C-suite career advice: Glenn Hayward, Com Laude Group

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? “That you have to be particularly technical. Business skills are often just as important in the tech sector.”

Headshot of Glenn Hayward, CEO at Com Laude Group
Com Laude Group

Name: Glenn Hayward

Company: Com Laude Group

Job Title: Chief Executive Officer

Location: London

Glenn Hayward is an experienced senior leader who has spent most of his career in technology or technology-enabled service businesses – both private and public ownership. He currently leads Com Laude, which helps global businesses to protect their intellectual property online. Hayward has a BSc in Physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He specialises in strategy development, leadership, effective communication and the development of high-performance business cultures.  

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Really get to know the service your business provides from your customer’s perspective and do this regularly. Customers are your best advocates and can help you refine your strategy for maximum success. In the early 2000s, I was a Business Analysis Manager at Go Fly, which has since been acquired by easyJet. I needed to get to know the company from top to bottom and understand more than just the technical side of things. To do that, my then CEO had me booked onto a flight from London to Glasgow and asked me to welcome passengers, talk to the crew, clean the aircraft, sample the coffee and the facilities on board. But viewing the experience in the customer’s shoes, I was able to get a broader understanding of the actual experience and help improve our value proposition.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? I do feel sticking with something that is far from your passion is a mistake. If things are tough and don’t improve in a relatively short timeframe, it is probably time to move to something new. Passion and hard work can push you to achieve great things, so find something that ignites your passion.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Learn as much as you can – be a sponge – observe others’ behaviours, and ways of operating for tips and tricks – maybe even find a mentor. That could be as simple as asking someone you respect to help shape how you operate and form a plan for your learning. Be engaged and put your hand up to get yourself known – be dependable, team-focused, and impress your colleagues. You may want to be a deep technical expert, so form your learning around that goal. Or you may want to move into business management – again a mentor can offer you some extremely valuable advice and help advance your career.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? No, not at all. I was never particularly focused on a sector – I was always interested in business and found that I liked the fast pace of IT/Tech. It ticked all the right boxes because it’s a forward-looking innovative sector which is competitive and always evolving.

What was your first job in IT/tech? After training as a chartered accountant and working as an auditor, I was fortunate enough to take my first industry role in a consumer-facing division of a leading UK tech business. In the late 1990s, I joined Psion, a business that manufactured and distributed handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs). It was ahead of its time, with great intellectual property and capabilities – it was also on the cusp of the FTSE100. It had great energy and commitment from everyone that worked there. I learned a lot, from distribution channels, pricing strategy and marketing to how to analyse competing products. I also presented financial plans for the consumer business to our Group CEO – something I was very proud of.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That you have to be particularly technical. I would say I am not particularly technical – at least in a sense of developing technology myself. Business skills are often just as important in the tech sector. There’s also an impression that job churn in tech is intensifying and people are moving around a lot. My recent experience suggests the opposite. People tend to pursue roles that are more attractive than their current ones, but good roles in good cultures deliver a range of benefits and often lead to long tenures for the most talented. Businesses need to rethink their cultures if they want to stay ahead. Ask employees what they need to be successful and push them to grow in their jobs so that roles change alongside this culture shift. That way career development can happen from within.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Identify the areas where you have strengths and where you have development needs. For example, I qualified as a chartered accountant, so I am pretty strong on the financial side of business management. I have also been a PLC Company Secretary, so I am familiar with compliance requirements. However, I was then fortunate enough to study at the IOD (Institute of Directors) for the Certificate and then Diploma in Company Direction – which broadened my perspective and addressed my development needs in terms of strategy, leadership and company culture. I particularly enjoyed the course called “People Mean Business” which has helped my understanding of the benefits of a good Human Resources strategy.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve always wanted to lead a high-growth business that enjoys the considerable benefits of investing in its people. To boost career opportunities and in turn business performance. The temptation is to focus exclusively on the short term and too often businesses look outside for new talent when there is talent that can develop within. This isn’t sustainable, and companies need a medium to long-term perspective. Looking ahead, I would potentially like to see how other businesses operate – perhaps by finding one or two non-Executive board roles. This would be a good further learning opportunity while utilising my corporate governance skills. That part of my ambitions sits in the future though.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Yes, I do. It's interesting – I am very passionate about my current role, the amazing clients we serve and the advancement of our business. So, I am always available and always learning - in a way this doesn’t feel like work (other than in a positive sense). And we’ve accepted hybrid working with open arms. I’ve found the balance of home working and travelling to the office some of the week has helped me and my colleagues spend more time with family and be just as productive.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? This is a tough question. While the evolution of what I do from accounting, through commercial analysis into senior leadership and board roles has been good to me, there was one point earlier in my career when there may have been an opportunity to work in a business in the US. This would have been a GM role based in New England, which would have been great in terms of experiencing a different culture and work challenge. Sadly, the due diligence didn’t stack up, so the acquisition did not go ahead. Maybe working in an overseas market for a stint would have been helpful because it would have given me a more global perspective.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? I hold a bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Birmingham and I'm a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, so I might not be the best person to ask. But for my colleagues working in more technical roles, many have benefitted from both. I will say that deciding which option is right for you will depend on what stage your life is in and how much time and money you’d like to invest. Maybe most importantly, you should look at what your long-term career goals are and find out what hiring managers in that field would prefer you have.

How important are specific certifications? From a business perspective, for us, quality, management of data and information security are really up there. Security is a top priority – especially following the pandemic and the cybersecurity issues in our modern world. That’s why we recently became the first domain name registrar to earn the certification for ISO 27701 – Privacy Management Systems (PIMS). We already have accreditations of ISO 27001 in Information Security Management and ISO 90001 in Quality Management Systems. The recent ISO 27701 accreditation added 50 new data security controls to strengthen our security posture and operations. It’s something we take very seriously and we’re proud of the lengths we’ve gone to keep our customer's data safe and secure.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Attitude is key – being open to learning and having high levels of integrity. I also really value transparency and commitment – things don’t just come your way and sometimes you have to make your own luck. For those that have the passion and drive to do that, there are no limits. Resilience – throughout my career life has certainly changed a lot – the world is uncertain – and you need to be strong – see issues for what they are, don’t overthink it and always act with the best of intentions.

What would put you off a candidate? Confidence is something that always intrigues me. Like many things in life, it requires balance. Be proud of your achievements and be ready to talk through them but maintain humility and be authentic.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Applying for roles that don’t align with your own career goals, or in organisations that don’t match up with your own values. If you do your research well, you can often find the right opportunities for you (and avoid the wrong ones). I think it's a mistake to apply for something based solely on money or location. Read the latest company articles, and website and listen to their presentations. Do these excite you? And in an interview, try not to be nervous – interviews should be a two-way street, and you should come away feeling like you could work well with that person. Trust your instincts – if there are any doubts consider your alternatives.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? I think this depends on where you want your career to go. You may want to be a deep technical expert. That is fine and if so, technical skills should be high on your list. If you see a medium to long-term future for yourself as a business leader then develop your business skills – seek out opportunities for learning both on the job and in a more formal professional sense (like an MBA). If you see yourself being an entrepreneur now or in the future, with a technology-based idea for a service, maybe you will benefit from having both. And whichever way you wish to go, the very best of luck!