Highlights from Colin’s Interview
“Anyone can learn and read books but to be an effective leader you have to have genuine empathy for people”
Question 1: What did you want to be growing up?
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a rock star. But unfortunately, life and a lack of the required talents prevented that.
Question 2: Why did you get into tech?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to live in the future. I think being close to and being involved in technology, as far as I’m aware, is the closest thing to actually doing that. I’m not sure if they’re going to be inventing time travel anytime soon. So I think that’s where it stems from, this dreaming about the future and being interested in, you know, what they told us, the future is going to be like.
Question 3: What are you learning about yourself during lockdown?
I’ve learned that in the past I’ve probably taken somethings for granted, like family and health. So part of sorting out personal admin is the health thing, I’m diabetic and I probably haven’t always taken care of it the way I should have done. Taking for granted my health, you learn very quickly or at least I’ve had to learn very quickly that that’s a really bad thing to do. Also I’ve spent 30 working, probably 25 of them for big blue chip companies in quite senior roles and when you’re not doing that anymore, it is quite a leveller. And so taking things for granted, those days are over.
Question 4: What are the key attributes a senior tech leader needs?
Empathy, an eye for talent, interest & an aptitude for technology and how, when it’s applied with flair and creativity it almost always acts as a force for good, those for me are successful attributes.Anyone can read books about technology, anyone can read books about management psychology or leadership but you have to have genuine empathy for the people around you. The ability to build teams is critical. The cult of personality that builds up around some people is ultimately in the medium or long term quite destructive. So an eye for talent is critical and being willing to take calculated risks on individuals and get behind them and push them.
Question 5: How do you influence people around you?
I always try and do the right thing, so I strive to do that, don’t always get it right but I think that’s important, I’m a big believer that doing the right thing will always trump short term expediency and I think throughout my career there’s been loads of examples of where the easy thing to do would be to compromise rather than to continue and fight on for what the right thing is.
Question 6: How do you make tough decisions?
Take on board a wide range of views. I’m interested in listening to the super detail orientated individuals and I’m interested in listening to people who are driven by intuition. I like to look at data, I’m not obsessed by it as too often decisions have been taken purely on data that have been completely wrong. I like to look at experience in past events, my own experience, the institutional experience, experience of others around me, how things have worked in the past and sometimes I rely solely on intuition and gut feel. I mean the idea is not to get every decision bang on, the idea for me is to get most decisions right, be right a lot and then be prepared to roll back and change tact if the data changes or outcome change or what ever.
Question 7: Biggest challenge facing tech teams after lockdown?
The challenge for technology leadership is how you get your momentum back, get your productivity back to where it needs to be and the pastoral care of these teams, because there will be a lot of people working away feeling quite isolated, quite alone and we need to think about that.
Question 8: Best career advice you have received?
Nothing really replaces, at a certain level in a career, institutional experience, it takes decades to build it and that doesn’t mean working in the same company for 20 years, it means working probably in the same industry sector. I think there comes a point where you have to be really careful that you don’t fail to understand what your capabilities are and I think stick to your knitting.
Question 9: If you could travel back in time what would you tell yourself?
Do more of the things that you don’t like doing, because ultimately it’s quite easy to do the things you like doing. And sometimes the things you don’t like doing are part of the overall picture of you as a person or the organisation that you’re part of or the teams that you lead.
Do more reading, spend more time researching stuff listen to points of view that you don’t particularly like or agree with.
Question 10: Is there one thing you’d like our viewers to take away from this?
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, if you care about good things other people will too it’s that simple. Be positive and try to understand where other people are coming from and there is absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming.
Question 11: What question would you like answered by other senior tech leaders?
I would like to hear their views on extended supply chains and do we actually need all that physical real estate. There’s a lot of companies, my current company included where, ten & tens of thousands of people are working from home, who the company would never have, under normal circumstances, gone down that road with. There will be other companies sitting there, who are tens of thousands of people in some cases, who are no longer in expensive real estate and what they’re going to find is as they get better and better at this, there are some pretty big questions to be asked.
Question 12: What’s the first thing you plan to do after the lockdown?
I’m going to walk half a mile up the road and see my son and daughter-in-law and grandchildren, literally, I’m going to walk out the front door and walk up the road, it’s half a mile away and I’m going to see them. Then I’m going to jump in the car and drive down to London to see my own two children and their families, that’s it and then I’m going to Scotland.
Colin’s Recommended Book
Hell in a very small place by Bernard Fall