Cultivate Meaningful Leadership Opportunities for Others. Everybody wants their chance to shine, and empowering others with opportunities to make a difference is truly my favorite part about coming to work every morning. I’ve found that by providing promising, passionate individuals with the opportunity to show what they are capable of they will surprise you every time, and with each opportunity to grow, their loyalty to your leadership and the organization only grows stronger.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Perell, an award-winning entrepreneur, bestselling author, and angel investor with nearly two decades of experience serving as a CEO the marketing technology sector. Kim is the CEO of leading marketing technology company Amobee, overseeing over 900 employees across 25 global offices. Kim’s first book, The Execution Factor, The One Skill That Drives Success is a national bestseller, designed to help others achieve success in business and life by mastering execution.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After graduating from college, I went to work for a hot internet start up. I was employee №7, and we scaled to more than 300 people in less than two years. It was the best job I ever had. The company raised over $120 million in funding, but then the market took a sharp turn, the company went bankrupt and I was laid off. I suddenly found myself laid off, broke and devastated. It was the hardest time of my life. It was like someone pushed delete on my career.
From there, I knew I wanted to take my future into my own hands. I called my 80-year-old grandmother for a $10,000 loan and I started my own company from my kitchen table. I was certainly scared and had doubts. What I learned is that you have to feel the fear and do it anyway. My belief in myself had to be greater than anyone’s doubt. The company grew to over $100 million in annual revenue and I sold it. Broke at 23, I was a multimillionaire by the time I was 30. My last company sold for $235 million in 2014.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of my most memorable stories was when I was starting my first company in the early 2000’s long before cloud computing: I was at IKEA when my phone rang. My tech guy laid out the worst possible news for the founder of a startup without a backup server. Our database had crashed. In an instant, my world came down.
Of course, a small part of me wanted to run away and forget it ever happened. But I couldn’t — rather, I wouldn’t. Instead, I contacted our clients explained our solution — to rebuild and install a backup source and get us back up and running. I relied on resilience, and it worked because every one of those clients believed in what I said, and every one of them stayed with the company.
Looking back on this today, it seems almost comical that we didn’t have something as basic as a backup source (again before cloud computing!). But as a startup, you have to learn from mistakes and failures, as you need grit and resilience to succeed, and that continues to serve me today.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have taken on digital advertising and the next frontier is TV. Last year, Amobee acquired an amazing technology company for TV and digital video advertising. We’re focused on delivering the next generation advertising for the convergence of digital and TV, combining TV, social and digital advertising in a single platforms. The market opportunity is enormous and it’s very exciting to be on the forefront.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
As a leader, it’s important to focus your time and energy towards the most important part of your business: the people. Your main priority is to have the right people and build the right culture. The majority of your time should be spent focusing on your people: how you can empower them, remove roadblocks, and make them more effective, successful, productive, and happier in the workplace.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
They’re all interconnected. An unhappy workforce can negatively impact company productivity, company profitability, and employee health and wellbeing. The opposite is also true; an engaged workforce will yield a more productive company, a more profitable company, and happy and healthy employees. People are a company’s most valuable asset.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Make Culture & Values a Priority. Values guide behavior and behavior guides culture. Set clearly defined company values. This helps ensure that you are bringing on the right talent, and keeping current talent focused on the right things. At Amobee, our values are Passion, Innovation and Collaboration. We also associate what these values look like in our day to day behavior and how we treat each other. What does it mean to be collaborative? Be curious, open minded, helpful, ask questions. Our values and the behaviors of our values clearly articulate to employees how to be successful at work.
- Set Defined Clearly Defined Goals & Celebrate Achievements. Set clearly defined goals and celebrate when they are achieved. At our company, Individual employees and department teams set quarterly goals. These goals are intended to empower employees to support the overall growth and direction of the company and understand if they are successful. It’s important to limit the goals so you have 3 main goals, and when you look at when you come to work every day, are you making progress on achieving those goals? So often we get caught up in the day to day and miss the bigger picture of what we are looking to achieve overall. Can you look back at the quarter and say, have I achieved these things and been successful? When goals are achieved, it’s important to celebrate with your team when goals are achieved — it can be a team lunch, happy hour or sporting event.
- Get Regular Feedback. Get regular feedback from employees. People are the most important part of any company, and it is key to ensure you are getting their feedback on a regular basis, and taking action on the feedback received. As your most valuable asset, people’s feedback — both formal and informal — is key.
- Cultivate Meaningful Leadership Opportunities for Others. Everybody wants their chance to shine, and empowering others with opportunities to make a difference is truly my favorite part about coming to work every morning. I’ve found that by providing promising, passionate individuals with the opportunity to show what they are capable of they will surprise you every time And with each opportunity to grow, their loyalty to your leadership and the organization only grows stronger.
- Actively Seek Out Diversity. A crucial component of building a great culture is ensuring that your team is diverse. Everybody brings different strengths and viewpoints to the table, and by harnessing the different strengths of different individuals, you can create a company where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
I believe creating a better work culture is two-fold. First of all, it starts with you and the way you see the world. Our view of the world and our career shapes our daily interactions. Your perception is your reality and I firmly believe you have to be the change you want to see in the world and your workplace and career. Einstein was quoted as saying: “The most important question you can ever ask is if the world is a friendly place.”
I also believe it’s imperative we understand the state of the market and what companies are facing today, which is one of dynamic and rapid change.
A Deloitte study looked at what types of people and companies survive in a world of unpredictability, constant change and disruption. Organizations, similar to people, that learn from unexpected challenges and do not crumble under pressure are better positioned for long-term success. There was a certain type of employee that succeeded in these types of organizations, which Deloitte referred to as Worker Passion, defined by three attributes rather than static skills that rapidly diminish over time. The first was a desire to have a lasting and increasing impact on a particular industry or function (referred to as commitment to domain). These individuals are constantly seeking lessons and innovative practices from adjacent and new domains that have the potential for impact within their chosen domain. The second was Questing which is the drive to go above and beyond their core responsibilities — constantly testing and pushing boundaries to identify new opportunities and learn new skills to improve. The third was connecting disposition that leads individuals to seek out and interact with others to share interests. They are on a quest to learn, seeking deep interactions with others, not to “network”, but seek out experts and continue to learn and develop no matter how knowledgeable they already are, so they can bring this back to their career and company.
For workplaces, to create a great environment, make people and culture and values a priority, and communicate that constantly. It doesn’t mean that a business will be without challenges, but ensures that despite challenges you remain committed to people and culture, and that is what gets you through.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I learned very early on in my career that people don’t like being told what to do. Everyone has their own way of getting from A to Z, and you learn it might not be my way, but that’s okay as long as we get to the same outcome. I learned that lesson in my first job. I realized that I may have very specific ideas about how I want things to run, but when your staff reaches a certain size, you can’t be specific on everything. You have to learn to trust and empower people to be able to do great things.
I’m generally not hierarchical and I like to speak with everyone directly and get a lot of opinions. I tend to work in a very agile fashion and like to be in the know. I am also a believer in letting people focus on their strengths and using their strengths at work, getting what they need at work to be their best selves.
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 about that?
Both my parents are entrepreneurs, so I learned an enormous amount by watching them. My father was a real estate entrepreneur, and my mother worked in organizational behavior and communications. She worked with companies and non-profits in the Pacific Northwest on their vision and values. So our dinner-table conversations were not about sports or school. It was more, “Here’s the business problem we’re trying to solve,” and then we’d have a family discussion about it. There’s a lot of hard-work DNA in our family. I was able to watch how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and how great it can feel when you build something successful. Everything had to be earned in my family. If I wanted to ride a horse, I’d have to work at the stable for seven hours before my one-hour horse ride.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a big believer in corporate social responsibility, so we’ve made that a large component of Amobee’s culture. It helps people feel connected to their community when they give back, and volunteering has the ability to help so many people. It’s win-win.
I am very passionate about helping others succeed, which is why I become an active angel investor. I also wrote a book to share what I have learned with others, in the hope that it helps many more people achieve success in business and life, The Execution Factor, The One Skill That Drives Success,
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Growing up in Portland, I was tested along with my brother and twin sister for an elementary school program called the Talented & Gifted (TAG) Program. My siblings were both accepted I was not. I was devastated. Twice a week, I would watch them take a bus to another school for “smart kids”. I didn’t understand why they were in the program and I wasn’t.
I remember asking my mother if they were smarter and better than me. She told me we all have unique talents and abilities — and many of them can’t be measured on a test. She told me Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote — “Comparison is the Thief of Joy”. She said comparing myself to anyone else (especially my twin sister) would not make me happy. She encouraged to focus on being my best and embrace what my talents and capabilities are. If you are always comparing yourself to someone else, you are competing with someone who has different capabilities and talents than yourself.
So I learned very early on to try to be the best me that I can be — rather than comparing or competing with someone else. Everyone is unique and has special talents — the key is to find yours and execute on what you are good at. This has made a significant impact on the way I live my life.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
Anyone can go from ordinary to extraordinary. Success is within the reach of everyone, it just takes execution. I believe that execution is a skill that can be learned. To start mastering the skill of execution, take the first step towards your goal today. Just dive in and move forward. Know that every time you act, no matter how small, you get one step closer to making your vision a reality. Just start. This could be reaching out to a colleague or mentor for coffee or advice, finally putting your plan into action, or starting that project that you’ve been delaying. No matter how small, take an action. People can often get caught in analysis paralysis and do too little to move forward and start executing on what they want to achieve.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!