The decisions you make are not only for yourself. As CEO, you are responsible for all of your employees and their families. You have to be unselfish in your choices, and think of all the consequences.
Your words matter. A lot. Be precise. Your words inspire, so use them to inspire greatness in your team. Also, do not be effusive with your praise and always be guarded in your criticism.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emil Sayegh.
Emil Sayegh is the President and CEO of Ntirety, one of the largest managed cloud service platforms in the world. He is an early pioneer of Cloud Computing, recognized as one of the industry’s cloud visionaries and “fathers of OpenStack,” having launched and led successful cloud computing and hosting businesses for HP and Rackspace.
Emil built Rackspace’s cloud business while serving as the company’s GM of the Cloud Computing Division and, earlier at Rackspace, served as VP of the Product Group and launched the company’s private cloud and hosted exchange services. He later moved on to HP where he served as VP of Cloud Service and initiated the company’s public cloud services.
In addition to his leadership roles, Emil spent more than 15 years in the IT industry developing, marketing, and managing products for Dell, RLX Technologies, and Compaq. He holds nine patents.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Igot into cloud computing very early on. I worked for Rackspace in 2006 when the cloud computing industry was just getting started. I became the General Manager of the Cloud Computing business at Rackspace and helped found OpenStack, a free platform for cloud computing available to developers around the world. I then moved on to lead the cloud businesses for HP Inc. and then Codero as CEO. Ntirety was formed by the merger of two of the cloud industry’s powerhouses — Hosting.com of Denver, CO, and Hostway of Austin, TX. I had been the president and CEO of Hostway since 2016, and by the end of 2018, we found the opportunity to expand and shift our focus to more managed cloud services. Today, as Ntirety, we offer a full suite of managed IT solutions globally, including security, compliance, database management, DevOps, and business intelligence services.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered as CEO of Ntirety — which was formed by merging two major cloud hosting competitors Hosting and Hostway — was tackling all of the things that go into a merger of two large companies, all within a nine-month timeframe. We each had a way of doing business and our strengths and weaknesses, but we found ways to harness those strengths and find the best ways to serve our clients and partners better than before. There were many long days and significant obstacles to overcome, but the teamwork of so many great people from both companies made the merger a success.
A lesson learned from tackling the merger was to always make sure that the right people are in the right seats “on the bus,” to quote Jim Collins in “Good To Great.” It is so critical in a large merger to match the talents with the needs of the merged business. There is a lot of emotion and history involved, but for the sake of everyone involved a leader needs to be honest about where his or her team’s strengths and weaknesses are. Weaknesses need to be shored up quickly without much delay by either promoting internally or bringing key talent from outside. Strong team members need to be given the right level of responsibilities and elevated in the organization if warranted.
I also learned that it is critical to create traction by expediting everyone in the organization so that the merger activities are done well, but also quickly so that businesses don’t settle for the way they were doing things in the past. Organizations sometimes want to work at their own pace. But merging two companies is different than “business as usual.” The merger between Hostway and Hosting was a success because we were able to drive the teams to be complete with the majority of merger activities in about nine months. We then rebranded the merged company to Ntirety.
A third lesson learned is to prioritize being customer-focused, always, regardless of the activity and function. If all our activities are driven by customer focus and positive outcomes for customers, then we will seldom be wrong.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Even when I was an employee at big companies, I always trained myself to think like an “owner” and an entrepreneur. Thinking as if you own the company forces you to think about all the alternatives, take the right tactical or strategic stance situationally, and also fuels your energy. Because I forced myself to always think like an “owner” instead of a functional leader, it helped me view situations holistically and make decisions that enhanced the business’s value. That quickly gets noticed in companies, as it is a very rare trait. Most people think like “employees,” some may think and act in the best interest of their function, but rarely would you find people that think like “owners.” I would often get tapped and promoted for this reason. My first CEO-like position was a General Manager of the Cloud business at Rackspace. Coincidently, these were the exact words that were used by the Rackspace Chairman of the Board Graham Weston to describe me. Had I not been chosen for that General Management job, I am not sure I would have become the CEO of three great companies.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Being a CEO is a 24×7 job. Yes, it has its perks, but it requires thinking about the business continuously, even if you’re not doing actual work. You will be thinking about what is next and about the pitfalls, whether you like it or not. Make sure that you are ready for this.
- The decisions you make are not only for yourself. As CEO, you are responsible for all of your employees and their families. You have to be unselfish in your choices, and think of all the consequences.
- There is a blending between your personal life and public life. You are always on stage. If you are tired, or sick, or excited, or distracted due to reasons unrelated to work, it will get uber-analyzed by those that are watching your every move. Critics will read into it, and sometimes mountains will be spun up out of molehills. Don’t change, just be aware.
- Your words matter. A lot. Be precise. Your words inspire, so use them to inspire greatness in your team. Also, do not be effusive with your praise and always be guarded in your criticism.
- Your investors matter. Not everyone willing to invest in you and your business will make a good long-term partner. Make sure the interests of your investors align with your objectives as CEO and the objectives of the company strategically.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Being a CEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and always have a vacation planned on your schedule. When times get tough, you can look forward to a time when you can relax with your family and loved ones. It does not have to be anything fancy. For me, this could be a camping trip, a long weekend on the beach, a quick ski trip, a hunting or fishing trip, or a visit to an extended family or a new city.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to many people who have mentored me and helped me along the way. Too many to enumerate here out of fear I would leave someone out. I would like to recognize a teacher, though, who happened to also be a nun that singled me out when I was in middle school and told me that I was a “leader.” I had never heard anyone describe me as such before. That sentence and her expression have been fixated in my head ever since and made me find my destiny.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I would like to figure out how to help more individuals and more companies be successful. I have spent ample time on nonprofit boards. However, I have had limited to no time to spend being on board seats of other companies outside of a couple of small start-ups. I do think I can scale my experience by helping companies be successful by being a board member or board advisor to CEOs that need help in a specific area.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
On the personal side, my legacy is both my children and my reputation as a human being.
Professionally, I would like my legacy to be two-fold. First, I helped struggling companies get back to growing and prospering again. Second, I helped people grow in their careers and get to where they wanted to get to both professionally and financially. Nothing is more rewarding than hearing former and existing colleagues and employees tell me how I helped them grow. I have yet to have mentored a future CEO, so perhaps that would be an excellent legacy to leave as well.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
My movement would be focused on business growth and repeatable business traction. I am motivated by creating opportunities for people and creating jobs. This is both my driver to be client-focused as well as employee-focused. I want to help our clients be successful in their business by taking on all their IT challenges. If our clients are successful, then we are successful as a consequence. This creates jobs and opportunities. This creates security for our communities, and consequently, our great nation.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
- Twitter: @esayegh
- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/emilsayegh/