N-able Managing Director and Chief Executive Peter D’Almeida
Pix by Nimalsiri Edirisinghe
Be it chief executives, managing directors or heads of organisations or departments, instead of managing, one should always focus on leading their organisations with a sense of openness and retaining humility, N-able Managing Director and Chief Executive Peter D’Almeida said.
Delivering the inaugural speech of ‘Coffee with CEO’, a talk series organised by the Young Leaders, a Steering Committee of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, he said there was a big misconception about managing and leading and most of the CEOs are playing the role of managing.
Drawing experiences from his professional as well as personal life, D’Almeida spoke about ‘What it takes to be a CEO’ and the qualities a CEO should posses.
“I don’t think that most CEOs actually lead their organisations. Most of them are playing the role of managing and all the things that come with the title. Don’t get me wrong. Managing is terribly important to keep all processes and an organisation running. But I think what is more important, as we face an uncertain future, is the ability to lead an organisation,” he said.
He said a leader has to lead teams instead of managing them.
“The company, N-able was formed 10 years ago in 2008. Before that, I was at MillenniumIT, which kept the software business running. We gave them profits of million dollars and when the company went through crisis as a result of the September 11 attacks in 2001, they were in a desperate situation. But we kept that company going and finally sell out to the London Stock Exchange. I realised it will be acquired by a software company. So, I moved out and started N-able.
We do a top line about US $ 20 million and we do a net earning of million dollars; we are in large banks, conglomerates and some other interesting works. Numbers were frightening. We are looking at an extremely different market from where I am and I thought what is going on. I nearly gave up.
Suddenly I realised something is not quite right. Then I realised that the leadership is being reflected only during a crisis. How difficult it is to lead when everything is well? If you have a clear path ahead, no obstacles, then there is nothing to lead. Anyone can lead in such situations,” he said.
Leadership is to seek possibilities
According to D’Almeida, the second key feature of leading is seeking possibilities.
“You can see possibilities specially when things are not going well. That’s when you have someone to say that it’s not that bad,” he said.
“We, as a company, were looking at a massive opportunity. When we did the planning, we found out the market opportunity out there. Banks had budgets for IT. At least nine banks at ICT, Rs.29-30 billion budgets. We had hardly a share of that market. We went after that market and got a top line of US $ 200 million.
Then the job is to get them to see that picture with you. That was the tough part because you see the possibility but you have to take the team along with you and somehow get them to believe your story and that when the next attribute comes, the ability to tell a story.
Story telling! You have to tell your customers that there is an opportunity here and that we can make a difference. You got to tell a story to your employees and to your managers and leaders in your team. Get them engaged around this idea.
Today, we are going to banks and telling them digital disruption is coming. In India, Paytm is a telephone top up company with 250 million customers. Even the State Bank of India has only 220 million customers. The difference is that the State Bank has over 10,000 branches and Paytm has none.
We have to tell the bank a credible story. You are complacent, you are trying but the change is rapidly coming. That’s where we start. Just over the 18 months, there is a massive take up of banks wanting to become digital. We are seeing millions of opportunities just because we saw that possibility and went after it.
We got our employees to believe this is it. Most importantly, you have to sell it to your shareholders too, as it is them who make sure funds keep coming. You have to make sure that they believe in you,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to put out bad news
A leader should maintain the openness and transparency in a company and should not be hesitant to break any bad news, he said.
“It is of paramount importance to get people engaged. That’s when I realised the importance of openness. Our company is completely transparent and open. We put out the bad news very quickly. Last financial year, we were so far behind the numbers. Our Group CEO said it was the worst performance seen in our career.
The very next day, I called the staff for a meeting. I put the numbers on slides and said, ‘This is the worst performance I have seen in my career and this is what the group CEO said. He is right,’ I said.
All the numbers of our top line were bad and cash flow was terrible. Then I said it does not as bad as it looks and gave a whole set of opportunities to working on and quickly got them along the idea six more months to go. I said we can probably make it and true enough, in the final month our numbers soared to
Everyone stayed because we are completely transparent. Even our salaries are transparent. They can access to what I get paid as a salary. So, we believe in openness in a company. A dynamic environment is extremely important in this regard,” he said.
Place yourself out of cubicle leading team
As a CEO or a leader, one has to put themselves out there leading the team instead of staying inside a cubicle, he said.
“When we started the company in 2008, we had a huge plan to go after the size of a business like Dialog by promoting virtualization, which is a technology where you take powerful computers and build small software base computers inside of them. I met 30 CEOs in a month on the road and converted 23 of them, including Dialog, which went from 300 servers to 30 severs.
Reducing the number of servers helped saving a massive amount of energy. We went down on the road. Then the staff that saw how I went out there, thought that they can at least approach five companies,” D’Almeida said.
A leader must mentor people
“After all, you are trying to lead the employees of different levels alike and not only those who are on the top level. We believe that small teams should also receive the impact of the leadership. Leadership has to be right across the entire organisation. It is not hierarchical from the CEO, board of management, the next level and so on.
Leadership has to be in the front line breaking the pattern of hierarchy. Leaders should start engaging with people at all levels of the organisation in a sense mentoring them without using the term ‘mentoring’.
As a Chief Executive, I’m never seated in my office. I go out there and talk to them and get their feedback. I talk with not only my directors but also with the next level leaders, every layer down. When we hire people, I interview every single person we hire because I like to see what it is that they have and that they bring. From these interactions, I also learn from them,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said focussing on earnings and profits was probably not the best way to build a company for the future.
“We realised that value creation is much more important than earning. Take WhatsApp for instance. It had zero revenue and zero profits. But how much did Facebook pay for WhatsApp? US $ 60 billion! Anyone in a bank who would have approved that transaction would have lost their job. What did WhatsApp have? 500 million people together on a platform. This is a completely different metric.
So, you can’t measure success today on an earning metric. Whenever there is a sign of trouble, a company has to cut cost or creating value. We are trying to tell them, look, there is another way of looking at them. If you focus only on earnings, you will invariably destroy long-term share holder value,” he said.
Retain a sense of humility that pays off well
D’Almeida said leadership should be embedded with a sense of humility and the CEOs or leaders should realise that they are not that important.
“We have leaders or even presidents who wanted to be kings. How can you lead if you don’t have a sense of humility? You have to be humble to think that you don’t know it all. The world is so vast. I might be the CEO or the president but there is little that I know. The more humble I am, the more I can learn and get the opportunity to connect with people more.
In return, the employees think that the leader is one of them and they can share some ideas with him or her and it won’t look foolish when they do so. Humility is paid off well,” he said.
Be part of some movement, be inspirational
Reminiscing how he got to where he is today, D’Almeida said he did not have the perfect childhood since his father passed away when he was still a kid.
However, he said his mother, a tough woman, excelled in ability to organise, put together resources and hold it together.
“After father passed away, I grew up uninterfered. I had a sense of curiosity combined with imagination. We created games and failure was not a problem. The purpose of a CEO is to create a future. That’s what it is really about. Some of our top CEOs are not concerned about this.
Is it acceptable for us to largely ignore the massive inequalities and problems this country faces? About 600,000 people have been affected by the drought, which is ravaging the country. There was a time when the country needed 1,000 dialyses machines worth Rs.2 billion for kidney patients. Then the government went ahead and built the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium. We should get out priorities sorted out. We vote and then we get frustrated.
So, I’m saying that, don’t leave it to the politicians, be part of some movement. There are movements against plastic today as well as movements on protecting water and environment. Pick anything, be part of social change. That is what ultimately leaders are there for. You need to inspire people not just for profits but to do something bigger than that. That will make a contribution to make the country and people better.
If you have done something, then you can die peacefully saying that my life was worthy. That’s the kind of inspiration that I would urge leaders young or old to take on,” he concluded.