I’ve always been drawn towards things that engage me. My first career was in a bank’s IT department, which was a big mistake because I’m the most ill-equipped person for IT, but it was interesting. It was putting information in front of people to let them make informed decisions. I could have said, ‘This isn’t interesting’ and gone to work on the trading floor and make boatloads of money, but that wouldn’t have been as fulfilling. Instead, I went to uni. After that I was put into a deeply technical role that I was hopelessly unsuited to, but I moved from there into a sales and marketing role in a fledgling multimedia department, just because it was interesting. Everything I’ve done I’ve been interested in, which has made my career more enjoyable, and therefore more successful. 

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people? 

Be honest.

To learn more about this incredible executive, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 21: Learn the Importance of People in Your Career with David Toomey

On Executives Unpacked we love getting to know the people behind pioneering companies. On Episode 21 we had the pleasure of speaking to David Toomey, the GM of Audio & Music Solutions at Avid. They are one of the world’s most recognised makers of tools for creatives in the video and audio space, and David is helping them navigate the rapidly changing landscape of creative media tools and solutions, bringing with him a wealth of experience from both publishing and creative tool ecosystem development at Adobe. Here’s what we learned from him: 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Be compassionate and over communicate. Make sure others around you know how much you appreciate their contribution. Always offer ways to support their needs or goals. Make sure that people feel like you know that the effort they’re putting in, day in and day out, and that it has real meaning in moving the business forward.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

You really have to make the time and effort to do the networking thing. I wish people were a little bit more pointed in saying, ‘Hey, if you’re gonna keep growing in your career, it’s really on you to make sure that you’re focusing on your network.’ Often I’m hypercritical of myself, because I didn’t put enough focus and effort behind networking, and I hid behind the fact that my job is busy. Obviously, I have a personal life and trying to keep that balanced is sometimes difficult for people, but that’s not an excuse for you to neglect your network. 

Make sure that you’re scheduling in the time to find a mentor or somebody that you can model your career after. Make the time to go to meetups within your industry. If you can get a company to sponsor you to go to a conference, go to it. Those types of events are really important because they’re often the catalyst for you to find the next great opportunity for yourself. 

Over my years of being in the industry, my jobs have been fairly demanding so I didn’t put enough emphasis on building out a really healthy professional network. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, because it has to be a two way street. You can’t keep trying to take from other people, you have to be giving back too by helping people along and offering insights into a particular industry or job. It’s an effort you’ll never regret putting in, and it’s something you should be doing from the very beginning of your career.

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve been given?

Be true to yourself and your needs. Always make sure that you’re taking time to celebrate with family and friends. Take care of your soul and be nurturing to yourself. You should be showing up every day while maintaining a balance that’s necessary for people to avoid burnout. Try and get yourself in a mental state where you’re a whole person coming to work, and that you have the ability to stay positive. If you go way off-kilter, where you’re doing endless hours at work and pushing hard to get to that next opportunity, that’s when everything can begin to suffer. Strike the right balance for yourself. 

That’s gotten harder for people as we went through the pandemic, because it’s hard to know where to draw the lines in the zoom culture we have now. Someone can always put a meeting on your calendar. It’s really important for people to say, ‘This is when I’m going to be available and working hard, and this is when I’m going to find time for myself. I’ve got to get out of the box here and go for a nice walk, decompress, and get myself ready to focus for the rest of the day.’ That’s really important.

What are the things that tend to keep you up at night?

I think worries like ‘Am I doing all I can to ensure that my people feel appreciated, valued and connected with their career growth?’ have always kept me up. It’s important that as a manager you have a really clear growth plan for the people on your team, and that they’re compensated appropriately. I’ve always believed that if you’re going to continue to excel within a business, you really need to make sure that you’re taking care of your people. If you’re taking care of your people, they’re gonna take care of your customers and grow the business by making sure that you have overall satisfaction from our whole client base. It’s super important that you’re staying focused on those things. When great talent moves on it’s really tough finding people who can replace them. I spent a lot of time at night making sure that everyone on the team is feeling like they’re right where they should be, and they’re free to do their best work because they’ve got the support that they need to keep excelling.

What is the one bit of advice you would always give to somebody else in the industry? 

Make sure you stay connected with your values. Make sure that you understand what you’re bringing to your job every day and placing value on it. I know that’s not easy sometimes, but there were times when I stayed a little bit too long in a job where I wasn’t growing, or I had another opportunity that was more connected with my values and I didn’t take it when I should have. Don’t be closed-off to change. Sometimes that can be within your company or within other industries that you might not realise you have the transferable skills for. You can provide a lot of value to a different industry, and that might be really interesting and exciting for you. It’s really important to stay connected with your values, because they’ll lead to your next opportunity. 

To learn more about David’s career, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 20: Find the Right People with Michał Zachara

On Executives Unpacked we get to know the people in leadership across the Connectivity, Satellite & NewSpace, Cyber Security and Content & Media industries. On Episode 20 we were joined by Michał Zachara, the COO at KP Labs, a Polish NewSpace company that develops advanced solutions such as processing units, software edge processing, and small to medium satellites. Michał has been interested in technology from a very young age, and has a love for adventure. Read on to learn more about this dynamic and innovative executive!

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Technologies change all the time, and the business environment is changing very rapidly. People are the most important factor in our lives, so it’s important that you are surrounded by the right people. I’m trying to work with the best people in my career, and I’m trying to choose the people in my surroundings wisely. All the issues that I had in the past with clients and projects were all about communication. Even if you are doing the best job ever, if you cannot communicate it properly to your teammates or to your clients, you won’t be successful. 

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career?

I wasn’t told that being a grown up would be such a tough thing. I wish someone would have told me that real life is a little bit scary. 

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

The people that you’re working with are the key. If you’re not working with the right people, you will not be able to progress. Try to choose wisely, try to work hard and get the best from all the people that are around you. It’s very easy in corporate life to lose the people that aren’t working well, but it’s very hard to help someone flourish inside of the company. I learned that from my first mentor. 

What type of things keep you constantly awake at night?

I’m a dreamer, and when I’m setting up some new topics for the company, I’m already two steps ahead and trying to think about the next future. Because of that, we are developing very rapidly. We grew from 3 people to 80 in four years, which comes with its own challenges. When you are a team of 10 or 20 people, you can discuss every problem with a cup of coffee in the kitchen. When you’ve got 80 or 100 people, you have to introduce processes very fast. The biggest challenge is how to scale faster and introduce processes that will not kill us and still give us a lot of fun in our work. The corporation has to be as agile as possible with the number of people they have. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that led to success?

I think it’s a mix of determination, luck and experience. I started my career as a quality assurance engineer, and a large part of that is finding bugs in our applications and the mistakes of other developers. You quickly learn how to deal with quality. I was told by my first leader that the quality of the work is not only the application, but the overall wealth that you’re delivering. I’m trying to move this focus on quality to every aspect of my life. That totally different experience has helped me to shape the everyday aspects of my work.

What’s the advice that you would give to others coming into the industry?

I’m giving this piece of advice to students in Poland who are studying space-related topics; be brave. People at the universities are saying that space is too hard, and it’s not for you because only the best have the chance to build a career in the space industry. Just try anyway. This rate of interest is developing really fast, and the NewSpace movement is making it much more open for new people to come in. You have to at least try to enter the market, because it’s a great adventure, and it’s a lot of fun. 

To learn more about Michał’s work, listen to the Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 19: Learn New Skills Every Day with Guy De Carafel

On Executives Unpacked we ask our guests the secret to their success. On Episode 19 we had the pleasure of sitting down with Guy De Carafel, who told us that learning new things is the secret to career progression. Guy is the Founder and CEO of Cognitive Space, where they disrupt the space sector with intelligent infrastructure. Guy’s career has taken him from mechanical engineering to aerospace, giving him a wealth of knowledge about the industry. Read on to hear his insights!

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Don’t be limited by what’s right in front of you. Be curious. There’s always a solution or a different way of doing things for you to explore. Don’t let others set your path; find your own way.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier in your career? 

Be patient. Build relationships, and make sure you’ve got a strong network, because it’ll follow you throughout your career and life. Building those relationships is critical for success.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

When you’re growing a team, it’s essential to make sure everyone’s on the same page and rowing in the same direction. Building up your product as fast as you can, addressing the right problems for our customers, and sharing the value that we’re bringing to them is my biggest concern. It’s down to us to make a difference and move the industry forwards by completing our mission, which is to empower the use of space. We’re doing that by making better use of space and the satellites through AI.

Can you identify a single thread through your career that’s led to your success?

I think it was a lot of different things. I’ve always been curious. And I’m not shy of trying new things, even if I have zero knowledge of the domain. Coming out of college, I didn’t really know how to do programming, but I ended up doing programming and software development for NASA, and winning awards for that. I’ve always been interested in starting my own effort and making an impact in the industry. That’s how space became my mission, because I saw that the industry as a whole could mature in a big way. I leveraged the latest in machine learning technology, and moved away from the legacy approaches of managing satellites to create a disruptive solution.

Starting a company is not for the faint of heart, especially with a newborn child like I did. You need to learn every day – new skills, new mistakes, new ways of doing things – and you have to wear every single hat there is. Despite that, if you’re up to the challenge, it’s a really rewarding effort.

What’s one bit of advice you’d give to somebody coming into the industry, what would that be?

Focus on the mission. Focus on what you’re bringing to the industry. Start with your why, and be stubborn about it. That’s how it will come to fruition. I’m a firm believer that space has a lot to offer, and will be drastically different in as little as 10 years from now. I would encourage anyone that’s looking to move to come into this industry and move space forward.

To hear more about Guy’s work in the space sector, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 18: “Fight On” with John Beckner 

On Episode 18 of Executives Unpacked we got to know John Beckner, the founder and CEO of Horizon Technologies. John told us about his career in the aerospace sector, where he has worked for over 30 years. He’s worked in and out of government, including working with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Thanks to his expertise, Horizon Technologies has transitioned from an innovative startup to a groundbreaking company who are providing systems to the aircraft industry. Read on to find his best advice for others who are entering the aeronautical industry. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

You learn more from failures than you do from victories. I’ve always asked myself, “What do you learn from winning a programme? Why did you lose it? What were the pitfalls?” I look back at what happened, then see what we can do better next time. We lost a satellite recently, so as we go forward and build the next one, what are the lessons I can take forward? Always learn from your setbacks and defeats.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

That 1 in 10 launches fails. It’s risky. My glass is half full, so I always thought “This is going to work”. The reality is, the numbers are there, and it is a roll of the dice. We’re going to step up with help from the UK government and our partners. We’ll get back into space. We just have to take it one step at a time.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Learn from your elders, mentors and people who have been there before. When I look back at my career, I could look to older members and understand they’d been in my shoes before. Get knowledge and advice from people who’ve worked in your position before. There’s a tendency, especially in today’s environment, for young people to think they’re the first ones to do things, but that’s not often true. Look to the older generation and learn from them, because they’re the ones who get us to where we are. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

The challenges we’ve had in the last year are really about the global supply chain. The component business affects the satellite payloads as well. We’re not first in line, which has been a big problem for us in the last year. We’re not done with the ramifications of COVID, which is a concern for my company. I don’t like to spend weekends talking to companies in Hong Kong asking for a specific semiconductor, but sometimes that’s what it takes. COVID’s also had a knock-on effect on sales. We can’t sell our avionics business commercially so we need to go to trade shows, but they’ve not been happening. If there’s no trade shows, there are no orders. Flights are full again and life goes on, but we’re still catching up. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that led to your continued success?

For me there are two. Number one; you gotta be quick. Respond quickly, turn things around, be mean and lean. Number two is determination. You can’t give up if you want to keep that pace up. It’s hard work. Lean and mean turnarounds are what will keep your customers happy, and in order to achieve that you have to be persistent.

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

Don’t give up. Don’t let setbacks throw you off. Don’t walk away from the game. There are two sides to that though. There is not always a way forward, so I’m not telling you to keep butting your head against the tree. There has to be a balance. Our motto at the University of Southern California is “Fight on”, which I still hold to, but you have to pick your battles too. Be wise enough to say, “There is no more fighting on here”. Sometimes it’s better to devote your energy somewhere else. 

To hear more about John’s work in the aeronautical industry, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 16: Keep Your Focus with Rhonda Stevenson

On Episode 16 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Rhonda Stevenson, the President and CEO at Orbital Assembly Corporation. The company is constructing large, scalable, gravity capable turnkey solutions in space and beyond, enabling society to work, play and thrive in the space ecosystem. Rhonda is a seasoned professional with 20 over years of business leadership and entrepreneurial experience. Rhonda has also dedicated her life to supporting and heading up nonprofit organisations. Outside of the Space world, Rhonda’s happy place is out in nature and spending quality time with her children. 

Read on to hear Rhonda’s advice for people entering her industry. 

What would you say has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned so far, during your career?

The single most important lesson is that some of the narratives that we’re raised with aren’t true. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Tune out the voices that say what can or can’t be done. If you really do believe that you can achieve your goals, you can.

Is there anything that you’d wish you’d been told earlier?

It’s not a sage piece of advice, but you have to understand that everyone goes through challenges. You may be feeling low because you’re not where you wanted to be. The common response is ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself’, but I think that you would be better served by saying, ‘Continue to hold yourself to the goals that you’ve set’. Don’t sit in a place of judgement, but find a solution and a way to keep moving. Don’t get stuck on worrying about where you are, focus on where you’re headed.

Is there one piece of advice that you would pass on to some of your leadership team, managers or coaches?

As a leader, you have to be very mindful of the team that you’re leading, but not at the cost of your objectives. There are different leadership styles, so don’t get stuck on just one. Some pyramidal type structures work very well in some organisations, while lateral systems work better in others. Keep your objectives and strategies in mind, but be empathetic to your team and find the best way to work with them.

What keeps you awake at night?

The biggest struggle for a startup in the space industry is always finding funding. I work side by side with folks who are putting in long hours, dedication and passion, all while working at lower pay than they would make elsewhere. As a leader I’m the caretaker of these teams, so I’m always looking for innovative ways to bring in funding. There are lots of strategic solutions that are obvious but inaccessible. We’re only just starting to see institutions like NASA work more freely with startups, but that’s going to benefit the whole community.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

I try to be like water; fluid, flexible and changeable. When you’re seeking advice or insight, be very clear in your own mind and heart that you are not seeking approval. Hold to the desires or goals that you have, and don’t let someone else’s opinion taint or cloud your self direction. Often when I’ve shared my goals or my objectives with others, the response hasn’t been positive. I’ve had responses like ‘that’s not how we do things, that’s not realistic, or that’s not achievable’. Be really mindful of the fact that it’s just advice or opinions, and it doesn’t mean you should let go of what you’ve set for yourself.

What advice would you give to somebody that wants to enter the industry?

You need to understand and own that you already have a tremendous amount of skill to contribute to this growing community. You shouldn’t feel like you have to ask for permission to enter or that you need to get a stamp of approval; you are welcome. You have many things to bring to the industry, and we need them. I had always wanted to be in the space industry, that’s a dream I was born with, but my trajectory didn’t look like I was going to get there. When I had the opportunity to transfer into the space industry, I worried that I didn’t have much to bring. I’m not an engineer. I didn’t work for Lockheed Martin. I didn’t become an astronaut, I didn’t even get to be a test pilot, so what on earth could I bring to the industry? Actually, what I brought was leadership experience, and that’s what the industry needed the most. It is apparent that there is a screaming need for continued leadership for businesses and concepts. 

Don’t wait. Don’t feel that you need to bring more skills than you already have to the industry, just start. 

To hear more about Rhonda’s experiences in the industry and the work that Orbital Assembly Corporation is doing, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 17: Impostor Syndrome is something that affects people at every level of business

Episode 17 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast featured a conversation with Kim Lawrence, the EVP of Global Client Operations at Visual Data Media Services. Growing up Kim had ambitions to be a journalist, but now she works with a provider of premium Digital Media Supply Chain Solutions and some of the world’s best known media brands. Read on to hear how Kim has progressed her career whilst tackling impostor syndrome. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible if you approach it with the right mindset. No matter how unachievable it might seem, if you start it with a curious, positive mindset, it’s incredible what you can accomplish. Over and over and over in my career we’ve had projects that just seem impossible to get done, but we’ve succeeded in the end. There’s always a way to figure it out.

Is there anything you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

Impostor syndrome is a thing that everybody experiences. I didn’t realise that until about five years ago. Until then I thought ‘At some point, somebody’s going to figure out that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.’ Knowing that other people in the same roles as me and even CEOs still struggle with impostor syndrome was a game-changer. I started my working life straight out of secondary school at 16, so I was always the youngest person in the room and I had no formal education. As a result, I always thought that someone was doing me a favour by letting me be there. I wish I had been told that I was there because of me, I earned a seat at this table, and people want to hear what I have to say. All sorts of people, even those at senior levels, can all feel like their progression is a fluke. It’s hard to get that across to young people who are just coming into the workplace, but it’s something that we should really try to communicate. It’s what I wish I knew then. 

What advice do you think had the most impact on you?

‘Fake it till you make it’ is an obvious one, but it’s less about faking the job that you do and more about faking your confidence. It takes courage to walk into a room and host a meeting, give a presentation, pitch to a client or go into a post-mortem meeting with a customer. If you can channel your confidence, it puts everybody else at ease. I’m an inherently shy, introverted person, which people often say doesn’t come across at all, because I push through that to find my confidence. That’s helped me achieve all kinds of things. 

Another piece of advice I got recently is ‘don’t try and be the hero in somebody else’s story’. I have a tendency to want to fix everything, but I’ve learned that people need to be the hero in their own story. That’s led me to one of my core passions, which is mentoring and developing people. I had so many amazing mentors in my life, and now I want to give that back to other people. I wish I’d had a female mentor like me to look up to, so I try to be that for people. I’m here to help people see their potential, support them and give them the resources they need to smash it.

What keeps you awake at night?

I don’t think I can count my sleepless nights on one hand. Having said that, I do worry about whether I have the wrong person on my team, or the dynamic isn’t quite working for someone I’ve brought in. If I see potential in this person, how do I know if our culture is strong enough to set this person up for success? Anything we do that affects people causes me a lot of stress. I feel a responsibility for people, because when you have someone who doesn’t fit, it impacts the whole company culture. 

Can you identify a single thread through your career that’s led to your success?

If I listen to my imposter syndrome I would say it’s I’ve got here by pure luck, and I have no idea what I’m doing or how I got here. Curiosity is actually my secret. I’m a truth-seeker by nature, and I always want to get to the bottom of something and understand it. If I’m told no, I’ll ask annoying questions until I completely understand why, and that usually leads to a creative conversation about solutions. I remember seeing a woman at work once, and she was commanding the room, answering questions and coming up with solutions. I realised that I needed to understand how to do that, and it’s my curiosity that got me there. 

What is the one bit of advice that you would offer to others?

Be intentional about who you surround yourself with. You need to make sure that they inspire you in some way, because you become a little bit of each person you spend time with. Cut toxic people out of your life and out of your business quickly. 

To hear more about Kim’s work, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 15: How Katherine Gizinski Makes Life Better 

On Episode 15 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we spoke to Katherine Gizinski about everything from the satellite industry to her passion for proper coffee. Katherine is the CEO of ManSat, a graduate of the International Space University’s Executive program, the chairwoman of the SSPI, and a supporter of the ITU’s ‘Girls in ICT’ initiative. She’s had an extensive career in the satellite industry, working with the US defence contractors to bring commercial satellite and terrestrial communication technologies to austere environments in support of military, diplomatic, first responder, and commercial initiatives. 

Read on to find out how Katherine uses her passion to make life better for everyone!

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

The lesson that’s reaffirmed most often is that your passion can’t be that can’t be trained. That’s something that’s got to be within someone. Your passion, work ethic, and mindset aren’t something you can learn. It’s really easy to place emphasis on qualifications, pedigree and expertise in our industry, but time and again, I’ve seen very qualified folks grow complacent. The folks that are really switched on are passionate about what they’re doing, willing to learn and are ready to drive themselves and their organisations to the next phase. Those are the folks you want driving high performance teams. For me, your passion, work ethic and a growth-oriented mindset trumps everything else in terms of what you can do.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

Understanding how to manage people with different personalities would have been a great lesson. Some folks really need a lot of direct feedback, but others have so much motivation within them that a little bit of feedback goes a long way. A benefit of working with really driven and capable people is that they usually push themselves harder than anyone else. I could have benefited from being a little easier on myself and on others around me. 

What’s one piece of advice that you always give to others?

I am a firm believer that we need to know our value. If you know what you’re good at and what you can bring to an organisation, you can find an environment where your skills have the maximum impact, and that will take you to a phenomenal place. Once you’ve found that, my advice is to stay curious. Never stop learning and growing. Always try to be a better version of yourself than you were the day before. That can be in terms of skills, development and knowledge base, or on a personal level, where you improve your cross functional collaboration, interactions with others or the way you run your team or organisation. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night? 

What plagues me is ‘How can we make life better for everyone?’ It sounds like a big question for an organisation like ours to grapple with, but we’re part of the solution. Our role is helping streamline the process for everyone. I see us as technology enablers, and we’re absolutely committed to that mission. I’m always challenging the team and myself to approach a client’s problems differently, take a different perspective, find what can we do here differently and ultimately keep the end customer in mind. If we don’t do our job for the client, the end customer doesn’t get the capability. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I’ve always loved what I’ve done. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of all of our jobs that maybe aren’t our favourite. I can’t think of a role where I haven’t loved what I’ve done, and that’s kept driving me forward and kept the work itself fun and fresh. That’s the recurring theme throughout the various roles I’ve had. I’ve always had an attachment to the mission, vision and purpose of my companies, because I understood the value of what we were bringing to our users. Once I have that mindset, everything else flows from it.

To hear more about Katherine’s work in the satellite sector, listen to Episode 15 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast

Executives Unpacked Episode 10: Accomplishing Your Goals with Shelli Brunswick

On Episode 10 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Shelli Brunswick, the COO of The Space Foundation, and an Executive Leader for the Centre of Innovation and Education. She brings a broad perspective and a deep vision to the Workforce Development roadmaps and the economic opportunities available to everyone for the space industry. Shelli has a distinguished career ranging across space acquisitions, programme management leadership and congressional liaison for the US Air Force. In her current role she’s leading the way when it comes to promotion of diversity and inclusion across the world, encouraging the next generation of women to pursue STEM subjects and join this wonderful space industry. Outside of Shelli’s passion for mentoring she spends most of her time travelling or getting outdoors, practising photography, and enjoying wildlife. 

This incredible woman shared her insights with us, the highlights of which are below. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

One of the biggest lessons is to never disqualify yourself from something you haven’t been offered. When I was transitioning out of the US Air Force to become a civilian and I was looking for a new job, someone sent me a job announcement to be the CFO of Space Foundation. Initially I went, ‘I don’t qualify for that, so I’m not going to apply’. I talked to one of my colleagues in the office, who’s also a good friend, and she said, ‘Never disqualify yourself from something you haven’t been offered’. Based on that advice, I applied to be the Chief Operating Officer at Space Foundation, and after a lengthy interview process, I was selected. Sometimes we go through life, and we eliminate ourselves from things we haven’t even been offered because we think we’re not qualified. Don’t do that. Try anyways, go for it. What do you have to lose?

What do you wish that you had been told earlier?

Your goals and dreams and aspirations are achievable, but they’re not achievable overnight. Sometimes, especially when we’re younger, we feel this great pressure that we have to accomplish things and it can be overwhelming. We’re seeing that in the workforce today, we’re seeing a lot of burnout, we’re seeing a lot of people not taking time to rejuvenate, spend time with their family or connect with nature. 

Success is about creating the vision for yourself, and then breaking that into small, achievable milestones. I want to write a book next year, but I’m not going to write that overnight like I did my college paper, I’m going to have to outline and plan. Some days or weeks, I can do a lot more, the ideas flow a lot better, and some weeks I can do less. But how do you slowly work towards those goals? The same thing happens here at the Space Foundation and in any industry, so I sit down with my team and say, ‘What do we want to accomplish this year?’ We can’t accomplish it overnight, but we can lay in milestones and inch stones and every week, every day, we are slowly moving towards that goal. That helps to eliminate a lot of stress that people feel about achieving lofty goals when they think that they’re unattainable. They really are attainable, because you just have to break it into steps and look at that incremental achievement you’re doing every day. Even when you sent me the questions for today, I actually outlined several of my thoughts, and I thought ‘This might be great for my book’, so see, you’re helping me to slowly accomplish that goal!

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

When I started working on Capitol Hill as a congressional liaison for the US Air Force, my boss told me, ‘Life is all about building and maintaining relationships’. When you look back over your life and you think about mentors and champions that have supported you in your career, life is about building those relationships and maintaining them. Even when you and I look at our relationship, you reached out, we did a webinar, and that could have been it. But no, we stayed in touch over the last two years, we’ve tried to connect in Long Beach, now maybe we’ll finally meet in Paris. I do that with the champions and mentors who have supported me, and now I am a big proponent of giving back and building those relationships to help the next generation make their way into the technology and space industry. I’m an avid mentor. I support so many mentoring programmes, entrepreneurship programmes, not only for women, but for diversity and men, because we need to help that next generation the same way I was helped. I’m all about relationships.

What keeps you awake at night?

Well, as we just talked about, there are a lot of challenges going on in the world. We’re seeing a potential global recession, we’re seeing high inflation, we’re seeing climate change, we have war. Those things concern me. What concerns me is how are we preparing that future workforce? How are we creating that pathway? What I’ve learned is disruption is really the norm. There is no normal. People said after COVID we’re going back to normal – well, what was really normal? What we really have to do is change our mindset and say, that disruption is normal and the world continues to change. How do we create the resiliency and the tools that help humans lean into these disruptions and these challenges, and then come out with new solutions that make the world better? We can look at every problem as an opportunity for a solution. It’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur. I stay awake at night thinking about that, thinking about the workforce holistically, as well as my personal team. How do I be a servant leader? How do I empower them? How do I allow them to take on greater responsibility? I don’t mean this just in the macro world, I absolutely want to help make the change and create the workforce, but even at Space Foundation, how can I be a better leader every day with my team and be that servant leader? I’m working on a new concept for leadership, and as soon as I have it articulated, I hope to come back and share it with you. It relates to participative and innovative leadership on a global scale, which is what really keeps me motivated.

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

The one thing is to take advantage of every opportunity. I joined the Air Force right out of high school because I didn’t have money to go to college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. The Air Force was a great opportunity for me to learn a skill set. I started in HR, that was what I was classified as. Because I started in the HR world I was able to go to school at night, taking advantage of tuition assistance, and I earned my degree by going to school at night, and then I was able to apply to become an officer. Whenever something came along or someone asked ‘Would you like to go to this training? Or would you like to go to this conference? Or would you like to meet somebody?’ the answer is always yes. Sometimes those opportunities are hard work. You shared that I’m part of several organisations, and those are all volunteer things I do. I spend a lot of my weekends doing volunteer work for these other organisations, because I’m passionate about it, but that’s part of taking advantage of those opportunities. When you take advantage and you put in the hard work, that’s when opportunity meets the right timing. Suddenly success happens. Take advantage of every opportunity, lean into it, learn and continue to grow. That’s how I got to where I am today. 

What’s the one piece of advice that you always give to others?

Don’t fear the unknown. When I applied to become an officer in the Air Force, the first time I was not accepted because I don’t have a STEM degree. I was like, okay, you’re automatically allowed another time, so I applied again. The second time I was selected, but they classified me as the space programme management officer, and I was like, what is that? I was in HR. I was in personnel. I wanted to be a personnel officer for the Air Force because that’s what I knew. That’s a career field that everybody I knew was in, that’s what I wanted to do. Somebody from the Air Force personnel centre said, ‘Sergeant Brunswick, we need you to be a space programme Management Officer’. And I said ‘Yes, sir’. That decision the Air Force made for me started my 25 year career in the space industry. If I had my way we would not be talking today, I’d be a personnel officer, but instead, I’m a space industry leader. I’ve seen the amazing things that have happened in the space industry. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we don’t want to do things or we say ‘That’s not my passion. I want to follow my passion’. Back in the 90s, who knew that space would be my passion? That just goes to show not to fear the unknown, lean into those new opportunities, and embrace them. If it doesn’t work out, give it a try. If it still doesn’t work out, you’ve got a great thing to add to your resume and your toolkit and you can go back and do something else.

We hope you enjoyed hearing Shelli’s stories as much as we did! To hear more insights from our incredible executive guests, listen to The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 9: Take the Lead with Rick Capstraw

On Episode 9 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we spoke to Rick Capstraw, the Chief Growth Officer at Signiant. Rick has been in the Content & Media industry for a long time, holding roles at the likes of Walt Disney and CNET early in his career, despite wanting to be a fighter pilot when he was little. He shared some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his career with us, including the best piece of advice he gives other people. Read on to find out what that is!

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible if you have the drive to make it happen, especially in this industry. It’s foolish to say that something’s never going to happen, or that there’s only one way to do things. I’ve always looked at what could be possible, and then found the drive and personality to make it happen. There’s no overarching power that says what can’t be done. With all the technological innovation that we’ve had over the last 20 years, anything is possible if you work hard and smart enough and build the right infrastructure and relationships.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier on in your career?

I may have been told this and not listened at the time, but having realised it now I try to drive it into everyone; your relationships in business are critical. The media industry isn’t that big, so you are going to run into everyone over and over again. I was not good at maintaining all the relationships that I made at the beginning of my career. When I run across people that I haven’t seen in 25 years, it’s great to be able to catch up and rekindle those relationships, but I always wonder what if I had maintained them through these last 20 years. Where would we both be now? I wish I had made a more concerted effort from early in my career to maintain the relationships that I made. Especially if you’re driving toward leadership positions, maintain your relationships and keep them strong. 

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

I remember complaining that I didn’t have the authority to direct teams effectively, and one of my mentors told me that you have as much authority as you are willing to take for yourself. If you set a direction and start leading, people will get behind you. Most people want to be led, so you have all the authority that you’re willing to take. That advice has served me very well throughout my career. People that I had no official authority over would listen to me because as a leader I gained a certain level of gravitas and authority. If you want people to follow you, it’s not about your title, your role or where you sit in the organisation; it’s about your vision.

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The prospect of disappointing people is what worries me. I’ll lie awake wondering ‘Did I do the best that I could do? Did my team do the best that they could do?’ I’m not worried about ‘Are we going to lose this deal?’ We’re going to do what we can do, and the chips are gonna fall where they may. What keeps me awake is letting people down. I’m confident in my own abilities, but if I ever did not do my best and other people struggle or suffer because of that, that’s what bothers me.

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

Having an innate sense of curiosity has led me to fascinating places. I am interested in anything; in how and why things work, and how and why they could work better. When I realised that the role of a sales executive is not to sell a product, it’s to understand a customer’s pain points and then utilise your suite of services to help them, that changed my entire outlook on the role. I’m interested in how businesses work, how they don’t work and how they could work better. If I can help with that, then that’s fantastic. 

It’s about a human connection as well. People are positively disposed to other people who are genuinely interested in what’s happening in their life. I always want to understand what is happening, because it helps create relationships and connections, and then people will want to work with me.

What is the one bit of advice that you always give to other people?

In every interaction, always try to add value. Value doesn’t have to necessarily be business value, it can just be a positive attitude and engaging conversation. When someone’s phone lights up with a call, and they see your name, what is the immediate reaction that they have? That’s my test for whether you’ve built good relationships; whether people think of you positively. Their response to you phoning them should be ‘this will be great. I’m gonna get this call.’ Be positive, be friendly, be the person that people want to talk to, and everything will come from that.

To hear more about Rick’s journey through the Content & Media industry, tune into The Executive Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 5: Lead by Learning with Charles Miller

On The Executives Unpacked Podcast we had the pleasure of sitting down with Charles Miller, the co-founder and CEO of Lynk. He’s a serial space entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in the industry. Charles has been the founder or co-founder of multiple private ventures and organisations. In addition, he’s a national leader in creating and developing public-private partnerships in commercial space to serve public needs. One of Charlie’s previous startups in our ranks has delivered more than 700 payloads to space and is a current world leader in Nanos launches. Charles has served NASA as Senior Advisor for commercial space, and has had many different private commercial space firms. Outside of space, Charles’s happy place is spending quality time with his children, and he’s an avid book collector. 

We tapped into his expertise as an executive to bring you all the tricks of the trade, from his biggest lessons to his advice to others in the industry. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

I’ve learned tons of things, 1000s of lessons, so it’s hard to pick just one. One of the ones I want to do something a little different than most, you know, CEO startup people talk about soft pick one is that it’s a lesson I learned 20 plus years ago; it’s not about you. With a lot of leaders in the world, it’s all about them, it’s about their ego, it’s about them being a hero. But the leaders who can paint a vision of the future, and it’s about everybody, and anybody can step into that vision of the future and make a difference and have their own hero’s journey as part of a great team, that’s a really great leader. The founder or entrepreneur needs to get out of the way. It’s not about them. It really isn’t about me, it’s about everybody else. It’s about making a difference that everybody can be part of that. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

The hardest lessons I’ve learned are that there are a lot of things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. For example, my first real commercial space startup was really too big. Back in the late 1990s, I started a venture focused on satellite servicing, and I needed to raise $200 million. I wish The Lean Startup had been around, I wish Steve Blank had written his great stuff. I encourage everybody to read Steve Blank stuff and The Lean Startup. I would have started much smaller and talked to more customers at the start. I learned that lesson the hard way. 

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve been given?

When I was a kid, my mum believed in being a straight shooter and telling the truth. I don’t know if that’s the best advice, because sometimes that bites you, but I live by it. Lying always comes back to bite you. Reality doesn’t lie. You can lie to yourself, but the physics of the world does not change. You have to have an intimate relationship with the truth. Facts, particularly in a business like space and satellite, are what you live on. You can trick investors or lie to investors and maybe get a few dollars, but it’s gonna catch up to you, you cannot trick it, space is hard. It comes down to integrity. Anybody who wants to get into the space industry can figure that out pretty quickly. 

You need to have a passion for this line of work, because space is hard. If you don’t have a passion for it, if you don’t have a mission orientation, you’re gonna struggle. If you get into the space industry and find out it’s hard, you’ll quit, right? You just have to be completely persistent. I’m extremely stubborn, and I’ve been doing space for over 30 years, and so many people have come and gone in that time. You can become world class in this industry, but it takes a lot of commitment.

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

Recently it’s the financial downturn we’ve had and investors fleeing the market. That’s been keeping me up, raising the next big round of capital to build the ramp up the satellites. However, we’re seeing a lot of interest in what Lynk is doing now. You can solve all the world’s breakthrough technology, but raising money is probably the toughest thing we’re doing right now. It’s always a roller coaster.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

It’s all about persistence. You’re given your brains but you have no skills when you’re born, so it’s about persistence and a willingness to learn. You can give up on your short term strategy or tactical plan, but you can’t ever give up on your long term vision, your mission, your why you’re here on this planet. With a commitment to lifelong learning you can do amazing things. Most people think they go to college and they’re done learning, so you’re gonna blow past those people because they get stuck in place. If you’re the person that is completely persistent and alert, you can do amazing things. Just follow your passion. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

The best way to learn is by doing. Get some get involved with either a space venture that’s already existing or go start your own company and get involved with another space adventure. Whatever they’ll let you do, just do it. The founders look for people who are committed, passionate and unstoppable, so if that’s you, pound on the door until they give you something to do. Leaders aren’t born leaders, they show up. Even if you have to be taught how to be a leader, even if you don’t have a natural lean towards leadership, you can always be a better leader. I’ve learned a tonne about being a better leader, and the right company will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership, and they’ll grow and coach you, but you have to bring something to the table. That starts at the beginning. If that’s who you are, there’s always a place to learn. 

To hear more of Charles’s insights as an executive, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast now!

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 4: Experience the Industry with Naomi Kurahara

On Episode 4 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Naomi Kurahara. Naomi is the co-founder and CEO of Infostellar, a NewSpace communications technology company based in Tokyo, that provides flexible and scalable ground station services enabled by its cloud platform stellar station, the ground station platform is for modern space business. She started in the industry for integral systems Japan, working as a systems engineer, then found herself in Infostellar back in 2016. Naomi still has big dreams, and one day would love to travel and participate in space travel. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

My biggest lesson is to think really well, and don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions. Any sessions that you’re in, whether it’s internally with your team or outside of the team or company, just ask questions. That helped me a lot in the past.

What do you wish you would have been told earlier?

I think for me, building trust is really important. I wish someone had told me that building trust takes a lot of time and effort, and losing trust is very easy. It can happen in really short time. In my industry, the space industry,  I see so many businesses relying on trust between the parties joining a project. So yes, the importance of trust is what I wish I learned sooner.

What is the best bit of advice that you have been given?

One of my professors told me to experience the entire satellite project. So before, the whole satellite project, from mission design to launch and operation would take 15 years, but now through small satellite development projects, we can do that in three or five years. Experiencing it from beginning to end helps my engine carrier or management carrier in various different aspects. It really helps the whole project and my career, so I would say that’s been the most influential piece of advice. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night when it comes to sort of work?

For me, that relationship I have with my team members, customers or investors, that’s created a lot of sleepless nights. If I started to feel this distrust towards someone, or if I made someone distrust me, that takes over my mind. It’s always the relationship with people that I worry about most. It’s about the trust I mentioned earlier. 

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that has led to your success?

I believe in the potential of the space industry. Space technology has the potential to change everyone’s lives. Things are becoming more convenient, more exciting and they’re giving us more freedom. I strongly believe that space technology has potential. And I think that makes me keep challenging our limits, which is what creates success.

What would be one bit of advice that you would give to others?

Don’t give up. I know it sounds really cheesy, but don’t give up. Is there something you really want? It’s not easy, and there are easier options or ways to go, but I recommend sticking to something you really want to do because that’s how you’ll go far.

To hear more about Naomi’s experiences in the NewSpace industry, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast today. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 12: Cultivate a Growth Mindset with Katherine Monson

On The Executives Unpacked Podcast we had the pleasure of being joined by Katherine Monson, the COO at Hedron, an aerospace provider that is building a hybrid RF optical relay network. This dynamic communication infrastructure is going to enable the growing space industry to provide low latency data to the commercial and government end users here on Earth. Katherine brings a wealth of experience to the aerospace industry. Outside of the space world, Katherine’s happy place is hiking and exploring the great outdoors, as well as a passion for learning languages. We tapped into her expertise as an executive to give you the best advice from the sector. 

What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is about the growth mindset. Always have the approach of learning. There are also pros and cons of that growth mindset. With folks who have experience you can absolutely leverage that experience, so being willing to come to the table and solicit that experience from folks who have done something before is excellent. The challenge of that is that things are changing very quickly, so that experience isn’t always relevant anymore. For those of us who have been in the industry for several years to also have that growth mindset, we need to accept that there are new folks coming to the table with a different way of looking at things. We might have failed trying to do something five years ago, but there could be things that are different now in terms of technological advancement or the operating environment that makes that idea that didn’t work five years ago suddenly very viable today. Having that learning mindset at all points of the day at all points of the year at all points of your career is the most important lesson I’ve learned.

What do you wish that you’d been told sooner?

People’s career paths, and people’s lives, frankly, are not linear. There are very few people that I can think of that at the age of 22, coming out of undergrad, wanted to do something and are now living exactly that life that they said they would when they were 22. It isn’t a straight path. Looking back, I’m sure you could explain how all of the choices you made led you to here, but you can only do that looking backward. One of the things that I want to say to some of our interns, or to some of the folks who are just coming into the industry, is ‘Don’t stress, you’ll figure it out, you make the choices that you need to on any given day, and as long as you keep moving toward problems that are interesting to you, that’s the thread that you should be pulling on.’ Find a problem that you care about, find a problem that matters to you that it isn’t solved yet. That’s when you’ll find yourself at the table with other people who share your passions, and those are just fantastic tables to be at. There are so many interesting problems in aerospace that are being tackled by so many wonderful, interesting people. There isn’t some master plan that you write out your life on. Every day, you make a choice to go to the table and solve the problem that you care about. The advice that I would want to give to my previous self is ‘calm down, take each step day by day, there isn’t some master architect out there, you have to sit down!’

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

Something that I have been learning this last year working with my business partners, my colleagues, is thought partnership. That’s a phrase that we invoke a lot, which is to say that the three of our brains together generate so much more potential than any one of us alone. One of the ideas that we’ve really been trying to actualize within our team is this idea of high performance athletes. One of the things that I heard recently with the Tour de France is that you have so many of these cyclists, and they are incredible on the bike, but what you may not see is that there is also a race for recovery. Everyone is good on the bike, but if you spend all day cycling up huge mountains, as soon as you get off the bike, the race to recovery starts – which is to say the person who is fueling the best, who is sleeping the best, who’s letting their body recover the best, they’re gonna go into the next day with more strength, more power and more energy. 

That idea applies to our lives more generally, but particularly in our careers. You have to figure out when you have a career in aerospace, you could have a career that is 50 years long. How do you create the environment to be successful? That’s incredibly important coming out of the pandemic because our lines between work work and life have been so blurred. It does require folks to be much more intentional about thinking about ‘How am I going to sustain a high performance level over many years’, and really thinking about that as an essential part of doing the role. That race to recovery, every single day, is vital, because now we’re showing up with the highest performance level possible.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

There are so many things that can go wrong in an aerospace company, and that’s not unique to really any one player. Going back to the hardware elements and software elements, we are existing in a moment in time of immense growth in the industry. There is a huge talent shortage, because folks are really trying to grow all at the same time. Many folks are looking for people who have a lot of experience, who have done this before. We collectively have a challenge in the industry of how do we bring the next generation up to speed quickly? So how do we start to say, ‘these are really the key skills that I need; someone who has growth mindset, who communicates very well, who engages in thought partnership, who’s detail oriented’ etc. and starting to think much more specifically about what type of person, attitude and approach will be successful in this role. 

We need to take on more responsibility as a company to say, ‘How do I get you access to that experience, and can I get you access to people who have it in their brain that you can leverage a partnership with?’ Talent is always a question, where are you finding it? Are you struggling? How are you building support structures for people? So I think that’s a wonderful problem to have. But there’s so much growth in the industry that we’re trying to figure out on a human level, how do we level up the industry to make sure that that growth is sustainable? Talent is definitely a piece that everyone is struggling with right now.

Can you identify a single thread that’s run for your career that’s led to success?

I make it a priority to be involved with fellowship programmes in the aerospace industry. It’s important to me that we are training the next generation of folks to come into the industry and stake industry, particularly for folks who have non-traditional backgrounds or don’t have an aerospace engineering degree. Creating a diversity of talent in the aerospace industry really matters to me. 

If you are really passionate about creating diversity in the space talent workforce, we’re gonna have a great conversation about that, we’re going to generate ideas, we’re going to support each other as we keep working through those ideas. I cannot tell you how many people I have met that I still come back to and realise that our work is interconnected in ways that we didn’t imagine, rather than always having to wait till the ground point to share information. 

One of the conversations that often comes up with students a lot is ‘How did you get your seat at the table?’ The framing of that question honestly always breaks my heart a little bit. There isn’t a Master Guru in the industry, who says, this is the table and there’s chairs, and these are the people who are most qualified to have the chairs. I always try to push back on that framing to say, nobody’s gonna give you a seat at the table, there is no metaphorical table. There are lots of problems that different groups of people are trying to solve, some are working together in a company, some are multiple companies working together. Some are multiple companies that are competing with each other and trying to take different approaches to solving the same problem. It’s really about figuring out which problem space you want to be in. If you reshape your thinking of the table, it’s just a group of people who care about a problem and keep going to the table that you want to be at. It’s not that those people want to have you there. Frankly, they don’t probably notice or pay attention to who else is at the table. People are far less judgmental than we fear that they are. 

Nobody’s going to invite you to the table. It requires you to do some self reflection to say, ‘What do I care about? How do I want to spend my time?’ That’s the tip of the spear, because if you figure out what you care about, you always do your best work in a domain that you care about.

What’s one bit of advice that you could always give to somebody else?

Take the time to figure out the problem that you care about. We each have our own way of approaching problemsYou don’t have to care about something for 50 years, and you don’t have to decide once, on this day, and this week, and this year, what’s the problem that I’m trying to solve? I think that type of kind of self awareness and check in is the best kind of fuel that there is, and to really be honest with the answer that you get. A while ago, I got my dream job, but when I got there, about a month in, I realised, ‘I hate this’, which was terrifying because I’d spent so many years trying to get to that moment. Having the courage to solve that question honestly is essential. Look at that answer in the mirror and then move toward it. Just be willing to move toward where you care about a problem space, or where you think you can help bring a solution to the world. You have to live your life, no one else is going to live it for you, so do what you care about and try to enjoy it.

To hear more of Katherine’s insights, tune into Episode 12 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here.

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 14: Develop Your People Skills with Aakash Parekh

We spoke to Aakash Parekh about leading in the space industry during Episode 14 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast. Aakash is the CCO at Pixxel, a space data company whose mission is to build a health monitor for the planet by creating the world’s first commercial hyperspectral constellation. Prior to joining Pixxel, Aakash led commercial aviation in international markets for various startups in the tech domain. He has a business background, which he uses to bridge the knowledge gaps between commercial and engineering teams for his clients. 

Read on for his insights on unlocking your people’s potential.

What would you say has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned throughout your career?

EQ will take you a lot further than IQ will. In the early stages of my career I was focussed on learning hard skills, but I realised that if you figure out how to deal with people, your growth will be exponential, not incremental. A lot of it has to do with self regulation, where you’re able to recognise your own emotions and control your reactions to certain things. Figuring out other people’s motivations and helping them get to where they want to be is the key to getting where you want to be. It took me a while to realise that, but it defines a lot of how I operate and the decisions I make today.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

I wish I had been told about the importance of data science and how data literacy is going to become a paramount skill in any domain. I was a little bit late to the party. I used the pandemic to teach myself basic coding with Python and a few other data science courses and probability and statistics. I’m still a massive work in progress. I wish I could keep up with the times today, but I’m working on it. Data literacy and data science is critical to every area of business.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

As a leader your job is to make yourself unnecessary. That’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’re working with a big team, but you’ve done your job well if your team doesn’t need you at all. You should have honed these people to be completely self-sufficient, able to function on their own and empowered to make their own decisions. Enabling that autonomy and supporting your team’s growth is what it’s really about, not you. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

The fear of failure used to keep me up at night. Eventually I realised that failure is just a stepping stone to success. It’s inevitable, and certain learning behaviours are only prompted when you get hit hard. It took me a while to internalise that, but now nothing keeps me up at night.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career and led to success?

I’ve always taken on global roles, which has massively benefitted me. Travel opens up new destinations that I can explore as a part of my personal life, and it teaches you how to adjust to changing environments rapidly. Something that’s really critical in sales roles is adapting to different cultures, and I think travel teaches you how to do that. It teaches you resilience and open mindedness, which has helped me move along in my career.

What’s the one piece of advice that you’d give to others?

People are often conscious about the work that they’ve produced, and they want to get it to its best possible stage before turning it in. I feel like our culture highlights the pursuit of perfection, but I don’t necessarily think that that’s always the right way to do things. It’s important to make sure that you’re constantly moving forward and iterating and getting feedback, so finished is always better than perfect. No matter how perfect it is in your eyes, when you produce a piece of work it will always have the potential to become better. It’s actually smarter to get it early and then make adjustments. It’s a tactical piece of advice, but it’s critical in people’s day-to-day functioning.

To hear about the work that Aakash and his team are currently doing at Pixxel, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 13: Keep Improving with Lucy O’Brien

On Episode 13 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Lucy O’Brien, the Group CTO at EMG. Inspired to follow in her father’s footsteps, Lucy has been working in the communications industry since the early 2000s. She has worked at Sky, the BBC and Arqiva before starting her role at EMG in March this year. Lucy is passionate about driving more gender diversity in the workplace and thinks her 20-year-old self would be proud of what she has achieved. 

Read on to hear Lucy’s insights into the industry, from her biggest lesson to her best advice. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

Everybody works differently. That’s quite a hard lesson to learn because I’m a plotter. I work really hard to gather all the information that I need to move things forward and make decisions. Not everyone works like that though. As soon as you realise that, you can adapt and move on as a team. Understanding that helps you to build a better team because you can recruit people who work well together and compliment your skill set. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I wish I’d been told quite early on that it’s okay to fail. I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like failing or letting people down. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. I can remember when I’d been with the BBC for about two or three years, we had a major outage. I was one of the engineers on site overnight when it happened, and I left thinking, ‘I’m going to be called in tomorrow and they’re going to fire me over this’. Of course, that didn’t happen. That was such a key learning point for me. It’s not actually about failing – nobody likes to fail, no one goes out and thinks ‘I’m gonna go and get this wrong today’ – it’s about how you deal with it afterwards. I have a process I use to understand what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong and how we can fix it. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

Perseverance is key. It stands you in a good stead in terms of learning new technology. It’s easy to sit and do what you do and know what you know, but you need to want to move on by yourself. As managers we should be helping people to learn, develop, grow and move on. Doing that is hard, because you also have your own job and a department to run, but you don’t want to lose good people. Individuals need to know where they want to go, find ways of getting there and surround themselves with the people who can support them in that journey. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The industry is ever changing. Things are definitely improving, and the amount of content that consumers want is growing. We’ve got to find ways to meet that demand, either on or under budget, and be good for the environment at the same time. That means that we’re constantly thinking about iterations, how to make things better and how to get more out of what we’re doing. That definitely keeps me up at night!

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

As a female in a very male-dominated environment, you have to be able to persevere and break down barriers. I always felt like I had to prove myself twice as much as my male counterparts. When I start a new job I set myself up for success by making sure I communicate really effectively. We’re typically not very good communicators within our industry, which is ironic because we work in the communications industry. It’s so important to have the right conversations with the right people and make them feel comfortable. We’re all just trying our best. I think as long as you recognise that, you’ll be okay. 

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

Get yourself on a body language course. I did one about 20 years ago, and it helped me know when people are engaged in what I’m saying. The other thing is that you need to believe in yourself. Lots of us don’t believe in ourselves enough, we put ourselves down quite a lot. You have to believe that you’re good enough to be where you are. 

To hear more about Lucy’s career in the communications industry, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast now. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 11: Persevere with Dave Bettinger 

For our eleventh episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we invited Dave Bettinger to share his insights with us. Dave is the co-founder and CEO of SpaceLink, an exciting new company who aims to provide secure data from anywhere at any time. Dave is a business and technology visionary who has spent the last 30 years in systems engineering, focusing on innovation within satellite communications. Dave is incredibly passionate about the industry, and his happy place is whiteboarding new systems architecture. Outside of that, he loves to travel, eat and spend time with his family.

Read on to hear his advice for anyone who wants to follow a similar career path. 

What’s been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Patience and perseverance. By nature I’m an impatient person, but I learned early in my career that not everything happens on my timescale. During my career I’ve been through a number of tough years, and I saw a lot of my colleagues up and leave because they were worried about the future. I stuck it out because I knew being patient and seeing things through would ultimately see us come out very successful. That’s exactly what happened, and we’re really proud of that.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I started my career at a big, established company where there were processes, people and structures in place, so there was very little change. I wish someone had told me to roll with the changes coming out of that. There’s gonna be a lot of change around you and there’s a lot that you can’t control, especially in the satellite industry. Accepting that has served me well and helped me grow. 

What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?

Someone told me early on to make sure you like what you’re doing, and only work on the things that you have control over. Above all, see things through. Focus on your job, focus on what you can control and you’ll be successful, don’t just aspire to move to the next rank on the corporate ladder. Focus on doing stuff well and that’ll come. I’ve never focused on moving up in my career; since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer and design stuff. It’s still my passion, and because I put so much into that I’ve been able to take on larger roles and turn that experience into bigger things. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

There’s always a perception that satellite isn’t a mainstream industry. Most people don’t understand how much space is serving humanity, so I worry about the general perception of the space industry. People think it’s just ‘Are you gonna go to the moon?’ No, there’s real applications, real science and real utility for satellites and space in general. I’d like to see space get its due credit, and hopefully the general perception remains positive, because we need to continue to invest in these applications. What keeps me up is getting the world to realise that.

Can you identify a single thread through your career that’s led to your success?

It’s always been learning and taking an interest in the other areas of the business. Starting my career I was fortunate enough to be thrown into a position where I was designing. As I went, I started to realise there were pieces that I didn’t understand because somebody else was designing them. So I learned RF. I started to think about what the system actually does,  and why people were using it. Then I had to learn about the applications in the market that we were trying to serve, which led me to ‘How does the business work?’ 

I try to learn as much as I can about all the areas of the business. That’s served me well. I was thrown into higher positions because I knew more than just my specific area – ultimately I knew how the business revolves around our technology. Now I’ve been given an opportunity to lead an organisation, even though I never aspired to be a CEO. Being an engineer meant you weren’t always worried about the people aspect of a business. Now that I’m here, I love it. I love being able to influence the Human Resources side of things and make sure that our people are getting what they need. Because of the fact that I’ve always taken an interest, I’m doing really well in this position.

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry?

The advice I gave to my son (who was a mechanical engineer graduate last year), is that there’s so many aspects to space that there’s always more to know, so go and learn it. You have to worry about everything from radiation and thermal challenges to aerospace engineering. Space is a very multidisciplinary industry. Do what you do well, but look around and get involved in a lot of different things. 

To hear more about Dave’s current work in the Satellite and Space sector, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 8: Embracing Curiosity with Brian Pemberton

On Episode 8 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Brian Pemberton, the CCO Omnispace, a NewSpace provider redefining mobile connectivity for the 21st century. Brian brings more than 20 years of experience in global wireless terrestrial and satellite communications. In his current role, Brian is responsible for establishing the global strategy and the company’s direction in developing the world’s first 5G based global network. 

Outside of the satellite and communications world, Brian’s happy place outdoors, and his dream one day is to build an over-the-top entertainment room, where he could watch sports and movies with family and friends. 

Below are the highlights of our conversation with Brian, including his best career advice and the things he wishes he’d learned sooner. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson is one that you don’t quite realise when you’ve learned it, it’s not until you have an opportunity to reflect back, later in your career. It’s the importance of communication with peers and supervisors, especially in the matrix of organisations today. You need to be able to effectively communicate across groups of people, both internal and external. Being able to do that on an individual level as well as in group environments is a powerful and essential skill to be able to advance in your career.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier? 

Something that I would try to share with people is that if you’re getting the supervisory opportunities you’ve obviously a very strong individual performer. As you move into the more senior roles though, you need to be an effective delegator as well. That really gets back to the communication element, because you have to be able to tell those individuals about the different tasks you’re giving them. That’s something that a lot of people need to understand as they become managers, they have to balance being an individual performer and more of a coach or facilitator type role.

What one bit of advice do you always give to others?

You can tell someone what to do, or how to do it, but don’t do both. When you do both, that’s when you overstep, and you stop the individual being an individual, because we all work differently. You’ve got to give employees the latitude to find what works best for them. Figure out your methodology or process for your output. If there’s something that has a very deliberate process, show someone the process and allow them to figure out how it works best for them as an individual. If you make people do specific tasks your way, they’ll feel micromanaged. You can only have so much your way. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night? 

Usually when I’m awake it’s because there’s a complex problem to be solved and I’ve just started iterating different concepts in my head. That can be the early stages of a product or project where we’re still getting the design concepts or the requirements. Sometimes it’s in negotiations about the goal we’re trying to obtain, getting there and bringing the other stakeholders along. It’s just my own ideas that keep me awake when I have something to think through. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

One of the core attributes that I have is my passion for identifying a problem and coming up with that solution. Being able to take a vision in its ideation stage all the way through to execution is really fun for me. That ability to see down the road to where the pitfalls are and successfully navigate them is a rare thing. Sometimes you’ve got to pivot and rethink the plan, versus handing it to someone as their marching orders. That’s been something that’s differentiated me from a number of people that I’ve worked with throughout my career, and probably has a significant impact on the success I’ve enjoyed.

What advice would you give to somebody joining the industry?

Be curious. There’s a lot of different ideas and innovation that is happening. No one’s got a monopoly on the best ideas, so talk to a lot of different people. Be curious, don’t be afraid to prod things. Don’t accept that the answer is at face value, but be willing to question things. If we hadn’t questioned ‘why can’t we harmonise terrestrial and satellite into a single user experience?’ we wouldn’t be where we are with MTN today. My advice is always to be curious and stay curious, it will facilitate your learning.

To hear more about Brian’s work in the satellite industry, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 7: Acknowledge Your Skill Gaps with Cees Honig

Episode 7 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast saw us sit down with Cees Honig, the CEO at Xite. Cees started his studies in economics at the University of Amsterdam, before moving into an MSc in business studies. In 2008, he joined Xite, where he worked his way up to becoming CEO. His happy place is having breakfast with his family, and Ricky Gervais is one of his idols. Read on to hear his biggest lessons and best advice from the boardroom. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

When you are leading a company or team, and you want to overcome adversity, you have to create different scenarios for solving the issue. A lot of people just run after one target. If you have multiple scenarios that you’re working on, you only need one to work. In the early days when we were starting up, trying to grow, get the music licencing in place and get deals done, especially in the States, we needed to be creative. We worked on different scenarios, changed our ideas, changed our business model and kept on changing it until it actually worked. That’s become an essential mindset for success. 

What do you wish you had been told earlier on in your career?

Ricky Gervais said something around the lines of ‘No one knows what the fuck they’re doing, so don’t worry’. I started in this company right out of college, and I was sitting across from a lot of people that felt like they really knew everything that was going on in the market, especially those big corporate cable operators and IPTV operators. Everything that’s going on was very interesting, but their products didn’t show a lot of innovation. That’s when I realised, these people know what’s going on, and know what they’re doing, but they’re not doing the stuff that they actually want to do. If I had known beforehand that nobody really knows how the hell to do what they are doing, that would have given me a lot more peace in the early days.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

The best advice comes from scenarios when you face adversity, I think that’s a good one. But the advice I have been given by someone else is to relax, because no one knows what they’re doing. I think that’s a very grounding way of taking life and also your job, even though there’s a lot hanging on that. The key to life is not taking yourself and life too seriously, because if you do you’ll get overworked, burn out or you become an a**hole, basically. Just don’t get too caught up in it. 

Is there anything that has constantly kept you awake at night?

I seldom have bad nights from business. But when I do it’s a problem I can solve, like a business model problem or a curveball that some operator or major label throws at me. Sometimes I literally wake up in the middle of the night and think of a solution for it, write it down and then go back to sleep. The first moment I can I’ll speak to my colleagues and we start calculating and debunking it or stress testing the idea. That’s so much fun. I have that mechanism in myself that keeps me up when I need to solve difficult problems.

What one bit of advice do you always give other people?

Be open to learning and changing your opinion. Keep on asking questions, because questions are more important than the answers because by asking questions you’re telling people that you’re interested and they can infer your intelligence. That gets you the furthest in life. It’s also about putting aside your ego and admitting when you’re wrong. A lot of people really hang on to their opinion, but if you can put your ego aside and learn and ask a lot of questions, that’s the best advice that I can give you. 

To hear more of Cees’ advice and experience, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 6: Back Yourself with Marco Tinnirello

On Episode 6 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Marco Tinnirello, the CEO at Eurovision Services. He has been in the broadcast industry for nearly 25 years, starting out with Globecast in an IT and data role before working his way to becoming the CEO at Eurovision services. He’s a man who believes that ambition matters more to success than talent does, and whose childhood aim was to be a highway patrol officer. 

Read on to tap into his insights into the content and media industry from an executive position. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The road to doing the right thing isn’t always easy. You want everything you do to be a success and be great. The reality is, that’s impossible. The main lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s okay to fail. It’s never great to fail, but you have to be comfortable with it, because you are going to fail. Embracing it and knowing that both outcomes are possible, is a really important lesson. If you don’t have that attitude, it will block you from trying stuff. I learned that the hard way. When I’ve messed up or when I made a mistake or when I failed, that’s when I’ve developed the most and gained the most. That’s a massive life lesson, it’s really helped me think differently about taking on opportunities when they present themselves.

What do you wish that you had been told earlier?

I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career, and I’ve always had great bosses and colleagues. good advice around me. It is very easy just to meander through your career without any objective, going from job to job just because it’s a job. One of the things I wish I discovered earlier was what I wanted to do with my career. You need to know what you want to do, and how you’re going to get there, because otherwise you’re just going to meander around. I wanted to be a leader. Realising that was a real light bulb moment. I just wish it had happened earlier.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

One of my recent bosses said, ‘You’ve really got to back yourself’. It was a throwaway comment, but it wasn’t in this context. We had just gone through a certain change in the workplace where he had two choices; he either swallowed it and went, ‘I don’t agree with that, but I’ll stay’ or ‘No, that’s against my principles, so I’m leaving’. It takes a lot of courage to do the latter if you don’t know where you’re gonna go. You do that by having the confidence to say, ‘I backed myself, I know what I’m capable of, I know I’m going to be okay’. The guy who said it to me was a fantastic boss, and he told me that you’ve got to believe in yourself, and you got to back yourself, have the confidence to do the right thing, and you’ll be okay. It was just a throwaway statement that was said at an incredibly important time. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

What keeps me awake is things that challenge your values and morals. As a leader you often have to make tough decisions. Sometimes you have to make restructuring decisions that impact people’s lives. Those keep me awake because I have to reflect carefully around them. The other thing that keeps me awake is the responsibility of leading an organisation.  It’s my job to make sure that we’re performing, which means I have to demand a lot from the team. I’ve always been super lucky to work with brilliant people who step up to that challenge. Question is, when do you push someone too far? I’ve got two responsibilities as a leader in this business, you know, deliver what the shareholders need in terms of performance and objectives; profitability keeping the workforce safe. One or the other doesn’t take precedence, you have to give both of them 100% attention. You’ve got to live by doing the right thing every single day. You’ll only sleep well if you never go against your morals.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

My ambition. I’m very rarely the smartest person in the room, and I don’t have magical powers or talent that no one else has. I’m often surrounded by more talented and brighter people. As a leader, you need to do that. There’s some ingredients that I picked up from my parents, who were immigrants into the UK back in the late 50s, when the UK was looking for labourers. They came with two very simple ingredients, which is that you work hard, and you always do your best. They run a family business and as a kid I had to help out, and my job was to make up the flat-packed containers our cucumbers went into. If you ever ask ‘What’s the most boring and soul destroying job on the planet?’ I can tell you what it is because I’ve done it. It’s picking boxes. It takes stamina to carry on. I’ve carried that lesson through my life. I’m not talented in any particular way, but what I do have is incredible staying power and determination, which you need in business. Those two words, determination and stamina, have been the keys to my success. 

What one bit of advice do you always give to others?

I’m going to pass on two pieces of advice that were given to me. Number one is back yourself. Never go against your morals, never go against your values, always stand by who you are. The second is never let the risk of failure limit you. Failing is just part of the journey. You have to accept that. If you went back to being a kid and stopped walking and after falling over a few times, you wouldn’t have gotten very far. That’s how it is throughout that journey of life. I don’t know why we ever stopped realising it’s okay to stumble and fall over. Remind yourself it’s okay to do that. It’s part of the journey. So always back yourself and have the determination to keep going through failures. 

To hear more about Marco’s life and insights into the industry, listen to the full conversation on The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 3: Getting People-Focussed with John Harris

On Episode 3 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast neuco’s co-founder and director Laurie Scott sat down with John Harris, CEO of  LEUK Teleport & Data Centre, which was formerly known as Signalhorn. John brings a wealth of experience to the table, having worked as a CEO within the private equity business for several years. He’s got a proven track record of founding, leading and growing businesses. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career so far?

It’s all about people. People are essential in the businesses that you run. You can have great insights on data, it can tell you what direction to take your business in, but without the people in the business acting as agents for change to take it on that new journey, or invest the time and effort in making your business grow, that data is useless. So very much it’s about the people and the talent pool that you have in the business. Without the focus on that immediately in the business, it’s very difficult to make the business and its opportunities go in the direction you want them to go in.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I think that’s a very difficult question, given how I came to do this role, and get involved in it. I think the thing that I wish I’d been told earlier was to develop my people skills. Develop them to the point that you can get under the skin of the people that you work with, to understand what motivates them and your senior leadership team. On an individual basis, you need to understand their likes, dislikes, how they spend their leisure time, what they do and what makes them tick. If you’re into that, and you can empathise with them on an individual basis, you can get much more out of them. Eventually that has to penetrate deeper into the organisation, and I wish I’d probably understood that more at 24 or 25. That depth of understanding and empathy with the people around you and that understanding of what motivates them or drives them at an individual level has to flow from you as the CFO to your senior leadership team. And from that senior leadership team down into the people that they manage and work with on a day to day basis.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve been given throughout your career?

I think it’s probably a mixture of advice that I’ve been given and the environment I worked in.  Back in the 1980s, I worked for Salomon Brothers. Somebody there once said to me, ‘they don’t stab you in the back here, they come at you from the front with an axe’. That’s when I learned that you needed to be equally direct back and clear about where you were going, what you were doing. In that environment, Salomon Brothers was a very straightforward place to work. It was the making of me to be absolutely blunt about it. Having clarity of thought, clarity of purpose and clarity of communication with the people you work with was absolutely the making of me.

What type of things sort of constantly keep you awake at night?

I think in my role at LEUK T&C what keeps me awake is the question ‘are we managing to make the change rapidly enough to keep up with our customers demands?’ Even a year ago, some of our customers were interested in Leo, but some of them were difficult to get engagement with. A year on they all want to talk about it, they all want to be engaged with it. The speed at which we’ve got to adjust our conversations with customers is the thing that keeps me awake. Can we move as fast as some of our customers now want to move even though they didn’t want to do that a year ago?

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly, the experience of working at Salomon Brothers where they made me focus on people is very clear. What made them very good was actually that the talent pool was very deep. Understanding that people are critical I think makes one successful. How would you be a great leader? The answer is to just employ really great people around you. Equally, I think I was lucky enough to get into an engineering degree. So I was mathematically literate, which is quite useful in looking at numbers and analysing data. I think you have to have some interests outside work so that your profession isn’t a 24 hours a day task. It’s necessary to be able to have some time doing other things that give you moments to be reflective, I think that makes you better professionally.

What’s one bit of advice that you always give to others, or for somebody coming into the industry?

I think as a technologist, fundamentally, I’d have to say embrace change and the future as fast as you can. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 2: Insights from Simon Farnsworth 

On Episode 2 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we sat down with Simon Farnsworth. Since starting his career, Simon has spent most of his working life in the broadcast industry. He moved to Australia and worked at Globecast, where he played a major role in them being acquired by Telstra. Moving back to the UK in 2016, he joined Discovery to head their Olympic technical distribution team, laterally progressing into the role of CTO for broadcast technology and operations, having been responsible for Discovery’s delivery of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and most recently, the 2022 Winter Games. Simon recently left Discovery and has taken up his new role as CTO of News UK since September, and at neuco we’re also incredibly lucky to have him as our non-executive director. We asked him all of our burning questions. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen. It’s not just listening, it’s also interpreting what you’re hearing, because a lot of people can spend a lot of time listening, but if you don’t relay that to the person, environment or situation that you’ve been in, it’s really hard to translate that into action. It’s asking often really simple questions to unpack problems or solutions or growth mechanisms that you’re working on. But I would say that’s the biggest thing. Another important lesson I’ve learned is is to show judgement. And not many people talk about judgement from a leadership perspective, because a lot of leaders go through a lot of executive training and coaching, and things like that. No one talks about judgement in terms of doing the right thing at the right time with all the environmental factors, people factors and business factors that you’re faced with. It’s about that moment in time where you make the call, and it’s about making those calls for all the right reasons.

What do you wish that you’d perhaps been told earlier in your career?

I think that when you’re young, and you’re trying to grow your career and climb the ladder, you believe that you can do everything, and you want to be liked by everyone. Well, guess what, you can’t do everything, and not everyone will like you. That’s a really hard thing to accept. You’ve got to have pretty thick-skinned. You’ve got to be respected by your team, but not everyone’s going to like you, and not everyone will like the decisions that you make. My philosophy has always been to kind of set the context around that to say, ‘I’ll listen to everybody, but I’m paid to make a decision. Not everyone will like that decision, and therefore you probably won’t like me, but I will make those decisions in the best interests of the company, or the business at the time.’ I think it’s really important that you accept that, and that you’re comfortable with that. That’s not easy.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve been given? 

Get the right people around you. If you don’t have the right team, act quickly to get the right team. You’re nothing in senior leadership positions without the team because you can’t do everything yourself. It’s about creating an honest, open environment where people actually enjoy work and want to come to work. And again, that’s easier said than done but if you do those things right, you will be successful, regardless of what industry you’re in.

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night?

I think for me, it’s about ensuring that I get that balance, between the work environment and the family environment. I think there’s a lot of pressure on executives to deliver, and that often comes with sacrifices at home. Because if you don’t have that balance right, you won’t be your best on either side of the equation. I’ve been privileged enough over the last six years to work with some outstanding leaders at Discovery, and they’re very balanced individuals. Yes, they work really hard, but they also really value their home lives, because if you don’t have stability in one, you can’t really focus well on the other and vice versa. If you don’t have a good job, it makes your home life difficult because it puts pressure on finances or stability. For me, it’s all about getting that right. I probably haven’t always had that right. In the past, I probably worked too much and focused too much on that, which affected that side of things because you don’t have great judgement, great vision, and all those things you need to be a great leader. And also, the clue here is often in the question that you’ve asked, it’s about getting good sleep. Don’t try and stay awake too much. Without sleep, you can’t do anything.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

Yeah, I think it’s two things. For me, integrity is really important. I think if you get that right, people will respect you and want to work for you or with you. Secondly, stay humble. Keep your feet on the ground and just be an ordinary human being. If you’re a normal person everybody can relate to you, whether it’s the guy in the post room or the CEO or whoever else. I think those two qualities are really important. If you get that combination right; working hard, being humble and having strong integrity, you’ve got a very good solid axis to bounce from, and I think they’ve been really important in my journey so far.

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people? 

Something I always say particularly to young people is find something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll try hard and you’ll be passionate about it. If you don’t enjoy it, you end up becoming very negative in life. Find something you enjoy and that you’re really passionate about and you’ll succeed because you care about your work. It’s really as simple as that really.

To hear more insights from our executives, listen to our Executives Unpacked podcast, with new episodes available weekly. 

Executives Unpacked – Episode 1: Career advice from Jean-Francois Pigeon 

On our first episode of the podcast ‘Executives Unpacked’, we sat down with Jean-Francois Pigeon, the EVP Global Sales and Marketing at Synamedia. With a career spanning over two decades, Jean-Francois has made a name for himself in being able to accurately understand and anticipate market developments and adapt business strategies accordingly. In his previous role in Nokia, he served as VP of sales, overseeing 200 million euros worth of global accounts spread across 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa, where he played a major role in the company’s expansion into broadband and fibre in the home space. Now at Synamedia, he leads their global sales and marketing function and is responsible for developing business and new customer segments throughout Asia, EMEA in the Americas. He’s a man who nearly decided to become a lawyer, would love to own his own winery, and wishes he still had the innocence of youth. We asked him our burning questions and gained valuable insights into his perspective as an expert in his field.  

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career? 

Ignorance is bliss. It’s good to be young and naive, because you don’t know what’s not possible. You have no limits or constraints, and you don’t understand what’s not achievable, so you’re willing to try it anyway. I used to have a leader of mine, early in my career, who said, “Jeff, I have a great learning experience for you”, and that’s what he called ‘I’ve got a shitty job that I don’t want to do and I’ll hand it over to you’. I was naive so I willing to go for it. By the way, the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ goes all the way back to Publilius Syrus, who said in 8543 BC that ‘in knowing nothing, life is most delightful’. I think that’s the key to success; being able to approach life without fear, and without putting constraints on ourselves and holding ourselves back. Keep that youthful ignorance for as long as you can.  

Throughout your career, is there something that you wish that someone had told you earlier? 

Absolutely. One lesson I’ve learned is that it’s always important to assume positive intent when you interact with people. If you assume a positive intent it changes your whole demeanour to the situation, and it changes the outcome of the situation. If you take it negatively, you’re probably going to be angry and defensive so you’re not going to listen enough. When you assume positive intent instead, the message you’re sending is, ‘I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from. I’m listening to you, and maybe there’s something I’m not hearing in what you’re saying’. That’s a very powerful statement. I think I’ve found that in my life experience, having that attitude to engagement with different stakeholders changes everything. So, in some ways, the way you look at things influences the outcome of the situation, and I wish I had been told that earlier. 

I find that if you consciously walk into tough discussions and negotiations with that mindset it genuinely changes how that interaction will go. If you’re on a call, and as you’re talking, you’re walking and smiling, it changes the way you are perceived, even if the other people on the call don’t see you do it. If smiling or walking while you’re having a call can have an impact on someone who can’t see you, imagine the power of walking into a meeting with a positive mindset with people who can feel that energy. Given the nature of my role in sales, which is negotiation, in my experience having that mindset actually materialises in positive outcomes. 

Is there a single thing that you could highlight as the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given? 

Yes, it came from the late Michiel Dutré who was with our mobile communications group in Alcatel. The thing he told me is ‘JF, you have to be authentic’. That was exactly the right thing for him to tell me at the time because I have to admit that I was a bit arrogant, pushy and persistent. I was really rough around the edges. I don’t think I always conveyed the right vibe in the context of my engagement with peers and colleagues. When Muriel came and said ‘be authentic in the way you work and the way you interact with others’, it really helped set me on a path to change the way I acted in the context of moving from an individual contributor to a people leader. 

When you’re young, you’re a bit insecure and you want to prove yourself to the rest of the world. You’re out there, you’re bold, you’re brash, you’re trying learn. It’s only later that you realise what’s acceptable when you’re young may not be as acceptable later in life, particularly when you start getting more executive engagements. 

What one bit of advice do you always give other people? 

Go for it! It’s in keeping with my motto, which is instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, have faith and trust that life is a glorious adventure and live it to the fullest. So passion, passion, passion! Get interested in what’s going on, try to understand the implications of what’s going on in the world, not just in your domain. Try to understand everything, try to have different grids to read the world. I’ll give you an anecdote which I applied to myself. I saw a lot of geopolitics playing out in Middle Eastern Africa, particularly after my Asian experience, and I was impacted by that and I was so frustrated by it that I said ‘I need to understand better’, so I went to the School of Economy and Warfare. Last year, I did my executive VP in economic warfare, and it was so stimulating because it showed me new ways of looking at things and a different understanding of what’s going on, what’s at play, what’s the undertone, what’s the history… I think it’s so important to be switched on to the world, because then in your conversations and the way you engage you’re having an impact.  

And so that leads me to thinking about a career. I think it’s important that you don’t look at it as a linear progression. Don’t be afraid to divert horizontal steps versus vertical steps. I think too often people are worried about promotions, etc. That doesn’t make you better, you just get elevated to your highest level of incompetence. Instead, you should focus on taking the road less travelled and not playing by the rules, because if you play by the rules, the path is very crowded. If you follow the pack, you’re a follower. Be a leader and take a different path.  

I’ll give you an example of that as well. When I started my career, I decided to go on a manufacturing floor first. Most people after the degree didn’t go there, they went into product management, but I said, ‘No, I want to start there, because I want to understand how products are made for manufacturability’. Then I went to product management. Then I decided to go to Hong Kong at a time where everybody was going to the US and I said you know what, ‘No, I’m going to go to Asia, because Asia is different’. From there my whole career was made. I was making conscious choices not to follow the herd. My best advice to others is, if you want to have fun, you have to differentiate yourself. You want to have a unique career. Don’t get stuck into the world’s definition of what success looks like. Get exposed to the world. Get out there, learn, look at different cultures, look at different ways of doing things, be interested in everything! I think you can only do that if you’re really passionate about what you do. 

Is there one thing that’s constantly kept you awake at night throughout your career? 

Yes, making sure I was doing the right thing, meeting my commitments and adding value, particularly because I’ve worked a lot of emerging markets. The legal system isn’t necessarily there to protect things in an impartial way as it would in other places, and as a result trust is very important in the relationship or the transaction. I need to know if you’re going to be there to ensure that you deliver on my expectations. In my previous experience, for the first year, I kept being beaten because we weren’t delivering on our expectations. But the fact that I kept on showing up every month, and getting beaten, ultimately mobilised the organisation to deliver. If someone keeps showing up, despite the fact that they’re being beaten, ultimately, whether you like it or not, that person earns your trust. So, if I commit to something or to somebody, my word is my bond. Making sure that we meet the commitments we’ve made, and we keep on constantly adding value is really what keeps me up at night. 

Is there a single thread that has run through your career that’s led to success? 

I think you might be able to guess what that might be. It goes back to my original statements about ignorance is bliss and living with passion. At the end of the day, going for it, being curious, doing something you’re passionate about, looking for long term outcomes, and acting with integrity are all essential behaviours. You have to understand that to win in today’s world requires you to be fully engaged, listening, and trying to add value. So, for me, being passionate about what you do is essential, because to compete today you need to put in a lot of effort, you need to be keeping abreast, you need to understand what’s going on, you need to be responsive, and all of that takes a lot of energy. That’s a lot of personal investment, so if you don’t love what you do, it’s going to be a real drudgery to just get through it. Unless you’re doing something you’re passionate about, life will be tough. If you really want to make a difference, to have fun, to have an impact and enjoy what you do, then find what you’re passionate about and go from there.  

To hear more insights from Jean-Francois’s career in communications marketing, listen to the full podcast here.  

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