I am currently involved in a new business venture. I founded a company, provided the seed funding and we have been developing the product over the past two years. An initial version will be launched in June 2020. The product is a web platform that allows everyone to complement their resume with a personal narrative. Our mission is to make an individual’s thoughts, values and principles as reflected in their written words an essential part of their evaluation along with their skills and accomplishments. The goal is to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their leadership potential, independent of pedigree, gender, ethnicity and age, as such information is deliberately kept out of the platform. The narratives stay anonymous until their authors are contacted for connecting, professional engagement or hiring.
In parallel, I continue to be interested in providing my advisory services to organizations, preferably in a board director or executive advisor capacity.
I started my career as an R&D scientist in a multinational corporation. My organization's role was to conduct fundamental research. I enjoyed my work and was surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the field, but over time I realized my real interest was in the applications of science. I left after four years to attend business school, which in turn allowed me to move to Silicon Valley where I have since pursued my career.
My first job after business school was with another multinational company. I joined as a product manager and rose to corporate vice president responsible for several businesses. I led organizations in the US, Asia and Israel. I lived through a period of hyper growth as the company's revenues multiplied twenty fold. Along with rewards came the challenges of managing constant change across multiple locations. The recognition of every culture’s strength and the right organizational design were the primary keys to effective alignment. Along the way, I have also understood the value of discovering and encouraging leaders who can harness the best of others across all levels, while realizing the fallacy of betting on lone superstars or “game breakers” for sustained success.
I left after 15 years to become CEO of a VC-backed software company. I led it to a relatively successful exit considering I had to face the adversities of the great recession during my tenure. Six years later, I am very happy to see that the company’s products and employees have been thriving in the two Fortune 1000 companies which acquired our two businesses. While my extensive knowledge and understanding of the industry's dynamics and key players were important, I attribute my success primarily to my realization of a new market that fit the company’s technologies better. I formed a new division (startup within a startup) and allocated the company's talent for best fit to one or the other division in terms of skills and style. I let go the executives who did not fit the new strategy and promoted others to those roles. One significant outcome was the high value assigned during exit to the caliber of the company's workforce and their demonstrated productivity as two parallel teams matched to their leaders.
More recently I served as an advisor to the CEO of another VC-backed private company. My role was to develop and implement strategies for growth, including strategic industry partnerships. While those were effective, manufacturing scale mattered most which the company did not have the necessary capital to build. The company's challenges were compounded by the lack of a cohesive management team where I had limited influence. In the end, the company has failed to achieve its goals and I had to leave after the CEO resigned.
Engineering & Applied Science
My original interest centered on chemical engineering and later chemical physics in graduate school. Chemical physics was the basis of many technological advances, including the discovery and application of lasers. I was fascinated by the possibilities of the technology and its practical applications across industries. I attended business school with the intent to migrate from science and technology as a researcher to driving their commercial applications as a business leader
In hindsight, I have realized that business school transformed my decision making process - business decisions are made under uncertainty, often with data that is incomplete or impossible to gather, unlike in science and engineering. That in turn requires developing a strong sense of the industry's dynamics, including customers, competitors and macroeconomic factors. In business school, I have also acquired powerful frameworks for simplifying complex situations into actionable strategies. Throughout my career, I found myself spending a good deal of my time as manager and executive in drawing the fundamental distinction between marketing and sales, the most misunderstood and confused functions - yet among the most critical for sustained business success. Marketing equates to strategy. It looks at the outside world in order to drive the right strategy and actions inside the organization. The sales function looks inside and drives actions outside. I highly value marketing and it has been a passion that drove my interest in business management.
At this phase of my career, I am interested in the people aspect of management. There are significant opportunities for improvement in selecting the right people for a given organization. I believe personal characteristics, individual style and fit to the environment determine a successful career path more so than individual skills and they must be included as primary considerations in the selection process and the makeup of an organization. New methodologies are needed and I want to contribute to it.
I love to watch soccer and am an avid follower of several teams across Europe. I grew up with soccer, its intricacies, controversies, the unlimited passion it generates and the beauty that comes from it. For contrast, unlike for instance basketball where one superstar can carry a team to season glory, ultimate success in soccer depends on team skills and leadership. Once in a while, a single clever play can make a winner out of not a well executed 90 minutes while a single moment of lapse can make a loser out of an otherwise perfectly executed 90 minutes. Even music is a part of it. There has been no better moment in my soccer memory than the performance of "Three Tenors" prior to the final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, as the emotions of soccer impossibly elevated three perfect voices to yet another level. It is no wonder soccer generates equal passion in masses of ordinary people and luminaries like Henry Kissinger, Pope Francis and other. After I came to the United States, I had been mostly deprived of soccer until it has finally moved from occasional games shown in specialty sports bars to every game from England and other prominent leagues shown on TV, which, as a lighter note, has further reinforced my faith in the progressiveness of the United States.
Listening to radio is another favorite pastime activity of mine. On radio one can often find deeply interesting, thought provoking and educational content. I listen to music channels which include stories about classical music, opera, jazz, and classic rock in their programming. I also listen to programs on public stations, especially those involving interviews that shed light into people's lives, famous and not famous, and how they came to where they are now.
I am an amateur photographer - an interest that I have unknowingly inherited from my father. Not a single day has gone by in my recent memory when I did not take at least one photo of something I observed which was either beautiful to look at, interesting to record or inspiring. I spend time on editing my photos whenever I can and maintain a large personal library that cuts across objects, scenery, places and people. The process of taking photos and then patiently editing them until I am satisfied that their entire beauty has been extracted gives me great satisfaction. It also allows me to deeply observe and feel what is in an image. In that aspect, photography and marketing - as I defined it under my education - are one and the same passion.
Defining my field as management in general, I would say the most important problem that needs to be solved concerns the missed opportunity in human resource management. Too often, people are not in their right places, hence impairing their own success and that of the organization they work for. Success strongly depends on fit between an individual's style and the organization's style. Within a large company, in the same job description, not succeeding in one division only to do very well in another is a common phenomenon. The similar phenomenon is also observed across two companies identical in their size, market and offerings. One may not do well in one and succeed in the other. Skills and objectives have not changed. What changed was the environment, how people operate and what they value. In an industry I am familiar with, Applied Materials and Lam Research are two equally successful and fierce competitors. Lam is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Left Applied Materials”. For a long time, Lam’s top management and many key players were former employees of Applied Materials, a company with very different set of values and style. While the success of Applied Materials could be said was due to creative chaos, Lam’s was because of process focus and operational discipline. Individuals that would be labeled unwanted “bureaucrats” at Applied Materials became heroes at Lam. Some large companies alleviate the problem by creating an internal market across divisions with different operating styles. It works for some but does not for many others. The result is constant churn. If people are in their right place, they do not usually leave to join another company for better pay or title. The corollary is also true. People who don't fit leave in search of fit, often expressed as "a better opportunity". Better pay or title is a disguise.
Solving the problem requires a paradigm change, especially in the hiring process. A typical job description overemphasizes specific skills and particular experience while says very little if anything what type of an individual would fit the organization’s style best. Some employers try to address it in the interview process, but that process is highly dependent on a candidate's "interviewing skills" – usually interpreted as how to manipulate the interview so that one is perceived to be a good candidate, not that one is. When that is the case, there is no winner. The candidate who gets hired realizes later that it was the wrong choice of a work place and the employer realizes it was the wrong hire. Effective interviewing can be but is rare.
A new process is needed that involves change in both the candidate's approach and the hiring side's. It is in the candidate's best interest to present who they are (and who they are not) with sincerity. That requires self-awareness. Those who are self-aware do best not only in their workplace choices but in maximizing their leadership potential over their careers. On the hiring side, urgency to hire must be balanced by prioritizing the evaluation of a candidate as a whole person. There is a longstanding benchmark in college and graduate school admissions (in certain fields), especially when they are highly competitive. Fit is emphasized first. The same intellect, achievement level, set of skills, and evidence of ambition result in acceptance by one place while denial by the other and often unpredictably. It happens because the values emphasized across otherwise similar institutions are not the same. The outcome is a qualified applicant is only matched with schools that fit them best. The process heavily relies on writing. What we write and how we write allows others to have a good view of who we are beyond just what we have done. Writing also stimulates self-awareness and, if sincere, reflects one's values. Writing that is not sincere tends to be apparent and that, by itself, says something important about us. Adapting a similar process in human resource management, especially for initial hiring, has the potential to maximize an organization's best interest both in the short and the long term. The implementation on the hiring side requires no more than taking some additional time to read written narratives which augment professional profiles.
The Leaderzlog platform enables the process and makes it simple. However, it comes with a caveat. The hiring side's awareness is required of the organization's style, including awareness of the different styles of the different parts of the organization when it is a large one. The organization’s style can be matched with a personal style questionnaire filled in by those who have worked with the applicant. A simple but powerful questionnaire is that offered in the Leaderzlog platform by using an adaptation of the PAEI methodology developed by Dr. Ichak Adizes, a reputed management theorist.
While earlier in my career I may have relied on analytical approaches using educated guesses at outcomes and their probability estimates, at this stage of my professional life I am able to see patterns. I have seen a significant number of good and bad outcomes involving every aspect of running a business. They enabled me to construct a mental library. When I am confronted with a situation where I don't have all the information, I rely upon recognizing the pattern and matching it to my library. It often happens automatically. Patterns can include the tone of a communication with a customer, employee, or superior; questions raised during a product development; behavior of the market; the pace of events; and many other situations.
When I became CEO of a startup which was in the process of developing a highly sophisticated and complex software product, I faced a situation where I knew little about the technology and the highly complex mathematics behind it. However, I was able to observe and effectively gauge whether we were on the path to success or failure. I relied on my experience in managing products which involved primarily chemistry and manufacturing equipment hardware, a technology combination presenting entirely different constraints and challenges than what I was facing. Yet, the patterns were almost exactly applicable and I have been able to interfere, suggest actions and make decisions when needed.
Another situation of uncertainty I have encountered was in my recent engagement with a solar energy company in an advisory role. I had no prior experience with the customer base. When I was asked to quickly develop strategies for invigorating the company’s sales, the company was only able to provide me with limited data about customer profiles, what budget constraints they faced and how they operated. The immediate decision I had to make was which customers the company should spend its highly constrained resources on. As I began by reviewing their interaction with the company, I was able to quickly filter out those who were not likely to result in the desired return in the required time and those who should be pursued. Very familiar patterns emerged by simply reading and/or listening to what they were saying, how they were saying it, whether they came across evasive or engaged, their openness to answering questions, sharing information with us, and their overall tone in their communications. I was able to recognize those that had the potential to generate sales fast and focused my attention on them. The result was not only sales came back but the company’s resource waste on wrong targets was eliminated.
My most important criteria involve an employee's disruptive behavior. No matter how skilled an individual is, if they are disruptive to the organization in their behavior, the cost incurred far outweighs their benefit. Unless the type of work done allows the isolation of the disruptor, they should be asked to leave.
To let someone go for their disruptive behavior is a difficult but necessary decision, especially in smaller organizations. It is difficult because there may be no immediate backup or safety net to rely on. Organizational measures should be put in place before acting upon the decision.
I distinguish disruptive behavior from disruptive ideas. Disruptive behavior affects the productivity of others for reasons sometimes as simple as working hours kept, not sharing information, refusal to cooperate or creating office politics. On the other hand, disruptive ideas are necessary and can be very useful once checked and properly vetted. Leaders play a key role in keeping the balance between disruptive creativity and distraction.
Performance shortcomings can usually be fixed provided the employee is willing. Disruptive behavior arises from habits and mindset which are much more difficult and often impossible to change.
I consider my most successful period as the period when I overcame obstacles which were seemingly insurmountable and not the period that resulted in the best outcome for me personally.
The toughest test I faced involved my seven years as a (hired) CEO of a startup. While I had previously been responsible for successfully running a billion dollar business group in a large corporation, the challenges then did not come close to what I had to overcome as a startup CEO in scope and stakes involved. Large corporations provide safety nets for just about everything and the consequence of failure is personal, one is reassigned or in the worst case fired. Business groups are supported by corporate functions in key areas like finance and infrastructure led by a C-level executive. In many cases, other functions like sales, service, manufacturing and human resources can be centralized as well, all serving the business group leaders so that they can stay focused on market share growth, profitability and product development. In contrast, there are no safety nets at any level in a startup. The consequences of failure include all stakeholders - investors, employees and customers. A large corporation is equipped to survive just about any short-term failure, while a start-up gets to play once, maybe twice, and if it doesn't work, the game is over for everyone for good.
When I took the job, the company was near shutdown due to lack of new investor interest after many failed attempts. The product development was making no progress, the initial premise of the technology was not panning out, and the workforce was in chaos. The original and only investor in the company, a then prominent venture capital firm, had reached the conclusion that the company was "unfundable", but was willing to give me a chance after they observed me as an advisor to the company. They saw some hope in my approach to solving problems and my deep understanding of the target market. I was able to bring in a new investor almost immediately thanks to one of their general partner's personal trust and confidence in me, only to see cash beginning to dry up again just when the great recession hit. Investors were pulling back from many of their portfolio companies and I faced the same risk. Yet, I was able to win both our investors' continued support because of the fast progress we had made with the product in my first year in charge, thanks to some key changes I implemented in the management team and by instituting a product development process driven by market requirements, not the technology. The investors’ support allowed me to partially cover the cash need, but it was insufficient to bridge the company through sustained positive cash flow which was yet to be achieved. I needed a creative solution. It came in the form of an asset sale after I have realized the same technology could also be applied in an adjacent but not overlapping market. I started a new division in the company that would pursue the new application, moved a few key employees into that division, signed a collaboration agreement with an industry leader that would benefit from the new application the most, obtained some upfront funding as well, and found a buyer for the original product's assets after I was able to divide our IP portfolio by field of use. After tough negotiations, a deal was reached and its proceeds generated a significant amount of cash for investing in the new product - which led to the company's growth and ultimately exit by acquisition. The obstacles I had to overcome in order to make that turnaround happen were many, not the least of which was agreement by the investors to reinvest the proceeds of the asset sale for potentially better returns to them in the future.
I believe what made this success story possible had to do first and foremost with maintaining honesty in my interactions with the investors, albeit with disagreements and occasional heightened emotions. I knew I was responsible to them as owners of the company, not as my bosses. I realized from the onset no strategy or action on my part would be effective unless those considered, with sincerity, a win-win outcome for the investors and the company's other stakeholders.
Building mutual trust and respect with the investors was the first necessity but not sufficient to succeed. The creative approaches I pursued were highly risky by nature and would not have been possible without building their confidence in my ability to execute difficult tasks. My first priority as CEO was to demonstrate that I could make the organization achieve the desired results as planned. I stayed mindful of it throughout.
My references have been requested and are currently pending.