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.
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