5 Things I've Learned: Andrew Sukawaty

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Andrew Sukawaty, ’86 MBA, is currently chairman of the London-listed global satellite operator, Inmarsat, having been the CEO for eight years and is an Executive in Residence of the private equity firm Warburg Pincus. In his 35+ years in the business he has led wireless (Sprint in U.S.), satellite, cable TV, and technology companies in Europe and the U.S. He has led four companies into successful initial public offerings and also led two privatizations of government entities in the telecommunications and technology sectors.

Here he shares five bits of wisdom he has discovered over the years.

1. The world is shrinking. Embrace it!

Almost all businesses of size today must think and act globally to succeed. This is much easier said than done and most companies underestimate the challenge. The complexity of and fundamental difference in markets, laws, culture, political systems, and standards require that companies shape themselves to deal with the challenge. However, a commitment to understanding the issues and taking them on with patience, empathy, and determination is key to sustainable success.

Creating a globally competitive company in your sector also creates enormous and often unexpected opportunities. Of course, truly local businesses are affected less, but few are truly immune to the effects of globalization.

2. Great teams accomplish great things. Be a part of one!

Great teams start with a blend of talent, experiences, and perspectives which then must be orchestrated to a common goal. Diversity in every way is essential for great teams. If you take the comfortable route and surround yourself with people like you, you will pay the price.

Early in your career, seek out great people and associate yourself with them. Learn from them. Recognize the talents of people on the team, respect them, and create an environment for them to excel.

3. Focus on customer experience. Customers decide!

Other than commodities, businesses, or monopolies, success is dependent on continually satisfying customers better than the competition. For technology companies, who are often focused purely on delivering functionality, this is a daily battle. The digitalization of information, combined with a true revolution in access to it through high-speed networks and amazing new devices in our homes and in our pockets, is opening up possibilities for business that didn’t previously exist. However, predicting customers’ wants, needs, desires, and actions for new products and services is an inexact science at best. Companies that truly understand their customers, embrace the technology capabilities, and evolve the customer experience, will be the ones that prosper.

4. Have an ownership mentality. Do it well!

For individuals to excel, they can’t simply be showing up for the job. They must think like an owner. This has deep and broad-reaching implications. It drives a passion for taking on responsibility and with it a positive attitude toward being held accountable. Of course, this is more difficult early in a career with a role that may be more narrow in scope. It helps to have a task which is inspiring in itself, but one needs to see beyond this because many tasks are not.

Ownership thinking means thinking more broadly about the task and treating all resources as though they were your own. Those who truly think of themselves as owners of a business truly add value and, as an individual, it differentiates you from the crowd. My father, who had his own small business, impressed this on me. Truly owning your role and task mentally drives you to do it well.

5. Execution trumps being first. Be alert and act!

Innovation and looking for the new best idea is certainly part of driving success in business. However, the world is full of great ideas that go nowhere. Rarely does the person, or even the company, who comes up with an idea first, capitalize on that idea. The spoils from an idea go to those who execute on the idea most effectively.

Companies who are great at identifying relevant ideas to improve and rapidly incorporate them are more often than not the market leaders. I remember an old poster I once saw that crudely captured the thought “Steal an idea to win!” This of course is not to be taken literally, but to develop an efficient operating process to gain advantage from innovation, which often separates the winners from the losers.