Place an Emphasis on Rewarding Meaningful Work: Take the time to assess how to bring the most value to your organization and streamline tedious and time-consuming tasks. By doing this, leaders will understand what type of tasks make a true difference and drive results, and they will also have more opportunities to pursue projects they truly enjoy and are passionate about.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Kingdon, a mathematician, computer scientist and entrepreneur. He is currently CEO and Executive Chairman of Blue Prism and co-founder of several AI companies. Jason Kingdon has been commercializing AI for over 25 years. He has a PhD from UCL Computer Science, he co-founded UCL’s Intelligent Systems Lab in 1992 and pioneered one of the world’s first neural nets for live financial forecasting.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Jason! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The 80s were an exciting time for software and represented “the first wave” of technology start-ups building the future. You had organizations like Microsoft, Apple and Oracle that were tackling tough real-world problems, and changing the way we work; this inspired a lot of us. But I started my career as a researcher and completed my Ph.D. in intelligent systems. I was a co-founder of UCL’s Intelligent Systems Labs in the early 1990s, which was a group of AI researchers looking at biological models of AI as inspiration for machine learning and pattern recognition algorithms. We pioneered technologies like neural nets, generic algorithms, fuzzy logic and hybrid systems. I think I may have been the first person to put a neural net live for financial forecasting — done for Hill Samuel Bank. The group got a high profile and was increasingly asked to take on commercial tasks — for example, the London Stock Exchange asked us to look at insider dealing and market manipulation. So we saw an opportunity and set-up Searchspace as one of the early pioneers of commercial intelligent systems, and Id say specifically created pathways for “big data” — as it has become known. It was very successful and the technology is still used in the majority of top tier banks for detecting money laundering today, as well as in places like the NYSE and Lloyds of London. After a successful exit, around 2007 I set up a private AI research lab called “Glass.ai” and at the same time was introduced to Blue Prism as a start-up of about 10 people. The VCs were getting anxious, but I thought the whole idea and technology was exceptional and joined as Executive Chairman in 2008.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Tech leaders consistently find themselves grappling with questions like, “How can I ensure my technology is relevant and delivers something of value? How can I create technology that delivers something tangible in terms of the return to the consumer?” This was certainly a challenge I confronted and learned when building my business at Searchspace. In order to bring value and meet a market need, we created an intelligent transaction monitoring tool that the London and New York stock exchanges used to look for market manipulation, insider trading, money laundering, etc. This was my first foray into commercializing artificial intelligence and effectively translating the value of this technology across various markets. This ability to create a technology that delivers tangible value has informed my approach to business and innovation ever since.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I’ve always been passionate about those really disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence that can transform business and society by solving large-scale problems. I’ve always tried to marry my academic knowledge with an entrepreneurial spirit to best harness the technology’s commercial potential. Another factor is a willingness to seek out bright people and other innovators who share my passion and energy and want to collaborate to enact wide-scale change.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started ”?
- Scale Wisely: Scaling a company wisely and efficiently is the key to success. Over the last four years, we’ve gone from 60 to over 1,000 people, and we’re now selling in 170 countries to 70 commercial sectors. But, I think both the breadth and depth of that and the impact of that is still being digested all these years later. That revolution is still working its way out; people are still thinking about it. Scaling a company is key to its overall success, and devoting time to thinking about how a company is able to grow constructively and successfully should be top of mind for business leaders globally.
- Vision and Executing on Vision is Paramount: Blue Prism’s vision is to build a Digital Worker. Not only does it work with other Digital Workers, not only does it work with the core infrastructure of any flavor, but it also has to work with human beings. The interchange between humans and Digital Workers is absolutely part and parcel of our vision for a Digital Workforce in every organization. Business leaders must decide on what their clear vision is and ensure all steps they take map back to that vision.
- Embrace Automation: Automation fills the gap between the requirements of business operations and what can be delivered by technology and by people too. In order to thrive in our digital age, leaders absolutely must weave automation into the fabric of their organizations.
- Place an Emphasis on Rewarding Meaningful Work: Take the time to assess how to bring the most value to your organization and streamline tedious and time-consuming tasks. By doing this, leaders will understand what type of tasks make a true difference and drive results, and they will also have more opportunities to pursue projects they truly enjoy and are passionate about.
- Lean into the power of technology: We’ll increasingly see humans driving collaborative innovation and imagination, working in tandem with Digital Workers. This partnership will be the key success factor to thriving in the digital age.
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?
The leaders who have inspired me and have had a profound impact on the way I look at business are the first generation of tech entrepreneurs. Larry Ellison of Oracle, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, are visionaries who decided to take very technical processes and influence the business world and our daily lives in numerous ways. These are people who are constantly testing the limits of technology, and their contributions and innovations have perpetually changed nearly every industry.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
One of the greatest desires in a crisis is for people to be able to help. I want to be able to look back at my actions and know that personally and as a company, we’ve really helped to the best of our abilities. It is clearly deep inside being human to want to do this. Going forward, for me and the Blue Prism team, this sentiment will continue to be very prominent.