The importance of taking calculated risks in business
The word risk can often have negative connotations that stem from its definition: ‘a situation involving exposure to danger’.
From a young age, we are taught to stay within the confines of our means and be structured in what we do, whether that is saving money, getting a degree, getting a secure job, or having a long-term partner.
The reality is that everyone is different and what someone may perceive as taking a risk could be an everyday action for another individual. In business, without an element of risk there is simply no return. You must take risks to get ahead, but the key is always to ensure those risks are as calculated as possible and not irrational.
The Covid-19 pandemic has meant tightened budgets and scrutiny over all manner of decisions, so entrepreneurs and business owners must weigh up the consequences of their actions more than ever.
For many companies, calculated risks during a time of crisis can often be about ensuring there is no reputational damage to their long-term business, whether that is decisions relating to staff layoffs, pulling investments, or how they communicate with stakeholders.
A decade ago, I made the decision to move to the Philippines despite knowing nothing about the country and having travelled to Asia just a few times in my life previously. I firmly believe that life begins at the end of your comfort zone and having originally been based in a small town in Ayrshire, Scotland, there are few bigger shifts than to the bright lights of Manila.
I believe the single biggest issue that holds individuals and organisations back is fear. It’s a very powerful form of energy that comes at you like a headwind and pushes you back. A fear of failure is often a key factor in the prevention of growth in businesses and taking risks is often associated with opportunistic attempts to achieve quick success.
The reality is that everyone has that fear throughout their careers and regardless of what some may say, it’s not something that necessarily gets easier with age or experience. There are people that have worked in the same industry for several decades, but they don’t understand the need to harness that fear. I feel it every single day, but it motivates me to go forward and succeed.
In my pursuit of success, I’ve given up highly lucrative positions in organisations where I was a senior executive with potential to climb and advance my career.
But I always had a dream to be my own boss, to run my own successful business, and so I walked away and tried to establish my own company.
Circumstances beyond my control meant that my investors walked away and I was left pretty much penniless with everything I owned going to pay creditors and wondered if I had made a terrible mistake.
But I used that fear, that doubt, and the lessons I learnt, to help me recover to the point where a few years later I am now CEO of a major global company.
I’d recommend everyone to read the book ‘Principles’ by Ray Dalio, a businessman I really respect. I’ve heeded his advice on many occasions and believe that any person or organisation can adopt his principles to help them achieve their goals.
When taking a risk of any nature, it’s important to have a network of individuals that you can trust and confide in. I have built up several contacts over the years.
Having different people in different fields that have greater expertise is far more beneficial than limiting yourself to one or two close confidants. That said, it’s always important to be wary of any sensitive information that you are sharing with people outside of your organisation.
Almost every decision that I make will have some form of risk attached, whether that is an investment of time, money, or other resources, but, without careful calculation, you are risking the future of your business, and must always bear that in mind.
This article was contributed by Paul Fox, CEO, Mayfair International Holdings
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.