Name: Charles Wiles
Job Title: CEO and Founder
Location: London, United Kingdom
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
“Surf where the waves are big," was a piece of advice that Jonathan Rosenberg, former VP of Product Management at Google, gave me when I worked there.
His point was that you should work in a sector rife with innovation and where great new companies are trying to make it big. As with surfing, you may join a small company (get on a small wave) and it may not work out (you may fall off), but if you surf where the waves are big, then sooner or later you are going to catch a big one and have the ride of your life. Five of the ten first employees at Google ended up with very senior roles in the company as the company grew. If you surf where the waves are small, you probably aren't going to have much of a ride.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
"Don't go into education technology, no one makes any money," was the advice I got from an early founder of an EdTech startup that failed. I'm glad I didn't take his advice. Quite often, the biggest opportunities are the opportunities others don't see. When Walt Disney decided to create his first movie Snow White, people told him that he was mad and that no one would ever watch a feature length cartoon. He didn't take their advice either; the rest was history.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
Learn to code. Even if you are not a techie and have no interest in being a coder, you should learn to code as it gives you a fundamental understanding of technology and how to work with coders. You can teach yourself to code in your spare time with online video courses on sites like Coursera or Udemy, so there's no excuse not to know how to code. Being able to code should be a requirement for any C-level executive in a technology company.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
In a big company, it's about proving you can manage, organise and communicate well and thus deliver the expected results. Where most people, including myself, have a weakness is in making the time to plan, track progress and report properly. It's much easier and more interesting just to do stuff than to plan, track and report. Moreover, as a C-level exec, you will have no time to do things yourself and have to delegate and rely on others, so making sure you hire great people to work with you is your top priority. At Google, the goal was always to hire people better than yourself whenever possible: ‘A’ players hire ‘A*’ players; ‘C’ players hire ‘B’ players.
I also love Elon Musk's comment: "Being the CEO of a company is like staring into the abyss of death and eating glass." The staring into the abyss of death reference means that no matter how successful your company, there will always be something that can kill your business. The eating glass reference means that with the things that are going well, you should delegate and leave alone; it's only the things that are going really wrong that you have to work on yourself. Hire great people and you'll eat a lot less glass!
Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
A friend of mine at Google decided to quit 10 years ago as he was working too many hours and it was ruining his personal life. C-level execs are typically workaholics and tend to put work before personal issues. That's a mistake. It's super important to get your work life balance right and you can achieve that by carefully managing your own time, delegating more and learning to say "no" sometimes. I simply told him that he was making a mistake and that he needed to manage his time better and say "no" to some of the things he was being asked to do. Saying "no" takes a bit of courage, but people will respect you for it too. He stayed and became a very successful executive. He's still there today.
Remember that there is no record in the history of mankind of anyone saying on their deathbed: "I wish I had worked harder". It's important to put in the hours, but get your work life balance right.
Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond