Q1 What is the most valuable career advice you can give to people just starting out?
The most important advice I can give is: learn about yourself. Figure out who you are, what drives and motivates you, and where you are really good at in comparison to others. Only by doing so will you bring together the right mixture of passion and commitment to successfully think in a divergent way, commonly called thinking “outside the box.” Over the past decades I’ve figured out that having things straightened out with yourself is crucial when you want to challenge the status quo, because your unconventional ideas might very well meet with resistance. I was by chance in such situations several times, but self-confidence in the face of opposition strengthens you and, therefore, your positions.
Q2 What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
In an increasingly rapidly changing world that is marked by complex socio-technological changes and a seemingly endless stream of innovations, the biggest challenge facing leaders is the struggle to be constantly up to date while at the same time not going astray from the chosen path and losing sight of one’s company’s objectives. For that reason, leaders must always try to anticipate potential opportunities and risks for their brands and business models and adapt accordingly to avoid pitfalls that might result from the uncertain future. Seen potential opportunities must result in fast and well-thought-out decisions. With changes taking place on a nearly daily basis across the globe, leaders are basically faced with these challenges 24/7.
Q3 How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
We have gone to some lengths to ensure that our company truly embodies a global and multifaceted set of employees who are flexible, goal-driven and eager to learn. Successful organizations staff the right positions with the right people – people possessing the aforementioned three features that similarly represent core values of our company WebID. For that reason, our employees are equipped with an utterly proficient change management as well as the required flexibility to undertake new methods of operation in an age of nonstop digital disruptions and rapid evolutions. As for our leadership, the main task is communication – senior members have to ensure constant interaction, guidance and interchange with our employees to make the company successful.
Q4 Where do the great ideas come from in your organization? Do you encourage junior members to be creative and share business ideas with senior management?
Great ideas can come from anywhere, anyone and anytime in the organization. And they do. It would be a great strategic mistake and entrepreneurial loss for companies to build upon an organizational structure in which the value of ideas were defined vertically. We at WebID have managed to create a working space that is based on horizontal organization. For that reason, we have organized our working spaces more openly, with zones of contact and for meetings in an organic manner. This works extraordinarily well for us. Offices need to physically represent the philosophy of a company, and communication is a crucial pillar in that.
Q5 Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Looking at my job and the way how I conduct work, Steve Jobs certainly had a tremendous impact on my life. The comment he made about choosing between selling sugar water and changing the world when trying to persuade a Pepsi executive to come over to Apple really impressed me. More specifically, by inventing the iPhone, he laid the foundation for a more progressive and digital way of working that I opted for. Thanks to the smartphone, I don’t need the physical presence of an office. This allows me to work from everywhere and be more flexible – it has in fact become one of my most important companions. Through my smartphone I have permanent access to all data and documents, and it allows me to use my time more effectively, whether from India, Dubai or the U.S.
Q6 Tell me about a time you struggled with work-life balance. How did you solve the problem?
I think I struggled most in these matters before global digitalization and the invention of technological disruptions really gathered pace. Before that time, I was sitting in offices stuffed with piles of documents. This was a real horror to me. I don’t work well in such an environment, and ultimately, I lost a substantial amount of time in my private life. Now, I’m always on the lookout for new technologies that could optimize my everyday work and make it easier. This also requires my ridding myself of paper. For instance, at my essential office in Hamburg, I have only six shelves: in one there are tax or other formal needed documents, a further three have chargers, connection cables, USB sticks and finally snacks and drinks for our guests. The remaining two I leave empty. This lends me a sense of mental space.
Q7 Have you made unpopular decisions, such as firing employees or reducing compensation levels? What do you do to keep employee motivation alive after such actions?
Luckily, we’ve been spared the situation of making unpopular decisions that would affect the personal lives of our employees. And with regard to compensation levels: even if almost everyone would agree that payment is not the most crucial source of motivation, it is still crucial. Reducing compensation levels effectively means reducing employee motivation, thus reducing the success of your company. A reduction of compensation would probably cause the aforementioned pitfalls we try to avoid. In addition, an essential success bonus is right and motivating. So far, all bonus payments have been paid in full. That motivates additionally for the future.
Q8 As leaders, do you create work environments that are more competitive or collaborative in nature?
Collaborative, beyond any doubt. This is especially necessary for an organization like ours, which has torn itself away from a traditional working model and which has a CEO who has no typical physical office. Here, synergies among employees are crucial for the success of the company. I’m very glad to have such great teams across all company locations. A high level of confidence as well as constant level of interchange are vital.
Q9 How do you get buy-in from senior management and board on your business ideas?
As a CEO, I am of course excluded from this. Basically, I could implement the business ideas I consider to be successful for WebID. However, this isn’t the way we work at our company. As I already said, we’ve built a working environment that is collaborative. This applies to every level of our organizational structure.
Q10 How to increase employee productivity? Do you invest in their well-being?
The most effective way of increasing productivity in
your employees is to treat them as individuals and to give them decision-making
power. This is first and foremost done by an ongoing and regular recognition of
their achievements and their decisions. We enable every employee of our company
to become an innovator and entrepreneur within a digital and communicative
environment by providing maximum autonomy. Furthermore, even though I’m
virtually on the road, I value personal encounters a great deal, and therefore
try to find time to be in the office on a regular basis. Fair compensation
including a motivating success bonus, an open-end permanent position as well as
several opportunities to climb the career ladder round this off. Everyone feels
fulfilled, so everyone is happy and productive.