Last week, we hosted an event in tandem with our partners at Techspace. We were lucky enough to host Adrian Blair, CEO of Receipt Bank and former COO of Just EAT as they went through IPO. We had a fascinating conversation, driven by some interesting questions from our packed out audience, across a wide range of subjects. If you didn’t manage to make it, we’ve highlighted the main insights below.
Advice to companies as they grow towards IPO
Throughout the growth process, there can be a lot of avenues to explore; new verticals, the business offers and potential priorities to name a few, which can be incredibly attractive to pursue. Adrian emphasised the need to work out what your niche is and get incredibly good at that, rather than spreading yourself too thin. This was illustrated by his experience at Just EAT where they were inundated by offers from retailers to form delivery partnerships. They stuck to their business model, did it well, and expanded by geography rather than vertical in order to guarantee success.
This was also incredibly useful in preparing for IPO. Investors want to be able to predict what’s going to happen and this is much easier when the business is simple and large – which is what every business should be aiming for if they’re looking for an exit. Another tip Adrian shared was to hire someone to be solely in charge of preparing for the IPO. Many companies ask their finance team to simply add preparation to their current priorities and this can lead to slip-ups in getting everything done and meeting deadlines.
His final piece of advice was to ensure you focus on people as early as possible. In his new role, as CEO of Receipt Bank, his first priority was to hire an outstanding Head of People. Culture and development opportunities are key for attracting and keeping the best people, and in order to achieve this, you need a good HR team in place early. It’s important to have a strong set of values which are not only selected carefully but are actually lived by the senior management team. If the senior leadership don’t reflect the values in their actions, then the values don’t actually exist within the company. It’s important, for the consistency of the brand, that these values are reflected across international borders – that, at its core, the Danish team operates in the same way as the US team.
However, it’s also important to recognise the differences between cultures. One of your values may be to straight talk, but taking into account differences in the use of direct language in various cultures, will result in a slightly different final outcome.
Hiring is one of the most difficult and important parts of successfully growing a business. Adrian ensured that all of the country managers he hired were fantastic people who he could trust, so he didn’t have to be involved with the detail of running those operations as company COO. If he hadn’t found the perfect person, he would never settle, and would rather get hands-on in running operations rather than hiring the wrong person. He struggled for months to find the right person to manage Ireland, managing the country himself for a few months, but ultimately struck gold and found an ideal candidate after a long search.
Adrian also warned against hiring everyone from one specific background. Many companies will only want to hire people who have a specific set of companies, but it’s extremely valuable to have a variety of backgrounds and being flexible opens you up to a lot of fantastic candidates.
When interviewing, he admitted to having made a lot of mistakes due to the limitations of an interview-based hiring process. Although unavoidable, this can be minimised by ensuring you meet candidates face-to-face and never relying on video calls to make a decision. He noticed a correlation between bad hires and those he hadn’t managed to meet and has stuck to this principle ever since. Meeting in person also allows the opportunity for other members of your team to interact with the candidate. He’d previously had the experience of discussing a candidate with his assistant, having just had a fantastic interview. She mentioned that when she’d brought him a glass of water he hadn’t thanked, or even acknowledged her when she came in. Although this may seem small, it says a lot about the character of a candidate and is an invaluable insight into what they would be like in the role.
During this interview process, he also has characteristics which he looks for. He spoke of opposing pairs of characteristics which are rarely found together, but when they are, signal an incredible candidate. The first pair he identified was emotional stability vs high energy, highlighting that it’s incredibly important that candidates can stay calm under pressure but also have the energy to motivate a team. However, it can be difficult to find these in combination and those which manage to balance both are incredibly valuable across the business. Perhaps controversially, Adrian has a theory that intelligence and integrity can be opposing pairs too. He argued that often those who were clever were less honest, as they had the option of framing events as being more positive than they actually were, which can be very challenging for getting to the root of the problem. Of course, there are still many candidates who have both and these are the people who need to be brought into your business.
Career advice and differences in roles.
There was a lot of agreement on the panel here:
Adrian was asked about what advice he would give teenagers who had aspirations to reach C-suite positions. He highlighted the fact that what’s taught in school isn’t particularly relevant in the working world, and there are a lot of essential skills which are missing by the time teenagers leave school. Everyone is his position has an obligation to open the door for teens to have experience of the workplace as early and often as possible in a real place of work. To this end, he founded his own business, Circl, which aims to facilitate this.
He also spoke about the differences between the C-suite positions he’d held. Most interestingly, although a lot of people aim for the CEO position, it comes with a lot of negatives too. He felt that it was actually quite a lonely role since you no longer have any peers. There’s nobody that you can bounce ideas off as an equal, nobody you can complain about your boss to, and you ultimately feel all of the responsibility from below and your board above. Despite this, the challenges and pressures are what stimulates him and he’s excited to see where he can take Receipt Bank.
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