It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since I took on the role of CEO. I was privileged to be appointed by Dawid Konotey-Ahulu and Robert J Gardner, to lead the firm they had created with such purpose, heart and soul since 2006.
I remember feeling a mix of excitement, nervousness and gratitude as I prepared for the first day in my new role as CEO. I had read a lot of books, studied some great articles, interviewed our clients and employees and sought out advice from other CEOs. I had a long to-do list and was dying to put it all into action.
Three years have flown by. It’s been a roller coaster with dizzying highs and brutal lows, nothing could have prepared me for it. At this important milestone, I have found myself reflecting on a few important questions: What mistakes did I make? What have I learnt? Was I true to what I set out to do? What advice do I wish I’d had three years ago? What am I most proud of? What am I most looking forward to now? I found this a really valuable process (it has taken me three weeks) I hope you find it helpful too.
As a practititioner of Swadhyay (study, knowledge and discovery of the self), I measure success in terms of self development and spiritual growth, so what’s most important to me is what I have learnt over the past three years. I have made a lot of mistakes so far, which have made me who I am today. Let’s start there.
My biggest lessons of the past three years are:
- Don’t be overconfident. Just because I’d read a few books, and spoken to some people, that didn’t qualify me for the role. I was naive. I had no real experience of what this role was like, what to expect and how to handle it. It’s funny how with time and experience I have come to realise how little I really know, and how much there is to learn.
- Ask for help. I have a tendency to contain everything within myself, to hold everyone’s issues within, and to try and solve everything myself. I was often too proud to admit I needed help or too keen to prove I could deal with it. Over time I’ve had a lot of help and I couldn’t have done it alone.
- Be kinder to myself. It’s taken me three years to learn to do this, to acknowledge my effort and recognise I can only try my best. I have become a lot better at ensuring I am home enough and have enough energy for my family. More broadly, I understand my weaknesses better and have people, committees and structures to help, support and compensate.
- Zoom out/Zoom in. I short-sightedly worked through my to do list, pushing too much change too fast without looking up enough, without focusing enough on the boundaries and constraints. As CEO, you have to be able to go deep while also staying broad, you need to have an eye on everything.
- Embrace constraints and limits. Whether personal, financial, regulatory, resources etc. I have learnt to make sure I monitor our choices and decisions against these constraints. Autonomy continues to be the biggest reason people choose to work at Redington, but we strive to find the right balance between freedom and structure. It takes ongoing effort, feedback, iteration and experience.
- Above all, I have learnt grit, determination and resilience. There are qualities I thought I had but were never tested so much. The moment you most feel like giving up is when you must find the strength within you to press ahead.
- I’m so proud of what our diverse executive team (Adam Jones, Kelly Clifford, Lee Georgs, Maria Calle-Barrado, Pete Drewienkiewicz, Phil Rose and Zoe Taylor) – who work alongside me in leading the business and serving our people – have achieved together over the past three years:
- A purpose led, diversified business, across three offices spanning investment consulting, global asset solutions and technology. Ensuring the firm isn’t dependent on any one person; we have successfully transitioned from a founder led start-up to a sustainable employee owned business.
- Growing our headcount one-by-one without diluting the culture, client service commitment, research integrity and purpose. We have an environment where people speak up, take risks, learn and share generously.
- Improving gender equality, visible and invisible diversity and creating a culture of inclusion more broadly. This has been an important goal for us. We have made much progress but also realise how much there remains to do and that it’s something you always need to be working at.
Whilst work has at times felt all consuming, my highlights have not just been about work. My relationship with my wife and children, my friends and family has grown significantly. They have been real pillars of support and strength. So many people have been patient with me, believed in me and helped me during the past three years (and continue to!) that I feel incredibly grateful for:
- My family and friends – at the top of the list is my wife, who has been my pillar of strength, my guide and my refuge. Followed by my three kids, who never fail to make me laugh and keep me humble. My parents, in-laws and friends, who have given me so much unconditional love, guidance and support.
- The board – Rob, Dawid and David, thank you for sticking with me through the ups and downs. I am so grateful that you saw and backed my values, instincts and passion beyond my inexperience and naivety three years ago. Much like we advise our clients, we have done the hard things upfront, we have set up the right context, governance and roles, now we can enjoy building on these strong foundations to create long term value for all our stakeholders (clients, employees, community and shareholders).
- My colleagues – Zoe, who joins dots effortlessly and has allowed me to take time off by leading the business so capably in my absence. Lee, who brings such care to people management and always pushes us to live up to our values. Kelly, who has brought invaluable financial discipline to our team. The other members of the Redington executive team, who offer me both challenge and counsel, as well as the wider firm who have shown me so much patience and loyalty, given me honest feedback and offer so much of themselves to their work everyday.
- My coach – Ivan Schofield. I’ve found it is invaluable to have a coach like Ivan, someone who you can be completely open with and who can expertly help you reflect, review and change course.
- Thank you also to the wider community of people that have read my blogs, followed my journey and offered helpful support and encouragement from a distance.
It’s been quite a journey.
What keeps me engaged, passionate and motivated is knowing I still have lots to learn and lots more to give. I’m still excited. I’m having fun. The more I have seen, the more I realise how little I know – there is still so much for me to learn about myself, the role, the firm, our current and future clients, the rapidly changing savings and investment industry and our broader purpose. It’s taken us three years to get the governance right, to develop the right strategy and team. Now we can really build on it. I am looking forward to developing more experience, facing bigger challenges, building greater teamwork, expanding my capacity for love and service, and coaching a new generation of responsible and courageous leaders.
So, with all that in mind, what advice would I give myself three years ago? What advice would I offer a new CEO starting today?
- You don’t know what you don’t know. Stay open, stay flexible, something will catch you off guard and you need to be able to pivot all your energy into it. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone, you need to admit when you need help or advice. Ego has a sneaky ability to creep up on you, be careful of getting overconfident or too proud.
- Everything is nuanced, you’ll only know by trying. It doesn’t matter what you’ve read, learnt, what you’ve experienced, the CEO role is different. Balance is key, too much time here and something will slip over there, too much effort here and something will go elsewhere. You have to build a framework for your business, a simple model that you can hold in your head and use to ensure you’re on top of everything that matters most.
- Find time for self-love, self-care, reflection, family and soul. Whatever recharges, reenergises and fills your heart. This is a marathon not a sprint. You cannot make everyone happy, you will kill yourself trying. As Steve Jobs said – “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice-cream!”.
I hope my lessons, experiences and advice can be valuable to others on their leadership journey (and maybe even to anyone starting a new job/role). I am on a mission to develop a new generation of courageous leaders not just for Redington but for our industry and beyond. I’d love to invite other leaders to share their lessons here too.
“Experience is the best teacher,
and the worst experiences teach the best lessons.”
Owen Walker at the Financial Times has written a profile on me and Redington, 3 years on in today’s FTfm. Check it out – https://www.ft.com/content/e529d1cc-262a-3e7e-acc2-d23b73411a52