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Michael LeGoff: “Burnout comes from the inability to accept things as they”

In my view, burnout comes from the inability to accept things as they are and adjust to the realities of the situation. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, so it is critical to be prepared to change to meet the existing circumstances. I am a great believer in being in the moment — […]

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In my view, burnout comes from the inability to accept things as they are and adjust to the realities of the situation. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, so it is critical to be prepared to change to meet the existing circumstances. I am a great believer in being in the moment — planning is necessary but, if you are always thinking, you miss the opportunity that is right in front of you at that time.


Michael LeGoff is CEO of sensor technology specialist Sorex Sensors. He has nearly 30 years of industry experience focused on commercializing technology and has been the catalyst for innovation and growth in a number of technology companies. He was the founder and CEO of power semiconductor specialist Dynex Power, and subsequently the relaunched electronics pioneer Plessey Semiconductors, amongst other executive and non-executive roles in technology.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Even during my time as a naval officer in the Canadian navy, I had a small business on the side. With my physics and engineering background, moving into tech companies after I left the navy was a natural next step. I initiated my first tech start-up in 1995 in Ottawa, Canada — Dynex Power Inc. We listed in 1998 and acquired the GEC Plessey site in Lincoln, UK, in 2000. I was then involved in relaunching and developing the brand strategy for Plessey, ran the commercial team — generating more than £200 million in sales — developed the GaN platform strategy, raised nearly £100 million for the company and successfully exited in December 2018. Early in 2019 I joined Sorex Sensors — a sensor technology spin-out from the University of Cambridge — as CEO to spearhead the company’s next phase of growth.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

When I founded my first tech business, Dynex Power, I needed to learn to differentiate between the business as a company and me as the founder and leader of the business. The business needs to stand alone as its own entity with its own stakeholders and have its own voice. When stepping back into a much smaller start-up, I had to go back to when I started both Dynex and Plessey, having to get involved in doing all aspects of the business. This is very different from managing people and especially different from managing managers of people.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Perseverance to the point of stubbornness is probably the key factor that has led to success. You have to believe in what you’re doing and keep going despite the many hurdles that you face in any business. The winners are often the ones who keep going when others give up. Even if you initially fail, the most important thing is to get up and carry on. Business life is never plain sailing so having the resilience to overcome obstacles is vital. Once you have built the perseverance into your frame, you then need to be able to continue to sense check that you are not simply running into the same brick wall. There is no point in doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. The creative problem solving is part of the job that I enjoy the most. You really are an artist in real life when running a business — creative thinking is essential.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Being a CEO is vastly different from being the founder/owner of the business. Your responsibilities, lines of communication, differentiation between company and self are all different from being the founder or business leader. In 2001, after the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the financial market meltdown, the semiconductor industry collapse and 9/11, we decided to hire a chairman for Dynex Power to allow me to focus on operating the business. It was then that I realised how the various stakeholders viewed the business separately from me as the founder and CEO.

2. The relationship each stakeholder has with the business is unique. As the CEO, you need to be intimately aware of the perceptions the various stakeholders — employees, management, suppliers, customers, shareholders, the community, government, banks, etc. — have with the business and how you can best manage those relationships. I am always surprised at how important it is to form personal relationships with the key stakeholders. You could imagine that a bank will see the relationship with the company as a pretty sterile environment — the business deposits funds, the bank provides a service in which funds can be deposited and paid out, etc. It is not until there is change and/or turmoil — as when debtors don’t pay — that a personal relationship with your bank becomes key. Even today, being able to speak to someone at your bank (call, email or text) to explain some unforeseen circumstances such that the bank can react and support the business is critical. Having access to local politicians is equally important — less for major policy changes, but even just to have your position advanced at the highest levels so that local government feels able to support your initiative.

3. As CEO, you need to be responsive to the board of directors representing the shareholders and, at times, other stakeholders such as employees or lenders — you should not be responsive to individual shareholders, regardless of how much of the company they own. As much as the CEO of a company needs to differentiate themselves from the business, so do shareholders. Whilst it may be difficult to understand the views of some activist minority shareholders we read about in the financial news, as the CEO you need to be intimately aware of the rights of minority shareholders and protect those rights equally with all shareholders, regardless of your own personal position. Not easy to argue in all situations. From my own personal situations, I can say that the best/only solution is to engage with a strong chairman who is able to simply and fairly adjudicate in these situations.

4. Ensure you have your own voice that is separate from the company. You will eventually be replaced as CEO — even Steve Jobs was fired — so you need to be able to leverage what you do in a role in your next role. I often work very closely on the development and creation of the brand and the brand values — for me, that can be key to a successful commercial launch of the technology. Having your own voice as CEO, with your own position on issues closely aligned with the brand of the company, is also key, but needs to be separate and distinct from the company.

5. Once you are CEO, it is extremely difficult to be considered for any other position within a company — you are forever colored in that role and it is difficult to transition back into an operational role. It is best to work with an agency and do your own career planning. Think about where you want to go next and what new challenges you want to tackle — either in your current post or your next one. The challenge for any CEO is always once you have achieved what you are going to do with this business/company, what are you going to do next? How can you continue to challenge yourself and ensure you continue to grow as a leader even as you leave a company to continue to grow by itself.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In my view, burnout comes from the inability to accept things as they are and adjust to the realities of the situation. No plan survives first contact with the enemy, so it is critical to be prepared to change to meet the existing circumstances. I am a great believer in being in the moment — planning is necessary but, if you are always thinking, you miss the opportunity that is right in front of you at that time.

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?

Many people have helped me at different times in my life. For the past five years, though, it has been my family. I had my prostate removed in 2018 due to prostate cancer. It’s been a real challenge to bounce back and would never have happened without the support of my family.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Like most entrepreneurs, I just want to make a difference — leave behind a legacy. I believe I have done that with Dynex and Plessey, and I’m now looking forward to doing that with my latest venture — Sorex Sensors. Sorex has the opportunity to make a real difference to our lives in terms of the air quality in which we live and raise our families, and in other real-life applications. The Sorex sensors will be used across a range of applications, including in the next generation of smartphones and tablets. The aspiration then extends to having the Sorex FBAR sensors completely change the point-of-care model such that your local physician will be able to quickly tell you if you have cancer markers from a few drops of blood.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

My most important lasting legacy are my two children, Rafaela and George. In the business world, I hope my legacy will be the businesses and technologies I have created, including Dynex and Plessey — my two ‘tech children’ — and then all the others I have influenced. Sorex should become the biggest of them all as the potential is enormous. As parents, we are often criticized for not letting our children grow up and for me that would be my biggest fault — I could have left the companies earlier to let them find their own way in the world.

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!

Be positive! Life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would start a movement to persuade everyone to follow their own path in the best way they know-how. If you look at some of the people who have transformed our lives in various ways — ranging from Eckart Tolle to Boris Johnson — it’s clear that we each as individuals can make our own impact during our time here. As individuals, I am always aware of how unique each of us is, and how we all make a contribution to the way this planet evolves. I am not suggesting that we strive to ensure we are developing the next big thing, but we can all make a positive impact on each other’s lives in our own way.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@MLeGoff and https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaellegoff/

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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