As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sameer Sharma.
Sameer Sharma is the Global GM (New Markets/Smart Cities) for IOT Solutions at Intel and a thought leader in IOT/Mobile ecosystem, having driven multiple strategic initiatives over the past 19 years. Sameer leads a global team that incubates and scales new growth categories and business models for Intel in the Internet of Things (IOT) and Smart Cities. His team also focuses on establishing leadership across the industry, playing a pivotal role in deploying solutions for the development of smart cities around the world — an important effort in furthering the goal of sustainability. These solutions include Intelligent Transportation, AI+Video, Air Quality Monitoring and Smart Lighting in cities. With far-reaching impact, each of these solutions are providing local governments a plethora of data to enhance the daily quality of life for citizens while simultaneously promoting responsible practices to protect the environment. Sameer has an MBA from The Wharton School at UPenn, and a Master’s in Computer Engineering from Rutgers University. He holds 11 patents in the areas of IOT and Mobile.
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 started as a design engineer on the first Pentium 4 chip. That was 21 years ago. Since then, it has been a fascinating journey driving new initiatives in embedded, networking, mobile and now IOT. When you are having fun everyday, time flies by!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
About a decade ago, books like Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore) and Good to Great (Jim Collins) helped me gain a framework as I was transitioning into a senior leadership role. The principles are simple, but they are rooted in deep research into how we can drive disruption and transformation in large organizations. More recently, I listen to a podcast by Adam Grant, who always has simple impactful insights, and also taught us during my B-school journey.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Any business has to be ultimately economically viable. But if you have a sense of purpose behind the work you do, it acts as a force multiplier. The work we do to improve the quality of life in cities will enrich every person’s life on Earth. For my team and I, that is a great reason to come in every day and do our best to move things forward.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Take care of your team. Human capital is the single biggest determinant of business success. I am always impressed by what loyal, passionate teams are able to achieve, and how they can help you weather the inevitable ups and downs.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Like most people around us, we have had to make a major adjustment to our lives. I dedicated some time to be completely present with the family. At the same time, when I look at how jobs, small businesses and people’s health are being impacted, I have no reason to complain; and all the reasons to help those that are less fortunate.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge has been the lack of travel, and how it impacts our ability to meet new customers and grow into new markets. For our internal team meetings and established customers, we have been able to use the collaboration tools quite effectively, and that is making us re-think the future of the workplace. In fact, our IT team was able to double the VPN capacity over a weekend as COVID hit and employees had to work from home.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Things always look bleak when you are in the middle of a crisis. We have been through tough times before — the housing led economic meltdown in 2009 comes to mind — and have always emerged stronger. This is not a reason to under-estimate the impact of a downturn; but it is a good reason to be hopeful.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
COVID-19 has of course had an enormous impact on the economy, with millions of jobs lost and economic growth stalled or even reversed. However, in some ways, it’s been a tale of two economies. Economic activity involving face to face interaction has broadly suffered — hospitality, travel, restaurants being some of the most glaring examples. On the other hand, economic activity related to interactions that could be accomplished remotely has boomed — Zoom, Peloton, Netflix are interesting examples, and show the resilience and creativity of people as they worked and played in different ways.
Projections on how the economy will do post COVID range from utopian to dystopian. I am more optimistic, but pragmatic. The promising early results regarding the efficacy of the vaccine give me hope for a quick recovery especially where face to face interaction is needed. So airlines, hotels, restaurants, manufacturing should all come back relatively quickly. But there will be bumps along the way, and we will need to continue to exhibit the resilience needed to withstand unforeseen issues.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Never let a crisis go waste. We did not choose this crisis, but we can choose how to respond to it. People do have a way of forgetting, it is a defense mechanism. But policymakers, governments and others need to do a thorough postmortem and institute some simple but powerful changes to mitigate any future outbreaks. On the one hand, some of the underlying challenges will remain; population growth, increased travel and interaction of people. But on the other hand, we have the toolkit with technology to quickly identify and contain outbreaks. I’d like the day to day changes to be non-intrusive and minimal; behind the scenes we can instrument infrastructure and processes that can really help.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
COVID has accelerated digital transformation in multiple industries. I like to think about opportunity with a time horizon broken out into different tranches and apply the appropriate people and resources to ensure success in each. Near term, midterm and long term.
Near term in 2021, I see an uptick in Smart Cities investments. Traditional Smart City and Transportation segments will likely tick back up.
Midterm, an element that will be new is the concept of Smart Spaces; applying technology to implement use cases such as face mask detection, contact tracing, UV cleaning robots and the like.
Longer term, 5G, data and AI will have the type of impact we have seen from cloud and mobile devices in the last decade.
The quality and quantity of meaningful work my team has been able to accomplish in 2020 — despite the pandemic — is a source of great pride, accompanied by an element of surprise! As we chart the course for 2021 and beyond, I see the team focusing on the Cities and Transportation business in the near term, exploring the opportunities around Smart Spaces. More of us I hope will start to meet customers and partners face to face to further accelerate the pace of business.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I believe that a deliberate approach works well for many different types of business. Think closely about he business you are in, your customers, your ecosystem of partners, and the opportunities you hear about. Try to fast forward what the world may look like — what the needs of the market may be — 3 months, 6 months out and more.
Bottomline, Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is my leadership philosophy…. As a leader, you must be the coach, and not the quarterback. You should be able to take a step back, trust your team, observe, ask questions, remove barriers, provide guidance as needed and also hold them accountable.
How can our readers further follow your work?
They can connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on twitter (@sameer_iot). I look forward to the engagement with your readers and hearing their thoughts on these topics.