2020 has been a period of unprecedented change in all aspects of our lives, from how we interact with friends and family, to how we do business. At Livingston James, we understand that great leaders must be adaptable, ready to respond positively to this period of disruption. As such, we are launching our ‘Recognising Potential in a Crisis’ series.
Throughout the series, we connect with the CEOs of Scottish businesses across sectors to find out how they are using this period of evolution to reimagine their own potential, and that of their organisation to have the greatest impact.
The first CEO to feature in our series is Michael Groves, the founder of Topolytics, a data analytics company that uses mapping and machine learning to make the world’s waste visible, verifiable, and valuable.
During the pandemic, many organisations have accomplished what had previously been thought impossible. What have you learnt about yourself through this crisis?
That I hate sitting in front of my computer!
Seriously, it’s come at an interesting time for Topolytics, as we are starting to scale. Setting up new systems and processes, recruiting and onboarding remotely certainly has its challenges.
Luckily, we have a proposition and operate in a market where growth is tangible and in line of sight. I have seen the value that bringing more experience into the business brings – particularly around strategy and commercial growth. I do buy into the need for leaders to surround themselves with people that are better than them. Our work has been intense over the past six months and I have been constantly impressed with the energy, ideas, and application of ‘Team Topo’.
What beliefs or long-held assumptions have you needed to reset in your organisation to ensure your business is moving forward?
Luckily, one of the very few things I am any good at is keeping calm in the face of uncertainty or challenge. I think I cope well with risk and have always been able to think ahead and retain a view of the bigger picture.
As a business we have grown and continue to do so. The pandemic has further focused the commercial world on supply chains and resource efficiency – which strengthens our market environment. So, our ambition to make the world’s waste visible, verifiable, and valuable using mapping and machine learning, remains undimmed. We of course have had to execute differently, but the ability to adapt and survive in order to succeed commercially is what it’s all about, isn’t it?
While remote working has not affected productivity, the back to back online sessions can be wearing. My ears have mutated into a headset and I suffer from a condition variously called Zoom Gloom, Hangouts Horror or Teams Terror. I do miss the day to day interaction, humour and innovation that comes from having everyone together in the room.
In your opinion, what learnings should we bring forward into the organisation for the future and how has this changed the CEO’s role day to day?
We are starting to internationalise. With restrictions on travel, we have clearly been using digital communications, which has allowed us to move quickly and start to make connections, but that is a constant challenge.
While there are upsides to remote, digital communications, it will ultimately be about striking the right balance between virtual and real interaction. Bring on the latter!
How has your leadership style evolved over the course of the pandemic?
Honestly, I didn’t think I had a leadership style to begin with! If I do, I have not altered it in any way. I have always enjoyed getting out there and building excitement around what we are doing.
I have learned over the years to accept positive challenge and suggestion of new approaches. I have certainly learned to listen to my colleagues and others with more and better experience. As the company grows, so has the need for an experienced senior management team and advisors.
What personal qualities have you found most effective when leading your senior team and wider business through such uncertainty, and why do you think those qualities have shown over others?
Keeping true to our mission and vision is crucial. Whether through the pandemic or in ‘normal’ times, I try to be positive and humble and see humour as excellent medicine.
Beyond role modelling, how can CEOs encourage their senior teams and other leaders to enrich their networks and the velocity of learnings with their peers across industries, particularly when face to face interaction has been disrupted?
In my opinion, the medium should not really matter, its about creating the opportunity and the “why”. I love networking and enjoy seeing the team getting out there and spreading the message. There remains tremendous value in networks and nurturing of relationships. One can plan and strategise, but sometimes that chance encounter can lead to interesting places – from a business perspective!
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