As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Bailkoski. He joined Logicalis Group in November 2015 as Chief Financial Officer and was appointed Chief Operating Officer in March 2018 before taking the role of Chief Executive Officer for the Logicalis Group in March 2020. Bob brings over fifteen years of international experience to the Group and has lived and worked in Australia, Switzerland and the USA.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I graduated from the University of Birmingham with first-class honors in Law and Politics. However, while I was studying, I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I was intrigued by how businesses work, and what it takes to run a successful business. After that, I changed my career course and set off to build a career in business. Twenty-three years later, I have traveled the globe, lived in Australia, Switzerland, and the USA, and worked with several major companies in various business roles. I joined Logicalis as the CFO in 2015. After a few years in that role, I was promoted to COO in 2018 and CEO in March of 2020, right when the world was going into lockdown.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Early on in my career, I joined a UK FTSE 100 business company, as its European Merger and Acquisitions (M&A) Manager and my role was to lead the M&A team across Europe. Prior to this, I worked at PWC as a Manager and had limited M&A experience. However, to my luck, I was interviewed by someone that I used to work with during my tenure at PWC. We both knew that I was underqualified, but from our time working together he knew that I was a fast learner and had the aptitude and drive to succeed in this new role.
He took a chance on me and went on to become my mentor and coach throughout my first few years with that organization. I have to say he brought out the best in me during this time, and set me on a strong commercial path, leading me to where I am today. I have never forgotten that, and we are still remarkably close friends to this day. I will always be grateful to him for his guidance and belief in my abilities.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Like most companies, Logicalis’ vision and purpose has evolved over time. More so now than ever, it’s important for businesses and business leaders to articulate a purpose for two reasons: to drive unity across the business and to ensure employees feel connected to the company above their day job. This past year has brought unprecedented change, and at Logicalis we are in the process of revising our vision for the future, to ensure it aligns to the ‘new normal’ and offers the best solutions and services for the changing business landscape.
Our new vision includes being more inclusive as an organization and challenging our employees to use their critical thinking skills to create direct impact in their local communities. For example, our Australian branch worked with the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for various health, housing, and social wellbeing initiatives in the state of Victoria, who needed to modernize their IT infrastructure to find a better way to engage and deliver services to the community. Previously, it was an administrative process, with disparate channels and services and unsatisfactory coordination between agencies. We were able to use technology to reduce the time spent doing admin, enable better coordination amongst agencies through secure data-sharing and in the case of emergency housing, improve access to services by consolidating interfaces from 15 to one. The overhaul and optimization resulted in more efficient processes with more time for employees to spend in their communities dealing with cases of homelessness, abuse victims, or disadvantaged people. It was an incredibly rewarding project for everyone involved.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I stepped into the role of CEO in March this year, three weeks before we went into lockdown because of the global pandemic. My immediate plans were all put on hold to focus on supporting our customers and employees around the world navigate the pandemic.
The majority of our 6,500 employees have been working from home since March. While our teams have adapted well to a remote working arrangement, we wanted to ensure we were putting their wellbeing first and keeping them connected to each other and the wider company. In such a turbulent and uncertain time, we wanted them to be certain that we were here for them. To keep our employees engaged and motivated, we launched our first ever Global Innovation Challenge. The Global Innovation Challenge encourages employees from across the globe to form teams within their international regions, to create solutions that can help to overcome some of the world’s biggest social and environmental challenges.
It gave them a platform to be creative beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and encourage a positive, innovative mindset during a negative time. Our employees have astounded us with their creative solutions. We have seen ways to improve access to healthcare, solutions to help refugees access the job market, technology to support law enforcement amongst countless other innovative ideas. We were not sure whether to launch the Challenge this year with everything going on but, the initiative has allowed our employees to feel part of something bigger than themselves during a time when it is all too easy to feel isolated.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
When people think of motivation, they tend to think about waking up in the morning and feeling energized to do tasks for the day along with completing the general activities needed to hit some overarching objective. I prefer to spin that on its head. I often say instead that motivation comes from doing the activity itself, which then drives a sense of accomplishment.
Let’s say you are planning to exercise and while lacing up your shoes you think: ‘I really can’t be bothered to do this,’ and sometimes you will stop because you don’t feel motivated. However, you need to approach the task with a different mindset. Focusing instead on the feeling of motivation and accomplishment that you get after you complete the activity.
It boils down to positive reinforcement; you complete the activity because it helps you feel positive and motivated and in turn, you are then motivated the next time a challenge arises. This is not only applicable to exercise, it is a mindset to approach any challenge you face, focusing first on perseverance.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
A leader must be a constant communicator. You cannot communicate enough, especially when there is uncertainty about the future. At Logicalis, we continue to send out tons of communications to team leaders and employees across the business to keep them engaged, optimistic, and positive about the future. In fact, at the height of the lockdown period, our US CEO was reading bedtime stories to employees’ children on Zoom, while our HR leader was sharing wellbeing initiatives and our CFO kept our colleagues up to date on Logicalis’ trading performance. These communication methods meant our employees were fully involved and informed which helped them remain upbeat and motivated throughout the crisis.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
I can’t see many workforces returning to the office full-time within the next six months or so. But, with employees working away from their teams, leaders need to find new ways to engage and empower employees to collaborate from a distance. Leaders must look after their employees and their mental health. Many will be isolated and spend a lot of time alone so finding ways to keep them engaged beyond their day-to-day roles will motivate them to deliver in their remote working environment.
I’ve seen some fantastic initiatives at Logicalis, including cocktail evenings and introduce your pet meetings! These small differences in our day-to-day meetings brought to light a different side in our employees, catching a glimpse of colleagues’ lives away from the ‘office’ has helped us all to engage with each other on a personal level.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
As humans, when we are delivering bad news, people tend to take too long explaining the rationale for the decision before we get to the decision itself. We should start with the news itself, otherwise people are just waiting and mentally guessing what it will be.
Of course, part of the discussion must involve a clear explanation, but that should come after you have communicated the news. I always found that when news was being delivered to me this way, it was refreshing, and it felt honest and authentic. In a nutshell, my one piece of advice would be: be direct and clear — just say it.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
If 2020 has taught us anything it is that the future is uncertain. But that does not mean you do not need to plan for it. You must have a plan, but that plan must be adaptable and agile. Leaders cannot be dogmatic in their approaches and perspective. If you are a business owner or a Chief Executive right now whose business is affected by this constant cycle of a ‘stop-start’ economy, you cannot hope to stick with a plan that was written last year to drive new business. Flexibility in that plan and a willingness to adopt new measures to achieve the same objectives is absolutely the key. Especially in this current climate where the future, which was always unpredictable, is more convoluted than ever.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle is to focus on adapting to the circumstances being dealt, to ensure survival. If you are not agile and are sticking to a traditional business model without any flexibility for circumstance, then you will not thrive or survive. For example, if your business required you to have a shopfront and the only way you get your goods to your customers was for them to walk past your shop, your business would not survive in the current environment.
Businesses with an adaptive, agile mindset are the ones succeeding right now. In my community, I have seen the bakeries go completely virtual and drive their vans around delivering customers’ orders. They have adapted to the circumstances to ensure survival. And after this is over, those customers are going to appreciate and remember the efforts those bakeries went through to reach them. This is an example of an extremely agile mindset and it is the crucial principle that will help guide companies through turbulent times.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Despite this year’s turbulence being completely unexpected, there are a few recurring mistakes I’ve witnessed that affected businesses even more negatively when attempting to navigate the changes brought by the pandemic, including:
- Insubstantial business continuity plans. Some businesses did have business continuity plans pulled together, many did not. This put them at a significant disadvantage when ‘business as usual’ was interrupted. We got various phone calls from companies who needed support in transforming overnight. Even though the outcome of the plan might not resemble the plan exactly as it intended, you must have a plan to start with. A lack of planning is a way of guaranteeing a lack of success.
- A failure to see the worst-case scenario. I have seen numerous businesses caught out by the extent of the pandemic; our customers never anticipated anything that would result in a total shutdown. They always anticipated that somewhere in the world, if not in the same country, they would have facilities that would be open. So often, the failsafe is if a freak storm, flood, or terrorist attack has affected a location, I have another location to divert operations to in the meantime. However, we have seen in the last seven months that that is not the worst-case scenario, the worst-case scenario is that everything shuts down.
- Giving up too easily. Setbacks happen all the time, and now more so than ever, and can be bigger than ever. But giving up, or not having a growth mindset, or not seeking ways to adapt or learn are all big mistakes to make in these challenging times. These mistakes also guarantee a lack of success. Yes, the circumstances being dealt with are hard right now, but perseverance is key. Perseverance along with an adaptable mindset can make a world of difference in ensuring a company’s survival.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Strategy wise, we focus on our customers and keep a close eye on how their needs change. We maintain close relationships with industry analysts and will pivot our offerings if our customers’ needs change. To not lose traction, you must focus on the needs of the customer. It is important to explore what is important to them given the current circumstances — we must ask them, how is their business affected, how has their situation changed, and how can we help? Taking a customer centric approach and strategy will pay off. Customers will thank you for this service and will view you as a long term, trusted partner who can turn adversity into advantage.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
The pandemic crisis is the most turbulent period our generation will see. Every business, regardless of industry, in every corner of the globe, has in some way been affected. This situation has provided an opportunity to gain perspective and learn from these obstacles. It has taught me some valuable lessons about how to lead a business that I will continue to implement long after the crisis is over. A good business leader should:
- Inspire — A leader should inspire their teams to engage with the business beyond their day-to-day roles and responsibilities. Allowing employees to think freely and get creative will keep them positive and motivated through challenging times.
- Communicate — Engage with all stakeholders across the business, from employees to customers, and share everything that is taking place within the organization. Additionally, determine their needs, have discussions with them to understand exactly what they need during difficult times to support in any way you can.
- Listen — Organizations have adapted well to the remote working environment. However, there is a human element we cannot ignore. Business leaders must understand exactly how employees are coping with the uncertainty and respond accordingly to ensure they feel supported. Supported and motivated employees are more productive and will in turn help the business get through the crisis. At Logicalis, we launched a continuous listening platform to gain real-time feedback on how our employees were feeling during the lockdown period. The platform enables us to quickly respond to any challenges or hurdles our teams may be facing and it has had an incredibly positive response so far.
- Be of service — Even if it means pivoting your business to help other organizations and critical services beyond the crisis. For example, at Logicalis, we helped roll out thousands of Cisco WebEx licenses to schools and universities so students could continue with their essential learning from a distance.
- Prepare for the next crisis — We know this may not be the last crisis of this kind, so businesses must get ready and at the same time advise their customers on how they can best prepare for any future uncertainty. As I mentioned before, planning, and especially planning for the worst-case scenario, is critical. Through our recent blog series, we have been sharing some of the lessons we have learned from the current crisis and what contingency plans businesses need to put in place for the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This is a quote by the Greek philosopher, Epictetus. It is truly relevant to the times now and has repeatedly come up in my head over these past several months. Simple, but powerful. To me it says, do not be a victim and do not let events overwhelm you.
We are defined not by the situations or circumstances that happen to us, but by how we react to, and deal with them. As a leader, we are defined by the strategies we put in place to overcome setbacks, and that is what truly defines success in my eyes: The ability to respond and react, rather than be a victim.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I frequently post blogs on Logicalis’ website that explore important topics for business leaders as well as trends in the technology and IT industry we are a part of.