When scaling up your business, strong leadership is a must
By default most entrepreneurs are hands-on experts and they take pride in building the business, including the culture, ideation and execution. Should you wish to rapidly scale your enterprise, it is essential to carefully select strong leaders who have the aptitude and the commitment to execute your strategy.
As a serial entrepreneur, I am a strong believer in an ’18 Month Principle’. I launch a new product or service, build the team, grow the business and make myself redundant by hiring the right leadership within 18 months. At Virtusa, I pioneered several business units such as R&D, Fintech and geo-expansion to India & the UK. I learnt very quickly that strong leadership was required for any of these businesses to flourish, hence finding proven leaders should be an intrinsic part of your role.
While entrepreneurs can generate new ideas, incubate the business and drive growth, a one-person army will never scale a business. You need strong management with committed leadership to run each major function of your business. You need an A-Team to rapidly grow the business successfully. Therefore, any successful entrepreneur must be able to attract the right top talent, mentor them, empower them, and provide the necessary support so they succeed. Set yourself clear KPIs and transition to a support role at the right time for the business, hopefully around 18 months, sometimes sooner, sometimes it takes a little longer. Make this transition part of your vision from day 1.
It should always be your aim to hire people who are better than you for the given role, otherwise your ability to scale will be limited by their capabilities. Incubating new ideas requires creative thinking, vision, an appetite for risk taking, team building and getting things done. Scaling a business requires process maturity, risk management, operational mastery, and finely tuned people management skills.
I started my career at Virtusa and built multiple functions in a variety of countries. We scaled the business three times in the early years by handing over business functions to smart young team members. I grew the UK business from zero to $60M within three years whilst nurturing many would-be leaders within the organisation, but then I hired Clayton Locke who was a much stronger, more experienced managing director who was able to grow Virtusa EMEA to the next-level.
At Mitra, I have taken a similar approach. In recent years, I hired Chinthi Weerasinghe as CEO to replace me, so I could focus my efforts on innovating and incubating new business ideas. Through Mitra Ventures I am fortunate to mentor numerous entrepreneurs who are running ambitious businesses. They are all working to attract the right personnel in order to scale up their businesses. Some of the startups that I am guiding are The Cookaway, TryLiquidity, experienz, Ortom8 and The Cut & Dry.
Mackenzie conducted research over two decades and they found that if you are able to recruit superior talent you can increase your productivity by up to 8 times in terms of your ability to execute and deliver. I’ve seen this play out at Mitra. When we hired the right management, especially those with real expertise, they were able to drive sales, drive marketing in terms of brand, and drive innovation. Everything improved, our processes, our empathy towards team members and our empathy towards our customers. Hiring superior talent pulls the whole enterprise together, and I’m not just talking about permanent employees, but also contractors, temporary employees and business partners. Making the right choices about whom you work with is crucial.
Another factor to consider is ensuring you give responsibility to the right people, and it doesn’t have to be an external hire. We tend to believe if you want senior roles to be fulfilled you need to go out to the market, but I am a strong believer that 90% of our leadership roles can be met by identifying the right people within the organisation. At Mitra we promote many within, almost every year we give our staff stretch roles. If you have a manager that you think can handle 5 projects instead of 1, we will give them the opportunity to try. If they fail, we mentor them, and if they consistently fail, we roll them back and give the opportunity to someone else. We are never shy to offer opportunities to our employees, being clear about how challenging the roles may be, but that we are here to help them, guide them and mentor them. At Mitra 80% of the time this approach has worked well, with long standing employees performing exceptionally well and climbing the company ladder. And this isn’t only at Mitra, it was the same in my previous two companies, where I’ve seen people shine as long as they are mentored and motivated.
When recruiting it is best to tailor your performance package not only to the role, but also to your recruit. There are obvious steps like making sure remuneration is in line with the market, holiday entitlement is generous and can be used as a reward for longevity of service, and progression opportunities are clearly defined and achievable. But also providing opportunities to feel invested in the organisation is important, this can be via stock options, being part of company strategy groups, chairing internal councils, appropriate customer exposure and international travel and opportunities for leadership roles.
People want to be part of an ambitious, successful and growing business. Ambitious leaders seek challenging roles and an environment that fosters accelerated career growth. Keeping up that forward momentum means communicating the drive of the leadership team to all levels of the organisation on a regular basis. Only when you engender true inclusivity will you draw every member of your team along with you on the journey.
The culture within your organisation is really important too, not just to attract the right people but to nurture and retain them. Create a positive culture of belonging, diversity, recognition and inclusion for employees at different levels within the organisation. Maintain an open, flat organisational structure and ensure there is a comprehensive and welcoming onboarding process, so new employees feel welcomed into the organisation.
Pay particular attention to everything from the time you interview, to making an offer, the offer acceptance, starting on the first day, the first welcome email, the first welcome kit, all of this matters. Make sure they have everything they need, laptop, connectivity, access to office areas and appropriate shared resources, an email address. If there is a problem they need to know who can resolve it very quickly. Leaving an early problem to fester will give a very bad first impression of the organisation. Can you imagine ordering a McLaren and receiving a second-hand experience from the dealer! Your employees expect the same level of experience from day 1.
Once people are hired it’s common for us to expect very high standards fast, especially with senior staff. But we need to understand that they need time to understand the culture and absorb the atmosphere, so I’m a strong believer in a breathing space of 4-8 weeks for people to settle and begin to know the ropes and establish a high level set of targets. I feel 30, 60 and 90 day plans really work, providing space and guidance to the new recruit, but I expect to see some targets established by 90 days.
The right people in the right roles, with the right motivation and support will promote the growth of your organisation more than any other single factor.
About the Author
Ashok Suppiah is co-founder and CEO of the Mitra Innovation Group, a global technology provider specialising in digital transformation, product incubation and integration services. He has been a leading light in the tech industry for over 20 years. A serial entrepreneur, Ashok has started more than 10 technology companies in the USA and UK, notably as a member of Virtusa Corp which sold for US$2Billion in 2021 and as Chief Architect for eDocs which sold to Oracle for US$115Million in 2004.