Fleet-footed & fence-free

  • Columns
  • Monday, 30 Nov 2015

Corporate leadership today is about being agile and informal, connecting directly and openly with staff and customers alike, and adapting to changes quickly.

I’M a really stubborn person. When someone tells me something is absolutely impossible, I want to take it on.

It’s a powerful mind-set to have that you can apply to anything, whether business or personal. That was how I helped to build an international business from scratch for Astro, and how I proved everyone wrong when they said that a budget airline couldn’t do long-haul flights.

By taking on the impossible, you may fail on your first attempt, you may be kicked to the ground, but you will learn to get up and try again.

My whole corporate career has been a series of random phone calls from people who offered me serendipitous opportunities. Early this year, I received another one. It was from Patrick Grove, pitching the idea of iflix (Internet TV).

I was intrigued, and now six months later I’m deep in the thick of things. The aim is to rapidly expand into 30 different countries in three years.

What I’ve learned from my career is that there’s no way you can plan for the long-term. The world we live in is changing so rapidly.

Take the example of a 12-month budget or a three-year strategic plan. The danger with these is that you may get tunnel vision. I’d rather focus on what we’re going to do in the next 30 days. Something happens in the world, and we adapt to that and change our path accordingly.

As someone who worked on strategies, I’ve learned that strategies don’t mean anything. That’s my outlook based on personal experiences, and it is how I run businesses today.

As a dynamic startup, you must have speed. Constantly engaging in your feedback loops is a good place to start. At iflix, we have daily stand-up meetings because we know that we have to be on top of things every day. It’s about making quick decisions and moving on. You also need to have agility because you’re going to be changing directions a lot.

Our philosophy is that if we see an opportunity, we will go with it. If five out of 10 things go well, that’s a good day. We expect to make at least five out of 10 mistakes and that’s okay. We will learn and change quickly. We’re not risk-averse.

This is why I believe startups have an edge — we can react to changes very quickly and with conviction. At iflix, we also believe in being completely open — literally, even with our space.

Our C-level executives also operate from an open office. It’s completely different in terms of process and rhythm — it’s a whole new way of doing business. Why do you need formal presentations when you can get social media feedback? It’s instantaneous.

CEO’s shouldn’t wait for market research — if you’re connected directly to your customers, you will know what action to take.

To have an open culture is easier said than done, though — you’ve got to create a culture where everybody can speak up. It’s about having a two-way communication rather than the conventional command-and-control approach. How do you get people to open up? It’s by earning your reputation.

As leaders, we have to earn the right to hear from our staff. It’s not enough to have an open-door policy. For example, having those quick frequent meetings bring you closer in contact with them — and the ability to gain trust happens faster.

The beauty of technology is that you can keep your finger on the pulse whenever you need to. Every day at 5pm, even on weekends, the whole iflix senior management team comes on Google Hangouts to update each other. The idea is that everybody is on the same page, every single day. Move fast, but have the courage to fail. Especially if you’re making things happen in an unprecedented way — which is the disruptive nature of startups.

At iflix for example, we focus on putting in place explicit culture building blocks right at the beginning to have the proper foundation for the culture to grow as we expand rapidly. This includes being very upfront and explicit about our purpose and the values that we want to hold ourselves to, and then putting it into an app — The Tao of iflix — which is accessible to everyone. Including outsiders who want to know more about our culture.

This is where YPO comes in for me. YPO opens your eyes to the world that you didn’t know you were ignorant about.

By being connected to amazing peers, you learn about new management techniques and you pick it up much faster. On your own, there’s only so much perspective you can get. I’ve also learned the power of networking from having access to over 20,000 other CEOs across the world who may have gone through similar challenges.

Imagine being put in a group of eight peers who meet 10 times a year where you are put to the test. Your peers will ask you questions that trigger you to think. That is the YPO Forum, a place I can go to for truly independent advice.

It’s a safe zone of trust and confidentiality.

I’ve also learned a lot from YPO’s educational events, which are different from the conventional kind. We have visited prisons, had sessions on corporate fraud, and even involved our families.

The idea of having a one-on-one holiday with each of my kids never occurred to me until I joined YPO. It leaves an experience that the child will remember for a lifetime. It makes you think about whether you’re fulfilling your personal goals as well.

As for work-life balance, I don’t have any amazing insights; honestly it’s all a blur to me. But what I can say is that you need to know what’s important to you.

I’m a bit of a data freak, so I will measure where my time goes and pace myself accordingly.

When I look at my day-to-day work, it’s more than just a job. It’s a cause, a mission. You have to inspire. If people see that you can do the seemingly impossible, that there is a bigger cause, you have succeeded. It’s about looking fear in the eye and facing it, no matter what.

YPO (Young Presidents’ Organisation) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming better leaders through education and idea exchange. To find out more about YPO and its global network of over 24,000 CEOs, log on to www.ypo.org.

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Metro , Central Region , iflix , ypo , azran osman


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