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Human Resources

C-suite career advice: Ray Tierney, Engage Hub

Name: Ray Tierney

Company: Engage Hub

Job Title: Chief Executive Officer

Location: London, UK


 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

It probably sounds like I’ve come from the school of hard knocks, but simply, try harder. It’s the idea that you must always challenge yourself. I’ve been very lucky to have worked in organizations of all sizes, but be it big or small, you can’t afford to get lost in the crowd, if you really want to achieve your goals. Yes, you’ve got to work with the goals of the company, but you’ve got to strive to be better, personally, every day, and you’ve got to continually strive for improvement and innovate in order to succeed. I think most of the managers I’ve ever worked with, have encouraged that kind of behaviour. It is important to develop core skill sets and to focus on becoming an asset to your teammates, managers and the company through furthering your understanding of the business and the broader market place context. In any organization, identifying solutions to solve key problems relating to your own area is not good enough. Developing strategic insights and improving the business outlook to market can only be achieved by cross-pollination of ideas internally, recognizing blockages beyond your remit and working on a cross functional basis to progress key initiatives.

 

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

At one stage in my career, I was advised to offload a successful business unit I had created within an organization, as it was no longer seen as complementary to the core strategy. This initially felt disheartening and I disagreed with the instruction I’d been given. However, looking back I realize that the experience and niche skills I developed in creating the unit in the first place served me well in future roles.

You have to resist the urge to be cornered into a role that limits your growth, and most importantly, you need to seek opportunities that increase your exposure outside of your organization. Having completed the required task, and evaluated the options open to me, I later took the decision to take a new role externally. I did this to avoid getting embittered at the decision that had been made, but also to seek out a new challenge taking away the positives in terms of how we had built out the unit in the first place – but fundamentally recognizing that emotion should never constrain you in terms of making a key decision that will ultimately benefit the long-term goals and strategy of a business.

The bottom line is, decisions or advice contrary to your own beliefs should not demotivate or discourage you. The key thing is to take time to understand the broader context and environment in which the decision was made or advice was given. Sometimes operating in a silo can restrict your view of the bigger opportunity, or potentially stagnate your career. An objective opinion, no matter how harsh, can stimulate new ideas or, in this case, a refresh on career outlook.

 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

My advice to someone starting out in tech would be to look beyond the latest and greatest thing coming out of Silicon Valley. I think there are smaller companies out there who can offer you the autonomy and the opportunity to jump in feet first, learn fast and move up the ranks. To graduates, I’d say look at what’s available in the market at the moment and don’t see large organizations as the only option. In bigger corporations, there is always a struggle to stand out from the crowd and to be able to establish true career progression. There is significant competition for places and the ability to flourish is not always readily available.

I also always advise those that are early in their careers to understand and respect the history attached to the acceleration of technology in the past decade. We operate in an ever-changing environment, and organizations that embrace new advances in technology are regularly the best placed to succeed longer term. It’s important the organization you are considering clearly demonstrates the ability to keep up with the pace of change as much as it respects how it got there.

 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

You can’t think in silos. You’ve got to have a greater understanding of all the disciplines within an organization and to be able to work across teams. It’s about getting a broader understanding of business. If you’re an engineer by trade for example, you’ve got to understand the commercial side, the product side, and finance.

Along the way you should always be curious and ask questions. As a manager, I’m always keen to operate transparently. I like to highlight to everybody our key financial metrics, how much the business is growing, how much revenue we’re generating on core verticals; but not every senior manager, particularly in large organizations is going to do that, so you’ve got to proactively seek out that detail.

Another important tip I can offer is putting customer experience at the heart of your organization. The main goal for any business is to provide a positive experience for your customer. Your ultimate aim is to retain them and hopefully generate organic growth from the relationship and positive word of mouth referrals. I’m a strong believer that a happy customer is inextricably linked to a content employee. If internal experience is positive this will naturally start showing externally. If you have an employee that believes in the brand and the business, they will go above and beyond to recreate that belief and sell that belief to the customer.  It starts within the organization and this is where your focus must lie as a c-level manager.

 

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

If I look back at what I’ve achieved in this business over the last ten years, there have been staff that have come along with me on the journey as we’ve grown the Engage Hub business. So, therefore, I’ve applied the best principles learnt along the way, to help develop those around me.

I think managing people is an extraordinarily difficult task and if you had told me when I was at university that you’re going to end up managing upwards of 65 people, I wouldn’t have believed you. But there are a group of people I’ve worked hard to mentor and I would say, as a manager, I’ve had particular success with more informal lines of communication.

Informal discussions with all team members, where I sit down to talk to my line reports, leads to a transparent and open working environment and underpins a culture of continuous improvement for the business, and therefore, our customers. You find people are more candid in a less formal environment and you are able to get to the root of what your business needs to improve and continually grow in a positive fashion. A mentor program is mutually beneficial to both parties and offers a great deal of learning for anyone at any level or position.  I am truly grateful for the lessons I’ve learnt from my employees and I hope in turn I have added value by sharing my experiences openly and honestly with them.

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