If you have the cultural blueprint and vision, the next key is customer delight. There is no team without your customers. If your team’s goal is to delight your customer, you’ll have a satisfied customer and an accomplished team.
I had the pleasure to interview Sujai Hajela, the CEO and co-founder of Mist
Thank you s much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
After I immigrated from India, I had the opportunity to work in Germany, Singapore and the US. I pursued a career in technology and went on to work with some of this millenia’s tech giants, such as Hewlett Packard and Cisco. Following my time at Cisco, I was inspired by my family, my friend and co-founder, Bob Friday, to create my own wireless company that focused on the mobile users experience — but I shared this idea with my daughter, she was unimpressed — and asked why I wanted to work at another Wi-Fi company. So I asked her and her friends what they wanted out of their Wi-Fi. They told me instant gratification, customization and personalized, real-time recommendations. They wanted the places they went to frequently, like the mall, to really know them. This helped me develop a user-centric team and methodology for the company — which would later become Mist. Bob, a technology domain expert in wireless and location was clear in his vision of bringing amazing mobile experiences. Our first advisory board was my daughter and her friends.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your division/company?
Around the time we founded Mist, a “virtual” bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacon was a ‘joke.’ One day, we were chatting with a customer about physical bluetooth beacon specifications, and he said he needed a beacon every three meters on the wall. and installing physical beacons was going to be an operations and management nightmare. Without hesitation, the customer told us — frankly jokingly — that he wanted the bluetooth network, without the physical beacons. At the time, we laughed, but when we took a step back, we realized that our team had the heart and the technology to make it happen, making it an exciting possibility for not only us, but our customers. We had the architecture and we had the AI concepts — we were applying to deliver AI powered wireless and can now leverage the same to deliver on on virtual beacons that people did not think possible.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
My basic principle is to talk to people. In order to synchronize, we need concrete answers to why we exist and come to work everyday. Once those answers are established, culture is imperative to enabling a large team to work together at its fullest capacity. As an entrepreneur, I’ve found that cultural pillars of ethics help to answer the final question of ‘How do I conduct myself?’ This allowed me to come up with three culture pillars that synchronize our team and allow them to run effectively: openness and transparency, family first, team before self. The second piece is aligning the vision. The culture is what employees need to synchronize and work together on. The alignment of vision is what those synchronized employees can then work towards.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that the global teams see the issues the way we do. Our development team internationally may not nteract with customers in other part of the continent every day, and as a result may not understand the client expectations and front-end issues. It can make us question whether the efficiency of a team is measuring up. After some road bumps, we found that we had to fundamentally change how the task was defined. We shifted our metric of efficiency to one of customer delight. All teams, global and local, needed to be measured by one question: ‘Did we make the customer happy?’
What advice would you give to other top level managers to help their employees to thrive?
Invest in your team. Empower them. As an executive, it’s easy to tell managers what they should be doing — but at every management level, it’s important to ask ‘Did we invest in this person?’ and ‘Have we given them the tools and training to be successful?’
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
It’s critical to invest at every level. For example, as our company grew globally, we equipped leaders with the tools and trainings specific to them so that they could then lead teams on the other side of the world.
Another underutilized tool is leadership coaching. As a business leader or top-level manager, consider employing a leadership coach or team to work with all staff. This will help arm them with the knowledge and tools to succeed.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1. Culture is the blueprint of your organization and team. No company is too small or too large to have culture.
2. Alignment of vision is needed on top of that culture to unify your team. Together with your team, identify what you are trying to accomplish. This will allow your team to make decisions on how to prioritize.
3. If you have the cultural blueprint and vision, the next key is customer delight. There is no team without your customers. If your team’s goal is to delight your customer, you’ll have a satisfied customer and an accomplished team.
4. A successful team and results is a byproduct of these three factors, but investment in your leaders is critical to making the team as efficient as possible.
5. Put family first. In the technology world, you are often faced with a choice between a startup and a family. For me, this is not a choice — the decision has to be family first.
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.
Information accessibility. Information should be available to everyone, everywhere in the world, at no cost. Information should not cost too much or be withheld. There are millions of people in the world without access to the basic, necessary information that many of us have at our fingertips. With the right information at a person’s fingertips, he or she can contribute to the economy and help the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you sleep well at night, all is well.” I learned early on that a good night’s sleep is a sign that I am at peace with myself and my work. In the context of personally reviewing our life performances, we are always chasing something. If you are chasing a thing, you’ll never rest, even when you reach that goal. There will always be something else to chase. A truly worthy goal is a good night’s sleep.