Leadership has never been easy. However, in today’s digital era, being a leader has become even more challenging. Few businesses are truly prepared for the changes fueled by artificial intelligence (AI), big data, machine learning, or blockchain technology. How can you become a successful corporate leader, able to exploit the real potential of cutting-edge tech solutions? Zoltán Bruckner, an international business coach with more than 15 years of venture capital (VC)experience, suggests that leaders must step out of their comfort zone to stay on top of their game.
“Change is just uncomfortable! And since we all have a comfort-seeking streak, which means we want stability instead of crisis and chaos, many business leaders and entrepreneurs become less motivated to get out of their comfort once the crisis is over. Especially when you have a nicely furnished office and a certain level of revenue, and things are looking good. This is the riskiest moment: When you are feeling comfortable, your competitors are under stress to race ahead; they are working a bit harder or coming up new ideas or making an effort to hire even smarter people. Of course you also need to look inward and integrate new people and processes. This takes more time than you have... So looking outward for what’s new and looking inward for a truly good team is the game to play,”
says Zoltán Bruckner who has recently started his own development consultancy and coaching company.
Tackling the digitalization challenge
Zoltán originally wanted to become a diplomat, so he studied foreign policy and economics at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in the USA. He soon realized that he had different ambitions. He began working for large financial institutions in the private sector, such as ING Barings, an international investment bank based in Amsterdam and 3TS Capital Partners, a technology VC firm based in Helsinki. Then he founded his own VC fund management company, Primus Capital, and has invested in 12 companies in the past 10 years. When he and his partners sold Primus to a large Hungarian bank, Zoltán decided to make use of his company-building experience for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that want to grow faster internationally.
Most large companies are seriously challenged by digitalization, so it’s a good strategy for small businesses to create new technology and then sell their business. Many large corporations are buying up small tech companies for their tech know-how because it’s often faster to buy something that works than to build it. This strategy requires small companies to become visible fast by entering large markets, for example in Asia, the USA, or the UK. Some profitability is helpful but growth is key.
“Most Central European companies do not have experience in burning cash. When they receive a few million euro of funding, their job is to spend the money smartly and efficiently. But with no cross-border growth experience, this is quite a challenge and always takes longer (i.e. costs more) than planned,”
Zoltán adds. His goal is to help leaders to avoid making the same mistakes he and his portfolio companies have made in the past few years. “As a tech-CEO, it’s hard to make the right decisions in front of your peers with all those unknowns, and the cash running out and the VC becoming unfriendly.”
Leadership skills for a new age
As digital disruption sweeps across every industry, leadership capabilities must also keep pace.
“Leaders still strive to be efficient, but this requires a new attitude and new skills. Digitally capable leaders do not have to be digital experts! Their key challenge is to build expert teams, to keep their people engaged, and to drive a culture of innovation,”
Zoltán explains, highlighting the following characteristics.
Be really curious about new technology in your market. This is key since technology adoption is fast and your competitors may have already seen it and done it. You need to be in the picture about what’s going on in your tech field and customer market. Some new technology might come from Russia or India and you can use it first to change the game.
Get the right people on board. It’s important to hire young professionals whose ways of thinking can help to adopt new technologies faster. You also need to successfully integrate them into your existing business, constantly renewing your team and keeping your experienced colleagues motivated.
Feel free to move. Being geographically flexible not only means the willingness to travel, but also the willingness to actually move to your markets. You happen to be born in a certain country, but that’s not necessarily the best place for your company. Even if you just want to hire a local colleague, you have to spend a lot of time there, because finding the right person is not just about headhunting. It requires cultural affinity and trust built up over time.
Looking for inspiration? Go to Asia!
Seems simple? Still, most of these are just too hard to practice for many leaders. There’s no time to get into the latest technologies. There’s a limited choice of the right kind of hires in your home markets. Travel and conferences take time.
“Conferences and webinars can help but they target an average audience. Hands-on training and bootcamps organized by the Future Tech Institute offer a good combo in a time-efficient way. Since it’s tailored to your needs it’s perfect for any business leader or entrepreneur who wants to know what’s going on in the fastest-growing markets of the Southeast Asian region and how local tech businesses and investment works there,”
Zoltán says. Participating can be a massive step outside your comfort zone because it’s not an obvious move to travel to Asia for 10 days and discuss business challenges and solutions with professionals from different countries from morning to evening. This experience cannot be reproduced any other way. Besides, it’s not only about knowledge transfer, it also allows participants to find future business partners.
“Southeast Asia is the perfect environment for studying digital businesses due to the giant economic growth and the tech boom taking place there. As a result, within 20 years the middle class in Asia will be 10 times the size of the middle class in Europe. This means that a rapidly increasing group of customers and markets is being established at the moment. It is better to become a part of that sooner rather than later,”