Sunday, September 22, 2019

Highest paid Google executive says sponsorship was the key to her success

I've always admired powerful and accomplished women. So I was excited to go along to see Dame Minoche Shafik, Director of the LSE (who herself was the highest-paid University head in the UK until she voluntarily decided to forgo some of her salary last year), talk to Google's CFO, Ruth Porat, about the future of the school at LSE 2030. Ruth Porat is the highest-paid executive at Google, making $47 Million (£38 Million) a year.

Ruth and her husband, Anthony Paduano (who runs a law firm), met as students at LSE. They were at the LSE to discuss a new endowment scholarship fund they had established for women students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dame Minoche said at the start of the talk that her ambition for the LSE is to be the leading social science institution with the most significant global impact. It is already ranked 2nd in the world, just behind Harvard University.

Ruth began her discussion by talking about the importance of AI. She said that they were using it at Google to reduce their energy costs by 30%. AI is also at the heart of its algorithmic search engine.

Ruth said that AI is a simple concept and not hard to understand if you break it down right. But that on the face of it, the terminology makes it sound highly complex. The key to understanding AI, as with most topics, is education. 

Ruth added that the future of AI impacts every industry. It takes a combination of Social scientists and engineers to build AI systems. Later in her discussion, Ruth talked about the importance of education. She said that much of business life is jargon, but you need to be educated to cut through that.  

Ruth went on to talk about her father, who instilled the importance of education in her. Her father attained a PhD in physics and then became a Stanford professor, where Ruth also studied (Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, LSE).

Ruth talked about how to change the company culture. She said that this always starts at the top. She gave some great examples of how she changed Morgan Stanley and Google's culture to make it more ethical and supportive of diversity. Any tech company that wants to progress today, needs to be cognizant of these forces.

She asked the room how many women had experienced men talking over them in business meetings. Everyone laughed in acknowledgement.

Ruth then said that when this happens, she always points it out, since, as she put it, 'if you don’t want my voice now, then do you even want me here in the room?'.

The most important part of Ruth's talk for me was how she transformed her career through her relationship with great sponsors. Initially, she said that she had worked at Morgan Stanley for an egotistical boss who had taken credit for all of her work.

Ruth realised that despite her best efforts, she would get nowhere with this individual at this company. So Ruth began to search around for someone who wanted to take a risk on developing her.

She did say that often employees think that this person will just appear as if by magic. However, Ruth said that She had to 'earn the right' to have a great sponsor who could provide her with judgment, insight and help open doors for her.

Ruth explained how one sponsor persuaded her to take a job on the financial trading floor, a notoriously male-dominated environment. It served her in her career, though. Later a sponsor helped her secure a role in Financial Institutions Risk at Morgan Stanley in 2006, which really catapulted her forward to her eventual role as CFO at Google.

One sponsor said to her: ‘I will be your senior air cover. I think you’ll soar, but I will have your back if you run into difficulties.’ Ruth said this is what she now says to those in business that she sponsors. 

Dinner with a fellow LSE alum at The Delaunay after the talk.

Monday, September 09, 2019

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?

The most successful start-up I ever worked for was founded by a guy who was brought up in a village in the Indian Himalayas.

Jay founded the Cyber Security Software company Zscaler, that I worked in Marketing for. He founded it in 2008 and it is now valued at $19 Billion on the NASDAQ.

His house didn’t even have running water. His family was clearly not wealthy. Read about Zscaler, founded by Jay Chaudhry, here.

Jay Chaudry, the CEO of Zscaler, grew up 'dirt' poor, in a village in the Indian Himalayas.

The second most successful startup I worked for was also founded by Indian immigrants to the USA, too. You can read about Visual IQ here.

Most startup founders I’ve worked for, have genius of varying degrees, and an aspect of their personality that psychologists would define as ‘Hypomania’.

Harvard medical school defines Hypomania as 'a mood state or energy level that is elevated above normal, but not so extreme as to cause impairment'. The incidence of hypomanic personality is much higher than the average in immigrants and entrepreneurs (and those living in the USA).

I had a lot of fun working for another founder in the US, again called Jay, who had been a child prodigy. He completed a triple major degree at Carnegie Mellon in Computer Sciences, Russian and Mathematics at 16 years old. 

He went on to become the USA's youngest MBA at eighteen and youngest management consultant, at Bain & co, again at just 18 years old. 

Jay once told me that Carnegie Mellon had told him that at sixteen years of age, he was too young to pursue an MBA at their University. 

He then managed to get an offer for a scholarship and stipend to take a PhD in Finance at Wharton. He threatened Carnegie Mellon that he would pursue his studies at Wharton if he was not accepted into their MBA program. 

That's how he got Carnegie Mellon's MBA program at such a ridiculously young age. I have no doubt whatsoever that Jay Kemp-Smith demonstrated a hypomanic personality.

I became Jay's Vice President of Sales and Marketing and right-hand man at LMTech. It was fun. And it was torture. I made a lot of money. But it nearly killed me! Jay was 'always-on'.

“Following your dreams is dangerous,” a 31-year-old woman who runs in social entrepreneurship circles in New York, and asked not to be named, told Quartz. “This whole bulk of the population is being seduced into thinking that they can just go out and pursue their dream anytime, but it’s not true.” 

But the truth is that founding a company is typically not a purely rational act. A Founder has to have outsized confidence and vision in themselves to put his or her plan into place. This is not the act of a normal person.

These are the characteristics I've seen in most of the entrepreneurs I've worked for. You might want to call it genetics, personality or something else entirely. 
  1. He (or She) is flooded with ideas.
  2. He is driven, restless, and unable to keep still.
  3. He channels his energy into the achievement of wildly grand ambitions.
  4. He often works on little sleep.
  5. He feels brilliant, unique, chosen, perhaps even destined to change the world.
  6. He becomes easily irritated by minor obstacles.
  7. He is a risk-taker.
Does this sound like an entrepreneur or founder that you know? 

Go to my website.

Please check out a great blog I discovered called Feedspot, founded by Anuj Agarwal. It's my favourite tech/business blog right now. 

I'm excited to say that Feedspot has chosen my blog to be on their list of top 200 tech blogs. I'm honoured and humbled - thank you! Here's their list

Thursday, September 05, 2019

What's the most important leadership skill?

What skills does a leader need? The top leadership skill listed on LinkedIn is persuasiveness, closely aligned with Charisma. See John F Kennedy, below, possibly the twentieth century's most charismatic and glamorous leaders, whose vision led to the first man on the moon fifty years ago.

             Below: 50 years since the first moonshot - Inspired by the leadership of President John F Kennedy

Without persuasiveness, how will you get people to follow you? 

The second is Formidability. My friend John Hynes, a formidable leader, built a $25 billion city in South Korea and redeveloped Boston's seaport for $4 Billion. You can find out more about his formidability if you click on his image.

Below: John Hynes, CEO of Boston Global Investors

One leadership skill that will be absolutely paramount in the next ten years will be adaptability. It won't be the strongest or the toughest that will survive and thrive in a world that's changing faster and more unpredictably than ever.

It will be the most flexible leader, most able to change rapidly when needed, sometimes overturning his entire strategy overnight when the circumstances dictate it.

                                  Is Leadership born or made?

Trait theory suggests that it is born. Leaders tend to be extraverted, conscientious, and smart, all of which have a genetic component. Intelligence is between 50-80% inherited, for example.

But there's a counter-argument that 50% of the population believed that you can develop leadership and that it's a learned skill. After all, Leadership is more about EQ than IQ, and Emotional Intelligence can be learned.

The 34th President of United States, Dwight.D.Eisenhower once said, "The supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office."

But when he said this, was he telling the truth?

Just kidding - Honesty and integrity are two important ingredients that make a good leader. How can you expect your followers to be honest when you lack these qualities yourself? Leaders succeed when they stick to their values and core beliefs, and without ethics, this will not be possible.