Gautam Singh is the co-founder and CEO of The Smart Cube, a global analytics company. A first-generation immigrant who worked and built his way up to become the head of a respected international organisation, he's full of Life Lessons - and keen to share them with our readers in the next instalment of this series: over to you, Gautam...
What has been the single most significant development to impact your profession or area of business during your career, and why?
It’s definitely been the explosion of data. Only 20 or 30 years ago, there was only a finite amount of information and data points that you could access, in order to make business decisions. Today, the world is a much more complex and data-driven place. The sheer amount of information available is incredible. As such, people need more time to do their homework and evaluate the vast amounts of data available in order to make informed decisions.
Similarly, what one factor has most profoundly changed the way you personally work since your first day in your first job?
Technology innovation has no doubt transformed the workplace. The corporate environment is now much more digitally integrated. Nowadays, you can just as easily find yourself interacting with a colleague or client on the other side of the world, as you would the people in your office, as a regular part of your day-to-day job. As such, you need to learn how to communicate, understand and appreciate what is going on around you – both as an individual and as a company.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your industry today – and how would you solve it?
The biggest challenge remains the price of labour. As an industry, we’ve become increasingly dependent on the outsourcing market to lower our production costs. The internet and virtual working have fuelled this, allowing us to provide the same quality of services around the world without dealing with prohibitive local labour prices.
Yet once low-cost areas are now catching up. The fundamental issue now is looking at how we can still deliver value, without the original value proposition of lower production costs. For the industry to continue to grow, emphasis must be on developing the skills and expertise that our clients struggle to support in-house.
Who has been the most influential figure in your professional life, and why?
There have been many. But the one that sticks in my mind is the managing partner of one of my first jobs in management consultancy in the UK. He was a big thinker who made significant changes to the way the company positioned itself in Europe.
He was confident, took bold risks and was instrumental in creating a sense of teamwork. Over a 6 year period, he grew the number of consultants from 25 to 250. It was a great learning experience and gave me the confidence to believe in myself and stand by my decisions later on in life.
What’s the biggest mistake, work-wise, you’ve ever seen – and what were the consequences to date?
The likes of BlackBerry and Nokia come to mind. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself because you’re large and successful. But thinking that whatever you were doing yesterday will still work tomorrow can make you blindsided to what is going on around you.
This is a common ailment for businesses who take things for granted. It’s the main reason many firms run into difficulties. It’s an important lesson - despite our growth and success, we need to constantly adapt. But that alone isn’t enough. Businesses also need to be creative in terms of delivering value in a disruptive way. BlackBerry and Nokia didn’t expect another smartphone firm to come into the marketplace, but it happened. And because they were unprepared, they failed to stay ahead of the game. So, whilst we can make incremental improvements, in the long-term, we need to make disruptive moves and be open to doing things differently.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Being the CEO of my own company. I am proud of where I have got to today. It was a big deal to jump from the stability of management consultancy to start my own firm. But I didn’t do it alone – I’m also incredibly thankful and proud of my team’s input. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made, and I’m excited about where the future will take us.
What’s your biggest (as-yet) unfulfilled ambition – and are you going to achieve it?
There are still so many opportunities out there for The Smart Cube to grow and reach its full potential. To realise this requires the involvement of a wider team. I’m looking to expand the company and do more exciting work in the future.
What three words do you think your colleagues and peers would use to describe you?
Firstly, hard-working. I strongly believe you only get somewhere with hard work. Luck and brain power is something you are born with, but you need real dedication to succeed.
Secondly, fair. You don’t get anywhere without others working with you. I fundamentally believe we are stronger as a team than any individual. And I’m not just fair because it’s expected of me, but because it aligns with my business ambitions. I believe people should be rewarded for their contribution to the success of our business.
And thirdly, ambitious. I am a first-generation immigrant and came to the UK with very little. I want to achieve something beyond just money.
Finally, what piece of advice would you give your younger self at the very start of your career?
Jump into being an entrepreneur sooner, rather than later.
I think it would’ve been good for me to explore entrepreneurship after qualifying as an engineer, rather than going to business school. I would have had a chance to try my hand at business and learn from my mistakes. I sometimes feel that being over-educated and over-qualified can lead to over-analysing situations. Risks can appear to be worse than they are, which is contrary to what you need as a business leader.
But whilst the world is becoming increasingly complex and volatile, it presents significant opportunity. As an entrepreneur, success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. It is about being able to make a decision and making it work, rather than always being right. It’s this mentality that drives me to manage my business in the way I do.
Do you think you – or someone you know – would make a good subject for future instalments of Life Lessons? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information…