C-suite career advice: Jason Goodall, NTT Ltd

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? “An interview should be a two-way conversation, not a personality test.”

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NTT Ltd

Name: Jason Goodall

Company: NTT Ltd

Job Title: CEO

Location: London, United Kingdom

Jason Goodall is a people-first leader, and his open-door policy, fun and personable nature, and authentic leadership style make him a leader we can relate to. He has held senior leadership roles across the NTT family for 23 years. In 1998 Goodall was appointed the Chief Financial Officer of OmniLink, a Dimension Data subsidiary that later merged with Internet Solutions, where he was COO until 2003. He first joined Dimension Data as the Managing Director of Middle East & Africa in 2003. In 2010, he served as Group Chief Operating Officer, and in June 2016, he joined Dimension Data’s Board of Directors. Prior to becoming global CEO of NTT Ltd., Goodall was CEO of Dimension Data. Goodall recently announced his intention to retire in June 2021. He will remain as a Board Director for NTT Ltd. and Dimension Data, and act as a strategic advisor for the NTT Venture Capital business, whilst Abhijit Dubey will become Global CEO for NTT Ltd.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Coming out of school, I was not clear on what I wanted to do for a living, so my dad advised me to study finance and economics. He said if I could understand numbers, I’d have a good chance of understanding a business and he was right. Being able to really understand an income statement and balance sheet is a huge help in running any business.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I haven’t had bad career advice, but I’ve had bad career moments. As the COO of a company, I was expecting to be promoted to CEO but an external candidate was brought in. This was hugely disappointing for me, but rather than just resign, I tried to figure out what I would need to do to get the job next time.

I learnt I was passed over because not all the stakeholders knew me well enough. I hadn’t done a good enough job, at the time, of building those relationships. Although this was difficult at the time, it was an important lesson. Today I think one of my strengths is ensuring I communicate and build relationships with all stakeholders. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? I always tell my daughters “pick a career that means something to you”. Being an expert in a particular field is a great way to make your mark in a company and its easier to motivate yourself to spend the time developing your skills and knowledge, when you’re passionate about something. I think you should aim to be recognised for being the best at something.

What was your first job in IT?  IBM awarded me a bursary for my university studies, so my first job was in their finance department. I quickly realised however that the role was not for me, so I moved into sales instead. The pressure of being in sales, responsible for achieving a target at a relatively young age, was a rude awakening but a vital learning experience for me. I would recommend that everyone experiences the highs and lows of being a salesperson at some point in their career.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, like many young adults I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I am very lucky that I picked IT, or probably more accurately, IT picked me.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? People may think that working in IT is all about making a profit, but the beauty of IT is that technology is so intrinsically connected to everything we do today that it really can make an impact on the world for good. For example, we use virtual reality (VR) to help train fire fighters in Australia; we use video conference and collaboration to help doctors assist patients in remote areas; and we build education platforms to ensure children in Africa have access to quality learning in maths and science. Technology has the advantage of impacting lives at scale – it’s incredibly rewarding seeing the positive effect that technology can make in the world.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I never started with the ambition of being a CEO, but I did have the drive to give my all to whatever role I was given. I think that’s a better perspective to have, rather than chase titles. If you focus on where you know you have a specialist contribution to make, and you do your very best to contribute, usually the opportunities will follow.

And if you are lucky enough to reach the c-level, it’s important to bring something different to the role and that difference is you. Try to remain authentic to yourself and your values – lead in a way that you are comfortable with and comes naturally to you.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I think we have a great opportunity to use technology for good and create a connected, positive future for all. At NTT Ltd, we’ve started to realise this ambition, but there’s still a lot more we want to do. Personally, I just want to be a part of this exciting journey, to help where I can to empower and give opportunities to allow employees to play their part in using technology, to not only build a sustainable business, but also a more sustainable and equitable future for everyone. 

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? We are a global business – we have 40,000 employees and operate in 73 countries around the world – so I have to be flexible about my working hours, to be able to connect with my team. However, technology Is making this so much easier.

I probably could have a better balance, but I do make time to exercise and spend time with my family and friends. I try to encourage a healthy work life balance, especially now, with the impact of the pandemic and the added stress it has brought to all of our lives.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I count myself very lucky for the career I have had. It has been amazing, however, if I had the chance to give advice to my younger self I would recommend spending more time learning about technology. I understand technology because I’ve worked in it for 25 years, but I would have focused even more on understanding the theory. Leaders have to make bets on where technology is going so this technical expertise is critical to uncover opportunities and trends. I think deep skilled technologists will be the future leaders of our industry.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Do I have to choose one? I would recommend grabbing any opportunity to extend your learning, however practical hands on experience is also invaluable, as well as an attitude of continuous learning. If you want a career in technology, you need to sign up for a life of continuous learning and an attitude of relentless curiosity.

How important are specific certifications? The world is moving towards specialised skills so I see great value in specific qualifications. When people focus on what they’re really good at, I think they can make the most difference. But having said that, having a great attitude, being inquisitive are equally if not more important than any qualification you can study for.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I look for attitude more than anything else. You can’t train it and it’s a fundamental value. Of course, people need the fundamental skills required for the position, but I look for people who are truly passionate, and they should be slightly obsessive about what they do.

Secondly, I find inquisitive and high energy people often have a drive to do different things and that’s appealing to me. I like people who are authentic. There is always space in companies for people who look at the world differently.

What would put you off a candidate? If they are not being honest about themselves. To me it’s less about being right and more about being yourself and having an opinion that is important.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? An interview should be a two-way conversation, not a personality test.

As a candidate you only have a short amount of time, in the interview, to decide if you like the company and would want to commit your future to the team. I don’t actually see success as getting a job offer, success is when the candidate ends up having a long-term career with the company, and this is much more likely if there’s a match in values/ideas and an alignment on the strategy the company is following.

You can only have a meaningful conversation if you’ve done your research for the interview. Check out the company’s website, recent media coverage and LinkedIn profiles of relevant team members. If you come prepared you are better positioned to get the most out of the time that’s available.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? Definitely a mix of both. Unfortunately, there are lots of great ideas that don’t get to market because of a lack of business skills. As the world gets more complex however, leaders need to be able to see further into the future to identify opportunities, which also requires deep, technical knowledge.