June 21, 2021

Global Manager: Starting Up, but There for the Long Haul

Ron Zeghibe is co-founder and chairman of Hailo, a taxi booking phone application.

Q. Before helping to set up Hailo in 2011, you used to fix existing companies. What is the difference between running a start-up and a company that has been in business for some time?

A. Hailo is my first start-up, and the combination of factors you need to be successful are slightly different. At the beginning it is all about developing a product that didn’t exist and then proving that it could work as a concept.

Q. What are the challenges when it comes to leading at a start-up?

A. What you really need to understand is that you’re running a marathon. This isn’t a sprint. It isn’t about getting to the product point and then, boom, you’re done. It isn’t about just getting it launched.

This is a long road. This is a five-year game plan, so you better have the stamina for that.

Q. What else is different at a start-up?

A. It’s a roller-coaster ride. There are going to be moments when we will euphorically say, “Wow, we hit that. We just raised that latest round of financing with an incredible valuation from an amazing name.” But then you realize: “O.K., so now what are you going to do?” You put the money in the bank and you got this plan that you said you were trying to achieve. So pressure is on. And then you have things happening that are completely beyond your control, and it’s gut-wrenching.

Q. How do you deal with that sort of bad surprise?

A. You have to be a little detached. As much as I speak about being passionate and motivated and engaged, there’s a balancing act of getting people tied into a vision, but also to understand that you just can’t push the pedal to the metal all the time — that this is a long haul.

As much as we have great moments when we all celebrate, you have to say, “Hey guys, remember this now,” because there will come a point when we hit the buffers or something will happen or maybe we will screw up. But when that happens we will pick ourselves up and keep going. We’re never as bad as people may say, but we’re never as good as people may say, either. So you have to take the rough with the smooth. You have to understand that all you need to be is about 80 percent as good as you would love to be and you will be fine.

Q. When you started Hailo, what corporate culture were you trying to build?

A. All the founders have agreed that whatever our titles happen to be, we would run this as a partnership. The challenge of the project that we’re taking on, which has to do with new mobile technologies, is that they go very quickly from designing and building a product to actually running and operating a global business. So how on earth do you do that? Where in the rule book of past experiences can you find a company that has done that really successfully?

And I’m not talking about a Facebook, because a lot of these social networking sites are really offered from one place. The answer for us is, it’s all about bandwidth. If you had a very hierarchical culture you could never do that. You would become victim of the qualities — strengths and weaknesses — of whoever the guy at the top is.

Q. When you interview job candidates, how do you find out whether a person fits with the Hailo culture?

A. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. People should be aware of the time and the energy this takes. We want people to get very excited about that and to be proud of what we are producing and what we’re trying to achieve. We want people who can actually see greater value in the product than simply to get someone a taxi.

Q. Can you give an example?

A. The way we are internally talking about it is that we are part of the transport infrastructure. By creating greater efficiency of the infrastructure, you can change the quality of life in a city. So you’re trying to find a person who relates to that. Listening to what I just said, do you think, “Oh, what nonsense,” or do you actually relate to it?

Q. What specific questions do you ask in interviews?

A. What I often let people do is let them sell me their C.V. I say, “You wrote this thing, so now sell it to me!” And I ask them whether they have used Hailo. You’d be surprised by how few people downloaded the application, let alone used it. They just say, “Oh, I heard about it, it’s really good.”

Q. You started your career in finance, and after getting an M.B.A. from Harvard you joined Salomon Brothers. Were there any leadership lessons that help you in your role now?

A. Salomon Brothers hired me but, speaking of poorly managed organizations, that was definitely one. I was 30 years old at the time and I had built a good relationship with the chief financial officer of Royal Bank of Scotland. They had a big financing, a debt financing, and we went in there to do a pitch. I had the chairman of Salomon International with me to help and he sat there and he had done no homework on it. He didn’t know who this guy was, he didn’t even know what the deal was — and this was traditional stuff.

In the end it was just cringingly bad — so much so that the chief financial officer pulled me aside and said, “Look, Ron, he did you no favors. He killed you.” But I said, “How could I not bring him?” and he said, “I understand.” And we lost the business.

Q. What about positive experiences?

A. I was 35 years old when I got the chance to run my own buyout. It was Maiden, the large independent outdoor advertising firm. It was a beaten-up family business and the son didn’t want to take it over from the father.

Q. What happened then? What ideas did you have when you took over?

A. The first thing was to engage the staff. They had been kept in the dark. It was a very hierarchical, traditionally run English company. The name on the billboards was the name of the company and the name of the boss, and everyone called him Mr. Maiden. The first thing I did was I walked in and said, “My name is Ron.” Then I went around to all their offices and sat everyone down and listened to their experiences.

You learn all sorts of things, like that they were so starved of cash they wouldn’t even let them have a copy machine in one of the offices. So I told them to get one. It was a small gesture that made their lives a lot simpler, but also a sign that they said something and it got responded to.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/business/global/08iht-manager08.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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