Name: Atif Sheikh
Job: Founder & CEO at Business 3.0
Current employer: Business 3.0
CV in brief:
- 2012-2014: European Leader, ?What If!
- 2011-2013: Transformation Practice Director, ?What If!
- 2004-2006: Marketing Controller, Cadbury Biscuits
- 1999-2004: Brand & Innovation Management, Unilever & Diageo
A day in your life
Tell us about your job and organisation
I started up my own company in January this year. Business 3.0 was created to help the leadership teams of large scale businesses figure out how not to become the next Kodak. We reinvent culture & behaviour, and/or strategy & business model. Plus we are putting our innovation smarts to good use building a suite of digital tools that will cost-efficiently create new behaviours and ways of operating across tens of thousands of employees.
Who do you report into?
For now – no one! Though I feel pretty damn accountable to the team I lead, and am also focussed on building a board of NEDs (non-executive directors) whom I fear and respect enough to keep me honest and growing.
Tell us about your team
It is the first time I have genuinely adhered to the principle of recruiting people better than yourself – and the reality of that is inspiring and scary in equal measure. We recruit people who have worked in business and consulting, and we look for hunger (passion for delivery and personal growth) and heart (care about people and the quality of their work).
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Creating something new without the baggage one normally has to manhandle when moving up in seniority within an established organisation. Having time to help super-talented people grow.
What is the most challenging part of the role?
Someone wise once said to me that the hardest people to manage are normally the best...
What does a typical day look like for you?
Get up and exercise between 7 and 8. Have breakfast with my family and get into the office for 10 having cleared anything I can by email on the way in. Then spend the day in and out of meetings, long and short, as needed to support the team or deliver client work. Try and be home for bath time (young kids!) and then I'll do another 90 minutes or so later in the evening.
Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?
I had two other exciting roles on the table – but this was the only one that would allow & force me to take total responsibility for our success or failure. Anywhere else the owner/parent would have likely created more bureaucracy and/or had too big a role in whether it worked or not. At least if I fail here, I will know it was on me.
Perks and downsides of your role?
Perks – Our office hours are 10am-4pm, if you recruit the type of people I mention above mandating office hours is pointless. And this way everyone can balance their life and work however is appropriate for them.
Downsides – None yet. I'm sure they will come but I have a brilliant leadership team around me and we will try to stay ahead of what we can, and work together to sort things quickly on what we can't.
What skills are essential for the role you’re in?
- Empathetic and nuanced communication with anyone at any level of a business
- The ability to inspire, energise, challenge and focus exec teams
- Expertise in both how cultures work and are built, and how businesses need to strategise and execute in order to grow profitably
How did you get to where you are now?
Hard work, lots of work on understanding what gets the best out of me and what doesn't, and a constant hunger to learn and deliver.
What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?
I was always a linguist – at one stage I spoke Russian, Italian, Japanese, French, English and Urdu fluently! After A-levels I went on to Cambridge to study Russian & Italian and then switched to Social & Political Science. A great grounding in what makes people tick.
What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?
My first job was at Unilever as a management trainee. Ultimately I chose it because the people seemed to have values similar to mine, and marketing was at the time the perfect blend of commerciality and creativity.
Have you followed the career path you set out to?
I have always had a 10-year-ish direction/set of goals, but have allowed plenty of room for that plan to evolve as I have learnt more about myself and new opportunities have presented themselves.
Am I still heading in the direction I set myself? Yes. I am on the exact path I would have guessed? No.
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
I think the biggest challenges have been my own weaknesses and faults and staying constantly on top of addressing them. For example, right now finding a way to sustain the pace with greater balance and calm is the key – I haven't cracked that yet, and will burn out if I don't.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?
I am not one for crazy. I just try and be good enough to get in the door.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Starting Business 3.0 and assembling a truly effective team. Watching that team flex its muscles and grow has been hugely satisfying.
Do you have any career regrets?
None. I think I moved on when I needed to and for the right reasons. And took the right opportunities.
What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?
If you want to be a truly effective consultant then go learn what it is like to deliver in a big business first. It will give you the empathy and understanding to actually deliver impact.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-oldself?
Enjoy this phase fully. The next one will be good too, but you'll never have this one again.
- Coffee or tea? Tea. Because it's the ultimate emotional leveller – it calms you down if you're a bit stressed, and it gees you up if you're a bit down.
- Jam or marmalade? Jam. If you're going to have all that sugar, might as well enjoy the sweetness!
- The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Neither I am afraid – I'd go Earth, Wind & Fire any day.
- Mac or PC? PC for work. Though increasingly everything – even Powerpoint presentations – is now done on my iPhone 6 Plus. When does anyone get enough time to sit in front of a laptop at a desk anymore?
- The Guardian or The Times? The Guardian app and The Times in an airport lounge/on a Sunday. I believe the only way to get to an objective view is to read and appreciate all sides of the story.
- BBC or ITV? Very impressed by ITV's Renaissance. But it's still a quarter pounder to the BBC's fillet steak...
- M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose – brand and substance both. M&S still struggling with the substance bit – and ultimately great businesses are built on total excellence in both arenas.
- Morning or night? Morning. As long as I have exercised. Clarity and energy from the start make for a bloody effective day.
- Rain on snow? Snow. Love the way it makes you see everything anew.
- Sweet or savoury? Savoury. Sugar is a fleeting rush, savoury lasts the distance.
- App: Lloyds Banking App. The closest an FS company has come to creating a joyful banking experience.
- TV show: Suits. LA Law for the 21st century.
- Band: Gloriana. Am entering a slightly guilty country phase.
- Song: Let It Go by James Bay. Beautiful without being insipid.
- Book: The Rational Optimist. Life is good. Fact.
- Sports team: Chicago Bears. Their performance over the past 20 years is teaching me stoicism.
- Thing to do on a Friday night: veg on the sofa and watch something unchallenging. Time to hit reset before the weekend.
- Place to eat: Boopshi's off Charlotte Street. Schnitzel rocks. Schnitzel with gravy, a duck egg and anchovies rocks more.
- Holiday spot: Maine, New England. Stunning and undiluted countryside, coupled with all the art and culinary adventure you care for.
- Piece of advice you’ve been given: When confronted with a tricky dilemma don't whatever you do try and think your way to the answer. You'll drive yourself mad/end up at the wrong answer. Instead explore, learn, refine.
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Watch Atif Sheikh's keynote presentation at our Future Talent conference 2015: