Arash Asady: ” Everyone will grab a cup of coffee with you”

Thought leadership can help a business grow really organically, even just by following other leaders in your field on LinkedIn you will create a network of go-to people for innovative ideas. Another practical example would be to create and share content. You never know might read it. And especially if you stay on top of […]

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Thought leadership can help a business grow really organically, even just by following other leaders in your field on LinkedIn you will create a network of go-to people for innovative ideas. Another practical example would be to create and share content. You never know might read it. And especially if you stay on top of what’s new in the field, you will naturally generate leads.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arash Asady. Arash is the CEO and founder of Bits of Stock. He is a US Marine Corp Veteran and evangelist of all things finance and technology related.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born in Houston, Texas, but I wouldn’t say that’s where I am from since as a child we always moved around. We lived in Germany, New Zealand, Portland, and Tehran, to then “settle” in San Diego, California. The many moves really shaped me, gifting me with many different perspectives. When I turned 18 I enlisted in the US Marine Corps and spent 5 years as an intelligence operator with a deployment to Helmand province, Afghanistan. When I returned to the States, I earned a B.A. from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia while becoming a trader on Wall Street — let’s just say, I did not have a lot of free time. I worked on Wall Street for over five years, and committed to an MBA at NYU Stern, which really helped me develop my skills as an entrepreneur and convinced me to take the leap and start Bits of Stock.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

My military experience has made me the leader I am today. It provided me with invaluable intangible knowledge that I use daily in my work — things like the 11 Marine Corps Leadership principles which really help balance teamwork and individual responsibility. Although these ideas push for one’s best self, they also greatly value the welfare of the team and setting by example, which I believe are intrinsic components of leadership. I was also the president of university clubs at both Middlebury and Columbia, which, after the military, made me really appreciate the power of ideas when leading a group. My seven years of experience in Fintech have given me well-rounded knowledge on the topic, but also have made me more and more aware of the importance of sharing that knowledge. As someone who deals with the value of money on a regular basis, the value of ideas cannot be compared. Lastly, as the founder and CEO of two successful startups, I am well-versed in the ins-and-outs of entrepreneurship and fintech.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the earliest lessons I learned on Wall Street was the power of human capital and leverage from relationships. I was two years into my trading career, and I was part of a 13-person team that generated 50 million annually for the bank. Five of us worked with portfolio managers at high powered hedge funds, and had over 2BN dollars under management each. These PMs traded very risk instruments frequently and in large amounts, often levered over 20x. The five of us generated over 80% of the profits, while the managing directors of the team worked with other types of clients and products, generating the other 20%.

The managing directors often clashed with the two directors of our five person team over internal politics, and I remember one day they were called into the office by the MDs. After a short meeting an announcement was made that our team was being shut down immediately. We were all being fired.

We were instructed to finish the working day, close out our books, and hand over our clients to the other team. It was a pretty dire situation. Meanwhile, our directors were nowhere to be found. They never returned to their desks after the meeting. Turns out they were visiting the high powered clients and told them what happened. The clients then called the head of the bank’s prime brokerage service, who then reported the internal conflict to the board of the bank. In the end, the bank fired the Managing Directors and kept our team. Understandably, clients were more important than the internal politics of the team.

A week later, our directors announced they were leaving the bank and had secured a partnership with a competitor bank. They took the clients, the technology, and the rest of the team (including myself) to the next bank. In a matter of weeks the bank was left with only four employees from the entire 13 person team, and it barely generated revenue. This was no surprise, but to me it was astounding that we could make such a difference. It definitely helped me understand how human abilities and knowledge are also a stock, and they need to be responsibly handled.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As soon as I enlisted in the USMC I was sent to rifleman training for three months. During this time, I quickly rose through the ranks and was appointed as a squad leader with 100 trainees under my leadership. The training was extremely demanding and squad leader appointment was nearly unbearable. One late evening, the button of my utility uniform fell off. I needed to supervise my squad and did not have time to sew the button back on before the next day, so I used a pin to temporarily hold it in place. The next morning, our commanding officer found out about my temporary solution before I could sew a button back on. I was immediately demoted as squad leader. But I really did not understand why it was such a big deal. Well, to make me understand the gravity of my misdeeds, as a punishment I had to hold in my hand a piece of paper directly outwards for 5 hours, repeating the words “this piece of paper weighs nothing.” After 20 minutes my arm began to hurt and the paper became very heavy. But I got the lesson: in the military, even the smallest mistake can cost lives.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

I would say that a Thought Leader is someone that is able to to decouple leadership qualities from thought and management, though the two can cross over. Leaders typically possess general qualities, sometimes innate and sometimes derived from experience, and they mainly focus on strategy. Thought leaders on the other hand are more of a hybrid between a leader and an influencer — they are able to lead the team with a clear plan, but they are also experts in their fields and can thus contribute on a higher level than simple execution.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Going back to the idea of human capital, I think that is what thought leadership is all about. Investing resources into becoming a thought leader is investing into your future self — you will reap the benefits in one way or another, no matter what. Ideas spread fast, and actively engaging in thought leadership can be a potential catalyst for your career.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Thought leadership can help a business grow really organically, even just by following other leaders in your field on LinkedIn you will create a network of go-to people for innovative ideas. Another practical example would be to create and share content. You never know might read it. And especially if you stay on top of what’s new in the field, you will naturally generate leads.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

1 Everyone will grab a cup of coffee with you. One of the most valuable takeaways from my military experience as an intelligence operator is that human intelligence is the most valuable asset. As such, never hesitate to reach out to industry leads and pick their brains — just ask away. Most people are willing to share their insights and help.

2. Immerse yourself in the industry. I like to compare the financial services industry to an ice cream shop. If you wanted to open an ice cream shop you would work in one for a few months to understand the business from the ground up. It’s the same for other industries — you truly need to be fully involved in all the processes. If you already work in your desired industry, just expand your horizons by working with other departments and understand their challenges and business models.

3. Read and Write as much as possible. It is key to constantly digest information from various sources, and it is even more important to write and share commentary on what you read. This not only allows you to internalize your research, but it also helps to build a following and shape a personal brand.

4. Benefit from your competition. When looking at the great things your competitors are doing, you really can figure out where the gaps are, and how to best fill them. Being a thought leader is about aggregating valuable sources and ideas, so always keep an eye on what the others are doing, and, if possible, come together to share struggles and successes.

5. Focus on WOM. When it comes to being a thought leader in the industry, the most valuable advice I would give is to make sure to spread your ideas and make sure that they are talked about. Whenever I go to conferences, or any kind of large event, I try to make sure that people remember us — if you get it right, you can really cause a ripple effect.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I look up to Howard Schultz as someone who represents thought leadership. He really embraced vulnerability as an asset in leadership, and I think that really built trust around what he did. He emphasizes this acquired trust and transparency to build valuable relationships, which are what make a leader more than just a strategy-man.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

In today’s world everyone wants to be a leader, so I think it’s actually quite refreshing to focus on being a thought leader because it’s based on ideas and vision, rather than just a good image or strategy.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Surround yourself with good people that inspire you to be better and learn more. In the military we really trained to plan, organize, and manage our routine, and that really helps me stay focused on the original personal goals I set for myself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe in education as the biggest gift one can give, so it would definitely have to be a way for education to be more accessible for everyone, at any stage in their lives. Especially now that everything is changing so fast, it’s so important to not be ageist about education: in an ideal world everyone would have access to quality education, no matter their age, background, or race.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand” Ben Horowitz

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Howard Schultz…if you are ever in Amsterdam please let me know.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow me, and my insights, on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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